Sunday, August 10, 2008

BBC NEWS | Europe | Fear, anger, confusion in Tbilisi

BBC NEWS | Europe | Fear, anger, confusion in Tbilisi:
'People like his [Asshole In Charge Saakashvili's] strong statements and most are on his side now, even opposition supporters,' said Ana, a child psychologist.

'This is hell, it's a disaster, but we have to fight to the end because Russia must be taught a lesson that it cannot act like this in the 21st Century - even if we all have to die.'
Remind me not to send my child to this child psychologist. She's INSANE!
"Many people can't understand why the West failed to protect us," said Sandro, a student in Tbilisi.
Protect you? They should shoot you for being stupid, as in expecting such an outcome.


jj mollo said...

Maybe we're all insane then. Don't you think Americans would act the same way if our territory were invaded? It's not the actual encroachment, but always the fear of what will happen next. If the Russians were to take one small island in Alaska, what would we do? It would be like them to do it, just to see how we would react. Testing, always testing. It's the Soviet Way.

Let me assure you that we have plans for everything we think they might try to do. Some things will provoke escalated hostilities. Putin doesn't care now. He's reaping a lot of personal popularity right now. Maybe his polls were slipping.

You should here the things that Russians, even Russian-Americans, are saying on talk radio. They are foaming at the mouth about disrespect. Talk about crazy.

I think Bush's response has be firm but measured. Considering that Georgia is not part of NATO, we sent the Russians a message that we would not defend Georgia. By sending Condi Rice to Tbilisi we are sending another sort of message. The world is a nasty place. We are walking the razor's edge with Russia -- only grownups need apply.

Steve said...

Yes, but there's a big difference between the Russians taking a US island in the Aleutians vs. what's been going on in and around Georgia. Maybe a better example would be the rocks that Russia and Japan squabble over, the Kuril islands, except that there are not squabbling people there.

There was an interesting discussion the other day on the News Hour with Dimitri Simes and Richard Holbrooke, in which Simes noted that there are no good guys anywhere in this mess, and Holbrooke (about whom I've always had (and continue to have) a very good impression) was surprisingly (to me) down on the Russians.

I certainly don't think there are any good guys on the scene. My interpretation, though, is that Saakashvili is among the worst, that filthy nationalism is being employed for political gain, and that the status quo was worth preserving. It was worth preserving because it was better than what was forseeably likely to have resulted from the criminally stupid and hot-headed action initiated by Saakashvili.

I wonder what message it was that Saakashvili received that led him to think it was smart to precipitate this thing? Was it from McCain's lobbyist campaign guy? I don't know, JJ, but if ever there was a fly spec of a chance that I'd vote for McCain, it's been wiped clean.

As for all of us being crazy, sometimes it sure seems that way, doesn't it?

jj mollo said...

Here's a good Left vs. Right vlog of the geopolitical perspectives. Having lived through the Cold War, I'm definitely inclined to see the Russians as the bad guys. I'm with McCain on this. When he looked into Putin's eyes, he said, he could see the letters "KGB". That was a slam on Bush who was originally disposed to see Putin as a productive partner. It might have been injudicious from a statesman's point of view, but it was exactly correct, and necessary when seen as the first effort to raise the alarm against impending aggression. Once again, McCain was prophetic.

I have been observing Putin as he steadily dismantles one democratic institution after another. He will brook no opposition. He kills people who annoy him. He has changed the constitutional makeup of Russia by eliminating independent sources of power, such as independent authority in the provinces and elected governors. He has eliminated legitimate public opponents by sending his thugs to physically harass them and intimidate their followers. Gary Kasparov, despite his widespread support and a place in the hearts of all Russians, was injured several times while trying to campaign. Putin has encouraged, even inflamed, lunatic Russian nationalism. He loosed the cyberdogs on one of the Balkan states because they removed a statue of a Russian soldier from a town square. These states are supposed to be independent. He has promoted a self-serving propaganda machine to support his cyberkrieg.

I, for one, do not believe for a second that Saakashvili had any culpability or even any choice in this deal. Everything has been arranged by Putin. Judging from the size of the invasion, it was planned for months, perhaps years.
Putin is completely cynical about his charge of ethnic cleansing. It was just his little joke comparing South Ossetia to Kosovo. On the other hand, ethnic Ossetians did ethnically cleanse four villages around Gori. All this would have happened no matter what Saakashvili did, and Russian propaganda would have been word-for-word the same.

Hitchens has an analysis too. I'll try to find a link for you.

Steve said...

I checked out the vlog link but, frankly, I didn't feel up to sitting through 66 minutes of that. Instead...

Bush administration officials, worried by what they saw as a series of provocative Russian actions, repeatedly warned Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to avoid giving the Kremlin an excuse to intervene in his country militarily, U.S. officials said Monday.

But in the end, the warnings failed to stop the Georgian president — a Bush favorite — from launching an attack last week that on Monday seemed likely to end not only in his country’s military humiliation but complete occupation by Russian forces.

The rest of the article is interesting, too.

What I have picked up on is that the pro-Georgia side seems to gloss over the spark that lit the tinder, which seems clearly to be Saakashvili's doing.

An example of a pro-Georgian glossing over the spark is this piece by Strobe Talbot. Not a word unless you count the link to this piece (What's clear, however, is that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili ordered his country's military to assert his authority over South Ossetia by force.), a link I figure was probably inserted by some editor.

The spinners are out in force favoring one bad guy or another, and I'm focused on the spark. If you are correct about Saakashvili having no culpability, then I might change my mind, but from what I see it's pretty clear that he's the one who threw gasoline on embers that might otherwise have died out in time. As far as I'm concerned, that means he should punishingly fail.

I don't know, JJ. It's tough to know what's true. I know nothing.

jj mollo said...

Your first link points back to your own post.

Yeah. There is a lot of self serving noise from both sides, but Russia has no opposition press to speak of. The London Times, however, has a good pro-Georgian piece that quotes an analyst from Moscow who seemed pretty smug about the whole deal.

... The US State Department’s internal timeline of the crisis pinpoints the explosion on August 1 of two roadside bombs, believed to have been planted by South Ossetian separatists sympathetic to Russia, as a decisive moment. Five Georgian policemen were injured, one severely.

That night Georgian forces struck back. There was a furious firefight that left six South Ossetian rebels dead. Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, was on holiday. A few new provocations by the South Ossetians did not appear to warrant her coming home. The US intelligence services had been warning that the Russians were preparing for war, but it did not occur to them that fighting would break out just as the world was settling down to watch the Beijing Olympics.

It now appears that August 1 was a well-prepared “provocation” – one of the Kremlin’s favourite tactics. Pavel Felgengauer, a Moscow authority on military affairs, claimed in Novaya Gazeta that the plan was for the “Ossetians to intentionally provoke the Georgians” so that “any response, harsh or soft, would be used as an occasion for the attack”. ...

It's plain to me that Russians are suffering from a gross inferiority complex fed by Russian supremacists, who are in turn allowed off the leash by Putin. Russia has suffered horribly since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but it was not the fault of the Georgians or the Ukrainians or the Estonians or Lithuanians. It was a natural disaster waiting to happen, artificially fended off by an unworkable communist system for seven decades.

The West takes their economic punches as they come, sacrificing, reacting and reforming continuously. The Soviets otoh tried to prevent the necessary corrections by means of central control. It was like Darius lashing the Bosphorus for stormy conditions. Actually, it was a lot worse. It was more like capturing lightning in a leyden jar. Somehow you have to release that charge. The Russians are still suffering from that because they haven't learned the right lessons yet. They are watching their satellites overtake them and it's embarrassing. Believe me, this war is not about defending a few thousand Ossetians. The Russians could care less about them. They've got deeper problems of their own.

Here's the thing. Trying to monopolize the oil trade is not going to bring wealth and freedom to the masses of Russia. Cyber-war fought from made-in-China PCs is not going to build up Russian industry. Naked aggression is not going to reverse the population implosion or save them from tuberculosis. All this is only going to enrich the kleptocrats. As long as Putin can keep them in ignorance, he can live the good life. I don't think he's even as good as Stalin. Stalin might actually have thought he was helping the masses.

jj mollo said...

Washington Post is also backing the Georgian POV.

Steve said...

Oops! Sorry about the bad link. Here it is. And here it is, cached in case it goes cold:

Posted on Mon, Aug. 11, 2008
U.S. knew Georgia trouble was coming, but couldn't stop it
Jonathan S. Landay | McClatchy Newspapers

last updated: August 12, 2008 08:16:02 AM

WASHINGTON — Bush administration officials, worried by what they saw as a series of provocative Russian actions, repeatedly warned Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to avoid giving the Kremlin an excuse to intervene in his country militarily, U.S. officials said Monday.

But in the end, the warnings failed to stop the Georgian president — a Bush favorite — from launching an attack last week that on Monday seemed likely to end not only in his country’s military humiliation but complete occupation by Russian forces.

The cost of the fighting in lives has yet to be tallied. But President Bush on Monday made it clear that the outcome was sure to mark a turning point in Russia’s relations with the West. It might also prove costly for the West’s relationship with the budding democracies of Eastern Europe, which now must contemplate a world where the United States could do little to protect a close ally in the face of a determined Russian onslaught.

"Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people," President Bush proclaimed after returning from China. "Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century."

"These actions jeopardize Russia's relations with the United States and Europe," Bush said. "It's time for Russia to be true to its word to act to end this crisis."

Pentagon officials said that despite having 130 trainers assigned to Georgia, they had no advance notice of Georgia’s sudden move last Thursday to send thousands of Georgian troops into South Ossetia to capture that province's capital, Tskhinvali.

Not only did the U.S. troops working alongside their Georgian counterparts not see any signs of an impending invasion, Georgian officials did not notify the U.S. military before the incursion, a senior U.S. defense official told McClatchy.

But the Bush administration had fretted for months over what officials saw as intensifying Russian moves that it feared were aimed at provoking Georgia into a conflict over South Ossetia or Abkhazia, another secessionist province.

Russia has been angry over Georgia's close links with Washington, and has been determined to stop the admission to NATO of its former vassal, which is located on strategic energy and transportation routes to Central Asia.

The Russian actions against Georgia "seemed designed to provoke a Georgian over-reaction," said a senior U.S. official. "We have always counseled restraint to the Georgians."

Some experts, however, wondered whether the administration might have inadvertently sent Saakashvili mixed messages that would have led him to believe he could count on U.S. support if he got into trouble.

Bush lavished praise on the U.S.-educated Georgian leader as a "beacon of democracy." He gave military training and equipment to Georgia, which supplied the third-largest contingent to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, and had promised NATO membership, they said. He visited the country in 2005 and addressed a huge crowd from the same podium as Saakashvili.

"The Russians have clearly overreacted but President Saakashvili . . . for some reason seems to think he has a hall pass from this administration," said former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

U.S. officials had been warning of Russian actions designed to provoke Georgia for months.

In June, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Russia's "unremitting" political and economic pressure included closing its border with Georgia, suspending air and transportation links, imposing an embargo on Georgian agricultural exports and allowing Russian banks to operate "virtually unregulated" with unlicensed Abkhazian banks.

Earlier this year, he said, Russia strengthened official ties with separatist leaders in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, shot down an unmanned Georgian surveillance drone, sent heavy combat troops with artillery as peacekeepers to Abkhazia and dispatched military personnel to repair a rail line without Georgia's permission.

He also said senior Russian officials were assigned to the internationally unrecognized self-declared governments in the two enclaves and that senior Russian military officers operated with the separatists' military forces.

The senior U.S. official said the Russians had also dragged their feet on a recent German-led effort to head off a conflict.

A "parade" of U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, visited Tbilisi to urge Saakashvili to avoid giving the Kremlin to act, a State Department officials said.

At the same time, U.S. officials said that they believed they had an understanding with Russia that any response to Georgian military action would be limited to South Ossetia.

"We knew they were going to go crack heads. We told them again and again not to do this," the State Department official said. "We thought we had an understanding with the Russians that any response would be South Ossetia-focused. Clearly it's not."

One problem in under-estimating the Russian response, another U.S. official said, was "a dearth of intelligence assets in the region."

U.S. "national technical means," the official name for spy satellites and other technology, are "pretty well consumed by Iraq, Afghanistan and now Pakistan," the official said, and there was only limited monitoring of Russian military movements toward the Georgian border.

Additionally, the United States had lost access to vital information when Russia dropped out of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty in December to protest U.S. plans to build missile defense sites in Europe.

Under the treaty, Russia had been required to exchange reports on troop, armor and aircraft deployments with the United States and other members on a monthly basis. But once Russia dropped out, that information was no longer available.

"I wouldn't say we were blind," the official said. "I would say that we mostly were focused elsewhere, unlike during the Cold War, when we'd see a single Soviet armor battalion move. So, yes, the size and scope of the Russian move has come as something of a surprise."

Now, the United States is left with few options for countering what it calls Russia's "disproportionate" response to Georgia if the Kremlin persists in spurning a U.S.-backed European plan calling for a ceasefire, a pullback of all forces, an accord on the non-use of force and deployment of international monitors.

The delicacy of the situation was underscored by the U.S. decision to leave its military advisers in Georgia, though, with Georgia's troops no longer in Iraq, there was little for the advisers to do.

"While their utility in country may be very limited, removing them might inadvertently signal to the world that we are abandoning our ally, which we most certainly are not," said a senior U.S. military official.

(Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this report.)

I don't know, JJ. The whole thing is a major disappointment. I remain angry with Saakashvili for the spark, for which he still seems to me to be responsible. I'm still angry with him for cultivating nationalism.

Maybe enlightened leadership is a pipe dream.

I'll have to check out the links you gave above when I get home this evening, by which time we might have a clearer picture of whether the Russians have used Sarkozy as a... what's the term?

Steve said...

OK, now I've looked at the Times Online and Washington Post pieces.

I don't know. I read in the news somewhere today that Saakashvili denies what appeared to be clear, that he ordered his forces to take control of South Ossetia by force - that the facts are otherwise, I think he said.

Seems like the only thing I can be sure of is that there are no good guys in this mess, and it's still not clear if Sarkozy was a... what's that term again?

One thing that annoyed me in the Time Online piece was the tone of bit about Russia threatening Poland with nuclear retaliation over the missile thing. Would it be a threat or a simple statement of fact if some US general said that Cuba would be targeted should the Russians again place missiles there? I think that bit has almost certainly been overblown, but what do I know?

Why is Robert Mugabe still alive?

Steve said...

This from Stratfor makes sense to me.

jj mollo said...

It doesn't matter whether we were tied down in Iraq or not. We were not about to put combat troops into a provocative situation that could lead to nuclear exchange. The Russians are playing the old brinksmanship game, testing, testing, testing. We look for ways to answer that are not too direct, but are painful to the Russians. They know we draw the line somewhere, but very vaguely, not letting them know exactly where we will escalate. If we are too explicit, they will take everything right up to the limit and then begin testing little "harmless" places, like South Ossetia.

Sending in medical supplies was a actually a propaganda coup for Bush. It showed that we are not afraid to risk lives for a friend. It compared Russia to the Burmese military tyrants. It reminded people of our past acts of generosity following major disasters.

I don't know what goes on in the situation room, but I know that we are capable of some very sophisticated game theory. Stupidity and incompetence can never be discounted, but the Russians usually exceed us on that score. They give us lots of opportunities. It's just that we are often too timid to take advantage. We don't do the testing, testing thing because we are not expansionist. We really just want to give these former satellites a real chance at freedom. And we don't want Russia to exploit these places for military advantage. May God help Poland and the Ukraine. I have no idea whether we will or not. The next taget is probably Crimea.