Foreign Policy Watch

Geopolitical musings through a progressive lens …by Matt Eckel and Jeb Koogler

In South Ossetia, Russia Digs In

Ghia Nodia, a professor of politics at Ilia State University, has a rather oddly argued piece in RFE/RL suggesting that Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008 has brought few benefits for Moscow. Without going too much in to the contours of Professor Nodia’s argument, I would say that the opposite assertion is almost certainly more likely. It seems clear that Russia has achieved a number of its strategic goals: 1. It has undercut Saakashvili, who has proven a thorn in Moscow’s side; 2. It has destroyed Georgia’s bid for NATO membership (given that territorial integrity is a key stipulation for new members); 3. It has strengthened its control over two regions along its border, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, 4. It has delivered a powerful message about its willingness to use force to settle political disputes, arguably strengthening its hand in foreign relations; 5. By extension, it has reestablished a degree of control over its near abroad, where Moscow has long worried that the US — and increasingly China — have been steadily gaining a foothold.

One need only consider this recent Crisis Group report on South Ossetia to realize the extent to which Russia has dismembered Georgia and bolstered its own influence in the region. Moscow provides nearly all South Ossetia’s budget, staffs many key government positions, and has made the breakaway region almost entirely reliant on Russian market access (since the border with Georgia is virtually closed.) Meanwhile, Russia has also taken control of the larger responsibilities of the South Ossetian government — foreign affairs, national defense, etc — while leaving the local authorities control over issues like education and internal security. They have also signed an agreement with the South Ossetian government for a 49-year lease for a Russian military base.

In other words, there is little indication that Russia is moving towards loosening its grip on South Ossetia (or Abkhazia, for that matter, where the situation is not that much different with regards to Russia’s expansive role.) Of course, this Russian entrenchment clearly violates the Sarkozy-brokered cease fire. But Russian officials say that recent bilateral accords — namely, agreements that were signed between Russia and South Ossetia that grant Russia the right to guard the region’s borders — have superseded the legitimacy of the Sarkozy agreement.

Photo credit: (Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP)

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  1. No one should have any doubts, Georgia has committed an act of Aggression and are now paying the price. The operational planning of merciless murders and atrocities in S. Ossetia have long been studied by Georgian Generals and not without some US military assistance. In June of same year, the report published by “International Crisis Group” (and this sort of reports are not written in a day or two) are clearly states the following: “Georgia remains determined to restore its territorial integrity, and hawks in Tbilisi are seriously considering a military option” it reads further, as a point of warning: “This includes former President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that Russia would formalise ties with Abkhazia and statements by Kremlin officials that Moscow was prepared to use military force to protect its citizens in Abkhazia and South Ossetia if hostilities resumed”

    Furthermore, the CivilGe, perhaps the only independent and trustworthy news corresponding establishment left in Georgia on June 24th 2008 have also published a very interesting article “A draft amendment to the 2008 state budget, once approved by Parliament, will bring total funding of the Ministry of Defense (MoD) to GEL 1.395 billion… Initial defense spending for 2008 was set at GEL 1.1 billion. The figure for 2007 was GEL 1.495 billion.”

    And lastly, RIA Novosti quoted as saying the president of South Ossetia Eduard Kokoity announced during the meeting with Britains ambassador to Georgia: “ Georgia plans to unleash large-scale military action in South Ossetia by September” "We have irrefutable evidences that large-scale military action will commence here exactly by September. It is the plan of Georgia and it is the plan that Saakashvilis regime is implementing today"

    Now, put these pieces all together, and you will have a perfect combination of all necessary elements to start a fresh military conflict, Desire and the Means to do it. Saakashvili is a war criminal!