this is a nice article explaining the conflict in Georgia. [for the sake of clarity, i don’t agree with everything stated here, but i found the article useful so i’m reprinting it. – alex]
One of the nations in the Russian Tzar’s prison house, Georgia was granted autonomy by the early Soviet Union. It had a Menshivik-led government friendly to Britain and Germany until that government was overthrown by a Bolshevik-supported uprising in 1921. Ultimately it was re-subsumed by the Soviet Union. Stalin, himself a Georgian but hostile to Georgian nationalism, attempted to thin out ethnic Ossetians by encouraging Russians to move into the territory.
Georgia regained independence in 1990, a year before the Soviet Union fell, and claimed Ossetia as part of its territory. The Ossetians fought this attempted subjugation, and South Ossetia became semi-autonomous in 1992 after the pro-Western Georgian government fell and Russia stepped in. Russian peacekeepers have been present in the region since then. Many if not most South Ossetians have Russian passports and consider themselves Russian citizens. In a 2006 referendum with 95% voter turnout, 99% of South Ossetians voted for full independence from Georgia.
U.S. Influence and NATO
The U.S. has been courting Georgia as an ally since 2003, when the CIA played a large part in orchestrating the so-called “Rose Revolution” which overthrew the Stalinist government of Edward Shevardnadze. The U.S. backed the election of Saakashvili in 2004. Since then, the Georgian president has been very friendly with Bush. Last summer joint war games were held in Georgia with U.S. troops from the state of Georgia. Georgia has sent 2,500 troops to Iraq, the third-largest contingent behind the U.S. and Britain. When Georgia invaded South Ossetia, the U.S. immediately provided planes to fly the Georgian troops stationed in Iraq home. Additionally, the U.S. has about 1,000 military instructors in Georgia, who directly command 2,500-3,000 mercenaries, according to Russia. Israel has also sent military advisers and material to Georgia.
The U.S. has been grooming Georgia to enter NATO, which fits with their post-Soviet policy of encircling and isolating Russia to prevent its resurgence as a competing superpower. The U.S. tried the NATO trick with the Ukraine two years ago, and almost started a civil war there. Now the policy has thoroughly backfired in Georgia. Russia sees NATO as a direct threat to its interests, and its addition of Georgia would be a major stab by the U.S. into what they consider their sphere of influence (in the same way the U.S. considers Central America its sphere). Russia’s overwhelming show of force was at least partly designed to warn any lesser powers in the region away from joining NATO. It has been a catastrophe for U.S. imperialism in the region.
Pursuing an aggressive nationalist policy to reintegrate South Ossetia, Georgia’s president Saakashvili launched a surprise invasion of South Ossetia in the middle of the night before the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, when Vladimir Putin was in Beijing. Apparently Saakashvili’s brash hope was to catch Russia off guard and draw in U.S./NATO forces to militarily aid Georgia. Georgian missile launchers and warplanes attacked Russian peacekeepers, Ossetian forces and civilians, completely destroying the capital Tskhinvali, a city of 100,000. 2,000 people were killed on August 7-8th, and over 40,000 fled to North Ossetia.
Russia responded with overwhelming force, attacking Georgian military targets in South Ossetia and two Georgian cities, destroying military bases which had been recently upgrated to NATO standards. With his forces quickly routed and substantial U.S. aid failing to materialize (for obvious reasons – the U.S. isn’t ready for a full-scale war with Russia), Saakashvili cried uncle. Russia also took the opportunity to sever Georgia’s control of Abkahzia, another autonomy-seeking province with its own ethnic identity. Though how these territories will be defined, whether independent pro-Moscow states or a part of Russia, is formally up in the air, Russia holds all the cards in determining that status. They will certainly not go back under Georgian control.
More critical for Russia than the capture of piddly Caucasian territories is that Russia’s first full show of military strength since the Soviet disintegration has totally changed the dynamics of the region, smashing U.S. aspirations to control its natural resources and reinstalling Russia as a major imperial force. Other countries in the region will be much more hesitant to court U.S. favor, now that there is once again a second superpower much closer to home.
It wouldn’t be a U.S.-backed war without…
Oil. And gas. Lots of it. Russia controls huge reserves of oil and natural gas in central Asia, strategic resources for in the post-Peak Oil world. The only pipeline routes from the Caspian Sea oil fields not under Russia’s control run through Georgia to Black Sea ports in Turkey. Another pipeline to Western Europe was in the works to be built by BP and Chevron, but now it is unlikely to go forward because of the “investment risk” from Russia.
Turkey is at the shipping end of the BP/Chevron pipeline, and is a key U.S. ally and NATO member in the region. But it’s big and diverse, and most of its people do not buy into Western propaganda. In the runup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Turkish parlaiment voted overwhelmingly to prevent the U.S. from using Turkish bases to launch airstrikes on Iraq. Turkey’s main military concern right now is preventing the PKK from gaining independence for Kurdistan (northern Iraq and southeast Turkey).
Though not entirely happy with U.S. actions in Iraq, Turkey has played a key part in towing the line of U.S. imperialism in the region. The country has given large amounts of military aid to Georgia. It has troops in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Lebanon. A political change of climate in the region could pit Turkey against Russia in a major, messy war or series of wars.
Poland: a Nuclear War Flashpoint
U.S. foreign policy strategists are bitter and enraged over losing their chess piece in Georgia, and that doesn’t bode well for rational thinking amongst imperialists. The State Department’s immediate response to Georgia’s routing was to sign a deal with Poland on which it had previously been stalling, to put in place a missile shield by 2012. The deal includes 10 interceptor missiles and a battery of long-range Patriot missiles, operated by 100 U.S. troops. While the State Department claims the measures are to defend against “future adversaries such as Iran,” this is a pretty preposterous scenario, given that all the missiles are pointed at Russia.
Russia is obviously not happy, and is firing back with words, and maybe eventually with missiles of its own. The Russian military deputy chief of staff, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said that “by deploying, Poland is exposing itself to a strike – 100%” from Russia. In the form of nuclear warheads. No, this is not the ’60s, and yes, Russia is threatening nuclear war, while Poland and the U.S. seem perfectly willing to risk provoking one.
Speaking of Iran
After a week of war games with Britain and France in the Atlantic, the U.S. just dispatched a massive carrier group to the Persian Gulf, to be augmented by a British carrier group and French nuclear sub. This is the largest buildup of naval power in the Gulf since 1991, obvious preparations for the threatened war with Iran. Kuwait is anticipating a war, having activated a state of preparedness for war. I won’t reiterate all the reasons an attack on Iran would be stupid, stupid, stupid for the U.S. and its allies. But as I said, enraged imperialists don’t always see the likely consequences of their actions.
Some have speculated that the Georgia invasion was a “shot across the bow” to warn Russia off interfering with an attack on Iran. Whether or not this is true, Russia’s newfound greater influence over Caspian oil has underlined for U.S. imperial strategists the importance of maintaining control over the Middle East’s natural resources.
The End of Pax Americana and World War III
With the dollar falling and the world economy on shaky ground, U.S. capitalism is struggling to hold onto its world empire against competition from the more dynamic burgeoning capitalist powers of Asia. The arrogant and short-sighted maneuvers of the Bush Administration have certainly hastened the strain on the American position (which I think is the reason the ruling class and the media are mainly backing Obama this election–he’s smart and might be able to turn around the recent failures of U.S. imperialism). There is tension building between faltering American economic power on the one hand and the ability of the U.S. to still force the world to play on its terms at the point of a gun–or think that it can–on the other. At some point, the pressure will be too much for the capitalist competitors of the U.S., and there will have to be a major shakeup. The last two such shakeups were world wars, which came as the result of inter-imperialist rivalries of similar complexity and form to what we are seeing today. We may be hearing the first rumbles of the coming storm.
If this storm comes, the victims will be in the untold millions or even billions, possibly life on Earth itself. Ultimately, the only way to avoid the scourge of war is to dump capitalism and transform society to one worldwide democracy with a socialist economic structure. We need a world based on love and human compassion, not greed, competition and unconscionable inequality. We need respect for the vast diversity of cultures and lifestyles, and respect for all humanity as equally valuable. We need socialism, or we will have barbarism.
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Levine, Steve. “Georgia: A Blow to U.S. Energy.” Business Week. August 13, 2008. http://www.businessweek.com/print/magazine/content/08_34/b4097000700662.htm
Savran, Sungar. “Huge Stakes in War in the Caucuses.” MRZine (Monthly Review online). August 8, 2008. http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/savran120808.html
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