The Big Questions on the Situation in the Caucasus
SWJ Blog has an excellent roundup of newspaper articles and commentary on the situation in South Ossetia and I’ve said what I’ve got to say about the situation here so I won’t bother recapping either of those things here. However, I do think that the situation in the Caucasus raises a number of interesting questions.
First, why did the Georgians move against South Ossetia now? Did they have reason to believe that Russia wouldn’t respond? Had the Russians sent some sort of signal? Did the Georgians receive some sort of assurances from the United States?
Second, what next? There are conflicting reports about what’s going on:
U.S.-allied Georgia called a unilateral cease-fire — “We are not crazy,” said President Mikhail Saakashvili — and claimed its troops were retreating Sunday from the disputed province of South Ossetia in the face of Russia’s far superior firepower. Russia said the soldiers were “not withdrawing but regrouping” and refused to recognize a truce.
The Russian language press is now reporting that Georgian forces are leaving or have left South Ossetia.
Both Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain have called for an end to the hostilities:
HONOLULU, Aug 9 (Reuters) – U.S. presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain stepped up their criticism of Russia’s military activity in Georgia on Saturday, calling for Moscow to withdraw its forces and the international community to facilitate peace talks.
McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona who has made foreign policy and national security the centerpiece of his campaign, said he spoke to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on Saturday, their second conversation since the crisis erupted.
Obama, on vacation in Hawaii, said he had also spoken to Saakashvili and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
A quick scan of the foreign language news journals has failed to reveal any particular interest in intervening on behalf of the Georgians on the part of the Europeans and, while nearly everybody is calling for an end to the hostilities, things actually seem to be escalating. For example, Ukraine recently suggested that it might bar Russian ships involved in the conflict from returning to their bases:
KIEV, Ukraine – Ukraine warned Russia on Sunday it could bar Russian navy ships from returning to their base in the Crimea because of their deployment to Georgia’s coast.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said the deployment of a Russian naval squadron to Georgia’s Black sea coast has the potential of drawing Ukraine into the conflict.
“In order to prevent the circumstances in which Ukraine could be drawn into a military conflict … Ukraine reserves the right to bar ships which may take part in these actions from returning to the Ukrainian territory until the conflict is solved,” said the statement which was posted on the ministry’s Web site.
Finally, what does this mean for NATO? The very least thing I think we can expect from the events of the last few days is that NATO’s eastward expansion will have been halted for the foreseeable future. It’s hard for me to imagine the United States let alone France and Germany intervening militarily to defend Georgia from Russia with or without NATO membership. Indeed, Europe’s increasing dependence on Russian natural gas makes me wonder if Germany in particular would be interested in blocking Russian actions under any circumstances.