The dramatic military attack by the military of the Republic of Georgia on South Ossetia in the last days has brought the world one major step closer to the ultimate horror of the Cold War era—a thermonuclear war between Russia and the United States—by miscalculation. What is playing out in the Caucasus is being reported in US media in an alarmingly misleading light, making Moscow appear the lone aggressor. The question is whether George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are encouraging the unstable Georgian President, Mikhail Saakashvili in order to force the next US President to back the NATO military agenda of the Bush Doctrine. This time Washington may have badly misjudged the possibilities, as it did in Iraq , but this time with possible nuclear consequences.
The underlying issue, as I stressed in my July 11 piece in this space, Georgien, Washington, Moskau: Atomarer geopolitischer Machtpoker , is the fact that since the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991 one after another former member as well as former states of the USSR have been coaxed and in many cases bribed with false promises by Washington into joining the counter organization, NATO.
Rather than initiate discussions after the 1991 dissolution of the Warsaw Pact about a systematic dissolution of NATO, Washington has systematically converted NATO into what can only be called the military vehicle of an American global imperial rule, linked by a network of military bases from Kosovo to Poland to Turkey to Iraq and Afghanistan . In 1999, former Warsaw Pact members Hungary , Poland and the Czech Republic joined NATO. Bulgaria , Estonia , Latvia , Lithuania , Romania , and Slovakia followed suit in March 2004. Now Washington is putting immense pressure on the EU members of NATO, especially Germany and France , that they vote in December to admit Georgia and Ukraine .
The roots of the conflict
The specific conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia and Abkhazia has its roots in the following. First, the Southern Ossetes , who until 1990 formed an autonomous region of the Georgian Soviet republic, seek to unite in one state with their co-ethnics in North Ossetia , an autonomous republic of the Russian Soviet republic and now the Russian Federation . There is an historically grounded Ossete fear of violent Georgian nationalism and the experience of Georgian hatred of ethnic minorities under then Georgian leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia, which the Ossetes see again under Georgian President, Mikhel Saakashvili. Saakashvili was brought to power with US financing and US covert regime change activities in December 2003 in what was called the Rose Revolution. Now the thorns of that rose are causing blood to spill.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia—the first a traditional Black Sea resort area, the second an impoverished, sparsely populated region that borders Russia to the north—each has its own language, culture, history. When the Soviet Union collapsed, both regions sought to separate themselves from Georgia in bloody conflicts – South Ossetia in 1990-1, Abkhazia in 1992-4.
In December 1990 Georgia under Gamsakhurdia sent troops into South Ossetia after the region declared its own sovereignty. This Georgian move was defeated by Soviet Interior Ministry troops. Then Georgia declared abolition of the South Ossete autonomous region and its incorporation into Georgia proper. Both wars ended with cease-fires that were negotiated by Russia and policed by peacekeeping forces under the aegis of the recently established Commonwealth of Independent States. The situation hardened into “frozen conflicts,” like that over Cyprus . By late 2005, Georgia signed an agreement that it would not use force, and the Abkhaz would allow the gradual return of 200,000-plus ethnic Georgians who had fled the violence. But the agreement collapsed in early 2006, when Saakashvili sent troops to retake the Kodori Valley in Abkhazia. Since then Saakashvili has been escalating preparations for military action.
Critical is Russia ‘s support for the Southern Ossetes . Russia is unwilling to see Georgia join NATO. In addition, the Ossetes are the oldest Russian allies in the Caucasus who have provided troops to the Russian army in many wars. Russia does not wish to abandon them and the Abkhaz, and fuel yet more ethnic unrest among their compatriots in the Russian North Caucasus . In a November 2006 referendum, 99 percent of South Ossetians voted for independence from Georgia , at a time when most of them had long held Russian passports. This enabled Russian President Medvedev to justify his military’s counter-attack of Georgia on Friday as an effort to “protect the lives and dignity of Russian citizens, wherever they may be.”
For Russia , Ossetia has been an important strategic base near the Turkish and Iranian frontiers since the days of the czars. Georgia is also an important transit country for oil being pumped from the Caspian Sea to the Turkish port of Ceyhan and a potential base for Washington efforts to encircle Tehran .
As far as the Georgians are concerned, South Ossetia and Abkhazia are simply part of their national territory, to be recovered at all costs. Promises by NATO leaders to bring Georgia into the alliance, and ostentatious declarations of support from Washington , have emboldened Saakashvili to launch his military offensive against the two provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Saakashvili and likely, Dick Cheney’s office in Washington appear to have miscalculated very badly. Russia has made it clear that it has no intention of ceding its support for South Ossetia or Abkhazia.