Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
August 08, 2008

The South Ossetian War

As quoted below:

    At the request of Russia, the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session in New York but failed to reach consensus early Friday on a Russian-drafted statement.

The council concluded it was at a stalemate after the U.S., Britain and some other members backed the Georgians in rejecting a phrase in the three-sentence draft statement that would have required both sides "to renounce the use of force," council diplomats said.

A few hours later McCain states:

The U.S. should immediately convene an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council to call on Russia to reverse course.

Neocon illusions ... McCains top foreign policy advisor was a lobbyist for Georgia ...

Links to follow the issue:

Critical geographic point to watch - the Roki tunnel is the only viable land connection between Russia and South Ossetia - see this map for why this is so. Those are 12-16,000 feet high mountains between South Ossetia and Russia. If the tunnel is blocked the Russian/South Ossetian side likely loses. Why didn't Saakashvili attack the tunnel early on? Misjudgment ...

Critical media point to watch: The usual BBC, CNN and others. If they start to follow Saakashvili claims that this is a Russian aggression expect some kind of 'western' intervention. If they keep up there current (and correct) story of Saak overreaching there will be no intervention.

Saak claims to be in control of Tskhinvali, the main city of South Ossetia. That is a dubious assertion according to the BBC.

Russia now seems to bomb Georgian military airfields and has a brigade on the city boarders of Tskhinvali.

My current take: The conflict will escalate but will stay between Russia and Georgia. Saak will lose big time.

Posted by b on August 8, 2008 at 20:06 UTC | Permalink



came across this link at calculated risk:

Israel's role in the conflict.

There’a another potentially crucial aspect to this new war in the Caucasus. This aspect comes the form of a DEBKAfile exclusive report: ”Israel backs Georgia in Caspian Oil Pipeline Battle with Russia”.

Key excerpt:

“Last year, the Georgian president commissioned from private Israeli security firms several hundred military advisers, estimated at up to 1,000, to train the Georgian armed forces in commando, air, sea, armored and artillery combat tactics. They also offer instruction on military intelligence and security for the central regime. Tbilisi also purchased weapons, intelligence and electronic warfare systems from Israel.

These advisers were undoubtedly deeply involved in the Georgian army’s preparations to conquer the South Ossetian capital Friday.”

The above was followed by what may well prove to be an incredibly astute observation regarding potential future events should this war get completely out of control:

“Therefore, as the military crisis intensifies in South Ossetia, Moscow may be expected to punish Israel for its intervention.”

What the hell is going on here?

Posted by: Hamburger | Aug 8 2008 22:00 utc | 1

Punish Israel? Well, if they want to, they'll just ship some choice missiles to Hizbullah, and that'be enough.

As B. said, if Russia sends full military power, Georgia is utterly toast. Then, I don't think Russia would bother, if only because a too massive Russian military assault would risk some serious Western reactions. All in all, I suppose they'll just try to send enough guys to keep Ossetia. If the tunnel is cut, they're in trouble. Of course, going through friendly Abkhazia and going through half Georgia can be done, but that would involve a massive military commitment and I don't see Russia trying this.
Bombing some Georgian targets, on the other hand, is quite possible - and that alone might piss off some bombed locals against Saakashvili as well as against Russia, I suppose.

Posted by: CluelessJoe | Aug 8 2008 23:12 utc | 2

Of interest will be the American response. Saakashvili seems to be banking on Western military intervention of some sort, but it's doubtful if anyone in the West wants a direct confrontation with Russia.

Should Saakashvili get his head handed, it will look bad for his Anglo patrons. This is why they must do all they can to make him a winner, short of intervention, via surrogates if need be. Therefore, I disagree that this will be confined to Russia and Georgia. I read somewhere this morning that the Kazakhs are threatening to intervene on the side of Osettia, and that Turkey will supply Georgia with electricity.

Interesting times in the Caucasus.

Posted by: Thrasyboulos | Aug 9 2008 0:06 utc | 3

a little too interesting, thrasyboulos

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Aug 9 2008 1:44 utc | 4

I think you're right, b, Saakashvili just put his country into the grinder.
Russia seems to be following the NATO strategy in Kosovo, secure the rebel province and bomb the shit out of the other state. Talk about setting a good example!

Posted by: Dick Durata | Aug 9 2008 3:18 utc | 5

What the hell is going on here?

frankly i'm stunned.

Posted by: annie | Aug 9 2008 3:27 utc | 6

Quite hard to say what will happen - the one thing I am sure ist that the west will not intervene in any meaningful way.

Russia might or might not launch a full scale intervention (though they will send arms and are likely to show some force using airstrikes): This depends whether or not they fear guerilla war ala afghanistan and chechnya, and how much they consider the oil in georgia vital to their interest. Also I think that the near concerns trump the distant ones: It might be Putin and Medvedev fearing to show weakness being their first concern; or their fear of being accused of sqandering resources. Their second concern are the neighbors, all the statelets of the GUS: Will restraint or will show-of-force get more influence with them? only the third concern are distant countries like the US and EU.

Realistically, what are the options? Shipping some arms to georgia should be possible, but would this stop the russian juggernaut? On the other hand, the EU is vulnerable against cutting oil and gas supply; and a sudden influx of russian weapons to afghanistan and irak might hurt USuk quite a lot. As for direct intervention against Russia: No one ever attacked a state with nukes.

Posted by: No So Ana | Aug 9 2008 6:27 utc | 7

Form A Fistfull of Euros

Why did Saakashvili try this now? — Here’s my guess, based on my impression of Saakashvili’s character.

Saakashvili is an ardent nationalist who doesn’t view the disputes with Russia rationally. To him, they’re painful and continuing insults to the national soul.

More importantly, Saakashvili is a gambler. That’s because he lacks patience. He’s charming and clever, but he bores easily. He’s also facing internal political difficulties ; they weren’t likely to unseat him, but probably raised his frustration level. And when faced with frustration, his instinct is to look for a brilliant, dramatic stroke to cut through it.

So, Saakashvili was stupid? — That might be too strong. But it looks like he made a couple of bad assumptions.

It appears he thought the Russians wouldn’t fight, or wouldn’t fight well.

The Neocon view from Jamestown:
The brazen attacks during the night of August 7 to 8 in South Ossetia left Tbilisi with no choice but to respond. Continuing Georgian restraint would have resulted in irreparable human, territorial, and political losses. Moscow’s military and propaganda operation bears the hallmarks of its blitzkriegs in Transnistria in 1992 and Abkhazia in 1993. Georgia’s defensive response in South Ossetia since August 8 is legally within the country’s rights under international law and militarily commensurate with the attacks.

Posted by: b | Aug 9 2008 7:14 utc | 8

Saak has declared martial law and Georgian troops seem to gather at the boarder to Abchazia. That probably means he still wants to escalate? Idiot.

The Russians confirmed that two of their jets were downed but seem to have air superiority now. They bombed several military establishments in Georgia. The also claim to have taken back Tskhinvali, the main city in South Ossetia. It is in ruins. Adding to the mechanized brigade sent yesterday Russia sent paratroopers, their elite force.

Guardian editorial:

Disentangling claim and counter-claim is as hard as working out the real sequence of events. But there can be little doubt that Georgia's attack with assault troops, multiple-rocket launchers and artillery was a planned military operation. It was not just a reaction to Russian bombing the day before, or a ceasefire that somehow went wrong. The timing of the offensive, when Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, was in Beijing for the opening of the Olympic games, was also significant. Georgia may have calculated that Mr Putin might be constrained by the company he was keeping in Beijing, not to order an instant counterattack.

Anyone familiar with the history of the region could have predicted that Russia would hit back hard.

Posted by: b | Aug 9 2008 11:01 utc | 9

From b's link @ 8:
When Conflicts Thaw: South Ossetia
by Doug Merrill

First, what will Russia’s leadership do? It was willing to have Russian planes violate Georgian airspace last week during the escalation, and reports have it that one bomb each fell near the Georgian cities of Gori and Kartveli. On the other hand, this looks like a gesture — if the Russians wanted to have bombs fall on Gori and Kartveli, they jolly well would have. Escalation by the Russian side is of course possible, but Saakashvili’s government has bet that Russia won’t be all that put out about 70,000 South Ossetians. The ruble and the Russian stock market, however, both had big drops today, apparently on the theory that you never know about escalation.

Second, what will the Americans and EU do? A senior State Department figure was here in Tbilisi last week, and I would expect that the Georgian side at least hinted very broadly about what was up. He would have to deny that, of course, in the way of these things. We can assume that the Americans did not warn them off. The German foreign minister was also here, with a plan for Abkhazia. It’s slightly less likely that he was clued in, but the topic of his visit points to the next item on the reintegration agenda.

Abkhazia has always been the biggest and least tractable of Georgia’s conflicts, and the one most important to Tbilisi. Adjara went peacefully; South Ossetia is now doing things the hard way. Sooner or later, Tbilisi seems to be saying, Abkhazia will have to make its choice. Recent increased Russian activity may have led the Georgians to think that it was time to wrap up Ossetia and leave just one item on the menu.

Abkhazia ... hmmm. let's see what the google turns up:

... Abkhazia occupies a strategically important position as a land bridge linking Russia and Europe with Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as with Turkey and the countries of the Middle East.
The geographic position of Abkhazia allows it to serve as an important transit route for the transportation of oil, gas, and many items of trade for the Black Sea countries, Europe, Mediterranean and Indo-China directions.
Another global project of prime economic significance is the building of the Novorossiysk-Abkhazia-Poti-Ceyhan (in Turkey) oil and gas pipelines. The transformation of the former Russian military base in Ochamchyra into a major oil terminal can be regarded as a project of prime economical importance. The Ochamchyra bay is deep and capable of serving large oil tankers.
Abkhazia is self-sustained in coal, has reasonable deposits of high quality oil and gas, and considerable reserves of timber. The most important mineral export items of Abkhazia are mineral water, coking coal, marble, limestone, granites, cement, copper, lead, zinc, arsenic, gold, silver, and barite.

What's that saying about 'victor' and 'spoils' ...?

Posted by: Hamburger | Aug 9 2008 11:59 utc | 10

The gambler doubles down, ends up losing everything?

Posted by: anon | Aug 9 2008 12:01 utc | 11

Fistfull of Euros' article is quite interesting.
I should've thought of it more clearly last evening, but now I really think Saakashvili decided on the timing of the attack not because the world's attention would be on the Olympics, but mostly because Putin was far away in Beijing, so Medvedev would be left to man the fort, and Saakashvili might have hoped that such an untested leader would be easier to deal with.
Sadly for him, it looks like Putin could still react a bit, and that Medvedev himself isn't just a sock puppet. In fact, it might well be that Putin has achieved that workable 2-headed leadership that the Roman Imperium of old had for quite a long time - with 2 consuls or even later under some imperial regimes.

Strategically, it'll be interesting to see how much the Russians hit Gori and what goes on in Abkhazia. If it's limited to S Ossetia, a major war throughout half Georgia might be avoided. If there's trouble in Abkhazia, then the Russians might just go for a massive push from there and run over the Western half of Georgia (something I don't think they would do if they can avoid it without too much risks) - because contrary to S Ossetia where there's just a tunnel, it's fairly easy if not a cakewalk to go from Russi to Abkhazia and then to the whole of Georgia.

Posted by: CluelessJoe | Aug 9 2008 13:08 utc | 12

Saak may have decided to elevate the previously obscure conflicts in South Ossetia & Abkhazia to the world stage. Maybe not a bad move given that the status-quo (as of before the latest fighting broke out) increasingly favored Russia in both territories. But if he sends Georgian troops deep into Abkhazia now, that would be foolish.

And once a ceasefire is in place, the process of resolving the various claims on these two territories takes on much larger diplomatic & political dimensions, to the detriment of Russia's position.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Aug 9 2008 13:55 utc | 13

My evaluation of the military situation, for what it's worth, at this early stage, is that the Georgians are going to go down to a serious defeat, unless they call a halt, and agree to withdraw their troops from S. Ossetia. The Russians would be very unwise to move ground troops out of SO and into Georgia proper. The Georgians have made mistakes all along the line, from launching an aggressive offensive, thinking that the Russians wouldn't respond, to now actually declaring war - nobody does that these days, very old-fashioned. The declaration of war, even if it's only for 15 days, is going to permit the Russians to bomb all Georgia into a heap of rubble. Fortunately for Russia, there are plenty of Western precedents.

I wouldn't be surprised if Saakashvili acted with at least the tacit agreement of the United States. If the US did agree, it was a big mistake, as the US is not placed to seriously help Georgia, apart from arms. So the limits of US power are going to be shown up again. Or, if help is given, we are back in the Cold War again. That would be a really brilliant end for the Bush presidency (irony alert, if you hadn't noticed), begin at the height of US power, and end being bogged down in two Middle Eastern wars, and having relaunched the Cold War. Nevertheless, par for the course, with that lot.

Posted by: Alex | Aug 9 2008 14:16 utc | 14

By the hour:

Posted by: vbo | Aug 9 2008 14:25 utc | 15

anyone thinks that this is NATO/EU/US testing what Russian war tactics are all about in terms of ramp up, speed and planning for an oil region of prime importance to all.

For all they care, whether Georgia exists or not is moot, what's important is to figure out how the Russians are going to react when the showdown starts?

Posted by: shanks | Aug 9 2008 14:48 utc | 16

Strategically, it'll be interesting to see how much the Russians hit Gori and what goes on in Abkhazia. If it's limited to S Ossetia, a major war throughout half Georgia might be avoided. If there's trouble in Abkhazia, then the Russians might just go for a massive push from there and run over the Western half of Georgia (something I don't think they would do if they can avoid it without too much risks) - because contrary to S Ossetia where there's just a tunnel, it's fairly easy if not a cakewalk to go from Russi to Abkhazia and then to the whole of Georgia.

Saak lost the war when he didn't block the Roki tunnel and the road that connects Russia to South Ossetia. What was his military with all its U.S. training thinking? A few bombs on a few bridges and Russia would have been unable to reinforce there.

The latest news says that Abkhazia troops are pushing on Georgian troops in their area. They seem to be using the chance of a distracted Georgian military fighting in South Ossetia.

The Russians bombed the Georgian navy in Poli, not the oil terminal as some western media say. The also bombed military installations in Gori and a military airport near Tiblisi.

I do not expect the Russian to make further big moves. They will take all of South Ossetia but that will be it. The Abkhazia troops will try to gain some ground in their area. Russia will continue to bomb military installation in Georgia as a punitive measure but will stay away from the oil installations.

The Russian aim is now to blame Saak in the eyes of the Georgians and to make sure that he will not stay much longer in his job. That is something the Georgians can do themselves.

The declaration of war, even if it's only for 15 days, is going to permit the Russians to bomb all Georgia into a heap of rubble. Fortunately for Russia, there are plenty of Western precedents.

The declaration is for a "state of war" which is an internal measure allowing Saak to clamp down on media and protests. It is nor a declaration of war against Russia. That would be indeed lunatic.

Thanks vbo, good link

Posted by: b | Aug 9 2008 15:01 utc | 17

BP Cuts Azeri Oil Output After BTC Line Blast
AFX News Limited
Friday, August 08, 2008

BP Plc has cut oil output by at least 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) at the Azeri-Chirag Gunashli oilfields after an explosion on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, trade sources said on Friday.

A source at an equity holder in the Caspian Sea fields, which BP operates, said production was cut to 250,000 bpd from 850,000 bpd before Tuesday night's blast. Two trade sources put the supply loss at about 400,000 bpd.

BP says it is looking to maximize exports from other routes, such as through Novorossiisk in Russia, the Georgian port of Supsa or by rail to Batumi, also in Georgia, meaning that some supplies will continue.

"I think they will pump extra through Supsa and try to maximise barrels out of Batumi," said a trader.

Up to 150,000 bpd can go through Supsa and around 300,000 bpd to Batumi, traders said.

The explosion on the pipeline in eastern Turkey came on top of supply disruptions in Nigeria and boosted world oil prices. Azeri and Nigerian oil is of high quality and commands a premium to many other crudes.

BP has confirmed it has reduced output at the fields but has declined to give specific figures.

Exports from the Turkish port of Ceyhan have stopped and no loading schedule for next month's cargoes of Azeri crude, normally issued around this time of the month, has been released yet.

"It's on hold for September," a trade source said. "There is no new program yet."

The fire on the pipeline may be put out on Friday or Saturday and repairs finished 10 days later, a source at Turkey's Energy Ministry said on Friday, giving an earlier date than some previous expectations.

Posted by: DB | Aug 9 2008 15:16 utc | 18

Call me a slow-thinker, call me a cynical... But yesterday I was thinking to myself "Well, oil prices are dropping quite a bit, me thinks someone should make a fuss with Iran to push prices higher and closer to 150 than to 100".
I forgot there are other ways than hitting on Iran.

Posted by: CluelessJoe | Aug 9 2008 15:25 utc | 19

14:19 GMT – Russia’s Interfax news agency quotes locals in Georgia claiming convoys of ‘NATO military vehicles’ are travelling to South Ossetia.

Posted by: vbo | Aug 9 2008 15:34 utc | 20

if Georgia would have taken out the tunnel and/or some feeder bridges, Russia might have retaliated by knocking down a few strategic major bridges in Georgia, which they have not done so far.

Also taking out the tunnel might have left Russia little choice but to come in strong through Georgia proper, hence only prolonging the always inevitable outcome and making things a lot bloodier for civilians & military.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Aug 9 2008 15:50 utc | 21

b, 17

It is nor a declaration of war against Russia. That would be indeed lunatic.

The expression used publicly was:

"Georgia is de facto at war with Russia – Georgian Foreign Ministry."

Agreed the expression "de facto" was used, but stated formally by the Georgian FM, it is very close. I think it would be a toss-up in international law. (not that I'm going to do a search on texts). At any rate, it would be enough for the Russians, if they wanted to, to say, "well they declared war". Not that I think they would use it, it isn't necessary.

Posted by: Alex | Aug 9 2008 15:58 utc | 22

From the NYT.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov...said Moscow had been working intensively with foreign governments, in particular the United States. “We have been appreciative of the American efforts to pacify the hawks in Tbilisi. Apparently these efforts have not succeeded,” he said. “Quite a number of officials in Washington were really shocked when all this happened.”

I don't believe the Russians will be gentle with Georgia. They will seek to humiliate Saak to finish him off politically. The question is, how far will the Anglos move to protect their asset.

Interesting, about the Georgian report of Nato help cited by VBO @20. Conflicts somewhat with an earlier citation from the same site, at 07-06 GMT quoting an "alliance official" that NATO has no mandate to interfere in the...conflict".

As a side note, there's been some handwringing in the western media, more so now, over the burning question, who is really in charge of Russia, Putin or Medvedev. I hadn't realized being disingenuous could be so funny.

Posted by: Thrasyboulos | Aug 9 2008 17:11 utc | 23

What the hell is going on here?

Inspired by Israel, Georgian FM seeks closer ties, oct. 2007, haaretz:

"We are interested in a strategic partnership with Israel at the same level as our strategic partnership with the United States," Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili of Georgia told Haaretz yesterday. (...)

"Since 2001, we are part of the struggle against global terrorism," Bezhuashvili said. "Our soldiers are in Iraq, the Balkans and Afghanistan, and we don't harbor terrorists. However to my regret, relations with Russia are deteriorating.">link

Indeed, I read somewhere there are thousands of G. soldiers in both war on terror locations.

See also the site ta ra ta ra (lotsa flash) - of The Israel-Georgia Chamber of Business. the title I see now:

Georgia nice place to do business –Israel Business Forum "We Build Together">link

Invest in Georgia is informative as well:>link

US + Israel + UK + EU / NATO, with others against Russia, Serbia, etc. The great game...pipelines, Caspian region, etc.

Posted by: Tangerine | Aug 9 2008 18:19 utc | 24

After reading the utterly and abysmally stupid and retarded comments by Polish, Baltics, Swedish and other ministers and heads of govt, I've come to the conclusion that the best angle for Western Europe right now would be that Western powers (UK, Spain, France, Italy, Germany) would just officially enter into an alliance with Russia, form a new axis, and toss under the bus the whole bunch of stupid and ungrateful statelets that lie between them. Not that they would do it - particularly the British.

Posted by: CluelessJoe | Aug 9 2008 18:30 utc | 25

Behind the soothing sounds of peacekeeping in Osettia, the Russians will demonstrate the bitter fruit of a too close alliance with USuk/Israel. Apart from the missile shield, unpopular with their populations, Eastern Europe has been rendered impotent by the northern pipeline and the Austrian energy distribution hub.

This coupled with victory after victory in the Caucasian energy wars. Georgia will finish the job for Putin.

Posted by: Thrasyboulos | Aug 9 2008 19:12 utc | 26

I don't know what you all think, but my entrails are telling me that there could be a cease-fire from tomorrow evening or so (Sunday). The Russians should have achieved their military objectives by then - occupying South Ossetia. They have superiority, and "Marshal" Putin is in the field. Depends on whether the Russians are having trouble in the mountains. Could be why the 76 Airborne Brigade is being brought in (see vbo's feed), but more likely they are there to occupy mountain points quickly. The Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, is undefendable by street-fighting, as the population is not pro-Georgian.

No point on either side in going on. The Russians want to have it all over soon. They will not annex South Ossetia - that would be provocative. Depends on when the hawks in Tbilisi are ready to give up. They would be wise to do so; otherwise they will spend the next few weeks watching Georgian cities reduced to rubble for no reason.

The consequences will be that South Ossetia will be somewhat more independent than before. Abkhazia too. Saakashvili will disappear in a few months; the failure is catastrophic. Russia will have gained a victory, and thus be better placed in international politics. The US will have failed to defend an ally, and that is the most serious of all. For the politics of the Middle East. I can just imagine the jihadis in Iraq and Afghanistan thinking that US power has its limits; it is possible to win.

Of course I might be wrong, in which case I will have egg on my face.

Posted by: Alex | Aug 9 2008 19:28 utc | 27

The US will have failed to defend an ally, and that is the most serious of all. For the politics of the Middle East. I can just imagine the jihadis in Iraq and Afghanistan thinking that US power has its limits; it is possible to win.

Yep - it is the critical point and the message to ALL U.S. allies. You might put your soldiers up for U.S. aims like Georgia did in Iraq, but that does not mean that you will get any support but some warm nonsense from Ms. Rice when the shit hits your fan. Siniora and the March 14 coalition in Lebanon learned that lesson in 2006. Georgia is learning it now. The Ukraine, Pakistan, the Saudis etc. will obviously notice it too.

Posted by: b | Aug 9 2008 20:53 utc | 28

@Mark Kollra - just deleted some nonsense you posted here. Formulate it, render it reasonably and it will be accepted and discussed for its merits.


Posted by: b | Aug 11 2008 19:03 utc | 29

Saakashvili's failyre to block the Roki tunnel has puzzled me but this article gives a plausible explanation:

In hindsight, he said, the Georgians should have thought about blocking or blowing up the Roki Tunnel that links South Ossetia to Russia and gave Russian forces access to the region. But the Georgians needed to keep the tunnel open so that South Ossetians could escape north.

No tales of refugees suffering crossing the mountains and no haunting images of reugees caught in the mountains. Priceless!

Posted by: blowback | Aug 12 2008 15:16 utc | 30

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