WASHINGTON – If you want to understand why Russia chose this moment to invade U.S.-ally Georgia in hopes of reclaiming South Ossetia, a province with fewer than 100,000 residents, you need to think globally.
This is much more than the regional conflict it is portrayed as by former Russian President Vladimir Putin, a man still intimately involved in orchestrating events inside his country.
In fact, it has as much to do with the West’s plans for Kosovo independence and Russian territorial disputes with Ukraine than it does with Russia’s desire to punish Georgia, a former Soviet republic Moscow blames for the breakup of its empire nearly two decades ago.
NATO is moving forward with plans for independence for the Serbian province of Kosovo, a move that can only be understood in the context of an appeasement of the Islamic world. Kosovo has always been part of Serbia. It has never been an independent nation. But NATO chose to back a Muslim push for independence from Russian-ally Serbia.
Now Russia believes it has the moral authority to push for the same kind of “independence” for South Ossetia.
Combine Russia’s humiliation over Kosovo with NATO’s flirtation with admitting Georgia as a member and you begin to get an idea of how Moscow was feeling isolated. But it gets even more complicated.
Russia has similar territorial disputes with former Soviet republic Ukraine. The invasion of Georgia was also a message to Ukraine that Russia is serious about recapturing some of the glory of its former imperial ambitions.
In fact, Russia is already blaming Ukraine for supporting Georgia in a preposterous bid to “ethnically cleanse” South Ossetia of Russian nationals.
“The Ukrainian government, which has been enthusiastically arming Georgian troops from top to bottom, was in fact encouraging Georgia to attack and carry out ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
There are other Russian neighbors watching the conflict warily — Kazakhstan, Nagorno-Karabakh and the Balts.
How will the U.S. respond to the Russian aggression? Probably with no more than words, because the Russians know Washington is still preoccupied in Iraq and Afghanistan and deeply concerned about developments in Iran.
For the moment, center stage is occupied by South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two tiny Russian-backed separatist regions of Georgia. They have experienced de facto independence since the breakup of the Soviet Union, but Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, 40, a U.S.-educated lawyer, has pledged to bring the two enclaves back under Georgia’s control.
In April, Vladimir Putin, then Russian president, recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as legal entities, drawing Georgian accusations that Moscow was trying to annex the enclaves. In July four Russian military jets violated Georgian airspace, triggering Georgian protests and a threat to shoot down the next Russian warplane.
Last week, each side accused the other of armed provocation in South Ossetia. On Friday Saakashvili ordered an offensive after receiving reports the Russian military had neared the border. As Russians routed the Georgians in South Ossetia, Abkhazian rebels said they had begun to drive out the Georgians from a key position in the Black Sea enclave.
Saakashvili has been banking on the economic importance Georgia represents to Western Europe because of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which runs through central Georgia south of the breakaway region. The BTC pipeline is protected by Georgian military installations that were among the first targets attacked by Russian jets as the conflict erupted — even though they are hundreds of miles from the breakaway states.
G2B has consistently warned for years the NATO move on Kosovo was not only a strategic blunder but a human rights fiasco that would blow up in the West’s face. Last Friday, it did just that.
Russia’s aggression in Georgia, a pro-Western, pro-U.S. nation, is the answer to NATO’s senseless, pointless, counterproductive provocation of Moscow in Kosovo.
One more intelligence point worth noting from here in Washington: Despite all the history behind this conflict, it was a total surprise to U.S. intelligence when the Russians went to war with Georgia, overshadowing the Olympics on the world stage. This is more evidence of a total breakdown in the U.S. intelligence community.
As late as Thursday, even while Russia was building up its armored units on the border, U.S. defense intelligence agencies were assuring officials that an attack was not imminent.
Officially and unofficially, the U.S. was surprised – and that should not happen with the kind of budget Americans support for real international intelligence.
The obvious question is: What comes next?
Will the U.S. be surprised if the Russia bear continues its push south?
Will the U.S. be surprised if Russia lashes out against Ukraine?
Will the U.S. be surprised if other neighbors, former republics of the Soviet Union, face hostilities as well?