Russians are just superb at timing: whenever they do something dastardly, they time it to Friday afternoon when politicians, diplomats and journalist head to the weekend. The attack on Georgia also came at the time, when all the worlds’ attention is on Beijing. Everyone who has paid close attention, however, to the events in Georgia, is shocked, but not surprised.
South-Ossetia is an ancient Georgian territory, which has seen in the last about 100-150 years immigration from neighboring North-Ossetia. The latter has always been part of Russia. It is possible to draw parallels to the Kosovo region in Serbia. During the Soviet Union, Moscow gave South-Ossetia autonomous status under Georgian administration as a reward for Georgia’s loyalty to Moscow. Tbilisi is offering precisely that same status to them now. In the beginning of 1990s, after the collapse of Soviet Union, several regions of Georgia declared independence. A civil war followed where Moscow systematically and openly supported the separatist. Without the military, economical and political support of Russia, the breakaway republics would have soon put under Tbilisi’s control. Some, by the way, where successfully brought back under Tbilisi control.
For the past 12 or so years, there has been a status quo: Abkhasia and South-Ossetia are nominally under Tbilisi’s rule, practically under Moscow’s rule. The status quo is no longer satisfying Russians, who have in the last years become more and more bellicose and revanchist in their attempt to collect the old empire together again. In the past months the South-Ossetian government has abandoned its quest for independence and started to pursue a policy of officially becoming part of Russia. Tbilisi has repeatedly warned that it would be crossing a red line. In the past few days, South-Ossetian paramilitary units attacked Georgian villages, thereby provoking Georgian response.
What the Georgians only now realize, is that they where playing by the Russian scenario. Russia almost immediately crossed the Georgian border, sent in massive amounts of tanks, artillery and armored carriers and started to attack Georgian targets, including targets around Tbilisi. It is possible to send in planes this fast, but to mount a massive army operation with such a scale is simply impossible without a previous operational plan and months of preparations.
This attack is not some faraway tribes shelling each other nor an “internal matter” like Chechnya. Georgia is a NATO aspirant, a democratic country in otherwise totalitarian region. It is directly attacked by Russia. This is the first Russian invasion of a neighboring country since its invasion of Afghanistan. It is impossible for the world to turn a blind eye. And although we can be certain that Western governments will do their best to pressure Georgia into retreat and capitulation in order to avoid the West having to demand that the Russians behave themselves, it will be impossible for Georgia to back down. The survival of the country is at stake.
Remember the Clinton campaign ad in US Democratic primary about the 3 a.m. call in the White House. What an irony that the Russian attack on Georgia came almost at about that time. Clinton is no longer in the race but an international crisis has erupted that will have far reaching consequences and that will not subside quietly and on its own. What is at stake here is a post cold war world order. At stake is the credibility of NATO as a military alliance, the U.S. as a credible ally and, for better or for worse, the EU’s survival. One has to understand, that most people from Eastern and Central Europe joined the EU not so much because of economic reasons – many of the countries had much freer and open economies then we have now under Brussels – but because it was hoped that the EU offers security against Russia. If NATO, America and the EU can/will not pressure Russia into ending its aggression against Georgia, the EU will lose its ultimate value in the eyes of Eastern Europeans. It will have proved that EU’s major countries are so spineless, willfulness and badly dependant of Russian gas and oil that they will allow Russia impunity against all atrocities and all aggressions. If the West allows Russia to have its way with Georgia, next in line will be Ukraine and third in line will be the Baltic countries. We are once again on the firing line with backstabbers behind us. Allowing Russia to continue will invite untold mayhem into international security and global economy.
As for the US presidential elections, the closer you get to November, the clearer it is, that the “citizen of the world” Obama is incapable of answering seriously to any call about international affairs, no matter what time it is. War in Georgia will help McCain. As an Estonian, I hope that the old school cold war politician McCain will help the Georgians, once in office.