Friday, September 26, 2008

Briefly: Russian military punch in Georgia; Saakashvili blamed for fiasco; Turkey sees end of U.S. dominance

Washington Brifing
by Emil Sanamyan

Russia’s military punch in Georgia stuns U.S.

The Bush Administration appeared unprepared for the consequences of Georgia’s failed invasion of South Ossetia and Russia’s subsequent “shock and awe”-type campaign that within days forced Tbilisi to return to a cease-fire on terms worse that it negotiated after its initial defeat in the early 1990s.

Hours after the Georgian military launched a massive bombardment of South Ossetia on August 7 and Georgian officials announced their intention to occupy the breakaway region, Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried blamed the fighting on Ossetian “provocations” and his comments to Reuters news agency suggested that U.S. did not expect Russia to get involved on the scale it eventually did.

“It appears that the South Ossetians have instigated this uptick in violence,” Mr. Fried said. “We have urged the Russians to urge their South Ossetian friends to pull back and show greater restraint. And we believe that the Russians ... are trying to do just that.”

In August 12 analysis, Strategic Forecasting, a leading U.S.-based political risk consultancy, argued that it was “inconceivable” that either the United States or Russia were unaware of Georgia’s preparations to attack South Ossetia. And according to the Washington Post on August 17, Western officials on the ground recorded the Georgian troop, armor and artillery movement throughout August 7.

But, Strategic Forecasting concludes, “the United States had assumed that the Russians would not risk the consequences of an invasion.”

Similarly, Russia’s Kommersant-Vlast’ magazine cited officials at Western embassies in Tbilisi as claiming ten hours after the Georgian attack began,

“Can’t you see that Russia decided to surrender South Ossetia? May be it is good that the [Georgian attack] happened now; later on everyone will be better off.”

But 15 hours after the Georgian attack began, the first Russian armor and artillery arrived north of South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvaliand, following a warning, opened fire on Georgians, forcing their retreat.

In the next 48 hours, backed by the Russian Air Force, a combined Russian-Ossetian force proceeded to defeat the professional Georgian army, trained and equipped by the United States since 2001.

By the night of August 11, Georgian forces fled from Georgian areas near South Ossetia, abandoning tanks and other weapon systems and leaving the local population
unprotected. The Russian forces have since come into Georgia and have been systematically destroying Georgian military facilities within reach.

So far U.S. reaction has been limited to sending humanitarian aid to Georgia, blocking of the Russian proposals on the conflict at the United Nations Security Council, verbal calls for a Russian pullout, which is currently underway, and threats that Russia would pay a price for its intervention.

Georgian officials said candidly that they counted on more U.S. support. In a press call with Western media on August 13, Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili said that “the reputation that America has gained since the Cold War is going to hell right now. This is tragic.”

Georgia’s Ambassador to the United Nations Irakli Alasania suggested on the same day that “many Georgians expected the West would intervene,” including with “military support.”

But as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates stressed in his August 14 briefing: “The United States spent 45 years working very hard to avoid a military confrontation with Russia,” Mr. Gates said in apparent reference to the 1963 Cuba missile crisis. “I see no reason to change that approach today.”

Georgian leadership coming under domestic criticism

With Russian occupation continuing, most Georgians are wary of criticizing their leader Mikhail Saakashvili, whom most observers blame for the crisis. But criticism from his political rivals already began to emerge.

Georgia’s ex-president Eduard Shevardnadze, whom the Saakashvili- led opposition forced out in 2003, told Bild, a German newspaper, “Georgia should not have intervened in [the South Ossetian capital] Tskhinvali in such an illprepared manner. This was a grave mistake,” the Times of London reported on August 13.

And Nino Bourjanadze, Georgia’s former acting president, Parliament Speaker and key Saakashvili ally who resigned last May, promised Reuters news agency she would return to active politics and said that Mr. Saakashvili will soon face “tough questions” over the failed campaign.

Other leaders from pro-Western opposition parties were blunter.

Ivlian Khaindrava of the Republican Party told Georgia’s Mteli Kvira newspaper that this it is a “tragedy that lives and welfare of thousands of people have been sacrificed to infantile complexes of the commander-in-chief.”

And Kakha Kukava of the Conservative Party told the Financial Times that “Saakashvili was personally responsible for the military operation, and for starting a war we could not win.”

Turkey takes middle ground between U.S. and Russia, revives regional pact idea

Following the Russian military victory in Ossetia and U.S. criticism of Russia, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan flew to Moscow on what was referred to as a “visit of solidarity.”

While Mr. Erdogan also visited Tbilisi, and Turkey, like Azerbaijan and Armenia, dispatched humanitarian aid to Georgia, Ankara did not join in Western criticism of Russia’s actions.

And in August 16 interview with Britain’s Guardian newspaper, President Abdullah Gul said that the Georgia crisis showed that the United States could no longer shape global politics on its own, and should begin sharing power with other countries.

“I don’t think you can control all the world from one centre,” Mr. Gül told the Guardian shortly before hosting the visiting Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

“There are big nations. There are huge populations. There is unbelievable economic development in some parts of the world. So what we have to do is, instead of unilateral actions, act all together, make common decisions and have
consultations with the world. A new world order, if I can say it, should emerge.”

Moreover, according to the New York Times and McClatchy newspapers, Turkey denied a U.S. request to send a large naval vessel to the Black Sea in a show of U.S. support for Georgia.

Turkey has long resisted facilitating U.S. or NATO naval presence in the Black Sea.

According to the Turkish Daily News, Rep. Mark Kirk (R.-Ill.), a long-time Georgia backer, circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter suggesting that “blocking humanitarian and medical supplies from reaching the people of Georgia is unacceptable. We should expect more from a NATO ally like Turkey.”

Two smaller U.S. vessels, a destroyer USS McFaul and Coast Guard cutter Dallas, will proceed through the Turkish straits toward Georgia later this month in an exercise
planned since earlier this year and for which Turkey granted earlier approval.

Meanwhile Turkey, which seeks to win a United Nations Security Council seat next month, has also revived a regional “peace and cooperation platform,” suggested in the 1990s by then-Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze and Turkish president Suleyman Demirel.

Turkish leaders have reportedly already discussed the idea with all regional leaders except Armenia’s, with Armenian-Turkish talks on ministerial level currently anticipated.

The concept elaborated then would reportedly bring together the three Caucasus states, along with regional powers Iran, Russia, and Turkey.

According to the Turkish Daily News, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matt Bryza was “surprised” by this Turkish initiative.

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