Friday, August 08, 2008

Waking up to War

I'm not sure if Americans will take the time to care, but Russia and Georgia are engaged in a shooting war today. There have been negotiations in recent weeks over the break away republics South Ossetia and Abkhazia that have gone nowhere. Georgian unmanned spy drones were recently shot down by Russian fighters, and other breaches of peace (like a Russian bomb dropped in a Georgian village) have occurred.
Every incident gets it own spin. Russia says it doesn't even have planes in the area, etc.

The official story, according to the NY Times, is that Georgia moved to occupy the capital of South Ossetia last night and Russia counterattacked in response. Putin and Medvedev later announced on Russian TV that "The war has started." I'm not currently seeing much on Russian news about it, no live footage that is, only replaying Putin and Medvedev's statements about defending Russian citizens and punishing those who harm them. Different international newspapers have different angles.

According to recent articles at Kavkaz Center, Russia has been moving troops toward Georgia since the end of July, and evacuating women and children from S. Ossetia. Officials involved have denied an evacuation, saying it's all part of pre-arranged summer camps for the kids.

As usual, there's spin on both sides and it's hard to get concrete information.

Why you should care:
Georgia's President is American-educated and an ally of the U.S., having sent troops to help in Iraq. Georgia has been eager to join NATO against Russia's wishes. The U.S. has helped train Georgian troops in antiterrorism tactics and we might even still have some troops there. Russia's foreign minister holds us partly responsible:

"Now we see Georgia has found a use for these weapons and for the special forces that were trained with the help of international instructors," he said.

"I think our European and American colleagues ... should understand what is happening. And I hope very much that they will reach the right conclusions."

We've spent $millions and a lot of political manpower securing the recently-opened Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline that pumps 15 million barrels of oil to Western markets every day (and was maybe bombed this week, not good for oil prices). Condi Rice has been on the phone with President Saakasvhili "several times" today.

Would Russia like to get rid of the Western-leaning Saakasvhili who is always criticizing and accusing them of meddling? Absolutely. Would they love to control the oil pipeline? Absolutely, officials have recently been talking about buying all the natural gas that comes from Azerbaijan. PM Putin has previously expressed his desires to see Russia restored to all of its former territories, including Georgia.

Will the truth about what's happening ever come out? Probably not. The NY Times seems to be taking a "Russia is shady" stance, while other publications aren't making as many claims as the Times is.

But, war has started and in the Caucasus all wars are very long and bloody.

Update1: Russia bloggers are starting to chime in. reports that Russian financial markets met the war news rather grimly and also wonders about the war's implications on the pipeline.

Update2: A Tblisi blogger reports Russian warplanes bombing airport just outside Tblisi. This is inside universally-recognized Georgian territory (whereas S. Ossetia is disputed). Bad sign.

Update3: The Eurasia Daily Monitor, a very conservative (right-leaning) site posts this about Russia's intentions. The truth is probably somewhat less extreme than this, but somewhat more extreme than what state-run Russian media is saying. The U.S.' response will be critical.

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