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August 08, 2008

Russia Invades Georgia

Low-level violence has been the norm between Russia and its former republic Georgia since Georgia declared independence in 1991. But this may be something different.

Georgian and Russian forces have come into direct conflict as Georgia attempts to reassert control over South Ossetia. Russian tanks as well as "volunteers" are entering the breakaway region, ostensibly to prevent violence. In fact, their goal is to maintain and encourage South Ossetia's de facto independence from Georgia.

An Italian news agency is reporting that a Georgian military base near the capital of Tblisi has come under air attack.

More: Part of Russia's problem with Georgia has been its increasingly pro-Western government. After 2003's Rose Revolution, Georgia's new president, Mikheil Saakashvili launched a program of reform with the ultimate goal of joining NATO. Georgia has been an ally of the U.S. in the War on Terror. At the height of its participation, it sent 2000 U.S.-trained troops to Iraq, making it one of the top contributors to our war effort. Our trainers and contractors in Georgia are reported to be safe and out of the conflict.

If you're wondering why I care so much, it's unknown right now whether this conflict represents a mere escalation of the conflict over South Ossetia or whether Putin (through Medvedev) intends to re-take Georgia with more former republics to follow. Whatever the case, Russia bears watching.

About South Ossetia and Abkhazia: Both breakaway regions declared independence in the early 1990s. That independence was not recognized by any nations, including Russia, but Russia has helped the regions maintain de facto independence from Tblisi by placing peacekeepers in both regions. Part of the reason Georgia moved on South Ossetia this week is because someone in the region has been shelling Georgian civilians.

So the question must be asked: is Kosovo going to come back and bite us? It depends on just what precedent you think Kosovo set.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in February and was immediately recognized by the U.S. and several other countries. (It has not been recognized by Russia or the UN, however.) Prior to that declaration, Serbia had lost all control of the region and international peacekeepers were keeping Serbia from retaking it. Superficially, the situation in South Ossetia (and Abkhazia) look similar. However, there were several characteristics to Kosovo's independence that are not present in Georgia.

First, the whole of Kosovo was placed under international supervision following the wars in the late 1990s. The UN, through NATO, had ultimate administrative and military control. There was no analogue to this in South Ossetia. Georgia has always been able to exert at-will military control over South Ossetia. And though the Russian "peacekeepers" have kept Georgia from maintaining administrative governance, neither has an international group been responsible for administrative governance.

Second, after it was made de facto autonomous Kosovo developed a robust democratic government. No such government exists in South Ossetia. Instead, two governments (aside from Georgia, I mean) claim to represent the region: Ossetian separatists and a "Provisional Administration" which has Georgian support.

Third, Kosovar independence was achieved without military action. Actually, the fact that Kosovo was able to declare independence without going to war with Serbia is evidence of just how complete its de facto independence was. South Ossetia has no such claim. And it is noteworthy that although Ossetian separatists are fighting the Georgians, Russia is the real power keeping Georgia out.

Make no mistake. This is not a freedom movement for South Ossetia. And if Russia wins, South Ossetia will not be an independent and free country. It will be a part of expansionist Russia.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 11:49 AM

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