A lot has happened today since I first published last night that it was an area of concern to watch. Here is the latest update as of 1900 Eastern Time. (NY TIMES) :
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin declared that “war has started” and President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia accused Russia of a “well-planned invasion," saying he had mobilized Georgia’s military reserves.
Reports conflicted Friday about whether Georgian or Russian forces had won control of the capital of the rebel province, South Ossetia. It was unclear late Friday whether ground combat had taken place between the two sides in the capital, Tskhinvali.
Georgia accused Russia of unleashing an air bombing campaign and claimed that hundreds of civilians had been killed; Russia denied those accusations.
Georgia is a close American ally whose shift toward the West and pursuit of NATO membership has angered Russia. The United States said Friday that it would send an envoy to the region to try to broker an end to the fighting in South Ossetia, and the European Union, NATO and Germany all called on both sides to stand down.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued a strongly worded statement Friday. “We call on Russia to cease attacks on Georgia by aircraft and missiles, respect Georgia’s territorial integrity, and withdraw its ground combat forces from Georgian soil,” Ms. Rice said in a statement released by the State Department.
The clashes raised the specter of a wider conflict in the Caucasus region, a key conduit for the flow of oil from the Caspian Sea to world markets and an area where violent conflict has flared for years along Russia’s borders, most recently in Chechnya.
This has been an ongoing issue since the 1990's. Here is a little background information on South Ossetia from Wikipedia:
The United Nations, European Union, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Council of the European Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and all other countries in the world recognize South Ossetia as part of Georgia. However, the de facto independent republic governed by the secessionist government held a second independence referendum on November 12, 2006, after its first referendum in 1992 was not recognized by the international community as valid. According to the Tskhinvali election authorities, the referendum turned out a majority for independence from Georgia where 99% of South Ossetian voters supported independence and the turnout for the vote was 95% and the referendum was monitored by a team of 34 international observers from Germany, Austria, Poland, Sweden and other countries at 78 polling stations.
However, it was not recognized internationally by the UN, European Union, OSCE, NATO and the Russian Federation, given the lack of ethnic Georgian participation and the legality of such referendum without recognition from the central government in Tbilisi. The European Union, OSCE and NATO condemned the referendum. Parallel to the secessionist held referendum and elections, the Ossetian opposition movement (The Salvation Union of South Ossetia) to Kokoity, organised their own elections in which both Georgian and some Ossetian inhabitants of the region voted in favour of Dmitri Sanakoev as the alternative President of South Ossetia. The alternative elections of Sanakoev claimed full support of the ethnic Georgian population. In 2007, Dmitri Sanakoev became the head of the Provisional Administration of South Ossetia.
On July 13, 2007, Georgia set up a state commission, chaired by the Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, to develop South Ossetia's autonomous status within the Georgian state. According to the Georgian officials, the status will be elaborated within the framework of "an all-inclusive dialogue" with all the forces and communities within the Ossetian society
Obviously the Georgian's have made their move. As the NY Times Article was saying, it is very unclear right now who is in control of the South Ossetian Capitol. But here are some of my thoughts as of right now:
1. The Russian Federation's tank formations that moved into the area were not second class units. The pictures that were shown were of T90 tanks with what appeared to be reactive armor. These are top of the line main battle tanks for them. It also takes time to put on that reactive armor, so this was not an overnight decision. This was something that they moved good units into position for, and prepared for.
2. The South Ossetians are not completely without fault in this. Many of the news reports I have read make them appear to be the persecuted group. The South Ossetians were the ones that were conducting mortar and IED type attacks inside South Ossetia and in their border area with Georgia on Georgian Citizens and Military Units.
3. South Ossetia was a part of Georgia. This is akin to Maine deciding that it wants to secede from the union. Now ethnically there is a great deal of people within South Ossetia that hold dual citizenship status with the Russian Federation. But, if you took a poll of Georgia in general, many could if they wanted to. Georgia is a semi-new country from its break with Russia.
4. Georgia has requested International Assistance from the United Nations with a UN Peace Keeping Force. This has been denied by Russia and the Russian Federation has said they will be this "neutral" party. I honestly can not blame the Russians for wanting to protect people that are technically their citizens. But this is not a cut and dry situation. Many of these people became Russian citizens after South Ossetia broke away.
5. Finally, I question the Russian Federation's motives. Maybe I am wrong, but my impression is that Russia is still not happy with losing Georgia, they do not want them to join NATO, and will do anything to prevent this. One of the largest reasons that NATO postponed their petition to join NATO to January was the issue with Russia. I am left wondering what is going to happen with that now.
6. Georgia is a key ally of ours. We conduct training exercises with them, they conduct counter-terrorism operations in their country, and they have troops committed in support of the Global War on Terror in Iraq. Georgia wants to continue being an ally, and even wants to join NATO and help do their part.
I will be watching this situation closely tonight and posting another update shortly. I am left wondering what NATO, the US, and the UN are going to do. I hope something very soon.
God Bless America
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