Showing posts with label South Ossetia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South Ossetia. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Just a couple of quick hits which brought me back to last summer. Woke up this morning to news that the Georgian army was rebelling after falling asleep to last Thursday's Daily Show with a clip of the Large Hadron Collider. The never failing race to see who will truly bring about the end of the world, war or science (both?). Seems as though Saakashvili will live to see another day in power as the BBC only has the Rebellion Over story posted. Yet it seems that his presidency is on the same start and stop schedule of the machine that could bring about the end of it all, at least if crazies like this are to be believed:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Large Hadron Collider
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The accelerator was powered up for a short time last fall, fired up on Sept. 9th, just after the war down in Georgia wound down, then burst a pipe 10 days later leaking liquid helium. The Russians bitch slapped the poor little Georgians, taking out most of Gori, a town I visited a few years back to see native son Stalin's statue, almost as quick as the circuit was completed by the beam of low-energy particles fired through the collider's 17-mile (27-kilometer) underground track. In case you missed it, this experiment is out to show the world as it existed fractions of moments after the big bang, with collisions at speeds 99.999999% that of light hopefully yielding the fabled Higgs boson, or God particle - or maybe a micro black hole or strangelet . Meanwhile, the Russians and the Americans along with NATO, continue their proxy war in poor Georgia as fingers are being pointed at the Russians for instigating the attempted coup.

Re-start for the collider was to be early spring, but instead continue on the parallel universe shared with Georgia. NATO exercises are planned around Tbilisi - or more importantly designed because Abhkazia and South Ossetia. The planning of these exercises is almost too blatant a display, but it is playing out as expected. The sound of Putvedev's protests seemed to foreshadow the sounds of the colliders start up hum once again. It seems like yet another play scripted for Medvedev to step from out of Putin's shadow, but I somehow doubt Putin is ready to take a farewell bow.

Of course this bow is exactly what Saakashvili was most likely orchestrating the avoidance of through this 'coup'. While the collider only needed to be warmed from -271 degrees C to allow workers in to do the repair work last year, Georgia's president faces far more internal heat from opposition in his country. Images of protesters camped out in cages blocking the main drag of the capital (yes walked it, it is the only main artery) have reinforced the image of a nation without faith in its leader. Funny how many claimed the Russians lost the propaganda war, the real fight last year, yet I've been swayed to their side by what I've read since. NATO exercises are due to start tomorrow, the collider won't be up and running until September (with Tom Hanks flipping the switch?!?) with real results about the beginning (and end) of the universe not coming in until a year later. Maybe we've got a while to survive if these pesky Ruskies and Georgians can get along, well, until 2012 that is!!!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Independence Day

If we cross the Rubicon and Kosovo gains independent status tomorrow, frankly speaking, I expect this independence to echo in other regions as well, including those close to Russia's borders. You perfectly understand what I mean - I mean Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester” - Russia's military chief of staff, Yury Baluevskyk, December 2007

So, it has begun. Both chambers of Russia's parliament unanimously passed resolutions Monday (the 25th) urging the Kremlin to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Putvedev signed the declaration the next day although many 'experts' had figured that they'd keep the card up their sleeve for a little while at least. So, who else will recognize them? Serbia and Belarus for sure, but it doesn't look like the members of the SCO are going to, they've got separatist problems of their own. Syria? Cuba? Venezuela? For Ossetians, this could bring them a step closer of realizing a dream to restore Alania, an ancient kingdom they believe was home to their ancestors, the Scythians. But really, independent? They set their clocks to Moscow time, use rubles and most of the population carries Russian passports. Speaking of population, they couldn't fill China's National Stadium. There's no industry, save smuggling through the Roki tunnel which cuts a huge ridge through the Caucusus. Consumer goods pour south from Russia, avoiding Georgian duties, and crime rings transport drugs north from Central Asia and Afghanistan, yet they dream of becoming the world's newest Liechtenstein. So, let's look at what other countries could soon be as "independent" as South Ossetia.

What is the internationally accepted standard of independence? It's almost getting a little tired, linking this issue with the NATO bombing of Serbia and the ensuing declaration of Kosovo as an independent country by the west, but the similarities become clearer by the day. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence and much of the west supported her, but there are still many more who have yet to do so. The street celebrations saw people waving Kosovan and US flags, in thanks to US support in the Serbian bombing campaign of 1999. The streets of Tskhinvali Monday saw similar celebrations, this time with Russian and South Ossetian flags being waved in thanks to Russian military intervention in ousting the Georgians. Next up for the Russians, Transnistria, Nagorno Karabakh, and maybe a couple Ukrainian enclaves, Crimea and Donetsk. But I want to look at the possibility of not just a few countries being 'liberated' by independence, how about the possibility of this igniting a wildfire across the planet.

Kosovo was "a lesson in how to resolve conflicts of identity and membership, peacefully and democratically," said Miren Askarate, spokeswoman for the Basque regional government. So, in Spain, the Basque and Catalan separatists seize the moment and officially separate. It turns out Franco was right all along, they were just a bunch of commies (Homage to Catalonia). Belgium splits in two, with a Flemish north and a French south. The snow falls non-stop in Eastern Turkey, where the PKK and supporters, cut off from the rest of the world in Kars, execute a coup and declare independence from Ankara (Snow). The Muslim nations of the world band together in their support of Palestine as it separates from Israel. The rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front(yes, the acronym is MILF) in the Philippines declared that with the move by Kosovo "the taboo" of the unwritten rules of the United Nations safeguarding the integrity of the countries that it recognises "has been shattered. What is prohibited for decades", says Khaled Musa, deputy chairman of the Front, "is now a virtual part of international law". Mindanao therefore splits from the Philippines and Xinjiang from China. Meanwhile the Buddhists all back Tibet and the Shan State's breakaway from Beijing.

Following riots after a controversial Montreal Canadiens game 7 loss in the Stanley Cup finals to the Vancouver Canucks that features English Canadian referees, the Parti-Quebecois quickly calls for a referendum on separation and win in a land slide. The US isn't immune to the spreading disease as Puerto Rico, the Northern Marianas, US Samoa and Guam all quickly declare their independence. Staying in the Pacific, Tokelau and the Cook Islands officially separate from New Zealand. West Papua and Aceh also break from Indonesian control and Bougainville from Papua New Guinea (Mister Pip). Chiapas breaks away from Mexico while the oil rich region of eastern Bolivia also declares a new country with its capital in Santa Cruz. Of course Africa has more than just Biafra which leaves Nigeria (Half of a Yellow Sun), as the newly integrated Bakassi breaks from Cameroon, Zanzibar from Tanzania, Southern Sudan along with Darfur from Khartoum and Puntland and Somaliland form nations out of what was Somalia.

France turns out to be one of the biggest losers as Corsica, Martinique, Guadaloupe, New Caladonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna all become island nations. The Faroe Islands and Greenland are lost to Denmark. Sri Lanka, which has been fighting against Tamil efforts for independence for 20 years, declared the move by Kosovo could create "an unmanageable precedent in the conduct of international relations". Colombo didn't support the secession of Kosovo, because it "poses a grave threat to international peace and security". Now, Tamil Eelam is recognized in the north-east of Sri Lanka. Kashmir gets its hands on a bomb and everyone agrees, yeah, they're a country. The UK not only loses Scotland in a referendum in 2010 but also Northern Ireland, the Chagos Islands, Turks and Caicos and Gibraltar to the independence craze. Nevis, with it's 98% literacy rate breaks from St. Kitts. "I salute the independence of Kosovo. No people can be forced to live under the rule of another," said Mehmet Ali Talat, leader of the Turkish Cypriots. Now Northern Cyprus could also be recognized as a separate nation along with the Srpska Republic, completing the circle back in the Balkans as it separates from Bosnia Herzegovina.

I'm sure I missed a few, but it seems like quite a headache for the UN. Technicalities will mean little, de jure or de facto, legal or practical, there could be a lot more countries in the near future. Is Taiwan a country? Not to China, nor the UN, but for all practical purposes it is. Following the Kosovan declaration, the Taiwan foreign ministry said "self-determination is a right recognised by the United Nations, and it is the people who are masters of their nation's future...In no way should the independence of one nation be denied by another". What's to stop somewhere like Kosovo dividing again, the Serb dominated north seceding from the south? Russia and the west are playing a dangerous game which will in all likelihood turn out to be a nightmare for any geography student.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Heartland

In the geopolitical world nothing happens in isolation. Anybody caught by surprise over the events last week in Georgia really just hadn't been paying attention, or probably just forgot that what has been done can often be undone. The term geopolitics, while coined by Swedish political scientist Rudolf Kjellen, gained attention as a doctrine through the writing of Englishman Sir Halford Mackinder and his Heartland Theory of 1904. Essentially his doctrine divided the world into the World Island, comprising Eurasia and Africa; and the Periphery, including the Americas, the British Isles, and Oceania. The Heartland of the World Island was made up of the Ukraine, Western Russian and Mitteleuropa (Central Europe). His theory held that: "Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland. Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island. Who rules the World-Island commands the World."

Yesterday's seemingly curiously timed signing of a preliminary agreement between the US and Poland to host part of the missile defence system to be stationed near Russia's border must be part of this heartland strategy of the 21st century. Surprisingly the Russians are pissed off. The Russian talk had been largely ignored, all bluster with no bite. Suddenly, the world has been reminded that the bear still has claws. So when Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian general staff, says the deal "cannot go unpunished...Poland, by deploying [the system] is exposing itself to a strike —100 per cent," we all take notice, especially those of us moving back to Poland in the fall, gulp. Funny that after 18 months of negotiations the Poles finally accepted. Guess they got something in return, such as: American soldiers to staff air defense sites in Poland oriented toward Russia; the United States would be obliged to defend Poland in case of an attack with greater speed than required under NATO (that's like...Superfast, not Georgiafast); a battery of patriot missiles. OK, so Mitteleuropa is pacified, what's next...?

"Do you understand George? The Ukraine is not even a state! What is the Ukraine? Part of its territory is in Eastern Europe. On the other hand, we gave them the most important part of their country!"
-Vladimir Putin to George Bush, April 4th, Bucharest
Yep, Vlad made quite an impression at his first and last NATO summit as Russian president. Not only did he manage to convince the right people (read France and Germany) that the Ukraine and Georgia shouldn't be offered a Membership Action Plan (MAP), but he gave a peek to the world of what was to come. The "most important" part of the Ukraine that Putin was referring to was the Crimean peninsula, where Russia's Black Sea fleet is based and most of the population is Russian. The area was given to the Ukraine by Khrushchev in 1954, when the collapse of the USSR was unthinkable, but control then went to the Ukraine in 1991 after the wall fell. Under a 1997 agreement, Ukraine agreed to lease harbor space in the Crimea peninsula base of Sevastopol to the Russians until 2017. Now, with tensions escalating, President Yushchenko's issued a decree on Wednesday requiring the Russian fleet to secure permission for any movements 72 hours in advance. Hmmm, what could happen next?

OK, Rose, Georgia; Orange, Ukraine; Tulip, Kyrgystan; the regime-change strategy under the cover of democratisation which Washington has sought to use to extend its influence in Eurasia with colour/flower coded revolutions is crumbling. Many thought Russia made a huge miscalculation in allowing them to happen, but those crafty Ruskies were just biding their time, knowing that democracy develops differently on different soils. The rest of the 'stans are seemingly lost to the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization - China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan). At the same time many are losing faith in NATO. “Poland and the Poles do not want to be in alliances in which assistance comes at some point later — it is no good when assistance comes to dead people,” the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, said on Polish television. “Poland wants to be in alliances where assistance comes in the very first hours of — knock on wood — any possible conflict.” The Heartland could be lost to Russian influence in a heartbeat and many believe it is their goal, to truly reassert their presence as a superpower.

What ever happened to those heady days back in that innocent summer of '01. US hegemony was unquestioned, everyone was listening to Lifehouse (!?) the Twin Towers stood in New York, and Dubya peered at Putin for the first time and said: "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul". A tectonic shift has occurred threatening a domino effect. South Ossetia and Abkhazia will be the first to fall. Transdnistria, Crimea and South-Eastern Ukraine the next likely dominoes. Bielorussia, Armenia (along with the Nagorno-Karabakh, sorry Azerbaijan), Kazakhstan and Tajikistan complete the new Russian Federation. Looks like the USSR minus the Baltics, western Moldova and Ukraine along with Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Do we have a colour to call this next revolution?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Still Cheering Dubya!?

"Are those the American fighters finally here to protect us?"
Georgian President Saakashvili takes cover in Gori

Can you name the capital city with an avenue named after George W. Bush, and where they still gather in their Freedom Square to cheer his name although his and his country's policies led directly to their recent humiliation? Of course we can only be talking about Tblisi, the Georgian capital, a city I visited a few years back and swore to one day return. While they have beautiful mountains, girls and great wine, they have been the victim of the one of the greatest political miscalculations since Neville Chamberlain's back in 1938 (OK, maybe more like Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait).

So why did Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili decide to attack (not the right word when it is your territory) South Ossetia last week? Surely they knew the Russians far out-gunned them and wouldn't stand idly by as Georgian tanks rolled into Tskhinvali. Some say timing, with the world's focus on Beijing, maybe the Russians wouldn't notice. Some say they were provoked, the stakes were being upped by the Russians and they had tanks rolling south, it was now or never. More likely was the thought that statements such as these would lead to an actual American response:
Dubya - The Russian invasion of Georgia is "disproportionate and unacceptable"
Cheney - The Russian invasion "will not go unanswered"

Many observers have been trying to draw a parallel between the Nazi invasion of the Sudetenland in 1938 and the current crisis. Sure there are similarities, but the fact is that we now live in 2008, a completely different world where just recently it was an accepted fact that the great powers should show restraint in dealing with other nations. Where the strong don't impose their will on the weak and where it was the world's responsibility to protect those weaker nations. And finally, as Dubya said, great powers don't go about "toppling governments in the 21st century". Alas, this is 2008, not 2003 and countries such as Georgia who have chosen to throw their lot in with the US (see NATO aspirations, 2000 troops in Iraq), must now pay part of the price for being part of the "New World Order". Condoleezza Rice visited Georgia just last month and although she claims to have privately warned Georgia not to use force against Russia in a war they couldn't win, the outward signs from the States cried out for war. Advisers sent to build up the Georgian military; excercises last month with 1,000 US troops; pushing hard for NATO ascension; loudly supporting Georgia's territorial dispute over Russian claims of the separatist enclaves.

The result of the Georgian gamble in South Ossetia is becoming clear. Russia is in a position to dictate the terms of peace, and they don't look good for Georgia (or the EU and the west for that matter). Outlining his terms, Putvedev referred to the Georgian president as a lunatic: "The difference between lunatics and other people is that when they smell blood it is very difficult to stop them," Medvedev said. "So you have to use surgery." The Russians are demanding a legally binding agreement in which the Georgians renounce the use of force in dealing with the two breakaway pro-Russian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and that Georgian forces withdraw entirely from the regions and no longer form part of the joint "peacekeeping" contingents there. In addition, they are insisting that the two regions be allowed to vote on whether they want to join Russia, a poll that would definitely result in a yes, prefiguring a possible annexation. Georgia has been part of the peacekeeping force in South Ossetia for 15 years, but the Russians are adamant that they not return. "They shot their brother Russian peacekeepers, then they finished them off with bayonets, so we are not going to see them there any more," said Dmitri Rogozin, ambassador to NATO in Brussels.

So, the end result of the Georgian foray will be the loss of 20% of their land as both Abhkazia and South Ossetia fall deeper into the control of Russian forces and eventually have the added credibility of a referendum. Maybe the west will begin to realize that they have poked the Russian bear one too many times with a stick, (Kosovo, Ukraine, missiles in Poland...). Maybe the world will recognize that the past 5 years has seen the complete neutering of any authority the UN had (ie. the Iraq invasion sin security council consent, Kosovo declaring independence sin UN blessing), and will try to rebuild its legitimacy. As usual, the results will probably less obvious. In retaliation for Israel selling arms to Georgia (yes, $300 million worth), the Russians will sell more to Syria and Iran. The US presidential race is slightly influenced as both candidates spew rhetoric about what should be done. Remember McBush's top foreign policy advisor Randall Scheunemann lobbied for Georgia for four years, earning his firm $900,000 in payments from that nation. Or maybe the Russians will take advantage of this and move into Georgia for real, as it is reported they may be doing now. Stalin's statue in the centre of Gori could be under Russian control again sooner than we think.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

More fun with the Spanish press

It read a little like the early returns on the medal count in the Olympics. "España bate su record en venta de armamento y supera los 900 millones" - Spain beats their arms sales record and passes 900 million Euros - let the flag waving begin! It isn't so much the facts as the wording of the article that struck me. I found it in El Pais, from what I understand a left-leaning newspaper, yet the patriotic fervor and upbeat wording of the report made my skin crawl. "Military material exports have quadrupled since 2001", read the subtitle, and later "the billion euro psychological barrier will in all probabilities be surpassed next year". According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Spain now ranks 8th in the world conventional arms sales race, woo hoo, cue the music, let's party because we're causing more death!

You'll find most of the usual suspects at the top of the list, USA, Russia, Germany, France, Holland, the UK and France. Holland? Yep, 5th place in arms sales, and you thought their economy was based on weed and sex. The global military budget is somewhere in the range of $1.339 trillion or 2.5% of the world's GDP. Military spending has reached a few peaks in the past, obviously WWII, and then again during the cold war. Once the cold war ended, as has been well documented, military spending declined for a decade only to see that trend reversed starting in 1998, albeit quite slowly at first. Of course the US' War on Terror has seen global military spending escalate rapidly once again.

The top military spenders globally nearly mirror the exporters, in order: the US, France, the UK, China (vastly understated), Japan, Germany, Russia and Italy. Together they'll ensure that not too many jobs in the military industry get lost in the latest economic downturn. The last couple of days has seen a justification for the Russian military budget as they were able to push those pesky Georgians out of South Ossetia, phew! And they´ll still have to deal with Abkhazia and there's always Chechnya. The UK, well with there involvement in Iraq and the fact that they're surrounded by water, the spending is justified. The French, well, the world hates the French so... China? Well, they seem to have there own terrorist problem now that the Olympics have started and you never know when Taiwan will need re-taking. The Japanese of course see the Chinese increase their military budget by 17.8%, the 19th year of double digit growth, and of course need to keep pace. The Italians, well, Berlusconi does fancy himself a fascist dictator, so a strong military is needed. And Germany, well, insert your own WWI or WWII or Franco-Prussian war joke here.

What's more illuminating is the percentage of GDP spent on arms, here the US doesn't even crack to top 30, around 3.7%. Leading the hit parade is North Korea, quite comfortably at a whopping 22.9%, no wonder they need their heating oil subsidized by the rest of the world. Georgia slides into 2nd at 15.9% with Oman at 11.4% and Qatar and Saudi Arabia next at 10%. Those oil rich states don't know what to do with all their money plus they need to keep the US happy by buying equipment off them, but the Georgians expose themselves here I'm afraid. When a nation is spending nearly a sixth of its output on the military it becomes pretty clear what their intentions are. War in the Caucasus has a lot of factors behind it, but it surprised no one, least of whom Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

It's not my job to show you how else to spend this money, but increased military spending doesn't equate to increased security, in fact, the inverse is true. If your from the US click here to see how else to spend your money.

For a great analysis of global military spending:

Anup Shah, World Military Spending,, Last updated: Saturday, March 01, 2008

Friday, August 8, 2008

War in Georgia

Well it's taken 3 months since I first wrote of the impending war, but it looks as though the gloves are finally off. Georgia has launched an attack on the breakaway South Ossetia region and as predicted, the Russians aren't going to sit idly by. The nearly century-long game of cat and mouse seems to have finally come to a head and will surely bring a high casualty total and should also make clear who calls the shots in Moscow, Putvedev. While the Russian security council meets in Moscow, with Medvedev supposedly in charge, Vladimir Putin who is in Beijing for the opening of the Olympics has already said that that "aggressive" action by Georgia would incur a "response" from Russia.

Before you laugh this off remember that there are Russian peacekeepers in the region and many Russian passport holders. It would be interesting to listen in if Dubya and Putin cross paths in Beijing today as the US is an unabashed Georgia supporter. The world's attention may be focused on China, but the Russians are watching, perhaps already retaliating. If this is true it would mark the first time Russian troops have taken action on foreign soil since their withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989. Various reports have Russian tanks racing towards the besieged South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali and the Georgians apparently observing a three-hour ceasefire to allow civilians to flee the city. Could be the makings of a full fledged conflict, more news as it comes...