Putin's Winning Hand
Once the Atlantic Alliance is shattered, America's lifeline to the world is kaput
By Mike Whitney
There are no military installations in the city of Tskhinvali. In fact, there are no military targets at all. It is an industrial center consisting of lumber mills, manufacturing plants and residential areas. It is also the home to 30,000 South Ossetians. When Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili ordered the city to be bombed by warplanes and shelled by heavy artillery last Thursday, he knew that he would be killing hundreds of civilians in their homes and neighborhoods. But he ordered the bombing anyway.
There was no "Battle of Tskhinvali"; that's another fiction. A battle implies that there is an opposing force that is resisting or fighting back. That's not the case here. The Georgian army entered the city unopposed; after all, how can unarmed civilians stop armed units. Most of the townspeople had already fled across the border into Russia or hid in their basements while the tanks and armored vehicles rumbled bye firing at anything that moved.
What took place in South Ossetia last Thursday, was not an invasion or a siege; it was a massacre. The people had no way to defend themselves against a fully-equiped modern army. It was a war crime.
In less than 24 hours, the Russian army was deployed to the war zone where it chased the Georgian army away without a fight. Journalist Michael Binyon put it like this, "The attack was short, sharp and deadly---enough to send the Georgians fleeing in humiliating panic." Indeed, the Georgians left in such haste that many of their weapons were left behind. It was a complete rout; another black-eye for the US and Israeli advisers who trained the clatter of thugs they call the Georgian army. Soon vendors on the streets of Tskhinvali will be hawking weapons that were left behind with a mocking sign: "Georgia Army M-16; Never used, dropped once."
By the time the army was driven out, the downtown area was in engulfed in flames and the bodies of those who had been killed by sniper-fire were strewn along the streets and sidewalks. Many of people who stayed behind were simply too old or infirm to leave. Instead, they huddled in their basements waiting for the shelling to stop. It was a bloodbath. The city's only hospital was deliberately targeted and destroyed; another war crime. By day's end, over 2,000 people were killed in an operation that was clearly engineered with the assistance of the Bush White House. Bush regards Saakashvilli as his main client in the region; they are friends. He is America's cat's paw in the Caucasus. Saakashvilli's assignment is to try to get Putin to overreact militarily and demonstrate to European allies that Russia still poses a threat to their national security. Fortunately, many Europeans see through the ruse and know that the trouble originates in Washington.
For the most part, Americans are still in the dark about what really happened last weekend. There's a great video circulating on the Internet by a Russian citizen that has been living in USA for the last 10 years. He sums up the role of the US media with great precision. He says, "The western media--especially CNN--is feeding you complete horseshit. Russia did not invade Georgia first." The youtube can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0c26Q-qxDEA
The coverage of the western media has been abysmal. Nearly every article and TV news segment begins with accusations of Russian aggression concealing the fact that the Georgian Army bombarded and invaded the capital of South Ossetia one full day before the first Russian even tank crossed the border. By the time the Russians arrived, the city was already in a shambles and thousands were dead.
These facts are not in dispute by those who followed the developments as they took place. Now the media is revising the facts to manage public perceptions, just as they did with the fictional WMD in Iraq. Many people think that the media learned its lesson after they were exposed for using bogus information in the lead up to the war in Iraq. But that is not true. The corporate media--especially FOX News, CNN and PBS (the smug, liberal-sounding channel)---continue to operate like the propaganda arm of the Pentagon. Its disgraceful.
In a 2006 referendum, 99% of South Ossetians said they supported independence from Georgia. The voter turnout was 95% and the balloting was monitored by 34 international observers from the west. No one has challenged the results. The province has been under the protection of Russian and Georgian peacekeepers since 1992 and has been a de facto independent state ever since. If Putin applied the same standard as Bush did in Kosovo, he would unilaterally declare South Ossetia independent from Georgia and then thumb his nose at the UN. (Sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander) But Putin and newly-elected Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have taken a conciliatory attitude towards the international community and tried to resolve the issue through diplomatic channels. So far, they have conducted themselves with restraint and avoided any confrontation.
Still, Russia's operation in South Ossetia has ignited a firestorm in the US political establishment and Democrats and Republicans alike are demanding that Russia be "taught a lesson". Condoleeza Rice flew to Tbilisi on Friday and ordered Russian combat troops to withdraw from Georgia immediately. Saakashvili topped off Rice's comments by saying that the Russian troops were "cold-blooded killers" and "barbarians". So much for reconciliation.
Saakashvili's hyperbolic rhetoric was followed by a surprise announcement from Poland that they had approved Bush's plans for deploying the Missile Defense Shield in Eastern Europe. The system is supposed to defend Europe from the possibility of attacks from so-called "rogue states" like Iran, but the Kremlin knows that it is intended to neutralize their nuclear arsenal. Political analyst William Engdahl explains the importance of the proposed system in his recent article, "Missile Defense: Washington and Poland just moved the World closer to War":
"The signing now insures an escalation of tensions between Russia and NATO and a new Cold War arms race in full force. It is important for readers to understand...the ability of one of two opposing sides to put anti-missile missiles to within 90 miles of the territory of the other in even a primitive first-generation anti-missile missile array gives that side virtual victory in a nuclear balance of power and forces the other to consider unconditional surrender or to pre-emptively react by launching its nuclear strike before 2012."
The new "shield" will be integrated into the larger US nuclear weapons system placing the world's most lethal weapons just a few hundred miles from Russia's capital. It is a clear threat to Russia's national security and it must be opposed at all cost. It is no different than nuclear weapons in Cuba. The timing of the announcement is particularly troubling as it only adds to the tensions between the two superpowers.
President Medvedev made this statement after hearing of Poland's decision: "This decision clearly demonstrates everything we have said recently. The deployment of new anti-missile forces in Europe is aimed at the Russian Federation."
It was President Ronald Reagan, the darling of the neoconservatives, who decided to remove short-range nuclear weapons from the European theater. Now, ironically, it is his ideological heir, George W. Bush, who is on track to restart the Cold War by putting a high-tech nuclear system on Russia's perimeter. The younger Bush has already broken his father's commitment to Mikail Gorbachev to never expand NATO beyond Germany. Presently, Bush is pushing to gain NATO membership for two former-Soviet states; Ukraine and Georgia. If they are approved, then any future dispute with Russia will pit the United States and Europe against Moscow. It's no wonder Putin is trying to derail the process.
The Bush administration has been planning for a confrontation with Russia for more than a year. In fact, Raw Story reported on operations that were conducted by the military on July 14, 2008 which were probably a dress rehearsal for the current conflict. According to Raw Story:
"US troops on Monday (July 14) began military exercises near the Russian border in ex-Soviet Ukraine and were poised to launch them in Georgia, amid tense relations between Moscow and Washington. A ceremony inaugurating the Sea Breeze-2008 NATO exercise was held off Ukraine's Black Sea coast against anti-NATO protests and a hostile reaction from officials in Russia. Sea Breeze-2008...includes forces from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Macedonia and Turkey...'The US-Georgia joint exercises will be held at the Vaziani military base' less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Russian border with a total of 1,650 servicemen taking part."
So, it appears the Bush administration, working in conjunction with the Pentagon, did have contingency plans for dealing with a flare-up with Georgia. The real question is whether or not they planned to initiate those hostilities to advance their own regional agenda? No one knows for sure.
Now that Georgia's American-trained army has been humiliated in front of the world, Bush is trying desperately to save face by demanding that Russia allow the US Air force to deliver humanitarian aid via C-17 military aircraft to the tens of thousands of Georgians who were displaced in the fighting. It is worth noting that, as yet, Bush has never delivered as much as a bag of rice to the 2 million Iraqi refugees living in Jordan and Syria due to his war in Iraq. Bush's magnanimity is not only suspect, it also creates real problems for Putin who will have to decide whether the offer is sincere or just a ploy to open up the ports and airfields so that more weaponry and ordnance can be delivered. As Barry Grey suggests in his article "Bush Dispatches US Military forces to Georgia" the humanitarian operation could be a scam:
"This is a formula for an injection of US military and naval forces into Georgia of indeterminate scope and duration. It will certainly involve the presence of hundreds if not thousands of uniformed US military personnel on the ground, and a substantial number of warships in the region. The US is introducing this military force into a situation that remains highly unstable and combustible, raising the possibility of a direct military clash between the United States and Russia."
Grey is right, but what choice does Putin have? His task is to avoid a military confrontation with the United States while demonstrating to his Europeon partners that their future lies with Russia not America. That's the real goal. To achieve that, he needs to expose Bush as reckless, petulant, and incapable of being a responsible steward of the global system. Maybe Putin will have to back-down at some point and swallow his pride; it makes no difference. What matters, is the endgame; showing that Russia is strong and dependable and will provide its European allies with oil and natural gas in a businesslike manner. That's the winning hand. Meanwhile, the United States will be forced to take a long-overdue look in the mirror and revisit its strategy for perennial war. Unfortunately, once the Atlantic Alliance is shattered; America's lifeline to the world is kaput.
By Mike Whitney
The American-armed and trained Georgian army swarmed into South Ossetia last Thursday, killing an estimated 2,000 civilians, sending 40,000 South Ossetians fleeing over the Russian border, and destroying much of the capital, Tskhinvali. The attack was unprovoked and took place a full 24 hours before even ONE Russian soldier set foot in South Ossetia. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Americans still believe that the Russian army invaded Georgian territory first. The BBC, AP, NPR, the New York Times and the rest of the establishment media has consistently and deliberately misled its readers into believing that the violence in South Ossetia was initiated by the Kremlin. Let's be clear, it wasn't. In truth, there is NO dispute about the facts except among the people who rely the western press for their information. Despite its steady loss of credibility, the corporate media continues to operate as the propaganda-arm of the Pentagon.
Former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev gave a good summary of events in an op-ed in Monday's Washington Post:
"For some time, relative calm was maintained in South Ossetia. The peacekeeping force composed of Russians, Georgians and Ossetians fulfilled its mission, and ordinary Ossetians and Georgians, who live close to each other, found at least some common ground....What happened on the night of Aug. 7 is beyond comprehension. The Georgian military attacked the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali with multiple rocket launchers designed to devastate large areas....Mounting a military assault against innocents was a reckless decision whose tragic consequences, for thousands of people of different nationalities, are now clear. The Georgian leadership could do this only with the perceived support and encouragement of a much more powerful force. Georgian armed forces were trained by hundreds of U.S. instructors, and its sophisticated military equipment was bought in a number of countries. This, coupled with the promise of NATO membership, emboldened Georgian leaders into thinking that they could get away with a "blitzkrieg" in South Ossetia...Russia had to respond. To accuse it of aggression against "small, defenseless Georgia" is not just hypocritical but shows a lack of humanity." ("A Path to Peace in the Caucasus", Mikhail Gorbachev, Washington Post)
The question for Americans is whether they trust Mikhail Gorbachev more than the corporate media?
Russia deployed its tanks and troops to South Ossetia to save the lives of civilians and to reestablish the peace. Period. It has no interest in annexing the former-Soviet country or in expanding its present borders. Now that the Georgian army has been routed, Russian president Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin have expressed a willingness to settle the dispute through normal diplomatic channels at the United Nations. Neither leader is under any illusions about Washington's involvement in the hostilities. They know that Georgian President Mikail Saakashvili is an American stooge who came to power in a CIA-backed coup, the so-called "Rose Revolution", and would never order a major military operation without explicit instructions from his White House puppetmasters. Most likely, the orders to invade came directly from the office of the Vice President, Dick Cheney.
The Georgian army had no chance of winning a war with Russia or any intention of occupying the territory they captured. The real aim was to lure the Russian army into a trap. US planners hope to do what they did so skillfully in Afghanistan; lure their Russian prey into a long and bloody Chechnya-type fiasco that will pit their Russia troops against guerrilla forces armed and trained by US military and intelligence agencies. The war will be waged in the name of liberating Georgia from Russian imperialism and stopping Putin from achieving his alleged ambition to control critical western-owned pipelines around the Caspian Basin. Much of this "think tank" generated narrative has already appeared in the mainstream media or been articulated by American political elites. Meanwhile, the fighting in the Caucasus has diverted attention from the massive US naval armada that is presently sailing towards the Persian Gulf for the long-anticipated confrontation with Iran.
Operation Brimstone, the joint US, UK and French naval war games in the Atlantic Ocean preparing for a naval blockade of Iran, ended just last week. The war games were designed to simulate a naval blockade of Iran and the probable Iranian response.
According to Earl of Stirling on the Global Research web site:
"The war games included a US Navy supercarrier battle group, an US Navy expeditionary carrier battle group, a Royal Navy carrier battle group, a French nuclear hunter-killer submarine plus a large number of US Navy cruisers, destroyers and frigates playing the "enemy force. The lead American ship in these war games, the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN71) and its Carrier Strike Group Two (CCSG-2) are now headed towards Iran along with the USS Ronald Reagen (CVN76) and its Carrier Strike Group Seven (CCSG-7) coming from Japan."
Stirling adds: "A strategic diversion has been created for Russia. The South Ossetia capital has been shelled and a large Georgian tank force has been heading towards the border....American Marines, a thousand of them, have recently been in Georgia training the Georgian military forces... Russia has stated that it will not sit by and allow the Georgians to attack South Ossetia...This could get bad, and remember it is just a strategic diversion....but one that could have horrific effects." ("Massive US Naval Armada Heads for Iran", Earl of Stirling, Global Research)
In June, former foreign policy adviser to President Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, presented the basic storyline that would be used against Russia two full months before the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia. The article appeared on the Kavkazcenter web site. Brzezinski said the United States witnessed "cases of possible threats by Russia, directed at Georgia with the intention of taking control over the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline".
Brzezinski: "Russia actively tends to isolate the Central Asian region from direct access to world economy, especially to energy supplies..If Georgia government is destabilized, western access to Baku, Caspian Sea and further will be limited". http://www.kavkazcenter.com/eng/content/2008/06/13/9798.shtml
Nonsense. Neither Putin nor newly-elected president Dmitry Medvedev have any such intention. It is absurd to think that Russia, having extracted itself from two pointless wars in Chechnya and Afghanistan, and after years of grinding poverty and social unrest following the fall of the Soviet state, would choose to wage an energy war with the nuclear-armed US military. That would be complete madness. Brzezinski's speculation is part of broader narrative that's been crafted for the western media to provide a rationale for upcoming aggression against Russia. Brzezinski is not only the architect of the mujahadin-led campaign against Russia in Afghanistan in the 1980s, but also, the author of "The Grand Chessboard--American Primacy and it's Geostrategic Imperatives", the operating theory behind the war on terror which involves massive US intervention in Central Asia to control vital resources, fragment Russia, and surround manufacturing giant, China.
"The Grand Chessboard" it is the 21st century's version of the Great Game. The book begins with this revealing statement:
"Ever since the continents started interacting politically, some five hundred years ago, Eurasia has been the center of world power.....The key to controlling Eurasia, says Brzezinski, is controlling the Central Asian Republics."
This is the heart-and-soul of the war on terror. The real braintrust behind "neverending conflict" was actually focussed on Central Asia. It was the pro-Israeli crowd in the Republican Party that pulled the old switcheroo and refocussed on the Middle East rather than Eurasia. Now, powerful members of the US foreign policy establishment (Brzezinski, Albright, Holbrooke) have regrouped behind the populist "cardboard" presidential candidate Barak Obama and are preparing to redirect America's war efforts to the Asian theater. Obama offers voters a choice of wars not a choice against war.
On Sunday, Brzezinski accused Russia of imperial ambitions comparing Putin to "Stalin and Hitler" in an interview with Nathan Gardels.
Gardels: What is the world to make of Russia's invasion of Georgia?
Zbigniew Brzezinski: Fundamentally at stake is what kind of role Russia will play in the new international system.(aka: New World Order) Unfortunately, Putin is putting Russia on a course that is ominously similar to Stalin's and Hitler's in the late 1930s. Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt has correctly drawn an analogy between Putin's "justification" for dismembering Georgia -- because of the Russians in South Ossetia -- to Hitler's tactics vis a vis Czechoslovakia to "free" the Sudeten Deutsch. Even more ominous is the analogy of what Putin is doing vis-a-vis Georgia to what Stalin did vis-a-vis Finland: subverting by use of force the sovereignty of a small democratic neighbor. In effect, morally and strategically, Georgia is the Finland of our day.
The question the international community now confronts is how to respond to a Russia that engages in the blatant use of force with larger imperial designs in mind: to reintegrate the former Soviet space under the Kremlin's control and to cut Western access to the Caspian Sea and Central Asia by gaining control over the Baku/Ceyhan pipeline that runs through Georgia.
In brief, the stakes are very significant. At stake is access to oil as that resource grows ever more scarce and expensive and how a major power conducts itself in our newly interdependent world, conduct that should be based on accommodation and consensus, not on brute force.
If Georgia is subverted, not only will the West be cut off from the Caspian Sea and Central Asia. We can logically anticipate that Putin, if not resisted, will use the same tactics toward the Ukraine. Putin has already made public threats against Ukraine." ("Brzezinski: Russia's invasion of Georgia is Reminiscent of Stalin's attack on Finland"; Huffington Post)
Brzezinski takes great pride in being a disciplined and rational spokesman for US imperial projects. It is unlike him to use such hysterical rhetoric. Perhaps, the present situation is more tenuous than we know. Could it be that the financial system is closer to meltdown-phase than anyone realizes?
It should be clear by Brzezinski's comments that Georgia's invasion of South Ossetia was not another incoherent exercise in neocon chest-thumping, but part of a larger strategy to drag Russia into an endless conflict that will sap its resources, decrease its prestige on the global stage, weaken its grip on regional power, strengthen frayed alliances between Europe and America, and divert attention from a larger campaign in the Gulf. It is particularly worrisome that Brzezinski appears to be involved in the planning. Brzezinski, Holbrooke and Albright form the "Imperialist A-Team"; these are not the bungling "Keystone Cops" neocons like Feith and Rumsfeld who trip over themselves getting out of bed in the morning. These are cold-blooded Machiavellian imperialists who know how to work the media and the diplomatic channels to conceal their genocidal operations behind a smokescreen of humanitarian mumbo-jumbo. They know what they are doing and they are good at it. They're not fools. They have aligned themselves with the Obama camp and are preparing for the next big outbreak of global trouble-making. This should serve as a sobering wake-up call for voters who still think Obama represents "Change We Can Believe In".
Richard Holbrooke appeared on Tuesday's Jim Lerher News Hour with resident neocon Margaret Warner. Typical of Warner's "even-handed" approach, both of the interviewees were ultra-conservatives from right-wing think tanks: Richard Holbrooke, from the Council on Foreign Relations and Dmiti Simes from the Nixon Center.
According to Holbrooke, "The Russians deliberately provoked (the fighting in South Ossetia) and timed it for the Olympics. This is a long-standing Russian effort to get rid of President Saakashvili."
Right. Is that why Putin was so shocked when he heard the news (while he was in Beijing) that he quickly boarded a plane and headed for Moscow? (after shaking his finger angrily at Bush!)
Holbrooke: "And I want to stress, I'm not a warmonger, and I don't want a new Cold War any more than Dimitri does....The Russians wish to re-establish a historic area of hegemony that includes Ukraine. And it is no accident that the other former Soviet republics are watching this and extraordinarily upset, as Putin progresses with an attempt to re-create a kind of a hegemonic space."
It is impossible to go over all of Holbrooke's distortions, half-truths and lies in one article but, what is important is to recognize that a false narrative is being constructed to demonize Putin and to justify future hostilities against Russia. Holbrooke's bogus assertions are identical to Brzezinski's, and yet, these same lies are already appearing in the mainstream media. The propaganda "bullet points" have already been determined; "Putin is a menace","Putin wants to rebuild the Soviet empire", "Putin is an autocrat". (Unlike our "freedom loving" allies in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt!?!) In truth, Putin is simply enjoying Russia's newly acquired energy-wealth and would like to be left alone. But it is impossible to be left alone when the US spends 24 hours a day pestering people. The world deserves a break from an extremely irritating USA.
So why are Brzezinski and his backers in the foreign policy establishment demonizing Putin and threatening Russia with "ostracism, isolation and economic penalties?" What is Putin's crime?
Putin's problems can be traced back to a speech he made in Munich nearly two years ago when he declared unequivocally that he rejected the basic tenets of the Bush Doctrine and US global hegemony. His speech amounted to a Russian Declaration of Independence. That's when western elites, particularly at the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Enterprise Institute put Putin on their "enemies list" along with Ahmadinejad, Chavez, Castro, Morales, Mugabe and anyone else who refuses to take orders from the Washington Mafia.
Here's what Putin said in Munich:
"The unipolar world refers to a world in which there is one master, one sovereign---- one center of authority, one center of force, one center of decision-making. At the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within.… What is even more important is that the model itself is flawed because at its basis there is and can be no moral foundations for modern civilization.”
“Unilateral and frequently illegitimate actions have not resolved any problems. Moreover, they have caused new human tragedies and created new centers of tension. Judge for yourselves---wars as well as local and regional conflicts have not diminished. More are dying than before. Significantly more, significantly more!
Today we are witnessing an almost uncontained hyper-use of force – military force – in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts.
We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes this? Who is happy about this?
In international relations we increasingly see the desire to resolve a given question according to so-called issues of political expediency, based on the current political climate. And of course this is extremely dangerous. It results in the fact that no one feels safe. I want to emphasize this – no one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them. Of course such a policy stimulates an arms race.
I am convinced that we have reached that decisive moment when we must seriously think about the architecture of global security.”
Every word Putin spoke was true which is why it was not reprinted in the western media.
“Unilateral and illegitimate military actions”, the “uncontained hyper-use of force”, the “disdain for the basic principles of international law”, and most importantly; “No one feels safe!”
Putin's claims are all indisputable, that is why he has entered the neocons crosshairs. He poses a direct challenge to---what Brzezinski calls---the "international system", which is shorthand for the corporate/banking cartel that is controlled by the western oligarchy of racketeers.
South Ossetia was a trap and Putin took the bait. Unfortunately for Bush, the wily Russian prime minister is considerably brighter than anyone in the current administration. Bush's plan will undoubtedly backfire and disrupt the geopolitical balance of power. The world might get that breather from the US after all.
By Sergei Lavrov
For some of those witnessing the fighting in the Caucasus over the past few days, the narrative is straightforward and easy. The plucky republic of Georgia, with just a few million citizens, was attacked by its giant eastern neighbour, Russia. Add to this all the stereotypes of the cold war era, and you are presented with a truly David and Goliath interpretation – with all its accompanying connotations of good and evil. While this version of events is being written in much of the western media, the facts present a different picture.
Let me be absolutely clear. This is not a conflict of Russia’s making; this is not a conflict of Russia’s choosing. There are no winners from this conflict. Hours before the Georgian invasion, Russia had been working to secure a United Nations Security Council statement calling for a renunciation of force by both Georgia and South Ossetians. The statement that could have averted bloodshed was blocked by western countries.
Last Friday, after the world’s leaders had arrived at the Beijing Olympics, Georgian troops launched an all-out assault on the region of South Ossetia, which has enjoyed de facto independence for more than 16 years. The majority of the region’s population are Russian citizens. Under the terms of the 1992 agreement to which Georgia is a party, they are afforded protection by a small number of Russian peacekeeping soldiers. The ground and air attack resulted in the killing of peacekeepers and the death of an estimated 1,600 civilians, creating a humanitarian disaster and leading to an exodus of 30,000 refugees. The Georgian regime refused to allow a humanitarian corridor to be established and bombarded a humanitarian convoy. There is also clear evidence of atrocities having been committed – so serious and systematic that they constitute acts of genocide.
There can be little surprise, therefore, that Russia responded to this unprovoked assault on its citizens by launching a military incursion into South Ossetia. No country in the world would idly stand by as its citizens are killed and driven from their homes. Russia repeatedly warned Tbilisi that it would protect its citizens by force if necessary, and its actions are entirely consistent with international law, including article 51 of the UN charter on the right of self-defence.
Russia has been entirely proportionate in its military response to Georgia’s attack on Russian citizens and peacekeepers. Russia’s tactical objective has been to force Georgian troops out of the region, which is off limits to them under international agreements. Despite Georgia’s assertion that it had imposed a unilateral ceasefire, Russian peacekeepers and supporting troops remained under continued attack – a fact confirmed by observers and journalists in the region. Russia had no choice but to target the military infrastructure outside the region being used to sustain the Georgian offensive. Russia’s response has been targeted, proportionate and legitimate.
Russia has been accused of using the conflict to try to topple the government and impose control over the country. This is palpable nonsense. Having established the safety of the region, the president has declared an end to military operations. Russia has no intention of annexing or occupying any part of Georgia and has again affirmed its respect for its sovereignty. Over the next few days, on the condition that Georgia refrains from military activity and keeps its forces out of the region, Russia will continue to take the diplomatic steps required to consolidate this temporary cessation of hostilities.
Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s president, has stated that “unless we stop Russia, unless the whole world stops it, Russian tanks will go to any European capital tomorrow”, adding on a separate occasion that “it’s not about Georgia any more. It’s about America”. It is clear that Georgia wants this dispute to become something more than a short if bloody conflict in the region. For decision-makers in the Nato countries of the west, it would be worth considering whether in future you want the men and women of your armed services to be answerable to Mr Saakashvili’s declarations of war in the Caucasus.
Russia is a member of the Security Council, of the Group of Eight leading industrialised nations and partner with the west on issues as varied as the Middle East, Iran and North Korea. In keeping with its responsibilities as a world power and the guarantor of stability in the Caucasus, Russia will work to ensure a peaceful and lasting resolution to the situation in the region.
The writer is minister of foreign affairs of the Russian Federation
Rattling the Cage: Sympathy for the aggressor
By LARRY DERFNER
Until a week ago, I didn't know anything at all about Russia's conflict with Georgia, and I'd never even heard of South Ossetia or Abkhazia. But since there was a war going on and it was rivaling the Olympics as the big story, I started following the developments. I Googled a few articles for background. By now, I'd say I'm fairly up to speed. I know about as much about the Russian-Georgian war as the average news consumer.
And the way I see it, the world's reaction has it backward. I don't see Russia as the bad guy in this fight, but more than that, I don't see Georgia as the good guy.
I CAME to this issue from about as neutral a position as could be. I'm suspicious and fearful of Russia, especially with Vladimir Putin as its leader. But I don't think of Georgia, or any of those countries in the Caucasus or the Balkans or anywhere else in Borat-land, as being peace-loving or tolerant or otherwise essentially different from Russia. Georgia is where Stalin came from, right? I know I'm exposing my ignorance and prejudice, but I want to be honest. I had no dog in this fight.
So after the war started, I began reading and watching the news, and I see the pictures of people dying, wailing in agony, running for their lives amid the bombs destroying their homes. It's a humanitarian disaster and everybody's blaming Russia - the US, the EU and if not the Israeli government, then certainly the Israeli media.
Why would that be? Well, Russia is clearly the Goliath in this fight. Russia under Putin is becoming a dictatorship again, while Georgia is awfully overmatched; Georgia is David, the underdog. So I can see some basic reasons for the world to have an emotional affinity for little Georgia against big, bad Russia.
But now let's find out the facts of this war, such as who started it. I read The New York Times, AP, Wikipedia and The Jerusalem Post, I watch BBC and Sky News and everybody is saying Georgia started it. There had been some shooting and skirmishes with the locals in South Ossetia, which is an enclave in Georgia on the border with Russia, and then Georgia shelled Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, and sent its troops in to take over. Anywhere from hundreds to thousands of civilians were killed, and tens of thousands became refugees. That was the start of the war. Then Russia retaliated overwhelmingly against Georgia.
ALL RIGHT, so Georgia started it. But that doesn't necessarily mean Georgia was wrong; maybe it was a war of self-defense, a justified war. So let's see - what are the facts about the territory they were fighting over, South Ossetia? Which side are the people of South Ossetia on, Georgia's or Russia's? The 70,000 people of South Ossetia, it turns out, are what the media describe as "pro-Russian." South Ossetia is what the media describe as a "breakaway province" inside Georgia. Which country is South Ossetia breaking away from? It's breaking away from Georgia. It fought a war of secession against Georgia in the early 1990s. So did Abkhazia, another "pro-Russian, breakaway province" in Georgia on the Russian border.
The people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia identify with Russia, not Georgia. Most of them have Russian passports. Over the past week, the fighters in South Ossetia and Abkhazia fought with Russian troops against Georgian troops.
And finally, those tens of thousands of war refugees from South Ossetia - to which country did they flee for safety? To Russia. And who went to meet them? Putin.
So what we've got here is a bloody war started by Georgia against a small, pro-Russian province it wants to rule - against the will of the people who live there. And when Russia retaliates against Georgia, the people of South Ossetia, along with the people of Abkhazia - the true victims of this war, the true underdogs, the true Davids - are grateful to Russia for saving them.
YET THE world's sympathy goes to Georgia, and its condemnation goes to Russia. Why?
Because Russia has a bad history, because Russia was the West's nemesis in the 20th century, because Russia wants to be an empire again, because Russia is much stronger than Georgia - while Georgia calls itself a democracy, Georgia is the darling of the Bush administration, Georgia's president speaks good English and knows all the buzz words like "values" and "human rights" that Westerners love to hear, and because Georgia defies big, bad Russia.
All this is true. But none of it changes the fact that in this war, Georgia was the aggressor and Russia the defender.
Now that Georgia has lost the war, the world is saying that President Mikheil Saakashvili made a "miscalculation" by starting it. Again, the world is wrong. Starting a war of conquest that kills and maims thousands of people is not a miscalculation, it's a horrible, detestable crime. The world should save its sympathy for South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I'm sorry for my ignorance and prejudice, but these days, when I think of Georgia, I think of the place Stalin came from.
Meanwhile former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said that Georgia made a "grave mistake" by advancing into the pro Russian breakaway province of South Ossetia.
Shevardnadze, who is a former Soviet foreign minister, also said the issue of