No Agenda Here

Uncle Volodya says, "Twice as many tourists in Georgia as Georgians by 2015? Yeah; that'll happen"

I appreciate a sense of humour as much as anyone else. Recently I’ve run across a whole new group of very funny people, who seem to favour the kind of gentle self-mockery I enjoy. They’re called the Jamestown Foundation.  If you’re new to this group, you should check them out. A quick skim of current material on the site will invest you with the sense that their logo, “Information without Political Agenda” is quite a bit like Krispy-Kreme printing, “Food without Fat or Sugar” on their doughnut boxes.

Take the article entitled, “Georgia’s Focus on Regional Cooperation: Modernization by Example and Engagement”, for example. Evidence of a certain stubborn mindset is apparent in the opening sentence; “Despite the Russian invasion in August 2008 and the ongoing occupation of 20 percent of Georgian territory, Tbilisi focuses more on the future than anything else.” See what I mean? Does that sound agenda-free to you? After all, the European Union’s specially-commissioned report found “The war…was started by a Georgian attack that was not justified by International law…” a year ago. Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been de facto independent for nearly 20 years now. Did the Jamestown Foundation not get the memo? It seems more likely that it – like quite a few blogs that are not interested in politics the way Beethoven was not interested in music – has decided to ignore verdicts it doesn’t like. In fact, the Georgian Daily goes so far as to say, “South Ossetia…has a justifiable claim on the grounds of national self-determination: the idea that any nationality that sees itself as a nation should have the right to rule itself“. It appears to have been forgotten how Georgia achieved its own independence, and that nationalist movements on the part of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia started nearly simultaneously with Georgia’s own.

2008 was a TIE, Russia!!!

Well, let’s read on. According to memory-deficient Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, “…true modernization is always coupled with political freedom…” Is that so? Wasn’t that true in November 2007, when Saakashvili unleashed riot police on demonstrators who posed no threat to public order, leaving dozens in hospital and declaring a state of emergency? Organizations like the Jamestown Foundation would have you believe that that was a long time ago – Saakashvili’s changed; matured, since then. These same organizations never hesitate to bring up Joseph Stalin (another Georgian) whenever they discuss Russia. Stalin died 57 years ago.

Saakashvili goes on to take credit for “spectacular reforms” in law enforcement, public services, education and the economy. The author reports that Georgia’s law enforcement reforms are widely talked-about in Russia; the cited reference does say Russians are impressed with how quickly Georgian-style reform can kick out a new driver’s license. I’d just make two minor observations: with the kind of money that’s been poured into Georgia to whip it into shape, it damned well should have resulted in some technological service-sector improvement. For another, the ability to quickly serve customers at the counter, while extremely welcome, really has little to do with the enforcement end of law enforcement.

Has Saakashvili improved law enforcement, really? Not as of a year ago, when he pardoned four interior ministry officials who were convicted of the torture and murder of banker Sandro Girgvliani – then denounced the pardon system only a week later for being soft on violent crime. Apparently not as of now, either, as USA Today’s “travel tips” section still rates crime in Tbilisi as “disproportionate to the level experienced in comparable European and American cities”.  Similarly, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warns potential travelers “serious risk of violent crime against foreigners, including robberies, carjacking, sexual assault, home invasions and assaults occur throughout Georgia”. That doesn’t sound like the Georgia Saakashvili was talking about when he boasted (in London) that crime was so low in Georgia that poeople didn’t even lock their cars. Non-Government Organizations (NGO’s) Transparency International, the Human Rights Center, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy and the Georgian Young Lawyers Association jointly complained that cases move quickly if there is a high level of state interest; otherwise, they remain stalled for months. They offered as example complaints of intimidation of opposition activists by high-ranking members of the municipal government in Mestia. They pointed out that questioning of witnesses was not commenced until a month and a half following the complaint.

How about education? Doesn’t sound good. Forty-five teachers were recently fired - without cause, according to Human Rights Center – in the Kakheti region. The rectors of Telavi State University, Gori State University, Kutaisi State University and Ivane Javakisvili Tbilisi State University all resigned.  Student enrollment shrunk from 700 to 70 pupils in Akhalgori district schools.

The economy? My favourite, not least because of Saakashvili’s wildly hyperbolic predictions. According to the CIA World Factbook, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Georgia declined following the global financial crisis, and the country is almost completely dependent on its neighbours for its energy needs. Its exports are heavily agrarian, and its industrial sector small. The slowing regional economy is an emerging risk, and Georgia ranks 121st among 227 countries in terms of GDP purchasing power – behind countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Botswana. In the last few days, Georgia abruptly cancelled a planned visit by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, saying that it simply could not afford the cost of hosting the event.

It might seem that I’m beating up on Misha and the Georgians unfairly, but that’s not the case. I’ve said before that Mikheil Saakashvili is a bright guy, and he is. Unfortunately, he’s also his own worst enemy, because of his tendency to simply spout off crazy predictions which haven’t a chance of coming true – but which his trusting people fully expect him to deliver and which the dozy western media uncritically report as if they were achievable, praising him for his “bold vision”. It isn’t hard to have “bold vision” when it consists only of telling people that things are going to be better than they could ever imagine, any moment now, when you haven’t a clue how that’s going to take place. Examples are his prediction (based on forecast performance that has never been achieved by anyone) that Georgian tourism will grow to 10 million visitors by 2015, and his continued repetition of the claim that Transparency International reported Georgia had made the most progress of any country in the last 5 years at fighting corruption – a claim Transparency International has disavowed and asked him to stop saying.

Of late, Mr. Saakashvili has refused to rule out running for Prime Minister when his term as president runs out. When Vladimir Putin did that, you could hear the gnashing of teeth from the Jamestown Foundation and its sponsored organizations at pretty much any point on the planet. If Saakashvili does it, the western perception is likely to be extremely different. And I have no doubt that he will somehow be elected to that office if he chooses to run for it, despite his support currently running at around 26%.

Update: The Georgian International Media Center has objected to the characterization of student enrollment in Akhalgori district schools, suggesting that enrollment has dropped drastically due to ethnic cleansing and expulsion of Georgian families in the area. There is also the issue of unexploded submunitions in the area, remaining from the use of cluster munitions by both sides in 2008. On follow-up, there appears to be substance to GIMC’s claim. The report by Human Rights Watch is here. In many cases the acts of ethnic cleansing were initiated by South Ossetian militias, but Russia has a direct responsibility as peacekeeper (I object to the term, “Occupying Power”, as the deployment of Russian troops as peacekeepers was agreed with Tbilisi long before the 2008 attack) to ensure such actions result in arrest and punishment as decided by a legitimate court of law, and to guard against their repetition. In some cases Russian forces were alleged to have participated, or to have acted as passive facilitators by failing to intervene or by even providing transport to militias. These acts, if they can be proven, are criminal, and reflect badly on Russia as the presence responsible for law and order. Additional substantiation of GIMC’s claim is here and here.

Both sides used cluster munitions, although only Georgia admitted to so doing. These weapons present a continuing danger to civlians long after conflict has ended, and both countries should be urged to join those who ban their use by their militaries. Although effective for denial of large areas to ground troops, they are a cheap and dirty weapon whose use makes achievement of recognized and acknowledged military victory impossible.

Both initiatives (complaint regarding past and present conduct by peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, together with their failure to provide law and order to all inhabitants of disputed territory, and continued use of cluster munitions which threaten the civilian population long after the war is over) should be directed to the attention of the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. His website is here, but unfortunately does not provide a contact option. If Russia is interested in establishing its credentials as a reliable regional influence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it has an absolute obligation to safeguard the lives, dignity and property of residents regardless their nationality, and to permit circumstances to be otherwise is unacceptable.

Update 2: From reader Giuseppe Flavio comes a report that casts doubt on Human Rights Watch’s accusation against Russia of using cluster munitions. Photographic evidence suggests the munitions cited by HRW as evidence are actually Israeli in origin, and were used by Georgian forces. HRW reported that Georgia admitted to using cluster munitions, while Russia did not. Well, one possible explanation is that they didn’t. Even observers with no weapons training can see that the rocket remnants in the photo differ greatly from the Russian free-fall cluster munition delivery vehicle. The Georgian forces received extensive training, assistance and perhaps encouragement from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) leading up to the Georgian attack; this is a matter of record.

I maintain that both sides should altogether abandon the use of cluster munitions, but it now looks considerably less likely that Russia actually used them in the conflict with Georgia. The other matter of Russia’s responsibility to the civilian population as a peacekeeper remains unresolved to the best of my understanding.

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50 Responses to No Agenda Here

  1. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Mark,

    And some stubborn, memory-proficient, folks like yours truly still want to know what really happened to Zurab Zhvania.

    Regards,
    Eugene Ivanov

    • kovane says:

      Don’t you know, he accidentally died from carbon monoxide poisoning? :) You’ve got to be careful with whose Iranian heaters, anything that is produced in one of the “Axis of evil” countries is inherently malicious. One more reason to bomb them, the blood of a brave Georgian democrat is on their hands!

      • marknesop says:

        I don’t mean to laugh, because his death is not funny, but of course that’s not what happened. If you decided to kill your wife, do you think the police…hell, anybody, would believe you if you gave them such a story? How is it that political figures get away with providing the lamest alibis, and never get seriously called on them?

        • kovane says:

          Mark,

          of course, I wasn’t laughing at Zhvania’s murder. Any death is a tragedy, regardless of the personal qualities of a victim. What amuses me is the blatant ignoring of Saakashvili’s criminal activities. Something that would be constituted as authoritarian methods in any other country is magically turning into roses in Georgia.

      • Eugene Ivanov says:

        Well, thanks. I heard about this “Iranian heaters” story, but its geopolitical dimension has escaped me. Why aren’t we bombing them already indeed?:)

        Best,
        Eugene

        • marknesop says:

          I’m sure an excuse will be found. I noted that there was an item in the government’s recently-passed regime of individual sanctions (which are mostly a good idea and well-deserved) against particular Iranian figures for their contribution to misery among the population. This item directed Iran to cease production of 20%-enriched uranium. You can’t make a nuclear weapon with 20% enriched uranium: weapons-grade uranium is enriched to better than 80%. The U.S. government clearly knows this as well as anyone.

    • To be honest I’m willing to give Saakashvili a pass on this one. CO poisoning isn’t that rare in creaky, ill-maintained Soviet era apartments.

    • Misha says:

      Of possible interest:

      http://markalmondoxford.blogspot.com/2007/11/black-roses-georgias-reformers-fall-out.html

      Mark

      Your intuitive observations remain spot on. The Jamestown Foundation highlights a certain slant on former Soviet issues. It’s especially noteworthy to see the sources that org. props on a number of matters, including Russian military issues, Ukraine and the former Moldavian SSR.

      • marknesop says:

        Another find; Mark Almond. All his charges appear to be well-substantiated. If I were the president of Georgia, I’d be eating my tie. Oh; wait….

        • Misha says:

          Along with John Laughland, he has been involved with this org., which doesn’t appear to be as active as it was several years ago:

          http://www.bhhrg.org

          The biggest critics of this org. seem to be people who’ve (in comparsion to the BHHRG) little if any problems with outlets like RFE/RL, The Economist and Eurasia Daily Monitor.

  2. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    Don’t forget that between half a million and a million Georgians (that is to say between 10% and 20% of the population) live in Russia as guest workers. This says a lot about the current state of Georgia’s economy, especially in comparison with the Russian one.
    The russophobic policies of some ex-USSR republics are doing a lot of damage to the economies of these countries. Georgians can’t seriously expect to export their agricultural products to the EU (there is already overproduction here), neither that European tourists will flood their country. For both historical and geographical reasons the obvious markets for their agricultural products are Russia and some other ex-USSR republics (though Russia is the main market), and had they maintained good relation with Russia, I think a fair share of Russian tourists would be willing to visit Georgia.

    • marknesop says:

      Actually, Giuseppe, anytime you feel like doing a guest post on that sort of theme (russophobic policies of former republics hurting their economies, EU already overproducing agriculturally…), I’d welcome it because you seem very knowledgeable on the subject. I like to hear the thoughts of people that don’t already have a large blog audience (like Sublime Oblivion and A Good Treaty, and a few others), and Kovane’s debut was a decided success.

      • Giuseppe Flavio says:

        Thanks for your appreciation Mark, but I’m not very apt at writing a blog post. About EU agricultural overproduction, there is a quota system in force in the EU. Some Italian milk producers have surpassed their quota and now they’ve to pay fines.

    • marknesop says:

      Yes, that’s serial-exaggerator Saakashvili, all right. That’s a great example of the way he advances the most lunatic ideas as if they were really possible. I wish I’d seen this before I wrote the post – I’d have included it.

  3. Pingback: No Agenda Here | The Kremlin Stooge | Georgia

  4. Student enrollment shrunk from 700 to 70 pupils in Akhalgori district schools.

    You do realise that is because the schools are in Russian occupied territory where Russian sponsored milita’s ethnically cleansed the population? Don’t you?

    One can be against Saakashvili without endorsing war crimes.

    • marknesop says:

      No, I didn’t realize that, and if accurate, I thank you for the correction. Since I don’t live in Georgia (as Saakashvili’s most ardent western supporters do not), I only know what the reference says, and it didn’t mention it, which is an odd omission for a human-rights site.

      I’m certainly not endorsing war crimes, if such it is. The aim was to suggest that Saakashvili’s bragging about revolutionary improvements to the education system are mostly hot air generated to cement his standing as a westward-looking reformer, like his English-as-mandatory-second-language initiative. Given regional influences, it is my opinion that Saakashvili’s efforts to completely remove Georgia from Russia’s orbit are detrimental to Georgia’s economy and to the best interests of the people of Georgia. Saakashvili likely wouldn’t be as annoying as he is if he would stop inventing his greatness, and if the west would stop letting him. In any case, if circumstances are as you describe, that is certainly not Saakashvili’s fault. Have you any references in English that would help me follow this up? Thanks for your input.

      • Akhalgori is the Georgian name for the place that has now been renamed as Leningori by the Ossetian authorities. If you want to read about the ethnic cleansing I’d suggest reading the Human Rights Watch report: http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2009/01/22/flames-0

        • marknesop says:

          Thank you for the information, which is reflected in an update to the post.

        • Giuseppe Flavio says:

          Human Rights Watch showed his pro-Georgian bias during the war, falsely accusing the Russian army of using cluster bombs. So their reports that are somewhat connected with the Russia-Georgia 2008 war must be taken with a grain of salt.

          • marknesop says:

            Well, you may be right, although cluster bombs are in the Russian inventory and they have used them in the past. It was my understanding they had used them in the 2008 conflict as well, but that information came from the report you referenced. According to the report, Georgia admitted using them but Russia did not. Do you have any substantiation for this (against Russia) being a false accusation?

            • Giuseppe Flavio says:

              Hello Mark,
              the best report on the cluster bomb accusation I know of is this one. Some links are now dead.
              A summary of it is as follows:
              On Aug. 15, 2008 HRW first reported about the use of cluster bombs by Russia, publishing as evidence the pic of what they claimed to be a Russian-made RBK-250 cluster bomb. Actually the ordnance in the pic was an unguided rocket equipped with cluster munition, quite similar to the GRADLAR rocket in Georgian inventory.
              On Aug. 21, 2008 HRW released another report, and this time the evidence were pics of unexploded submunitions, claimed to be of the Russian-made type PTAB 2.5M. Many people in the net identified the submunitions as Western-made M85 (in Georgian inventory), some even used the HRW database for submunitions to make the correct identification.
              On Sep. 1, 2008 HRW issued another report admitting the mistaken identification and still claiming to have evidence of Russian cluster bombs, but failing to give any photographic evidence. Also they reported that Georgians admitted the use of cluster rockets, but near the Roki tunnel, far away from the places previously mentioned.
              There is also an article dated Sep. 1 on civil.ge where one can read
              Bonnie Docherty, arms division researcher at HRW said on September 1, that M85 cluster munitions were discovered in Shindisi, a village outside breakaway South Ossetia, north of the town of Gori. Docherty said that while this could point to Russian use, Moscow was not known to have that particular make in its arsenal. She added that it was possible that the M85 munitions had been scattered about, having been hit in a Russian strike.
              Now it looks like the Sep. 1 report was edited and republished on Sep. 3 and all pics have been removed from the reports.
              One last note: the Russian MoD has always denied using cluster munitions during the 2008 war.

  5. Yalensis says:

    To Giuseppe’s point: It is so frustrating to see how these ex-Soviet republics cut off their own noses to spite their own faces (to quote an American proverb). They could have had it all: freedom and independence (Russia was okay with that, didn’t want to be financially responsible for them any more) plus decent economic growth and even modest prosperity, leveraging Soviet-era infrastructure and trading ties. Why did they instead choose to confront Russia and hurt their own economies? There is a very simple answer to that question: It’s because the Americans wanted it that way. Not that the Americans want them to be poor; but they do want them to be client states that serve American global interests, so they don’t want them being friends (or even cordial neighbors) with Russia.

    • marknesop says:

      Well, it’s not always the Americans, although that’s true often enough – especially for a country that regularly foreswore imperial ambitions at least until the second Bush presidency. But I’d agree it was thought to be in Western interests in general to keep Russia bickering with its neighbours. And most of the money that made its way to opposition groups was likely American in origin. I’d even question that America genuinely wants them to be client states, because it’s generally much more sensible, not to mention profitable, for America to supply foreign direct investment to modest engineering initiatives or mid-level technology industry that would in turn sell directly to Russia, rather than bankrolling start-ups to sell to Europe and North America when both already have adequate suppliers of their own. To me, it seems unfair to get the hopes of these little republics up by pretending to want them under western influence in order to improve their standard of living and set them on the path to market capitalism, when their greatest real value is as an irritant and propaganda puppet. Again in the interests of fairness, some American-sponsored NGO’s do want to help solely for the sake of improvement.

    • Giuseppe Flavio says:

      … cut off their own noses to spite their own faces
      There is a similar proverb in Italy
      The man who emasculated himself to annoy his wife
      I would add that there is another reason besides US (and EU) influence. Some ex-soviet republics are trying to build a national identity out of anti-Russian myths.
      IMHO the anti-Russia stance is going to change, like in Ukraine and Moldova, because western influence is dimming, due to the economic crisis, and relying on anti-something sentiments is easy, but the results aren’t lasting and effective.

      • Misha says:

        Agree.

        In contrast, there’s a somewhat different take on the rerspective desires and capabilities of the West and Russia:

        http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/thawing-the-frozen-conflict-in-transdnestr/412483.html

        A direct reply to that piece:

        http://www.eurasiareview.com/201009178309/the-future-of-russia-nato-relations.html

        One day later, this news item appeared:

        http://www.rferl.org/content/Leading_Moldova_Politician_Says_EU_Too_Far_Wants_Better_Ties_With_Russia_/2161433.html

        Regarding the Jamestown Foundation and its Eurasia Daily Monitor affiliate, this piece answers a source that org. relies on for former Moldavian SSR issues:

        http://www.eurasiareview.com/20100527393/haggling-over-the-former-moldavian-ssr-dispute.html

      • Yalensis says:

        Thanks, Giuseppe, you are invaluable! I love that Italian proverb, how does it read in the original Italian? I want to memorize it and use it in a conversation at some point.
        Also, thanks for the research on cluster bombs, etc. It seems we are going to have to re-fight the August 2008 war in this blog, so we all need to buckle down and do some research, make sure we get our facts straight. I followed the war very closely when it was happening, but I forgot to take notes, and a lot of those online links are gone now. I do recall that the Gruzian-American propaganda machine accused Russia of several war crimes which turned out to be false. In one incident the Gruzians had produced “photos” supposedly proving Russian atrocities in Gori, and the photos turned out to be fake, and the same actors were used in several shots. The one charge that did turn out to be true is the ethnic cleansing. It is true that as soon as they were able to, the enfuriated Ossetians drove the Gruzians out of villages in which both peoples had lived side by side (and squabbling about land and water rights) for decades. Nobody condones ethnic cleansing, but it was the logical result of a nasty ethnic war that was started by the other side.

        • Giuseppe Flavio says:

          Hi Yalensis,
          the original Italian is
          L’uomo che si evirò per fare un dispetto alla moglie.
          I followed the 2008 war mainly through the ACIG military forum. As for western media, until the first/second day of fighting they were talking about how strong the Georgian army was (“a difficult nut to crack”, “Israeli-trained”, “almost at NATO level”) and that the Russian army was too slow and rusty to mount a quick counterattack. Then they turned humanitarian (e.g. the Gori photos you mention) and expert in international laws (“Russia has not the right to intervene, bla, bla, bla…”), explaining the Georgians were barely able not to shoot at their own feet while marching.
          What surprises me the most of mainstream media is not the fact that they lie, but how easily and quickly they change their lies. Years ago Saddam Hussein went from “the secular leader that modernized his country” to “the bloody dictator that gassed his own people” in a few weeks.

          • marknesop says:

            That’s an hilarious characterization of the western media!! “…barely able not to shoot at their own feet while marching.” I wonder if they’re aware that such abrupt detours in the tone of reporting are so transparent – perhaps they don’t care. It’s possible that the implications of the internet have just not taken hold in some professions; notably, journalism and politics. Both reporters and politicians seem blissfully unaware that a position once taken in print (electronically) is available even years later, unlike something you say in conversation and later swear you didn’t say, or that the other party must have misunderstood.

            That said, I think everyone was surprised at how quickly the Georgian Army was rolled up, especially after all the Israeli and American coaching. Saakashvili had plainly convinced himself that Russia would not respond; in fact, that’s what he said – perhaps this anticipation was also briefed to Army commanders. In any case, they both seemed to anticipate an easy victory and were unprepared for counterattack.

            • Yalensis says:

              Nino Burjanadze now claims that she tried to warn Saakashvili not to attack Tskhinval, because the Russians would counter-attack; but she says he wouldn’t listen to her and assured her it would be a cakewalk. There is some evidence that Bryza and maybe even Condoleeza Rice might have egged him on. In any case, their prognostications about possible Russian behavior turned out to be false. It took the Russians two long days to haul their “rusty” asses through the Roki tunnel, but they did get there eventually. There is probably some kind of Aesopian moral in this story, something probably involving a “bear” and some other kind of animal … oh, never mind!

              • kovane says:

                “something probably involving a “bear” and some other kind of animal”

                Em, maybe hunter? :)

                Идет по лесу охотник. Видит – медвежья берлога, из которой вылазит медведь. Охотник вскидывает ружье, спускает курок – осечка! Медведь хватает его и рычит:
                – Съесть или изнасиловать?!
                – Изнасиловать… – хрипит охотник.
                Медведь изнасиловал его и отпустил. Охотник прибегает домой, хватает автомат Калашникова и пулей мчится обратно отомстить медведю. Подбегает к медведю, прицеливается, спускает курок – опять осечка! Медведь его опять хватает:
                – Съесть или изнасиловать?!
                – Изнасиловать…
                Второй раз изнасиловал медведь охотника и отпустил. Тот опять прилетает домой, обвешивается гранатами и обратно в лес. Подлетает к берлоге, забрасывает ее гранатами, та разлетается вдребезги. Вдруг сзади медведь кладет ему лапу на плечо и говорит:
                – Похоже тебя вовсе и не охота интересует…

              • marknesop says:

                Hey, Yalensis! Where’s your post? Are you ready to make your debut? Kovane has another already in the can, which will be out in a day or two. No time like the present! You sound like a guy who has a story to tell.

                • Yalensis says:

                  Hi, Mark, you are very kind! But I don’t think I am ready yet to write a real blog. Even just writing comments on another person’s blog can be hard work at times, because you have to try to be as accurate as possible, not make factual misstatements, etc. All the more so writing an actual blog — iit seems like it’s an awful lot of work and commitment of time. I admire people like you who do it on a regular basis. You are doing something very important and probably not getting paid very well (if at all!) for doing it. So kudos to you!

            • Giuseppe Flavio says:

              Rather than unaware, it seems they (journalists and politicians) don’t care at all. Here we have Gianfranco Fini which after a 16 years long alliance with Berlusconi, has discovered that his former ally is the most evil man on the planet.

              I’ve read interviews to Georgian soldiers just after the war, and almost all of them pointed out that they were scared by Russian warplanes. Just the sound of a jet was a good reason to abandon their positions and hardware.
              After all, both Israelis and Americans don’t have any experience in fighting without full air-superiority.

              • marknesop says:

                “After all, both Israelis and Americans don’t have any experience in fighting without full air-superiority.”

                Well, that’s certainly not the way they prefer to fight, and air superiority is typically an early goal for both. What I find most interesting about it is Saakashvili’s (alleged) confidence that Russia would not counter-attack. Wherever would he get such an idea? I wonder if the army was briefed to expect little or no resistance? If so, that’d be somewhere to the right of stupid. In any case, they gave a very poor account of themselves, and touting Russia’s numerical superiority will only take them so far. Given the training, the money and the pep talks that were invested in the Army, it shouldn’t have collapsed as quickly as it did.

                • Yalensis says:

                  Two quick points:
                  1.) Saakashvili totally believed that the Russians would not counter-attack. Two words: “Poor intelligence”. As Humphrey Bogart remarks in Casa Blanca, “He was misinformed.”
                  2.) Even in the case of a counter-attack, Saak believed he had guaranteed control of the air, because of his glorious new anti-air defense system, all latest American/Israeli technology, computerized, run from mobile command stations in American Hummers. And indeed, the system was successful in the first couple of hours and shot down several Russian planes. Russian military is still analyzing failures and successes of this mini-air war. Eventually Russian numbers and brute force prevailed over fancy technology.

  6. marknesop says:

    The Georgian Media Center appears to be more or less an opposition site that seldom has anything good to say about Saakashvili (which, in my opinion, he deserves as long as he continues to behave as he has thus far), but they are understandably touchy on the subject of ethnic cleansing. The data on the cluster munitions didn’t come from them, but it’s amazing how a narrative takes on the weight of fact if it’s repeated enough. The two weapons in question don’t look remotely alike in Giuseppe’s reference, but HRW continues to push the stance that the weapons found are Russian. Well, it’s a lesson for me, too.

    You’re right, though, that something has to be done to stop the expulsion of Georgians from these areas. The Russian military probably does sympathize with the South Ossetians, and feels the Georgians are getting what they deserve, but there’s no place for gratifying personal opinion in a professional military. Ethnic cleansing is not just illegal, it’s a war crime, and all civilians in the area are entitled to the military’s protection. Letting it go on makes the Sount Ossetians look like a bunch of hooligans rather than an entity that is ready to take on national responsibilities, and Russians a bunch of cynical brigands rather than a disciplined peacekeeping force whose presence is an asset. Changing international impression would be easy and cheap, relatively speaking. The practice should stop at once, and Georgians who have already been expelled should receive encouragement and assistance to return.

    • kovane says:

      There’s no need to overestimate peacekeepers’ capacity to prevent ethnic cleansing. For example, 45,000 NATO soldiers stationed in Kosovo didn’t do anything to prevent ethnic cleansing agains Serbs. Especially since there was only a battalion of Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia.

      • marknesop says:

        Precisely, which is why it’s such a great opportunity to do a better job of it. The Russian peacekeepers might be relatively low in number, but they’re better armed, and the locals are looking to them for signals on how to behave; what’s permissible, etc… Pointing to how NATO screwed it up shouldn’t indicate the gold standard for aspiration. It’s not like South Ossetia will say, “Hey, if you won’t let us persecute Georgians, we don’t want to be a Russian-aligned independent any more”. Setting a tone that such incidents will bring military intervention with legal action to follow could pay big dividends – for one, it would make the western position of refusing to recognize the independence of an entity that has the right to self-determination look increasingly hypocritical. For another, it would justify the presence of more Russian troops, if they’re genuinely needed to maintain law and order. Alternatively, it could demonstrate the need for support from NATO if they wish the effort to succeed. This would put NATO in the position of either supporting the independence of a country they refuse to recognize as independent, or supporting the side that twice tried to take it by force. It’d be an easy PR win, just for doing what is the right thing anyway.

      • Misha says:

        Concerning Pridnestrovie, some neolib to neocon leaning folks in the West feel that Russian peacekeepers should be either replaced completely or supplemented with a Western force.

        I can understand why the Moldovan government wants this, since it claims Pridnestrovie, while correcetly believing that Russia has been Pridnestrovie’s biggest supporter, short of recognizing that territory’s independence.

        The Russian force in Pridnestrovie is noticeably smaller than the NATO influenced KFOR in Kosovo. Pridnestrovie is considerably more peaceful than Kosovo.

        In some influential circles, this kind of an analytical overview is shunned.

    • Giuseppe Flavio says:

      Changing international impression would be easy and cheap, relatively speaking.
      I disagree. If Russia sends more troops in South Ossetia to allow the return of refugees, Saakashvili and western press will scream even more against Russian occupation, and any eventual friction between the local population and the Russian troops will be described as proof that even Ossetians don’t want Russia. Besides, the refugees are a propaganda asset for Saakashvili, so he’ll impede their return. I’m sorry for those refugees, but they don’t have a chance to return in the near future.
      The international impression could be changed only if western media were controlled by Russia, which is impossible. In this case Russia could even deport Georgians to Siberia and no one will care.
      Perhaps I’m cynical, but I’ve seen mainstream media and politicians shamelessly lying and easily getting away with it.

      • marknesop says:

        Yes, you’re right, but it’s like comparing the American Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats are pathetic at message management, and the Republicans excel at it. Therefore it is possible to have ignorant and often truly scary individuals as even high-profile Republicans, because every time the Democrats try to point that out, the Republican noise machine just rolls right over them. The most obvious theoretical fix for that is for Democrats to get as good at message management, without selling out their values.

        If I were a heavyweight in Russian policy, and it looked like South Ossetia needed more troops to keep marauding militias in line and protect Georgians facing expulsion (getting ahead of myself a bit – first I’d announce a policy that such actions would absolutely not be tolerated and punishment would be severe), I’d amplify and hype an incident involving Georgian troops to substantiate the need for more Russian troops. If no such incident materialized, I’d do the same for an incident in which Russian troops prevented something bad from happening to Georgians in South Ossetia, and again stress the need for more troops. Even the additional troops are secondary, less important than getting the message out that I (the Russians) am doing everything I can to safeguard and protect Georgians in South Ossetia, but that my hands are tied. Manage the western press – is there any bigger whore than a journalist? Promise them an exclusive. Stress the interest Russia has in protecting the rights of Georgians in South Ossetia, and the black eye Russia is getting in the press simply because it lacks the tools, while Saakashvili and his western backers are deliberately sabotaging the effort to the detriment and suffering of innocent Georgians. Most of the western press adores Saakashvili, but some major sources like Time and Newsweek have been known to take a poke at him, notably in 2007 when he instituted his crackdown. Catch him in obvious lies – not like that’s hard.

        The typical Russian response to lies and exaggerations in the western media is dark looks and bitter mutterings about how you can’t expect better from such liars. Use the liars to your advantage. If Saakashvili is holding back the return of refugees, surely someone can be found who’s willing to say so to a reporter.

  7. Misha says:

    Concerning Saakashvili’s UN General Assembly comments:

    http://www.sofiaecho.com/2010/10/01/969749_new-york-talk-show

    “A new iron curtain.”

    That term suggests people being put against their will.

    Rhetorically put, why do Ossetians and Abkhaz prefer Russia over Georgia?

  8. Yalensis says:

    Is the ethnic cleansing still ongoing? My impression was that it happened two years ago, in the heat of battle, when the Ossetian militias took advantage of the situation to settle scores with their Gruzian neighbors and drive them out of their homes. As I mentioned, relations between the two communities had been very poor for decades, with many disputes over land and water rights. To Mark’s remark about Ossetia’s image as an independent country… well, let’s get real here: Unlike Abkhazia, which has a very strong claim to independence, the very idea of Ossetian “independence” is ludicrous, and everyone knows that, including the Ossetians. In 2008 when Russia recognized South Ossetia as an “independent” country, the South Ossetian local government joyously announced that now they would be joining the Russian Federation, and the Russians had to nervously slap them down and tell them, “No, you’re not part of Russia, you’re INDEPENDENT.” Otherwise it looks like they are annexing them, and that violates international law. Logically South Ossetia should be a province of Russia, but they can’t pull this off due to legal considerations, so they have to maintain the fiction of independence. Which also leaves the Gruzian refugees in an indeterminate status and unable to return to their former homes, unless they would accept “Ossetian” citizenship.
    By the way, I like to use the term “Gruzian” not to be derogatory, but just to disambiguate. Because many of my American friends are not so good at geography and get confused when I talk about “Georgians”; they think I am talking about their state of Georgia and wonder why they never heard that the Russians invaded Atlanta?

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