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Russia Unmasked

By M. Alkhazashvili
Monday, August 11
Russia has started a full scale undeclared war against Georgia. This creates a new reality not only for its smaller neighbour but the entire international community.

For more than a decade Russia has opposed Georgia’s independently-pursued course towards democracy and western values, fighting through the covert agency of the separatist regimes. While doing so Moscow has pretended to play the role of peacekeeper. But now Russia has unmasked itself and we can see it for what it is.

Now Russia reveals that its face is that of an aggressor, as the world has readily seen. Russia’s own actions, not those of its client separatist regimes, suddenly claim world attention. The question arises: why has this occurred?

There could be several answers to this. But one question often asked when analysing particular developments is: who benefits? We can hardly find anyone who will say that this war is in Georgia’s interests. But almost all agree that the war is in Russian interests. Russian politicians and political analysts have many times considered the possibility of getting Georgia engaged in a war, simply to destabilize it. The separatist regimes have been used as the primary means of achieving this objective. Georgia did not receive its hoped-for Membership Action Plan from NATO because it has unresolved separatist conflicts on its territory. Any kind of aggravation of the situation will further postpone Georgia’s accession to NATO, which Russia opposes.

The Russians chose to start this destabilization from South Ossetia, because the other breakaway territory, Abkhazia, is very close to the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, which will be held in Sochi. Russia would not like to undermine its claims to this international prize by allowing conflict to take place there. In recent times there has also been serious Western involvement in efforts to resolve the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict, a fact Russia could not simply ignore. But the situation in South Ossetia is different. Whereas in Abkhazia there is a distinct line dividing separatist controlled territory from Georgian, in South Ossetia Georgian and Ossetian villages stand side by side. It is very easy to trigger any kind of trivial dispute which could escalate into a full scale confrontation. South Ossetia is also close to the most important transit pipelines, and the motorway connecting Eastern Georgia to the seaports of Poti and Batumi, and thus has deeper strategic significance.

When the current situation has stabilized, a lot more details will emerge about how the Kremlin dragged Georgia into a military confrontation. One of tools in Russian hands is the ability to start an information war, and the Russian state-controlled media has unleashed many lies about Georgia. The Russian plan as a whole was not much different to the old tried and tested ones: to escalate the situation in the conflict zone by multiple and regular provocations. We have seen how they have killed non-combatant civilians. We have seen so-called ‘volunteers’, in reality mercenaries, bandits and adventurers, enter the conflict. We have seen the build up of arms and ammunition. The Russian military machine has privately participated in such subversive actions whilst publicly proclaiming a peacekeeping mission.

The Russians did not expect the very effective and rapid advance of the Georgian law-enforcement bodies, or the liberation of almost the entire separatist region from the bandit groupings, or the restoration of constitutional order there. It was frustrated. Russian military expert Pavel Felgengaur told the Rezonansi newspaper that Russia had not much choice about whether to intervene in this conflict, as not doing so would discredit Russia’s image in the North Caucasus. Interfering would mean a large scale open war with Georgia with possible heavy casualties, but this was a better option. That was the choice, in the eyes of Russia, and now Georgia is seeing the result.

Moscow has started a full scale war, occupying a sovereign country’s territory, bombing it, killing people. But Russia has failed to gain immediate success. The 58th Russian Army was stopped in its tracks by heroic Georgian troops. Russia has already lost up to 10 war planes. Two pilots have been captured and one has died. There is no panic among the Georgian population, on the contrary, Georgian society has united against the behaviour of its common enemy.

The international community almost unanimously condemns Russian aggression .But Georgia has limited resources. The world should be much more active in supporting a sovereign country striving for democracy.