As federal Russian forces widen their assault on Georgia, now extending it to aerial attacks on targets and infrastructure throughout the country, the information war intensifies. Russia-based cyber raids on official Georgian sites continue: the first of these took place before the Russian invasion, on July 22, when the Georgian President’s website was subjected to a DDos attack. Since August 8, Russian hackers have been concentrating their efforts not only on Georgian government sites, but also on Georgia-based sources of news and information, such as the independent Civil Georgia and Rustavi-2 sites. The message is at last plain for all the world to see – Russia’s intention is to destroy the Georgian state, and to depose its President. The South Ossetian enclave is being utilized to the last as a bridge by means of which heavy armour can be introduced to the republic’s territory, as bombing of civilian targets increases from the air.
Predictably, in some Western countries the voices of people who would prefer appeasement of Russia are being raised. But the difficulty is that, whether it wants to or not, the West can’t stand aside now. The trap that has been set for Georgia is also set for the rest of Europe – for Russia intends to embroil not only the Caucasus but the whole of the continent of Europe in a conflict that could decide the fate of this part of the world for many years to come, and by achieving a nexus of interests related to oil and energy supply, military security and political influence It has already succeeded quite a long way in doing this.
In the Cold War, it was possible for East and West to hold apart in an armed separation that held the peace. We are now in a different era. If there is total war between Georgia and Russia – and the possibility of this now looks real – it will be the worst crisis in Europe since the Second World War, because it will result in a confrontation between Russia and the West –including the United States – of a kind that has not been seen before. As some observers have already pointed out, it will be far worse than the Balkan wars in the former Yugoslavia, which were strictly localized.
The cyber attacks which Russia is increasingly using as a weapon to extend its reach are symptomatic, in that they do not only affect the security of states like Estonia, Lithuania and Georgia. Other countries, including those of “old Europe”, are also now exposed. For example, an official British cabinet report has just pointed out that cyber attacks from Russia and China have become one of the greatest threats to Britain’s national security. If we add in the apparent insouciance with which Russian special services are prepared to carry out operations on foreign soil, including acts of extreme violence which endanger the civilian population, as in the Litvinenko affair, and the recent announcement that Russia is to create five or six new groups of aircraft carrier forces in the Northern and Pacific Ocean Fleets, we have a picture of a Russia that is moving step by step towards a military showdown with the West, and above all with the United States.