Update as of 2200 Eastern Time / 0600 Tbilisi Time:
Normally I would call this an update to Georgia and South Ossetia but there is so much more going on that is a part of this issue. Starting tomorrow the updates will be about the entire issue from Georgia, to Poland and the Missile Defense Program.
A very interesting perspective from the Washington Post. This article was originally published in 1991. Its funny how many things have not changed:
TSKHINVALI, U.S.S.R. -- As long as Georgia exists, the cause of socialism is in mortal danger. -- Joseph Stalin
The front line in the battle for the preservation of the world's second superpower as a union of Soviet socialist republics runs through this war-ravaged provincial town, nestled in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains in Soviet Georgia.
Now in its third month, the siege of Tskhinvali has already claimed at least 40 lives. Electricity and heating have been cut off for weeks, and food is in desperately short supply. Roads to the town have been sealed off by rival militia units. The streets are littered with the debris of burned-out buses and barricades. At night, the surrounding hills echo with the sound of gunfire.
On one side of the Soviet Union's latest ethnic battlefront are about 90,000 Ossetians, members of a tiny ethnic minority that has traditionally been loyal to Moscow. On the other are Georgia's newly elected nationalist leaders, who accuse the Kremlin of exploiting Ossetian discontent to thwart their drive for independence.
"Moscow is waging a war against us in order to punish us because we refuse to sign the new union treaty and fight for independence," said Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, a veteran dissident, in his office in Tbilisi. "The Soviet army is fighting against us, together with the Ossetian extremists. They give the Ossetians new technology, rockets, weapons."
The present crisis grew to serious proportions in December, shortly after parliamentary elections in Georgia were won convincingly by the secessionist "Round Table" coalition led by Gamsakhurdia. Angered by Ossetian attempts to unite with their compatriots across the border in the Soviet Russian republic, the Georgian parliament formally liquidated the Ossetians' political autonomy. Georgian militia units were sent to Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia.
"We are much more worried by Georgian imperialism than Russian imperialism," said Gerasim Khugaev, an Ossetian leader here. "It is closer to us, and we feel its pressure all the time. The Georgians are conducting a chauvinist-nationalist policy against us. They want to drive us out of here completely."
Reduced to its simplest level, the battle for Tskhinvali is being fought between those who want the Soviet Union to survive in its present form and those who do not. Situated at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Georgia has long been regarded as a much more integral part of the Soviet "empire" than, say, the Baltic republics, which were annexed only in 1940. Tales of Russia's conquest of the Caucasus region in the 19th century form a staple part of Russian literature.
But this is also a war in which notions of right and wrong, oppressors and oppressed, have become impossibly tangled with centuries-old ethnic disputes. There seems little doubt that the Kremlin has been using minority grievances as a means of bringing pressure to bear on rebellious Soviet republics, such as Georgia. At the same time, Georgia's own treatment of its ethnic minorities has drawn sharp criticism from Western human-rights activists.
During a three-week occupation of Tskhinvali in January, Georgian militia units ransacked the Ossetian national theater. The plaster statue of Ossetia's national poet, Kosta Khetagurov, was decapitated. Monuments to Ossetians who fought with Soviet troops in World War II were smashed to pieces and thrown into the river.
The Ossetians have repaid the Georgians in kind. About 10,000 Georgian residents of Tskhinvali have fled their homes in fear for their lives. Armed Ossetian bands have fired on Georgian villages. The news that six Georgians, including several policemen, had been killed during a recent shootout was received with grim satisfaction by some Ossetians.
From the NY Times:
The United States and Poland reached a long-stalled deal on Thursday to place an American missile defense base on Polish territory, in the strongest reaction so far to Russia’s military operation in Georgia.
Russia reacted angrily, saying that the move would worsen relations with the United States that have already been strained severely in the week since Russian troops entered separatist enclaves in Georgia, a close American ally. At a news conference on Friday, a senior Russian defense official, Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, suggested that Poland was making itself a target by agreeing to host the anti-missile system. Such an action “cannot go unpunished,” he said.
The deal reflected growing alarm in a range of countries that had been part of the Soviet sphere about a newly rich and powerful Russia’s intentions in its former cold war sphere of power. In fact, negotiations dragged on for 18 months — but were completed only as old memories and new fears surfaced in recent days.
Those fears were codified to some degree in what Polish and American officials characterized as unusual aspects of the final deal: that at least temporarily American soldiers would staff air defense sites in Poland oriented toward Russia, and that the United States would be obliged to defend Poland in case of an attack with greater speed than required under NATO, of which Poland is a member.
Polish officials said the agreement would strengthen the mutual commitment of the United States to defend Poland, and vice versa. “Poland and the Poles do not want to be in alliances in which assistance comes at some point later — it is no good when assistance comes to dead people,” the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, said on Polish television. “Poland wants to be in alliances where assistance comes in the very first hours of — knock on wood — any possible conflict.”
A sense of deepened suspicions — and the more darkly drawn lines between countries in the region — were also apparent in the emotional reaction from Russia.
“It is this kind of agreement, not the split between Russia and United States over the problem of South Ossetia, that may have a greater impact on the growth in tensions in Russian-American relations,” Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the Russian Parliament, told the Interfax news agency on Thursday in Moscow.
South Ossetia is the pro-Russian enclave inside Georgia where Russia sent troops last week, following a military crackdown by the pro-Western government in Georgia.
The missile defense deal was announced by Polish officials and confirmed by the White House. Under it, Poland would host an American base with 10 interceptors designed to shoot down a limited number of ballistic missiles, in theory launched by a future adversary such as Iran. A tracking radar system would be based in the Czech Republic. The system is expected to be in place by 2012.
From The Small Wars Journal:
The impact of the Russian attack on Georgia is still being assessed around the world, in that slow-motion way that global events have on governments. Getting the full picture of what's going on will take a few weeks yet. But this much seems to be clear.
First, there's no illusion about who's running Russia. Vladimir Putin is clearly the effective head of state, flying from the Beijing Olympics to southern Russia to oversee military operations and to dominate Russian TV. The return of strongman rule to Russia, and particularly one who regards the demise of the Soviet Union as a historic catastrophe, is now a fact of international life to which we will all have to adjust to.
Second, Putin and his government are attempting to establish the legitimacy of a Russian sphere of influence that looks very much like a reestablishment of the old Soviet empire. This is the core of an enormously sophisticated information campaign that is having some success -- at least around Washington -- in appealing to the realpolitik crowd who look for excuses for inaction in the case of a Russian invasion of their democratic neighbor. The invasion of Georgia was accompanied by an information campaign based on the idea that Russia has a right to intervene anywhere that the "dignity" of Russian minorities is threatened. Since there are Russian minorities in every former Soviet state of the old empire, this is an attempt to establish a "sphere of influence" precedent that must chill newly independent states still struggling with democracy.
From a military perspective, the first impression is that the Russians laid an effective "strategic ambush" for Georgia President Mikhail Saakashvilli, inciting anti-government attacks in South Ossetia by local militias and then responding to the Georgian offensive with a well-planned and rehearsed offensive of their own. Even when viewed through the imperfect lens of news media scrambling to catch up to events, military experts understand that the joint and combined-arms attacks Russia staged in the opening hours of the war were anything but spontaneous. For historians, a retrospective on Nazi Germany's offensive to "protect" the Sudaten Czechs shows a striking similarity of purpose and method.
The Georgian armed forces were obviously not prepared for the Russian counteroffensive. Having recently purged older, Soviet-trained officers from its top commands, the Georgian military lacks doctrine, cohesion and experience; U.S. military assistance has been focused on preparing Georgian soldiers for duty alongside U.S. forces in Iraq, not in larger-scale, combined-arms warfare, and it shows. At this writing, the Georgian armed forces have virtually disappeared, their patrol boats sunk at their docks and their infantry collecting somewhere near the capitol city; Russian forces have broken contact and breakaway militias are rampaging in areas in and around South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
To observers familiar with the sight of Russian troops riding to battle on the back decks of BMPs, the Russian campaign looked like previous warfare in Afghanistan and Czchneya. But in this case, the familiar Soviet-style, firepower-intensive armed campaign was preceded by a sophisticated cyberattack against Georgian information systems and, more ominously, a prelaid global information campaign that both advanced the Russian argument for its right to intervene and fed both the news media and wavering Western politicians with trumped-up details of Georgian atrocities. Look for the information campaign to intensify as Russian troops settle into positions in Georgia, where their location will become negotiable in the next phase, which will clearly be to drive the pro-Western Saakashvilli government from power. The Russians have "got" modern war, however outdated their "kinetic" operations may appear. In their operational concept, the information war preceded, and is superior to, actual combat operations on the land and sea. Western military authorities, whose ability to influence information operations of this type are nonexistent, can only look on in frustration.
What does this mean for the U.S. and for U.S. strategy? The first, obvious, lesson is that great-power competition is back, and it is not only with a remote and only vaguely challenging trading partner like China. Russia is now an active menace. Whether "old Europe" quite understands the problem is for the moment moot -- the newly-formed ex-Soviet democracies have the message loud and clear, as their timely and courageous support for the Saakashvilli government shows. As scholar Fred Kagan said recently, there is a "new axis" of anti-Russian democracies around the edge of the old Soviet empire. Supporting those states and securing their future must be a top priority for the U.S. and NATO, while Russia passes through the Putin phase and perhaps into a more benign future -- the encouragement of which should be the top priority for U.S. and Western diplomacy. If this sounds like containment, well, it is.
For military strategy, the U.S. should immediately revamp its foreign military assistance programs to those countries, including a post-invasion Georgia. The intent of U.S. aid now should not be aimed not only at preparing forces for low-intensity conflict -- because most of these states have their own problems with breakaway militias and extremist terrorism -- but also at deterring Russian high-intensity, combined-arms attacks. Advanced integrated air-defenses (the Georgians had none), antitank munitions, precision weapons all must be provided so that Russia can no longer plan a walkover like the one we have witnessed. Military assistance groups should be stationed in frontline states, and m military exercises conducted calibrated to bolster the defensive capabilities of local armies. The Russians will cry foul, but their military authorities will understand what they are seeing -- no more easy campaigns. Military aid must include methods and training in our best techniques for computer network defense, a move that -- given the global nature of computer networks -- will integrate our allies' defenses with ours.
Finally the U.S. government, even in this time of political transition, must be steadfast in exposing for the world's media the true story of what is happening here. This is not a time to surrender the information field to the Russians in a futile effort to "protect sources" or surrender to reflexive classification. The war for history has started, and the Russians are already leading by several laps. Given the nature of an inquisitive and pervasive worldwide news media -- that the Russians so far have manipulated brilliantly -- the truth will eventually out, but only if the Western democracies insure that the facts are out there.
The U.N. refugee agency helped evacuate more than 700 Georgians from the Abkhazia region this week with the cooperation of the Russian and Georgian forces.
Residents of the remote Khodori Valley, in Georgia's pro-Russian breakaway region, were escorted to safety by U.N. refugee agency staffers, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said.
"Most of these people are in good physical condition, but they have been traumatized and shocked by violent events unfolding over the past week, and they feared for their own safety. They asked us to help with the safe passage," said Srecko Neumann, head of UNHCR's office in Zugdidi.
"This would be impossible without the cooperation of Russian and Georgian authorities."
Last weekend, 732 Georgian civilians from Abkhazia's remote Khodori Valley fled their homes when violence started between Russian and Georgian forces.
Georgia launched a military incursion into breakaway South Ossetia last week to rout separatist rebels. Russia, which supports the separatists, responded the next day, sending tanks across the border into South Ossetia.
More to follow:
God Bless America
Sphere: Related Content
War in Afghanistan News - 23 May 2013
1 hour ago