Day: August 28, 2008

Putin: Georgia war was all about McCain

Russia’s prime minister Vladimir Putin has advanced the novel thesis that what he called “the attack by Georgia on South Ossetia” was facilitated by the United States Republican Party in order to boost Senator John McCain’s poll ratings, which had been falling behind those of his rival, Barack Obama, reports.

This is clearly intended to play well with the crowds at the Democratic convention in Denver, Colorodo, this evening, when Senator Obama takes the platform. For Mr. Putin is an Obama supporter.

Finnish Islamists back Russia

The possibility that Islamist movements in Europe and probably also further afield to some extent work in harmony with the Putin/Medvedev schemes in the field of military and foreign policy is evidenced by an interesting statement by the Finnish Islamic Party (Suomenislamilainenpuolue), which aims to represent the interests of Finland’s small Muslim minority. The statement condemns the “aggressive acts of the Georgian leadership” and gives the party’s full support to Russia. It also makes a savage attack on the president and government of Estonia, and demands that President Saakashvili be put on trial for war crimes. Although Finland’s Muslims are mostly Tatars, and have little time for fundamentalist ideology, the document is a curious and revealing indicator of the sort of sources where the Kremlin may really be deriving support in today’s world. The fact that the Hamas organization was the first to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia may not be a coincidence.

That some voices in Finland may be helping to foment a movement which they call a “Russian Intifada” among Estonia’s Russian-speaking minority is shown by this blog, which is dedicated to the subject.

There has long been a noted connection between the Kremlin and Islamist groupings, and it is no secret that, as Alexander Litvinenko pointed out before he was brutally murdered in London, Al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri trained at a Federal Security Service (the former Russian KGB) base in Dagestan in 1998.

Plan for military bases

Interfax reports a “military diplomatic source” in Moscow as saying that Russia may set up three military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (my tr.):

“Military experts working with specialists from other departments are considering the possible deployment of military bases in the Abkhaz towns of Gudauta and Ochamchira, and also in Dzhava, South Ossetia,” the agency spokesman said. 

In clarification, he remarked that it would be preferable for the bases to be located in places where miliary units were stationed in Soviet times. “In Gudauta, where there’s a military airfield, a paratroop assault unit could be based,  for example, with aircraft and air defence facilities, part of the Black Sea fleet could be put in the port of Ochamchira and in Dzhava a motorized infantry brigade.”

Carl Bildt in the FT

The Financial Times has published an interview with Sweden’s foreign minister, Carl Bildt. As the foreign minister notes in his blog, “interest in what Sweden has to say about the European situation just now seems to be relatively strong.” Excerpt:

Carl Bildt told the FT: “They are opening up a Pandora’s box of questions that will be extremely difficult to answer. If you are interested in the stability of the Caucasus – and Russia is more interested in that than anyone else – you should be very careful with borders. . . They have fought two wars in Chechnya.”

Mr Bildt said Russia had sent “shockwaves of fear” throughout the region, but he argued it was likely to be the biggest long-term loser by choosing international confrontation over economic “modernisation”…

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“South Ossetian independence is a joke. We are talking about a smugglers’ paradise of 60,000 people financed by the Russian security services. No one can seriously consider that as an independent state,” he said. 

See also: Bildt: Russia has chosen confrontation

Uncovering the truth

Michael J. Totten, who is in Tbilisi, has a long, illustrated report containing numerous interviews and other features, outlining the origins and sources of the Georgia conflict. Although Totten was guided by an advisor to the Georgian government, he was also able to check many details of what he was told with an independent observer, the Caucasus expert and academic Thomas Goltz, who is quite widely quoted in the text. In particular, Totten is at pains to point out that the present stage of conflict began not on August 7, but on August 6, when an attack by Ossetian forces backed by Ingush, Chechen, Ossetian and Cossack irregulars. This in turn was a sequel to a long series of incidents of Ossetian-organized violence, which coincided with Russia holding

the biggest military exercise in the North Caucasus that they’ve held since the Chechnya war. That exercise never stopped. It just turned into a war. They had all their elite troops there, all their armor there, all their stuff there. Everyone still foolishly thought the action was going to be in Abkhazia or in Chechnya, which is still not as peaceful as they’d like it to be.

Civilians suffer in Georgia conflict

With reports continuing to be published confirming the presence of ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia and adjacent districts of Georgia, there are disturbing accounts of Russian and South Ossetian forces having set up concentration or “detention” camps for civilians in the region. These camps appear to be similar in design and purpose to those created by Serb forces in Serb-controlled areas of Bosnia/Herzegovina during the Balkan wars pf the 1990s.

There are also reports, now being published by Human Rights Watch, which point to other atrocities. Tom Porteous, HRW’s London director, writes in an op-ed article published in the Guardian newspaper and on the HRW web site: “At the outset of this war, the Georgian military used indiscriminate and disproportionate force resulting in civilian deaths in South Ossetia. The Russian military has since used indiscriminate force in attacks in South Ossetia and in the Gori district, and has apparently targeted convoys of civilians, killing and wounding them as they have attempted to flee the conflict zones.” 

Porteous suggests that it may be time for the European Union to launch a civilian protection missionto complement and follow up the French-brokered  ceasefire that has already been declared:

In the past half decade the EU has deployed almost 20 missions under its European security and defence policy (ESDP). These have included full-blown military operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Bosnia, border-monitoring operations in Moldova and on the Gaza/Egypt border, ceasefire monitoring in Aceh in Indonesia, “security sector reform” missions in the Balkans, West Bank, Iraq and Afghanistan, and a civilian protection mission in Chad. In 2004, Brussels even despatched a civilian ESDP mission to Georgia to help the Georgian government to strengthen the rule of law. 

An ESDP mission has three obvious advantages in the current crisis in Georgia. First, it is easier and faster to deploy than a UN mission: time is of the essence in the current crisis. Second, it is not threatening and therefore stands a chance of being accepted by the Russians. In this context it should be made clear that any European deployment would have limited aims: it would most definitely not aim to take over from the existing peacekeeping arrangements in South Ossetia and Abkhazia but would assist Russia to withdraw in an orderly manner from those areas it agreed to withdraw from under the latest ceasefire agreement. Third, the EU is now reasonably experienced in the areas of “soft security” – border monitoring, policing and police training, civilian protection, strengthening rule of law – that an ESDP mission is likely to have to deal with in Georgia