Der Spiegel is noticing a change in Germany’s relationship with Georgia in light of the Russian invasion last month. Never a warm ally of Georgia and not a fan of NATO membership, it now seems the Russian’s have overplayed their hand such that Angela Merkel is now being forced closer to Georgia whereas she was once Russia’s best contact in Europe
The Russians had won the short war and were now rolling their tanks through the Georgian heartland. Merkel watched the TV with dismay as Russians looted and did everything they could to destabilize the country.
Her attitude changed. It was no longer dominated by annoyance over Saakashvili. Now she was enraged at the highhandedness of the Russians. It seemed to her that they wanted to oust the Georgian president from office. Merkel is extremely sensitive to the issue of regime change. She knows how long and difficult it was to bring democracy to Eastern Europe. Merkel sees Saakashvili, for all his faults, as a democratically elected, legitimate president. Georgia became for the chancellor a country that has to be helped.
Nevertheless, she remained skeptical when she flew to Tbilisi. She spoke with Saakashvili, and something must have happened during their two-hour meeting because, afterwards, Merkel gave a press conference that made headlines around the world.
Just another example of former Eastern Europeans (Merkel is from East Germany) being a bit more worried about the Russian’s actions than some in the West.
By now you’ve probably heard the USS McFaul has arrived in port in Georgia as part of a three ship convoy of humanitarian supply ships. What I didn’t know until checking the website of the vessel is that both the Captain and Executive Officer on the McFaul were graduates of Ohio State. Not entirely sure if that is a good or a bad thing. On the one hand, they are probably used to dealing with a lot of stubborn jerks (i.e. their fellow students) so that will help with some of the attitudes they may encounter from the Russians, but on the other hand they might have graduated from the OSU on the ‘football plan’ and gotten most of their academic credits for things like “light bulb replacement theory” and “Ikea Wicker Basket management” or something.
Interesting to note one of the next ships in port will be the USS Mount Whitney, flagship of the 6th fleet and which is a command and control and Intel vessel. One suspects the leaders in Washington would like a little more on the ground intelligence coming back from the region rather than hearing about things second-hand.
Mount Whitney can receive and transmit large amounts of secure data from any point on earth through HF, UHF, VHF, SHF and EHFcommunications paths. This technology enables the Joint Intelligence Center and Joint Operations Center to provide the timely intelligence and operational support available in the Navy.
In other news from the region,
* A train full of fuel blew up after hitting a mine left on the railroad tracks.
In response to international pressure to come forward with the truth behind their claims of ‘mass casualties’ in South Ossetia, the Russian government has finally admitted that initial death toll estimates of nearly 2,000 dead were overstated. New figures released today show that 133 civilians died in South Ossetia. South Ossetian officials said 1,492 civilians had been killed, but international investigators are reporting the numbers will be in the ‘dozens’ not hundreds, let alone thousands.
Both Georgia and Russia have filed human rights cases accusing the other of genocide. As these trials move forward additional facts may come to light.
Last week Georgia said it had filed a case against Russia on charges of ethnic cleansing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which rules on disputes between nations.
Meanwhile the International Criminal Court said it was conducting an analysis of the conflict over potential war crimes – but that it was stopping short of an investigation.
Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement that his office had been “closely monitoring all information on the situation” including reports on attacks on civilians.
We’ve been questioning the ‘2,000 dead’ claim by Russian media, and to date they haven’t come up with any reliable numbers about just how many were killed in South Ossetia. It does appear clear the Russian media was way out of the ballpark with the claim of 2,000 dead, by a factor of about 40 or 50 times the actual death toll.
Researchers for Human Rights Watch, an international advocacy group, had similar findings as McClatchy about casualty numbers in Tskhinvali. A doctor at the city’s hospital told the group’s researchers that 44 bodies were brought by and was “adamant” that they represented the majority of deaths there because the city’s morgue was not functioning at the time.
“Obviously there’s a discrepancy there, a big discrepancy,” Rachel Denber, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, said about the apparently inflated casualty figures. “It’s not clear to us at all where those numbers are coming from.”
But NATO is going to have an emergency session in which they discuss the Russian-Georgia situation. US diplomats have demanded a meeting and will likely press for some flashy but ineffectual sanctions against Russia, such as suspending the NATO-Russia conferences and appointing a NATO ambassador to Georgia.
Meanwhile, Russian tanks are getting comfy digging in throughout Georgia proper with no signs of a pull out anytime soon. In addition, Russian short-range missiles are being placed in South Ossetia.
It’s only going to take one Georgian who lost some family members in the attack to reignite this whole conflict as long as Russian tanks are in the vicinity of Georgian civilians. One guy going off and we’re going to see the cease-fire suspended and tanks on the move throughout.
One has to wonder if that is what Russia is hoping for…
20 Prisoners exchanged between Russian-Georgian forces.
NATO calls Russia’s action in violation of International law.
Like any battle, there is a definite fog of war that shrouds the events. We may never know the full timeline of events.
A U.S. official familiar with intelligence from the region said the administration could not put a time on the Russian move into South Ossetia. “It’s not clear,” the official said. “You’d have to have had somebody there with a stopwatch, and something overhead at precisely that moment.”
The recent crisis in Georgia has revealed the impotence of ‘Old Europe’ and NATO. Is it time for something new to meet the needs of New Europe?
Deja vu all over again?
While Russian tanks were crossing through the tunnels and passes (memo to Georgia: everyone knows you blow up the tunnels and bridges first), the leaders of Western Europe were basically caught with nothing to do. ”They haven’t shot at me” was basically the point that was on the mind of every Western European leader, followed quickly by “I don’t want to go nuclear over Georgia”. These two factors (not, in any way, who was right or who was wrong) were what kept most European leaders sitting on their hands as they watched Georgia get chewed to pieces.
When we used to study Soviet Military Power and Doctorine it was always assumed that the first time a Soviet tank went on the offensive it would be shooting at a NATO tank, and thus the decision to start fighting back would be off the table. Some 18-year-old kid in the turret of a tank somewhere in Germany was going to decide NATO’s response to a Soviet conventional attack. But in this new world, that ease of red force/blue force decision making is gone, and we’re stuck in the grey area.
You can find some contrast in the response of Europe if you take a look at the leaders of ‘New Europe. Composed of former Soviet states they were not afraid in the least to mess with the Bear, for they knew what awaited them should their countries fall back into the ’sphere of influence’. Ukraine has told the Black Sea fleet they can expect problems when they return, and leaders of many former Soviet republics flew into Georgia in the middle of the fight to provide counsel and assistance. Some in the Eastern European media are even asking if Old Europe really understands what is going on:
“Old Europe,” once again, failed to listen to the warnings of those with first-hand knowledge of Russian treachery. “Old Europe isn’t listening to Poles, Lithuanians and Ukrainians. Old Europe doesn’t want to anger Russia, and doesn’t see the integrity of Georgia’s borders as something worth risking its relationship with Moscow over,” the left-leaning daily Gazeta Wyborcza wrote. “Once again, we can only try to tell them that we’re not letting our feelings be guided by Russophobia but merely speaking from long years of personal experience.”
Unfortunately New Europe is pretty weak and the US is pretty busy elsewhere in the world. So it has me wondering if now is the time for a new, mini-version of NATO. Composed of the Eastern European states (and armed and supported by Old Europe). A NATO that does not have nukes and is not a nuclear threat to Russia, but one that is well equipped, trained, and ready to take on the Bear should it come poking around it’s old stomping grounds. A force like this might be the one needed to stop an aggressive and growing threat.
One by one, the old Soviet empire could be rebuilt by a resurgent Russia and a placid NATO. Georgia, Ukraine, Lativa, Estonia, etc. They could fall without most Americans even noticing to be quite honest. But if they fought together, they might actually have a chance. Perhaps it is time for New Europe to look for a new alliance to help them in the new reality they now face.
Because you probably don't know where it is either.
Debka, which is NOT one of the most accurate websites in the world (but still pretty interesting) is reporting that the quasi-breakaway region of Adjara (also spelled Ajaria and Ajara) in the Southwest corner of Georgia may be ripe for the pickings by Russian naval forces. The population of Adjara is split between Russians and Muslims and there is a bit of discontent with the Georgian government (though not as much as in Ossetia). After a briefing crisis, the former separatist leader was sent to exile in Moscow.
There is/was a Russian naval base in Batumi, and another small garrison elsewhere in the region that is supposed to be turned over soon. However, Batumi is the pipeline <-> ship port for Georgia and having control of this vital location is certainly of interest to some in Moscow.
It will be interesting to see how far Russia goes in ‘punishing’ Georgia and whether this might include the port at Batumi.
The Ukraine is pretty annoyed with Russia’s operations in Georgia and has started to strike back, this time with some ‘regulations’ on the use of the Ukrainian port in the Crimea. By way of background, the Russian Black Sea fleet is based in the Ukraine at the port of Sevastopol until 2017 (follow that link if you want to know more). The Ukrainian government is no friend of Russia and they have announced that Russian naval vessels need to request permission 10 days in advance before returning to the port. Russia says ‘you can’t be serious.’
Four ships of the fleet based in the Ukraine were sent to support Russian operations in Georgia and when they come back, perhaps we’ll see some more fireworks.