Day: August 16, 2008

Cameron in Tbilisi

David Cameron, Britain’s Conservative leader who increasingly looks like the country’s next prime minister, warned in Tbilisi today (Telegraph) that

Russia must not be allowed to dictate the composition of Nato as he met with Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili to express British solidarity with the beleaguered nation.

Standing side-by-side with Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze, Mr Cameron said Russia must immediately end its “illegal” invasion of its Caucasian neighbour.

“I think it’s important that the world’s oldest democracy must stand with one of the newest when it’s been illegally invaded by another country,” he said. “We wanted to come to express the strongest possible support of the British people, British government and British opposition for Georgia, its independence and integrity.”

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Moscow: versions of signed peace agreement are not identical

According to Lenta.ru [my tr.],

Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov says that Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has signed the agreement for a peaceful settlement of the conflict in South Ossetia without the introductory part which is an integral part of the document. A diplomat said that the issue would be clarified through diplomatic channels.

According to Lavrov, in the copy of the agreement bearing Saakashvili’s signature received from American diplomats the following text is missing: “The principles set out below are supported by the presidents of Russia and France, and the presidents of Russia and France call on the parties to sign this document.”

The Russian minister stressed that Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and the leaders of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have signed the document in this form.

Lavrov also said that the Russian president has given instructions for the peace plan to be implemented, but according to the diplomat, Russia’s actions will depend on the implementation of its accords by the other parties.

In addition, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation added that the withdrawal of forces to the agreed border security zone will require as much time as is necessary. Lavrov also said that the basic accords do not specify the maximum size of the peacekeeping contingent which Russia can bring into the conflict zone.

Continued advance

Via the Telegraph:

Troops manoeuvred around the Gori and pushed deeper towards another town – Akhalgori – with a column of around 1,000 men, possibly South Ossetian irregulars.

Another detachment remained just 25 miles from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, near the village of Igoeti, where they showed no signs of moving.

Russia’s 71st Tank Battalion Heading for Gori

Via mfa.gov.ge

16 August

08:47 – The battalion has stopped in the village Karaleti. The group is composed of lots of armored personnel carriers, tanks, army trucks and engineer unit. The staff meeting is taking place. The general joined later arriving by helicopter.

08:26 – General Alarm was declared in 71st Tank Battalion of the Russian army, stationed in Tskhinvali. The Battalion is now heading towards Gori. As of now, they are in the village of Karaleti.

00:30 The cases of looting and abuse of local civilians committed by separatists in Russian occupied villages of Abisi, Koda, Ptsa – Kareli district have been reported.

The Litmus Test

One of the features of the reporting of the Russian invasion of Georgia in the international media during the past week has been the appearance in the reports of certain tags or catchwords – “hubris” and “checkmate” are particular favourites of the pro-Moscow tendency, while “rhetoric” is intended to deflate statements by the Georgian president. It would never do for some international news outlets to accept at face value statement s by the leader of some non-NATO, non-EU state that has riled the Great Russian Bear. No, his remarks must be construed as rhetorical constructs – “propaganda”, in the words of some reporters and analysts.

Another such tag is the expression “litmus test” – but here the emphasis is slightly different, and the phrase is used with varying connotations and inflections depending on who it’s being applied to. Indeed, there have been rather a lot of litmus tests during the week. The one that sticks primarily in one’s mind is the deafening silence of many Western leaders in the face of the obvious fact of Russia’s aggression – it took Britain four whole days to issue a statement condemning Russia’s action in Georgia, and even then it came not directly from Prime Minister Brown, but from his Downing Street office on his behalf.

But there were many other instances where either silence or equivocation prevailed, and where this failure to respond or confusion in doing so became a revealing factor – in the blogosphere many of the sites that are normally profuse in their comment on events in Iraq, for example, were curiously silent on the topic of Georgia and Russia. In some quarters, after days of silence a troubling consensus began to emerge: sites like the resolutely anti-Islamist Jihad Watch began to publish posts where the main thrust of the argument appeared to be that supporting Georgia might not be such a good idea, as there was nothing that Islamists would like better than to see a split develop in the ranks of its enemies. While it was heartening to see Charles Johnson’s LGF express a critical stance towards Russia’s invasion, it was depressing to read Victor Davis Hanson admiring Russia’s Sinister Brilliance, or Michael Binyon in the Times evoking the above-mentioned chess analogy

For my own part, the really meaningful litmus test came on Thursday, when Sky News and other channels showed footage of the Russian-backed ethnic cleansing in parts of South Ossetia and the areas of Georgian territory immediately adjacent to it. It was above all the interviews with terrified Georgian civilians – mothers, sisters, elderly men – who unarmed and without protection were faced with the terrorist gangs that are still today, Saturday, being unleashed by Russian forces. These images brought to mind others from a past that was supposed to be irrevocably gone: the Warsaw ghetto, Kristallnacht, or the large-scale murders of civilians committed by Soviet forces in the Baltic States during and after the second world war.

That terrorism and brutality of this kind should be considered – not only by Russia, but also, apparently, by a number of other states –as a legitimate weapon in 21st century conflict seems almost incredible. Yet by its actions, Russia is showing that is indeed a terrorist state, not much different in this respect from pariahs like Iran. The actions are backed up by an ideology that is not that of a New Cold War or a resurgent Soviet dialectical materialism: the ideas that lie behind it are those of Great Russian imperialism, modified through the prism of a Nazi ideology which in its turn derived in large part from ideas that were prevalent in Russia in the years before 1914.

As some commentators have pointed out, confronted with such a lethal mish-mash of ideology and military might, some of the de-Nazified or de-Sovietized countries of mainland Europe are baffled, at a loss how to react. Yet the right response is not too hard to formulate: what’s needed above all, given the hindsight granted by the experience of 1938 and 1939, is a firm and united “no” to military aggression, a willingness to accord membership of NATO to countries like Georgia and Ukraine, to call Russia’s energy bluff, and to confront Russia in international forums. Russia’s leaders, being the global bullies and intimidators that they are, above all respect strength – faced with a sufficiently strong and united resistance, and the threat of economic and political isolation, Russia will back down, as was shown during the Cold War in the Cuba missile crisis of 1961, in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968, where it similarly overreached itself in terms of its reputation and of world opinion, paving the way for the ultimate collapse of its Soviet construction A willingness to unite in this fashion is probably the only true litmus test of Europe’s will to survive.

Russian troops moving deep into Georgia – tanks 20 km from Tbilisi

Via Georgian MFA – August 15:

21:50 Russian troops continued movement from Khashuri and are in Surami close to Khashuri on central highway.

21:00 Russian troops entered Khashuri about 100kms west from Tbilisi and opened checkpoint. About 10 Tanks are in the city. Eyewitnesses report that they behave very cynically and terrorize civilians pointing guns to them or Tank guns to their cars and houses.

20:00 Russian troops began preparing tranches for armored vehicles and soldiers near the entrance of Senaki.

18:30 9 armored vehicles of Russian Army accompanied by 3 Mi-24 helicopters moved towards Tbilisi. They stopped and opened check point near village Igoeti 20 kms from Tbilisi, Kaspi district.

17:00 Russian troops began withdrawal from Poti. They took with them 8 “Black Shark” boats, 7 A type boats, 2 Coastal Guard vessels. They also took equipment from the buildings of the Coastal Guard in Poti.

16:10 Russian soldiers kidnapped 4 member of Namgalauri family from village Ghogheti of Kareli district. Kidnapers moved towards Znauri.

15:30 Russian helicopters are overflying Bordjomi-Tsemi forests and dropping fire setting engines. There are already from 12 to 15 fire locations. Russian military confirmed of flying helicopters over this territory without further comments.

13:00 One Turkish and two Reuter’s journalists (one of them were Georgian citizen) were detained by Russian soldiers in Poti.

10:30 Near village Sagolasheni, Gori district, vehicle of freelance journalist Margarita Akhvlediani was stopped by South Ossetian separatists. Vehicle was shot. Journalist was robbed of her car, camera and other belongings.

09:30 21 Military Tracks full of Russian military began movement from Senaki towards Poti port.

09:20 71st regiment of 42nd division of 58th Army of Russia moved from Tskhinvalu to Ergneti heading towards Gori.

08:00 Russian troops consisting of 14 armored vehicle and 4 tracks left Senaki and moved in the direction of the second largest town of Georgia Kutaisi. Currently they are at Abashis Tskali river, 40 kms west from Kutaisi and 10 kms west from Samtredia – the main railway and highway crossroad in western Georgia.

Human Rights Watch researchers have uncovered evidence that Russian aircraft dropped cluster bombs (banned by 107 nations)  in populated areas in Georgia during the air attacks from 6th of August, killing at least 11 civilians and injuring dozens, Human Rights Watch said today.

Russian Navy continues controlling Georgian Territorial Waters.