August, Eastern Europe
And the Tanks Roll Again
One hardly knows where to begin. It was August, days before the (historic) Democratic National Convention, protests (mostly against the war) were planned and the whole country could tell that things were changing. Then the tanks came in. Everyone over the age of 50 knows I’m talking about ’68 and the Soviet incursion into Czechoslovakia. One of my friends was there – She and her (then young) children barely escaped (her father did not). To this day her stories of Prague at that time are compelling.
But this is 2008 and the tanks are rolling again, this time in Georgia. Was Russian expansionism ever on hold? Putin seems more intent on emulation the Russian Czars than Lenin or Stalin (but he’s doing a good job imitating them, too).
- Russia has announced a unilateral ceasefire because its operations have achieved their aims.
Medvedev and Sarkozy have drafted a document that encapsulates all of Russia’s demands in return for a ceasefire—but not a final settlement, which must still be negotiated. Sarkozy is discussing that deal with Saakashvili right now.
- So the situation on the ground now legally is that there are two unilateral ceasefires, although the Georgians claim that Russian forces continue their attacks, and the Russian military has laid the predicate for those and further attacks in public statements today. The Russian military has also made plain that if a formal ceasefire agreement is not reached, then Russian forces will not withdraw from Ossetia or Abkhazia.
- The Russian military has clearly stated that the objective of its operations was to reduce Georgia’s overall military capability so that Georgia could not again conduct an operation similar to the one it launched in South Ossetia, and for that reason has been attacking targets throughout Georgia.
- Russian leaders repeatedly say that they will not deal with Saakashvili.
The Russian Attorney General has announced that Russian law permits the trial of Saakashvili for crimes under the Russian Federation Criminal Code.
- The Russian Foreign Minister has called for an investigation of Georgian war crimes and the punishment of those ultimately responsible by international tribunals, and has said that Russian citizens victimized by Georgians will be bringing individual actions in appropriate European human rights courts.
- The Russian aim is to force Saakashvili from power, preferably using international legal maneuvers (a la Milosevic), but possibly using Russian law instead or in addition.
- The Russians are maintaining their excessive forces in South Ossetia, and continuing to control Georgia’s airspace and conduct periodic attacks in a flagrant effort to compel an immediate Georgian agreement to their armistice terms, conveyed by Sarkozy.
- Russia will not permit South Ossetia and Abkhazia to return to Georgian control, and will move one way or the other to have their independence recognized, and probably soon.
I am an uninformed observer, as are we all at the moment. But what I have observed (through the lens of the internet, darkly) is that Georgia could not tolerate the ethnic Russian separatists is South Ossetia, and decided to act, with tanks. This was a good, swift kick in the Russian shins, to which, the Russians re-acted by even more swiftly rolling over both S. Ossetia and mostly unrelated regions to the west in Georgia, the equivalent of mugging the 98 lb. weakling. A cease fire was declared after Georgia said “uncle”, the Russians said “Sure!” and paused just long enough to put on their steel-tipped boots, with which they began to stomp the face of the prone Georgian state. The rest of the world (pretty much), including the impotent U.N. shouted “stop!”, the Russians said “Sure, right away!”, and began to shoot the prone victim state with a large caliber machine gun. It’s not over, Olympic Spirit be damned.
Oh, and if you think I meant that Georgia started it when I typed above that Georgian acted first, think again. Ask yourself how long it takes to prepare in invasion like the one we just saw the Russians pull off. Grated, they’re practiced at it, but, really.
[As an aside, are you aware that the Space Shuttle is not scheduled to fly after 2009? We are dependent on the Russian Space program to reach the ISS after that.]
At the death of Benazir Bhutto in December I opined that we forget too soon the importance of foreign politics and events and how they affect us. We as a nation have an opportunity to show that we can weight those events appropriately.