A year after Georgia war, tensions still simmer

3rd August 2009, Comments 1 comment

What at first seemed a small, remote conflict quickly erupted into a war with global implications as Russian forces drove deep into Georgia to repel a Georgian military attempt to retake the rebel region.

Tbilisi -- On the night of August 7 last year, as rockets lit the sky and gunfire crackled along the border with Georgia's rebel South Ossetia region, few could have guessed how much was about to change, not only for tiny Georgia.

What at first seemed a small, remote conflict quickly erupted into a war with global implications as Russian forces drove deep into Georgia to repel a Georgian military attempt to retake the rebel region.

Russian tanks, troops and fighter jets crushed Georgia's military in a five-day blitzkrieg that shocked the international community.

A year later, Russia has re-asserted itself as a power that can't be ignored in the former Soviet Union, where Washington's efforts to boost US influence deeply angered the Kremlin.

Dismissing pleas from the West, Russia has entrenched its positions in South Ossetia and another rebel Georgian region, Abkhazia, gaining a key foothold in the strategic Caucasus region, a vital oil and gas transport corridor.

Georgia, meanwhile, has seen its US-backed hopes of joining the NATO military alliance shattered and lost any chance of regaining control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which make up about a fifth of its territory.

"Russia won and the limits of Western ability to influence proceedings in the region were starkly exposed," said James Nixey, a regional expert at London-based Chatham House.

"Russia has certainly achieved its goal of saying that it is still the key regional player."

The outbreak of the war -- and its breathtaking speed -- caught many by surprise.

The conflicts over South Ossetia and Abkhazia however had been on slow burn since both regions broke from Tbilisi's control during wars in the early 1990s while tensions underpinning those conflicts date back many generations.

Russia had long supported the regions' rebel governments and Moscow's relations with Tbilisi had been on a downward spiral since President Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in 2004 vowing to bring his country into NATO.

When Saakashvili ordered his forces into South Ossetia, Russia responded on August 8 with a counter-attack that was quick and relentless.

Russian land and air forces pushed Georgian troops out of South Ossetia and then sustained their charge, subsequently occupying swathes of territory both near that region and in western Georgia close to the border with Abkhazia.

A European Union-brokered ceasefire brought an end to the fighting and within weeks Russia had recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states -- a move followed only by Nicaragua.

Many questions remain over who started the war, with both Georgia and Russia accusing each other.

But what is clear is that after years of losing ground to the West in the battle for influence here, Russia sent a strong message that resonated throughout the region.

"Ex-Soviet countries were frightened by the war," said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.

"Russia believes that to be truly secure it has to have some control over its neighbouring territories."

International condemnation of Russia's role in the conflict was initially fierce, especially from the United States.

But within a few months of the war it became clear that, in the long-term, the conflict in Georgia would have few negative consequences for Moscow.

"Russia is set to be a force and there's no getting away from that really. Yes, it made some people in the West more sceptical, but at the end of the day Russia is a player," Nixey said.

After suspending relations during the war, NATO and Russia resumed cooperation through the NATO-Russia Council in June.

Ties with the United States have also improved since President Barack Obama came to power and promised to "reset" relations.

Meanwhile Russia has continued to defy the West in Georgia, building up its forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and preventing EU ceasefire monitors from gaining access to the regions.

In moves condemned by Western countries, it also blocked the extension of United Nations and Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe monitoring missions in Georgia, effectively ending international observation of the situation within the rebel provinces.

Georgia has railed against Russia's moves, but to little effect. The country's international image was badly tarnished by the war, which many saw as an ill-advised military adventure.

"The war has had catastrophic consequences for Georgia," said Giorgi Khutsishvili, director of the Tbilisi-based International Centre for Conflicts and Negotiation.

"The prospects of restoring its territorial integrity have been postponed indefinitely, possibly forever. And Georgia's NATO and EU membership have become less possible -- NATO cannot integrate a country with foreign military bases on its territory."

In fact, the war had consequences for NATO far beyond Georgia, slamming the breaks on the alliance's eastward expansion to other countries like Ukraine, analysts said.

"NATO countries do not want to run the risks of NATO's enlargement," Lukyanov said.

Georgia did, however, manage to stave off the most dire predictions that followed the war, with neither its government nor its economy collapsing.

"There were a lot people who expected Georgia to descend into chaos after that kind of military defeat," said Svante Cornell, research director with the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute. "Georgia has fared okay. It's done better than a lot of people expected it to."

But relations with Russia and the separatists remain tense and analysts say another flare-up in the conflict can't be ruled out.

Foreign-backed negotiations in Geneva between Georgia, Russia and the rebels have made little progress and small-scale violence continues.


1 Comment To This Article

  • Ewiak Ryszard posted:

    on 3rd August 2009, 15:12:37 - Reply

    With growing anxiety the whole world is watching Caucasus. Russia and Georgia are getting ready for another war. While studying the Bible I found (in chapter 11 of the book of Daniel) a very interesting prophecy concerning this matter. The vision shows God's plan extending from ancient Persia up to "the end of days". Below I will point out some exciting details.

    Verse 27 describes the transition from the fall of the Roman Empire to the second half of the 19th Century, when Russia took control over the regions which had previously belonged to Seleucus I, the ancient king of the north and in this way Russia took his position as "the king of the north". In 1882 England conquered Egypt and took the role of "the king of the south". About their superficial relationship we read: "And both these kings, their hearts (will be) to do evil [mischief], and at one table they will speak lie(s). But it will not succeed, for yet (the) end [ending period of time] to (the) appointed time." (11:27, literal translation)

    What was to happen in that ending period of time? The next verse is linked with Russia's history after World War II: "And he ["the king of the north"] will go back (to) his land with great wealth [May 1945]; and his heart (will be) against the holy covenant; and will act effectively; and turn back to his own land [Russian troops came back to their own land after the dissolution of the Soviet Union]." (11:28, literal translation)

    Daniel foretells here that "the king of the north" (Russia) will not only be successful in WW2, but also that he will return to his land with a great deal of goods. If only Hitler had listened to Mussolini and the Japanese, who in 1943 advised him to stop military actions, the prophetic detail would have never been fulfilled.
    Many wonder today why the plan of Stauffenberg failed. Some have called it the biggest misfortune of the 20th century. After the assassination attempt on the 20th of July 1944 Hitler believed that Providence protected him. This may be right as not only Russia's victory was decided but also the Russians return to their own land with a great deal of material goods. However, in order for this to happen, the Germans, after they had plundered Europe had to fight to the very end.
    God's power is demonstrated by those prophecies. He had planned those events several thousand years ago. He is able by his power to control the course of history in such a way so that what he planned could be fulfilled down to the last detail. The prophecy certainly would not have been fulfilled if Adolf Hitler had listened to Mussolini and the Japanese, who in 1943 had advised him to cease the military activities or if the assassination attempt had ended successfully. The unsuccessful putsch is an example of God's power and that he watches his words in order to bring them to the completion. (Jeremiah 1:11,12) We can be sure of that when we examine closely God's other earlier prophecies.

    What will the future bring to us? "At the appointed time he shall return (Russia regains its former control, Russian troops again based abroad) and come into the south (that might be Georgia), but it shall not be as (the) former [May 1945] or as (the) latter [August 2008]. For shall come against him (the) dwellers of coastlands of Kittim [the West], and he will be humbled, and will return." (Daniel 11:29,30a, literal translation)

    The current economic recession does not appear to be coincidental as it might give Russia the possibility to regain control over many regions. The future will reveal the extent of Russia's return before it comes somewhere into the south and clashes with the West.