Even though Georgia has declared a cease-fire in South Ossetia and is apparently withdrawing from the disputed province, Russia continues its offensive against Georgia. As many as 11 separate cities inside Georgia proper have been reported bombed, along with a host of military and economic targets. See previous post for earlier information. RIA Novosti provides a complete historical chronicle of the Georgia situation since 1991 HERE
As Russian poured more troops and tanks across its border into South Ossetia on Sunday, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili announced a withdrawal of Georgia troops from the province. Georgia, he said, was also proclaiming a cease-fire, was ready to have it forces return to their positions before the fighting erupted and would sign an agreement for a peaceful resolution of the dispute.
But Russian officials rejected Saakashvili's claim of a troop withdrawal, claiming that Georgian forces were continuing to fight. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Grigory Karasin, speaking to reporters in Moscow, said that Moscow would discuss "all further issues" once Georgia pulled all of its forces out of "the combat zone" and immediately signed "a binding agreement on the non-use of force." However, there are signs that Russia is preparing to up the ante and demand regime change in Georgia as well. Speaking at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov admitted in a phone call with Secretary of Rice that Moscow wants Saakashvili replaced.
Russia's Defense Ministry reported sinking a Georgian boat carrying missile launchers after a skirmish at sea. Georgian boats had made two attempts to attack Russian ships which "returned fire, as a result of which one of the Georgian boats launching the attack sank", The report gave no indication which ships were involved in the incident or where it took place.
In addition, Georgian forces are now under all-out attack by separatist rebels and the Russian Air Force in the other disputed province of Abkhazia. Abkhazia's pro-Moscow separatist leader Sergei Bagapsh said his troops had launched a major "military operation" to force Georgian troops out of the mountainous Kodori gorge, which Georgian forces control as a strategic foothold in the breakaway Black Sea territory. He also said around 1,000 special Abkhaz troops were involved. They were attacking and pounding Georgian positions using warplanes, multiple rocket launchers and artillery.
And in a possible sign that the war may spread further, Ukraine warned Russia on Sunday it could bar Russian Black Sea Fleet warships from returning to their Ukrainian base of Sevastopol due to their deployment to Georgia's coast, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "In order to prevent the circumstances in which Ukraine could be drawn into a military conflict ... Ukraine reserves the right to forbid the ships and vessels that may be involved in these actions from returning to Ukrainian territory until the settlement of the conflict," the statement said.
Meanwhile, many Georgians are standing firm in the face of naked Russian aggression. In Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, people were angry at what they saw as a Russian invasion aimed at undermining the country's sovereignty and bringing it to heel. "What is happening is not because of the separatist regions, which have been a headache for Georgia for over a decade now, but because of democracy in Georgia," said Giorgi, a 30-year-old lawyer. "Russia hates democracy, it's always been an authoritarian state and always will be. This Russian aggression is a fight against democracy, and the world must defend democracy."
"Russia has always wanted to see Georgia on its knees, but it will never achieve that," vowed Emzari, a 45-year-old technician. "I hope that Russia will retreat. I hope it will break its neck here in the Caucasus." The two were among hundreds of Georgian patriots who gathered for a second day of anti-Russian protests in the central Rose Revolution Square after a text-message campaign. "Let's stand together against Russian aggression and occupation, and cheer our troops!" the message read.
Many people were also disillusioned by what they considered the feeble reaction of the west - particularly the United States, Georgia's main international ally. Many complained that Georgia had sent 2,000 troops to fight in Iraq, but when Georgia came under attack, Washington could only offer words in return.
"We've been hearing all these years that we've got strong and powerful friends across the ocean but it turned out these stories were just a bluff," said unemployed Valiko, 57. "We may be stupid, we may have made mistakes, but will the US and Europe really let Russia get away with attacking another country?" demanded 26-year-old student Vakhtang. Unfortunately, Washington now lacks moral imperative because of American imperialism, not only the unprovoked carpet-bombing of Serbia in 1999, but also the equally-unprovoked invasion and occupation of Iraq. This limits Washington's influence upon Russia. One option would be to provide Georgian forces with surface-to-air missiles to use against Russian aircraft in an effort to level the playing field; this could be done surreptitiously to preserve deniability.
Meanwhile, on the international diplomatic front, an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council was held on August 10th. The United States not only accused Russia of wanting to impose regime change upon Georgia, but plans to offer a draft resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Georgia, accusing Russian forces of impeding the withdrawal of Georgian troops from the territory. Though Russia could veto the measure in the Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad said Moscow "is on the wrong side here" and risked damaging its ties with Washington and the West.
One bright spot; so far, despite rumors to the contrary, both the Georgian and Russian Olympic teams remain at the Games in Beijing and continue to compete. There have been no reported untoward incidents between the two teams.
Commentary: It is understandable for Russia to take action to protect its citizens living in South Ossetia. We've now learned that many of the South Ossetian residents not only never acquired Georgian citizenship, but never wanted it. They actually inherited their Russian citizenship directly from their previous Soviet citizenship.
However, to press on the attack and demand regime change after Georgia expressed willigness to withdraw from South Ossetia and sign a non-aggression pact is incredibly ham-handed diplomacy on their part, and shows a continuation of the centuries-old trend by Russia to think with its boots instead of with its brain.
And international preoccupation with Russia as a bully is obscuring a development in Georgia that needs to be further explored and exposed. Israeli involvement in Georgia has been far more pervasive and intensive than previously thought. PressTV reports that last year, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had retained up to 1,000 military advisers from various Israeli "security firms" (IDF-controlled, no doubt) to train the country's armed forces. According to the report, the Israeli advisors also helped Tbilisi with military intelligence and security operations. Georgia also purchased weapons, intelligence and electronic warfare systems from Israel. Ynetnews confirms that the military relationship has gone on for at least seven years. The report added the Israeli advisers were deeply involved in the Georgian army's preparations to attack and capture the capital of South Ossetia on Friday. In addition, the Jerusalem Post reports that Israel sold an estimated $300 million worth of weapons to Georgia.
The report quoted "its military experts" as saying a project to pump Caspian oil and gas to the Turkish terminal of Ceyhan instead of the Russian pipeline network is in the interest of Tel Aviv. The regime therefore has been negotiating with Turkey, Georgia, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan to go ahead with the construction of pipelines to transfer oil to terminals in Ashkelon and Eilat. The report added that Moscow had demanded Tel Aviv to halt its military assistance to Georgia and even warned the regime of a diplomatic row.
The possibility that Israel may have helped set off this conflict cannot be ignored. Those interested in news coverage a bit more proximate to the region can view the media outlets listed below:
- Russia Today: A Russian broadcast service which seems to be relatively non-partisan.
- Pravda: Pro-Russian bias, rewrites events to provide a pro-Russian spin. Still useful to provide additional perspective.
- RIA Novosti: Pro-Russian editorial bias, but generally presents facts as facts. Can be considered reliable.
- Civil Georgia: Am English-language Georgia news site, intermittently accessible.
- Hurriyet.com: An English-language Turkish news service. Relatively unbiased, but Turkey itself is likely to be more sympathetic to Georgia due to its own historical rivalry with Russia.
- Interfax: A Russian news aggregation site. Considered unbiased.