The last couple of weeks have been intense, and the hours long, so think of what follows as something of a day journal note a la the Original Blog. I know that my lack of time is a problem for some, but this is some food for thought that I think needs to be out there as a follow-up to COB6's posts here and here, even though I don't have the time to flesh it out as I would like. For those that want or need to know, I used to write about the Soviet Union -- in particular it's space-related activities -- and did as my Master's thesis a tome entitled The Soviet Watchers: A Directory of Western Observers of Soviet Space Efforts. That said, here are the day notes on why I think the invasion of Georgia is not good at all. Especially with news this morning that Georgia has formally declared a state of war to exist, and that the Russians appear to have sortied portions or all of its Black Sea fleet (possibly aiming at Abkhazia) and claim to now control the capital of South Ossetia. Note also the Clinton-era pols rushing to declare Georgia dead as a potential NATO member and not worthy of much support...
Even though Georgia was a part of Russia and then the Soviet Union, there has always been a bit of friction there. Under Russia, it was seen as a buffer against non-Christians and other threats. Under the Soviet Union, it still served that role but was also open to a larger exploitation -- which has helped create part of the situation now faced. Even the ghost of Stalin plays into this, as he was not Russian but a Georgia boy (yee-haw) who outmaneuvered both the Moscow and St. Petersburg factions to take control. That is something neither faction has ever forgotten, and in some ways never forgiven.
It is worth noting that Putin, who is in charge no matter what title he currently holds, is of the St. Petersburg faction, and is the first to come back to leadership from said faction in quite a while. Interestingly, what he is doing right now in Georgia is more in the Moscow style, but with some interesting fillips that are St. Petersburg in origin, IMO.
This is nothing less than a direct challenge to the U.S. and an effort to break the Georgian government so as to put back into power the pro-Russia group (or even under direct control). The surface cause is one that has been built up over the last several years, with Russia pushing as hard as it could get away with internationally to put in "peacekeepers" openly and arm/support the rebels not terribly clandestinely. There have been several previous attempts to spark a reaction from Georgia, including direct incursions into Georgian territory, incursions into Georgian airspace, and even attacks on Georgian aircraft and other assets. Behind it lies several factors.
First, there is the fact that Russia wants to control the border states just as it did before. They have not been shy about it in some of the other states, but Georgia and Ukraine both had something the others didn't: resources. The poorer countries with no major resources, lack of communications (and interest in them by the world community), and no major prospects were fairly easy to control. Georgia and Ukraine, however, have a variety of other resources and have more developed relations with the rest of the world. That said, Russia tried very openly and even ham-handedly to control them and to rig elections so that the Russian-controlled factions would win. They need those states as a buffer, and have not taken the failures there with anything approaching good grace.
Second, there are some strategic resources at play, including oil. Remember that Georgia was a major part of the old Silk Road, which interestingly enough today could almost be thought of as the jihad road given that the hot-spots of jihad from western China to eastern Europe follow this route. Trade has been a part of Georgia not for centuries, but easily a millennia or three. A lot of oil and natural gas flow through Georgia, including a good bit of Russian -- and Georgia hasn't been as easy to blackmail as Europe in this regard. Energy, minerals, food, trade -- Russia really, really wants control again.
Third, Georgia has not just turned away from Moscow, it has openly embraced the West and minor things like free-market capitalism, which is opening doors even wider for concepts of individual liberty, freedom, etc. This is an anathema on its own, but the thought of having that message seen by the restive provinces nearby is enough to give any of the powers/power factions in Moscow absolute conniptions.
Fourth, that embracing of the West has meant an embracing of Western (primarily American) military thought and equipment. It has meant an effort to join NATO, that Putin expended considerable effort and resources to defeat. Even without being able to join, Georgia has continued to work to integrate its forces into being able to work with NATO troops and equipment (meaning U. S. forces) and has, I believe, openly indicated its willingness to work on future systems and development -- including missile defense.
Fifth, despite its efforts to upgrade and improve its forces, the fact that Georgia has been unable to deal with the Pankisi Gorge is more than a major irritant to Moscow. The Gorge is haven to groups that have dealt Russia multiple defeats and bloody noses in Chechnya and has resisted Russian, Georgian, and purportedly other efforts to deal with it. The additional problem, in Moscow's eyes, is that Georgia is reaching a point where it might could deal with it -- which means it also could deal with Russia on an equal or even superior footing militarily and diplomatically. Russia wants very much to deal decisively with the Gorge, but having anyone else do it is extremely problematic. The current situation works for them, in that it gives them leverage on the Georgian government and, if they do move in, a claim on Georgian territory. Georgia knows this very well, which is why they have never given permission for Russia to move in and deal with it. Break the Georgian military, break the problem..
Sixth, this is also a semi-indirect attack against the United States and its alliances. Note multiple statements from Medvedev and Lavrov aimed at those who have trained/armed/encouraged Georgia. Not only is it in part a preemptive move against future missile-defense are related activities, it is a direct move against current missile defense via the Czech Republic and other eastern European countries. Russia has already stated that it would view any such as an act of aggression and that a military response was likely. Part of what is being done now is to show the Czech's and others that being an ally doesn't mean the U.S. really will defend you. If we don't back our ally against a direct military attack here, the lesson is clearly made that the U.S. will not do anything about an attack on their territory. It could also be the start of an effort to make the case that attacking our missile defense in another country is not really an attack on us, but a justifiable action (in the eyes of the U.N., certain so-called international courts, and in particular the European Union courts and ministries). Yet, if we do aid our ally, particularly if we do so strongly, it raises the spectre of a direct conflict between the U.S. and Russia, not to mention jeopardizing any number of ongoing efforts. It even raises the possibility (and I have little doubt that this point is already being raised by Moscow) of Russia reducing or even cutting off gas and oil to Europe for any number of excuses. The EU member states would, I fear, not even hesitate before throwing Georgia -- and even the US -- to the bear, as it were.
Seventh, I think Russia is very well aware that this would also have a strong negative effect on the War on Terror. Destabilizing Georgia will create the potential for a strong and even prolonged pulse of people and supplies along the "Jihad Road" headed both East and West. That this would also tend to cause destabilization in western China as well as in the Balkans works well for Russia. It allows them to regain or seize control of sections of the Balkans, and block moves by the U.S. and parts of Europe to bring order and nurture some emerging democracies. It also causes problems for current ally and long-term rival China. Russia has never mistaken short-term advantage via working with China for anything other than what it is, and if they can weaken or hurt China even as they use China against the U.S., all the better. Final thought, if you break up the alliances, much of what we have done and are working on will fail. It is not inconceivable that Russia may also be looking long term at even further expansion.
Also, if you think that the timing of this such that all major world leaders are in China for the Olympics is a coincidence, then I have some land I would like to sell you. I would very much love to know what is being openly and quietly said in Beijing right now, as I am just about willing to bet cash money that the Chinese are backing the Russian play. China has its own reasons to want this, including Taiwan. Fail to back an ally, bad enough. Cut and run, and the world-wide results would be catastrophic.
Those of us who used to monitor the Soviet Union have seen some of this coming for a while. The open events, such as the murder of Anna Politkovskaya was a clear indication that the Soviet-era methods were back in play, while the nasty and showy murder of Alexander Litvinenko made points lost on no one paying attention. These are two of the best known events, but many more have died, disappeared, etc. over the last few years who were even a minor threat to Putin and those working with him. They are willing and able to play for keeps, and I think they will be more than willing to escalate things in Georgia to levels we have not seen in several decades.
UPDATE: For those of you coming in from Instapundit, Argghhh!, and elsewhere, here is a roundup of Blackfive coverage:
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...