Georgia Blogging - Keep an Eye on Michael J. Totten
Wingnut calls Chuck Hagel a pacifist

Georgia: The March Through Part of a Larger Tour?

Right now, much of what is going on is a holding pattern. Russia has bought time, and some freedom of maneuver of which they are taking full advantage. You should think of this, however, as the calm before the storm.

It is my opinion that the storm is indeed coming. Those that worried about starting a Cold War II missed the start by a couple of years. What matters right now is that Putin isn't doing typical Soviet-style bluster: he's deadly serious and is quite willing to take what has been a new Cold War and move it to warm or even hot. Our ability to prevent this is extremely limited in terms of time.

Status: Largely unchanged, with no signs of preparations for withdrawal and many major signs of a long stay (or new action) in the form of digging in, position preparation, probes, etc. On major development, that ties in with yesterday's discussions of Turkey and sea-born operations, is the Russian investment of P'oti. Even if ships now reach the port, bringing humanitarian or any other aid in will require direct military action to take out this first block of the East-West corridor. There are reports that Russians are shooting at humanitarian aid aircraft flying above Georgian territory. The Russian response to demands that they return stolen U.S. military equipment appears to be "Caepxnte mehr, wimp" (not quite right, can't raise Cyrillic text).

As for what I said above, I have literally minutes to try to cover what should take several hours. The extremely short version is that the Russian's and their leadership feel that the United States has not only failed to keep its word to Russia, but have actively embarked on a path to try to keep Russia down. Even shorter, we've dissed them, and hard. From their point of view, the U.S. has failed to honor a number of pledges to them, including treating them as equals and as a true partner. We've been condescending, rude, arrogant, and quite willing to throw them under the bus to help ourselves. In their eyes, we have treated them as a third tier power and more as a subordinate than a partner. Note the comments being reported about Russian troops referring to those fleeing as 'going to the Americans' as one manifestation of this.

Putin has ridden the wave of this resentment as well as a much stronger economy than the old Soviet Union could have dreamed of, to the point that he has power on the level of a Stalin. This power is predicated, in part, on keeping the economy raking in large amounts of hard currency (oil, gas, and other resources) so that the general population continues to do fair and others in power can continue to become millionaires and billionaires. As long as he can do this, and show progress to the people of a return to the glory days when Russia was a world power with an empire, he will retain power.

Yet, Russians are still in many ways Pagans beneath the surface. Putin is literally riding a tiger right now in terms of his relationship with other political powers in Russia (including the Russian Mob). In terms of the people, he is the strong man, the king, and the king is responsible for all. If the land be blighted, then in the old tradition the king must pay the price. The land can be easily blighted, for all it takes is for this venture to go awry.

One interesting fact that another analyst pointed out to me (and was mentioned in a previous post) that needs repeating is that for the first time in their history, the Russian people truly have something to lose. Under the Soviets, they pretty much just had their lives to lose; but, now they have a rising economy, access to goods, and an improving lifestyle. How this will effect things is a very large unknown, but it could have a considerable impact on Putin and his actions. The one thing that is certain is that the old reaction models are no longer valid, and anyone who relies on them is making a serious mistake.

In addition to the Russian viewpoint outlined above, consider that at this point Putin is being driven by both personal need and personal anger. Moves to thwart Russia's attempts to control gas pipelines are likely being seen as attempts to thwart him personally, to block his power and attempts to expand same. Right now, for Putin, power is power and power is safety; therefore, more power and more control is needed.

Putin needs to return Georgia (and the other former vassal states) to the fold, to assuage the people who desire a return to the glory days (even though they were not all that glorious) so that the grand Centauri, er, Russian Empire will once again be a true power and treated with the respect it deserves. He needs to control the resources flowing through Georgia, most particularly the pipelines, to meet his goals/needs for control at home and in Europe, and to keep the money flowing in so he can stay on the tiger.

Understand also that in terms of culture (Russian, Russian Mob, and Soviet-political that shape him), Putin has yet to see anyone realistically saying no to him. Words mean little, unless backed by something and so far no one has put up any show of force against him. Indeed, the key opponent has just said that it will not under any circumstances use force to stop him in Georgia. The damage done by those remarks cannot be understated. Putin is used to a West that will cut and run, and do nothing more than talk. The last time they talked, he cut off/threatened to cut off the Russian oil and gas pipeline, and the cave was almost immediate.

That it hasn't happened this time, so far, is probably a source of great surprise and anger. It is my opinion, based on what I've outline here quickly plus a good bit more I don't have time to go into, that he will up the ante, possibly by an amount we would consider insane, to try to force that fold. The only thing I think that can stop that now is for one or more nations to act in a way that he will recognize as proof in his terms that they are serious about saying no. The window to do this is, however, extremely limited I fear.

Another point that can't be stressed enough is that Governments are not individuals. No matter how rational and sane the individual at the top can be, governments act as toddlers. It's been gamed and modeled for years, and frankly the number of pundits and people in authority who ignore this basic and well documented facts is scary. For, they are basing their responses on a known falsehood, and that can lead to catastrophic results. The current Russian government may no longer be the largest kid in the kindergarten, but they are still one of the largest, meanest and most willing to hurt others and act out there is. From their viewpoint, their mores, they not only have every right, but have to do so for what others have done and are doing is the same as throwing a punch in their eyes.

One final point that does tie into the above is the current use of language. The Soviets did bluster and bluff as an art form, and it was fairly easy to tell when they were doing so for public (domestic) consumption or to try to force a concession out of the West. The language they have used in regards the missile shield in Poland is NOT that, it is a very deliberate and specific use of language. When the Soviets used it, it was not bluff and things happened. It may have been clandestine, it may have been semi-clandestine, or it may have been open, but things happened.

I fear that the next two days to two weeks could be far more interesting than any of us could want. I fear that Georgia, Poland, the Ukraine (see Jim C's comment), and the Baltic states may well pay a very real price for desiring autonomy and aligning with the West, and for standing up to Putin.

As Matt notes below, Michael Totten has begun posting from Georgia.

As always, here are links to sources of information. My thanks to all who are posting or sending new links, and as always be a critical consumer:

Baltic Times
The Messenger Blog
The Messenger Newspaper
Scraps of Moscow
All About Latvia
Lex Libertas
foreign notes
Yezhednevny zhurnal
Global Voices
The 8th Circle
A Fistful of Euros
Nosemonkey's EUtopia
Wu Wei
SOS Georgia
Georgia Ministry of Foreign Affairs Blog
The Tel'nik
Russia and Georgia at War
Georgian Daily

Here is a list of Blackfive posts dealing with the Russian invasion of Georgia:

This Can't Be Good!
US Troops in Georgia not in Harm''s Way...Yet
No, It'sNot Good At All
While the EU and NATO Fiddle...
The Devil Went To Georgia
For Georgia
Georgia On My Mind
The Lights Stay On In Georgia?
Georgian Soldiers In Iraq
Lights Flicker in Georgia
Who'll Stop the Rain
Aid for the Republic of Georgia
The Things Not Reported...
Stud Reporter
Perspective: A Different View of Current Events in Georgia
Georgia Soldiers Leave Iraq to Defend Home
Georgia: The Russian Guessing Game
Georgia: Update and Considerations
Georgia Blogging - Keep an Eye on Michael J. Totten

Here are some other milblogs that are covering this:

Milblogs (some excellent Kosovo analysis)

More if/as I get the chance...


UPDATE I: While the formal notification has apparently not been made, the functional notification that Russia is suspending/has cut all cooperative military activities with NATO has been made, and NATO has "noted" it. To answer some questions in the comments, yes, Russia does have some valid complaints; but, I don't know that anything can be done to salvage/rectify things in an acceptable manner right now. Attempts to address such would now be seen as weak, and giving of an additional victory. I also agree that most of Asia Minor and the Baltics (save Latvia) are pretty much scod as things now stand. I think that at least some of Old Europe and most of New Europe will indeed support Poland, but to what extent is the question. I think that Vladimir has misjudged the current political climate (rise of Merkel and Sarkozy) in Europe (note: I shudder to think of the response under Mitterand and Schroder would have been); I hope he is misjudging the effect current election activities in the U.S. will have currently; and, I suspect he has hopes to present the incoming with a fait accompli and that he will be facing a weaker President. Firmness of a type that will be recognized and respected as such is needed, be it clandestine, semi-clandestine, or open.

UPDATE II: There is nothing guaranteed to set off the Russians than mocking them. Baldilocks has a good post up on Georgians mocking Russia and the behavior of Russian troops, which is even worse than an ordinary mocking. Also, check out the nice profile of a wonderful lady and outstanding blogger.