Via Eurasia Daily Monitor (excerpt):
Apart from the usual goal of military intimidation, Moscow has some novel motives this year to escalate tension to an unprecedented level. First and foremost, it wants to demonstrate that NATO would court danger and risk a breakdown in relations with Russia, if the Alliance approves a membership action plan for Georgia at one of the upcoming NATO meetings (December 2008, April 2009). Germany’s insistence at the April 2008 NATO summit, that the unresolved secessionist conflicts disqualify Georgia from a membership action plan, has emboldened Moscow to demonstrate ever more aggressively that the conflicts are indeed unresolved.
Second, by stoking tensions in South Ossetia and anxiety in European institutions, Moscow seeks to force Georgia to return to negotiations in the Joint Control Commission (JCC), which Georgia quit in March of this year. With its grotesquely unbalanced composition (Georgia, Russia, South Ossetia, and Russia’s North Ossetia, plus the OSCE as a passive observer), the JCC had only helped perpetuate the “frozen” conflict, i.e., Moscow-controlled instability.
During the July 31-August 2 incidents, Russia’s special envoy on the South Ossetia conflict and chief delegate to the JCC, Ambassador Yuriy Popov, was visiting Georgia in attempt to resurrect the JCC. Both Popov and a Ministry of Foreign Affairs communiqué from Moscow argued that the continuing incidents showed the urgent need for resuming negotiations in the JCC. The Russian MFA cited the incidents in claiming that Russia’s “peacekeepers” were indispensable and demanding that Georgia sign a “guaranteed” non-use-of-force agreement with South Ossetia, as well as with Abkhazia (Interfax, July 31, August 1, 2). This is unacceptable to Tbilisi because it would in effect recognize South Ossetia and would retain Russia’s “peacekeeping” troops as “guarantors.”
Moscow’s third, novel reason for orchestrating the incidents is to rebuff the United States, as part of a general propaganda offensive against a Washington perceived to be weak. For the first time in memory, Moscow licensed the South Ossetian leaders in their statements to attack the United States and, personally, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who had visited Georgia in July (South Ossetian Press and Information Committee, Itar-Tass, July 31-August 2).