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17 August 2008

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Drongo

St George is the patron saint of the English nation as well as of Georgia. The flag of England is not dissimilar to Georgia's, being a red cross on a white bacground. It dates back to the time of king Richard I (the Lionheart), the crusader king who fought against Saladin and the Muslims in the Holy Land. There is no English state at present, rather a British state, (the UK)the union of the English, Welsh and Scottish nations, along with Northern Ireland, (neither state nor nation). Americans and other foreigners for the most part seem unaware of the difference between England and Britain, and habitually will refer to the political entity centred on London - the UK or Britain, as "England" and the people of the island as the English - much as folk will talk of Holland and the Netherlands as if they are the same thing. In the not too distant future, the island of Britain may be partitioned much as is the island of Ireland currently is: there is a distinct surge in Scotland towards separation from England and Wales and the establishment of a Scottish state representing the aspirations of the Scottish nation to self-government. Then there will be no familiar red white and blue union flag representing the UK: instead the Scots will have the white saltire cross of St Andrew against a blue background, and England will sport the red cross of St George against the white.

There would be consequences of the partition of Britain. Currently, both the British and US navies have major nuclear submarine bases in Scotland, and Britain is of course a member of Nato. The sentiments of the Scottish Nationalist Party that favours Scottish separatism are towards the same sort of neutrality as practiced by the Irish Republic. Would a Scottish Republic/Kingdom withhold from applying for membership of Nato? Would England and the US be required to close down their nilitary bases in Scotland? What would be the consequences of this for the control of the North Atlantic and eastern Arctic approaches to Russia?

~Blue Girl

Hear, hear, COLONEL. I can't count the times I have been greeted with a blank stare when I have had the temerity to attempt to point out that the person I am engaged with is "confusing a state with a nation." Or I am informed "there's no difference." These are the times I wish I had the power to simply wish those who offend me into the corn.

The Ossetians do not identify as either ethnically Russian nor Georgian. They are Ossetians. They migrated to the region about seven centuries ago, and retained their language and heritage. Speaking of their language, it is not slavic - it is more akin to Farsi, the language of the Iranians.

When the Russian empire was expanding in the early days of the 19th century, the Ossetians did not resist. Instead, they jumped at the chance to throw their lot in with the more powerful Russia.

When the collapse of the Soviet empire was a done deal and the maps were redrawn, Northern Ossetia was a part of Russia, but Southern Ossetia was consigned to Georgia. The South Ossetians rejected that arrangement out of hand, declared themselves an autonomous region, and fought a bloody ethnic conflict in 1991-92. Tens of thousands of Ossetians and Georgians fled their homes for ethnic enclaves. The turmoil there was a precursor to the bloody ethnic violence that would erupt in the Balkans a few years later. The elation of freedom from the yoke of Soviet rule was short lived as ethnic strife brought intractable quagmires when that external locus of control suddenly ceased to exist.

Armenia and Azerbaijan fought over enclaves in one anothers territory. Abkhazia and South Ossetia rejected Georgian rule. Chechnya erupted in bloody chaos twice.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation reached out to traditional allies, one of which was South Ossetia. The Ossetians had traditional ties to Russia, and reestablished them quickly. Georgia realized that with Ossetia a de facto Russian protectorate, they had no hope of repatriating the area in the face of superior Russian military power, even in 1992, so reluctantly the Georgians accepted a cease fire and the whole world resumed pretending that South Ossetia was still a part of Georgia, even though everyone with any chops at all knows it isn't, hasn't been and never will be.

Just my two rubles.

Keith

In practical terms, what is the difference between a stateless Ossetian and a stateless Chechen (besides the fact that the Kremlin approves of the one and not the other)?

Is is inappropriate to view the respective responses to their aspirations of statehood side by side for comparison?

Canuck

Popular nationalism...does seem to be a trend.

Iraq could be divided into Shiite, Sunni, and Kurd and any other uprising demanding independence in the future. The unrest in India could be divided into whatever religion a person happens to be. Israel could be: Jewish, Arab (several different types), Palestinian, Christian, and whatevers. :-)

J

Colonel,

retro-history 04 - 'silence' from d.c. as the georgians 'seized' the autonomous region of ajara, and forced their foreign georgian ways upon the ajarans.

IMO too bad while russia was 'liberating' south ossetia, and abkhazia, from georgian ethnic cleansing, they didn't continue on and liberate the former autonomous region of ajara from georgian hands.

bstr

To quote a historian "Bloody Kansas" is an example of its shortcomings.

Patrick Lang

Drongo

Just so. The English flag with the red cross of St. George and St. George himself himself were introduced to England during the crusades. pl

Leila Abu-Saba

St. George came up here over a year ago, and Col. Lang was kind enough to publish my research notes on the patron saint of my father's village in Lebanon:

http://turcopolier.typepad.com/the_athenaeum/2007/06/st-george.html

The font is funny - use your "increase text size" command to read it.

Mad Dogs

I've got Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania on my mind as well.

And can Belarus and Kazakhstan be far behind?

What is to stop Russia now from re-absorbing its former appendages?

NATO? Not if they wish to keep warm during the winter.

One of the few weaknesses of Russia is that they are currently utterly dependent on the strength of will of one individual; Putin.

Having no serious mechanism for the orderly transfer of power (a centuries-longstanding Russian problem), they rise or fall on the shoulders of a single man.

China, at least, still has the "Party" to fall back on.

Putin, in apparent relatively good health, may dominate the Russian scene for the next 20 years, and it would be foolish to predict that the Russian bear would return to his cave anytime soon.

The Russian hibernation is over and the bear is hungry.

Wanna bet he eats?

Pan

I don't see the Russians bothering to reincorporating any of their former Soviet republics. The Russian nationalists for the most part are very happy to be rid of the non-slavic burden of their former Soviet empire. And I can't see Putin wanting to share Russia's natural resource wealth with any of these people. A sphere of influence and weak neighbors work better than anything else. Regarding Belarus, Lukashenko has been angling to have his country rejoin Russia as a partnership of equals. Putin isn't buying that.

CP

Regarding the Union Jack, the flag of St Patrick is also there and the Welsh have nothing in it.

Stateless indeed.

Keith

Georgia in its present de jure boundaries, including; Ajara, Abkhazia and South Ossetia was created in the 1920s by the USSR, largely through the influence of Josef Stalin, an ethnic Georgian.

----

As far as I can tell, the present borders of Georgia are fairly static back to the Kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia (thanks Wikipedia).

Are you sure you aren't thinking of Khrushchev, Ukraine and the Crimea?

Mad Dogs

Pan wrote: "I don't see the Russians bothering to reincorporating any of their former Soviet republics. The Russian nationalists for the most part are very happy to be rid of the non-slavic burden of their former Soviet empire. And I can't see Putin wanting to share Russia's natural resource wealth with any of these people."

Let's take a look at what you've wrote vis a vis my previous commentary:

Non-slavic burden you say?

So you are not aware of a large population of not only slavic, but a Russian slavic population in those former Soviet Republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania?

Hmmm...the large Russian slavic population of those former Soviet Republic might have a bone to pick with you.

And with respect to both Ukraine and Belarus, I hope you would not argue that a very large Russian slavic population exists in both states, since it would cause too much laughter here on SST, and heaven forbid we told that joke in those particular former Soviet Republics.

From the CIA Fact Book:

Estonia - Russian 25.6%
Latvia - Russian 29.6%
Lithuania - Russian 6.3% only
Ukraine - Russian 17.3%
Belarus - Russian 11.4% though with Belarusian of 81.2%, one should consider both populations to be "Russian" (for those like myself who majored in Russian Studies, one understands what "White Russia" means in the native tongue)

So, let's say that we've established that we have a large population of Russian slavic folks in the former Soviet Republics that I mentioned of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus (don't worry, I will get to Kazakhstan *g*).

Now in addition to the ties of Russian slavic kinship, what else might the Russians want with places like those I've listed?

Hmmm...could the Russians want ice-free access to the Atlantic via the Baltic? That seems to have been of some value to all Russian empires going back hundreds if not thousands of years. Still of value? Twould be my guess that yes is the probable answer.

And how about Ukraine and Belarus? Lot's of industry there and a superb agricultural base. Whyever would Russia want any of that?

And then there is Kazakhstan. The CIA Fact Book says that about 30% of the population is Russian.

Other than a large Russian slavic population, why on earth would Russia want to reintegrate Kazakhstan back into the fold? Again, from that CIA Fact Book:

Kazakhstan, the largest of the former Soviet republics in territory, excluding Russia, possesses enormous fossil fuel reserves and plentiful supplies of other minerals and metals. It also has a large agricultural sector featuring livestock and grain. Kazakhstan's industrial sector rests on the extraction and processing of these natural resources...

...In the energy sector, the opening of the Caspian Consortium pipeline in 2001, from western Kazakhstan's Tengiz oilfield to the Black Sea, substantially raised export capacity. In 2006 Kazakhstan completed the Atasu-Alashankou portion of an oil pipeline to China that is planned in future construction to extend from the country's Caspian coast eastward to the Chinese border...

...Aided by strong growth and foreign exchange earnings, Kazakhstan aspires to become a regional financial center and has created a banking system comparable to those in Central Europe.

So, I wonder if I've made a point or two about the value of those former states to Russia? I sure hope so. *g*

Young Boy in the Valley

Dear Col. Lang:
I would like to ask your opinion.
As a military intelligence man, how do you read what the Russki is doing militarily in Georgia?
There is an article at
http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/08/18/europe/18georgia.php
with information that seems to suggest that the Russki’s are preparing for serious war.
The hardware they are moving into S. Ossetia and their troop movements into the broader Caucasus (see the article) seem far in excess of what they would need against what remains of Georgian military forces. Moreover, the digging-in that they are doing near Tbilisi, the systematic destruction of Georgian military infrastructure (assuming it hasn’t been exaggerated) together with the destruction of the rail bridge linking Tbilisi to the Black Sea (assuming the Russki’s did it) suggests that the Russki’s are expecting trouble—at least from guerrillas against a military occupation, perhaps even from a Western-assisted or –supplied counterattack.
So what I wonder is this: what can we infer from what the Russki is actually doing about how he reads the current situation? What is his real planning framework? Is he looking at the matter narrowly in terms only of Georgia, or more broadly in terms of the whole Caucasus and the Middle East?
There is a big disconnect between what officials say in the chancelleries and on television for the people, and what they know and say in private. This seems particularly obvious in the case of Georgia. For example in the otherwise excellent WaPo article called ‘A Two-Sided Descent into Full-Scale War’
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/08/17/ST2008081700211.html
US Ambassador to Tbilisi, Matthew Bryza insists he knew nothing about the movements of heavy artillery and armour north towards S. Ossetia. But, Matthew, where was the CIA Station Chief? Sleeping? Cavorting with the gang in a bar in Tbilisi? Didn’t he tell you anything? “Sir, the Georgians are moving heavy armour towards the frontier.” “Doesn’t matter. Turn up the music.” “Aren’t you going to tell the Ambassador?” “Doesn’t matter. Put on the music!.” What, no CIA in Georgia?
The point of this is that often in the decision-making centers they have more information than they admit to in public, so that they have a much clearer idea of their opponents’ moves on the chessboard and even of their opponents’ intentions than they profess in public. Hence, it is often important to infer from actual actions what the decision-makers are thinking and what the framework is for their planning.
So the question: what does what the Russki is actually doing say about what he thinks about the situation?

Thanks.

Young boy in the Valley

mo

The assasination of Hariri happened on the corner called the St. George in Beirut. The local legend is that that was where he slew the dragon.

CP,
Wales has no part of the British flag because it is technically a Prinicipality.

Balint Somkuti

"I've got Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania on my mind as well.

And can Belarus and Kazakhstan be far behind?

What is to stop Russia now from re-absorbing its former appendages?"

Exactly. What's next? Eastern Europe? EU/NATO to arms! Now!

In this brave new 4gw/netwar/whatever world it does not neccessarily mean heavy hardware, but more spending on ACTUAL DEFENSE capabilities.

There is a phrase in hungarian:

Better a tank on my farm,
Than a russian on my mum.

arbogast

There are two ways to view the events in Georgia, both of which, in my opinion, are accurate.

1) Karl Rove will do just about anything to focus the Presidential campaign on foreign conflicts that he believes make his candidate look good. McCain's, "We are all Georgians now," is an example of Rovian grandstanding at its best. Hence, Georgia's provocation of Russian can be seen as an attempt by the Bush Administration to elect John McCain.

2) This is the other shoe to drop after Israel's defeat south of the Litani. Israel is a key arms supplier and ally of Georgia. There were Israeli troops in Georgia when hostilities began. So, now we have Hezbollah in a decidedly asymmetric victory over Israel in Lebanon and Russia in a decidedly asymmetric victory over Israel in Georgia (why is Joe Liberman going to Georgia for John McCain?).

It appears that McCain is going to become President. If that should occur, expect to witness order of magnitude increases in military violence around the world, including the use of nuclear weapons.

David Habakkuk

Drongo,

Your post is very much to the point.

My strong impression, incidentally, is that over the past few years one has seen the flag of Saint George used very much more often in England -- the Union Jack much less. Certainly, these days the cross of Saint George has far more meaning for me than the Union Jack. (And ethnically, I am half Welsh, and an eighth Scots.)

My sense -- although I have not looked seriously at the available evidence, so it is not worth very much -- is that there is a lot of semi-submerged anti-Scottish feeling in England, and many English people would be all too happy to be rid of the Scots.

Mad dogs, Pan, anonymous:

A central problem is not forcible reincorporation of non-Slavic territories by Russia. On this I think Pan is right.

A very great danger lies in the Ukraine, all of whose population is Slavic. Here as elsewhere, the burden of history is very heavy. Just look, for example, at events in Lviv in the West Ukraine in the Thirties and Forties. In the interwar period, when the area was incorporated in Poland, Ukrainian nationalists belonging to the OUN used to murder Polish officials.

When the Soviets moved in following the Nazi-Soviet Pact, members of the Polish elite were deported to Kazakhstan. When they retreated, they massacred more than two thousand unarmed Ukrainian nationalists. After the Germans moved in, 'OUN police and militiamen raped Polish and Jewish women with impunity; Polish professors were rounded up, beaten, then executed; and Ukrainian nationalist extremists assisted in the mass executions of Jews near the gasworks on the outskirts of town.'

I quote from Christopher Simpson's 1988 study Blowback, one of a group of works which have investigated the exploitation of anti-Soviet nationalist groups by the U.S. and the U.K. in the early Cold War years. Anti-Soviet partisans in the Ukraine, incidentally, were still fighting through to 1952.

It is not actually terribly surprising that Ukrainian nationalists looked to Germany for support -- any more than that Estonian or Latvian ones did. But to try to superimpose upon the complicated divisions within the Ukraine a kind of Orwellian 'four legs good, two legs bad' version in which virtuous 'orange revolutionaries' battle against 'hardliners' is not only silly, but plain dangerous.

In seeking build the foundations of a Ukrainian identity, the West Ukrainian nationalists have been attempting to capitalise on the catastrophic famine unleashed by collectivisation in the East Ukraine -- portraying this as a genocide by Russians against Ukrainians. This is, to put it mildly, a dangerous game.

(On this, a piece by Gordon Hahn on the site Russia: Other Points of View site is useful. See
http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/2008/06/ukrainian-russi.html.)

Some remarks from the veteran Russian liberal journalist Sergei Roy may bring out the dangerousness of the situation.

'My own Uncle Peter died in the battle of Kiev in 1941, and now President Yushchenko is awarding medals to faithful servants of the Nazis only because they were also anti-Soviet, for which read anti-Russian. Someone should certainly reread the Nuremberg trial materials, which state in no uncertain terms that the Nazis were criminals, they have been treated accordingly - and must still be treated in the same way. Instead, Ukrainian Russia-haters rewrite history - and literature, too: Gogol is being translated into Ukrainian, with the word "Ukrainian" shamelessly substituted for Gogol's "Russian."

'Sure, I get a bit hot under the collar whenever I start on these sort of subjects - the discrepancy between what one reads in the pundits' analyses and what one sees with one's own naked eyes is too much to stomach. Right where I sit in my study on the second floor of my dacha, I can see a hut that a chap from Ukraine has built for himself and other guys who do odd jobs around the local dachas, my own included. There is a lot of construction going on here, other dachas springing up all around us on empty lots. He has been coming here every summer for 13 years, he says, and has been earning enough for his family to lead a comfortable existence back in Odessa all the year round. He has even bought himself a big van - something that I could never afford. And it is an open secret that he has never paid a red cent in Russian or any other taxes. More than that, as he knows his way around here, he exploits other illegal migrants, mostly Tajiks and Moldavians (he himself is Russian).

'This is how life in the raw is lived around here, and you can be sure that this guy Victor would be definitely against Ukraine's accession to NATO - if he ever bothered his head about such abstruse things. I am afraid he will have to, sooner or later - when all of a sudden he discovers that he requires a visa to drive his van along a route that he used to drive along without noticing the borders much. Because to him it was still one country.'

(See http://guardian-psj.ru/editors-column-article-16.)

It is also, I suggest, a game that Ukrainian nationalists think they can safely play -- because, like the Georgian counterparts, they are under the delusion that they will have effective Western support if things turn ugly.

arbogast

Fred Hiatt's whining complaint against Russia in today's Washington Post, in my opinion, offers ironclad proof that the entire charade in Georgia is another real estate deal originating in AIPAC, a real estate deal gone very, very bad.

Patrick Lang

Boy

I think the Russians used this size force because they subscribe to the "Powell Doctrine." The idea in that is to use enought force so that the outcome is never in doubt and your adversary is thoroughly intimidated. This usually results in a quick outcome with fewer casualties.

They will leave Georgia proper when they have made their point which is that they are the big dog in the neighborhood. pl

Clifford Kiracofe

1. Michael Dobbs take at Washington Post:
"Unlike most of the armchair generals now posing as experts on the Caucasus, I have actually visited Tskhinvali, a sleepy provincial town in the shadow of the mountains that rise along Russia's southern border. I was there in March 1991, shortly after the city was occupied by Georgian militia units loyal to Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the first freely elected leader of Georgia in seven decades....It soon became clear to me that the Ossetians viewed Georgians in much the same way that Georgians view Russians: as aggressive bullies bent on taking away their independence. "We are much more worried by Georgian imperialism than Russian imperialism," an Ossetian leader, Gerasim Khugaev, told me then. "It is closer to us, and we feel its pressure all the time."

2. A Russian timeline:
http://en.rian.ru/analysis/20080813/116006455.html

3. Patrick Seale's take on consequences:

"The Georgian crisis thus serves to illuminate the loss of political, military, and moral authority the United States has suffered under the Bush presidency....The world is not back to the icy confrontation of the Cold War, but the last couple of weeks have seen a shift in the international balance of power. Flush with revenues from oil and gas, sitting on vast foreign exchange reserves, its armed services and its self-confidence rebuilt by Vladimir Putin over the past eight years, Russia is now a major player in a highly competitive multi-polar world. Many an international relationship will need to be adjusted to match the new reality."


Mad Dogs

David Habakkuk wrote - "Mad dogs, Pan, anonymous:

A central problem is not forcible reincorporation of non-Slavic territories by Russia. On this I think Pan is right."

I would make one small response to this in that I did not specify "forcible" reincorporation.

Yes, I deliberately left the method open to interpretation, but in truth, I would not exclude it nor would I insist upon it as the main/only/likely method of the reattachment of Russia's former appendages.

My point wasn't so much about the method of reattachment, but more about Russia's desire to again become the empire she once was.

It did not dissipate as the Marxist/Leninist ideology was shown the door.

Young Boy in the Valley

Point taken, Colonel.

However, having won the war they are still doing things--even now--that seem far in excess of what they need for a peacekeeping force: moving (now, not before) SS-21's into S. Ossetia, digging machine-gun nests close to the capital of Georgia, moving more troops into the Russian Caucasus, flying cruise-missile-capable Bear bombers over the Black Sea. Psychological warfare? Or is there more to it?

Thanks.

Boy

Bill W, NH, USA

"German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday in the Georgian capital that the ex-Soviet republic, currently mired in conflict with Russia, will join NATO.

"Georgia will become a member of NATO if it wants to — and it does want to," she said before talks with President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi."

above from AFP

I'm flabbergasted at this.

Curious

I can't decide if what happens in Georgia is some silly skirmish fueled by a dictator wannabe trying to win election through fanning nationalism fever or is a sign of incoming big global geopolitical shift.

The cascade is obvious. Condi and Russia will do a tit for a tat moves. Georgia, Poland missile defense, followed by Russia enlarging it's navy commitment and arming various nation (Syria, Iran, Venezuela, etc).. then ultimately little arm race (missile defense, counter missile defense, more advance space technology and delivery... etc. Ultimately ever expanding space asset and large satellite networks.)

in other words, the tit for a tat looks like just another day in big power military/geopolitical game.

Until I saw the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac holding. China and Russia hold nearly $900B of housing bonds. Their combined forex reserve is $2.2T.

So suppose Condi initiate the Zimbabwe/Iran gambit against Russia. (Is State Dept. has "how to become utterly predictable and lost all war" manual?)

Certainly Russia is thinking ahead when it comes to this part of the game. They had the entire 90's for a lesson what it means not owning proper macroeconomic policy. So they will come prepared. (To some degree their Gasprom strategy is an answer to this situation and it work very well.)

Our twin budget deficit however is different story. The entire thing is not sustainable. If Russia start doing a combination move: arming Iran/Syria, afghan insurgency+Iraq, then at the same time selling arm to entire latin america on the cheap, drug war PLUS dumping their US holding....

We are in for a LOT of pain in the next 2 decades. Quite possibly prolonged depression.

Suppose the Russian pulls the Chenchya gambit on us. They start arming Columbian and Mexican drug lord with high power weapons and high explosive. (eg. oil pipe explosion, border war during drug smuggling, attack on oil terminals ala Nigeria, etc)

It will easily eats up 1-2% GDP, specially with constitutional structure not allowing US military to operate inside US. (eg. imagine 80's inner city gang war using RPG and thermobaric weapons instead of automatic machine gun.) The entire police force can easily be wiped out within months. (The mexican drug lords are winning their little township war against Mexico's government)

A tit for a tat game will collapse urban economy for sure. Even without silly scenario above, California and NY state budget are already in deep doo doo.

I think there is something more about Georgian conflict. It asks basic question: if we continue current path as dictated by neocon. Can the US economy afford it without rethinking of larger policy and strategy.

I really don't think it's sustainable if there is no major rethinking.

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