CIVILIANS PAY THE PRICE FOR IMPERIAL RIVALRIES IN GEORGIA

SchNews | Despite the Olympics, you had probably noticed there’s another war on, this time in the mountainous region of the Caucuses, in a previously little mentioned place called South Ossetia.

Whether or not Georgia’s president Mikheil Saakashvili went it alone, or if he was given a nod and a wink from the crazies in the White House, we won’t know until Dubya writes his memoirs (but don’t hold your breath – he’ll have to learn to write first).

The question many people are asking is, of course, “what the fack was the Georgian president doing taking on Russia in the first place?” Did he hope that no-one would notice ‘cos everyone’s watching Bejing? Or, more likely, was it a calculated move based on a naive view of US / NATO support?

Saakashvili has been promised NATO membership for some time now, ever since he hosted Dubya in ’05. As a potential member (other former USSR states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have already joined), he probably thought he was invincible. It’s kind of like Don Corleone saying he wants to be the godfather of your next son. And with that and a string of corruption allegations dogging him, he decided to play the nationalist card. The plan: whip up a bit of righteous fury against the pro-Russian separatists and then send in the boys to take back South Ossetia with NATO blessing.

Unfortunately for the Georgian president, it was a calculation that was way, way out.

You see, the Russia of today is not the Russia of the ‘90s. Partly due to some old-fashioned state intervention, but mostly due to its control of so much of the world’s precious oil and gas, Russia is once again a very big and powerful player in the new great game of world power.

Russia’s military has been growing and growing under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, but it’s not really this that the West is afraid of. It’s the Russian energy weapon that strikes fear into the hearts of US / EU capitalists. When Ukraine started kissing western backsides a few years ago, all Russia had to do was turn off the gas (in the wintertime-brrr!) and wait for an apology. And Russia could easily do the same to Europe.

As US political economist F William Enghadhl put it, “Saakashvili made a colossal miscalculation in that he would have the immediate backup of NATO – but all he has are a few harsh words from a lame duck president in Washington.”

This is why of course the West has been trying so hard to build an alternative route for Asian gas to reach European consumers. They even recently built a pipeline – the second largest in the world – to bypass Russia via, er… Georgia (called the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline — see SchNEWS 555). That pipelines is now about a 20-minute tank drive from the Russian army. BP, seeing which way the wind blows, have pre-emptively shut down their bit of the pipeline. And that’s not been the only problem for the BTC Pipeline. Only last week the Kurdish separatists, the PKK, bombed it, and there are reports that the Rooskies have had a go since then. So its back to the drawing board, and it’s back to Russia if you want to boil your spuds.

So one in the eye for NATO and the US of A then. Hurrah. Only the problem with Caucasus politics is that whichever Empire gains, the people lose – Russia’s brutality in Chechnya is at least as bad as the US’s in Iraq, only colder.

Another way of looking at the carnage in the Caucuses is that it’s the chickens of Kosovo rapidly coming home to roost. In February this year, Kosovo declared independence, supported by 90% of the population, following a referendum on the region’s future. Bush, in his guise as hero of democracy, said that the world must respect the will of the people and recognise Kosovo as the 193rd member of the UN, effectively partitioning Serbia and further dividing the Balkan states that used to be known as Yugoslavia. Cool! – the rights of nations, independence, freedom fries and all that.

Russia, meanwhile, points out that South Ossetia also had a referendum, in which 90% of South Ossetia voted for union with North Ossetia (and Russia). If, so the Russian logic goes, Kosovo can leave Serbia, then South Ossetia (as well as Abzhazia) can leave Georgia.

But this rank hypocrisy of the USA is also equaled by Russia, who didn’t exactly respect the people’s wishes when it came to that other Caucasian republic of Chechnya. After declaring their independence straight after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia has fought two bloody wars, flattened the capital, Grozny, and exterminated perhaps one tenth of Chechnya’s population, all in a bid to keep it part of Russia.

In Central Asia at least, the new shape of the world is now clear. From post-Cold War / New World Order, it’s back to the 19th century and the era of the Great Game between rival empires – with the inhabitants stuck between a Russian rock and an American (OK, it used to be British) hard place.

Currently about 2,000 civilians have been murdered for the crime of living in a geopolitical fault line, and around 100,000 people have been displaced. The Russians bombed – then occupied – the Georgian town of Gori, outside of Ossetia and deep in Georgia proper, barely 20 miles from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. As it so happens, Gori is the birthplace of a certain Joseph Stalin. He would be proud of what they’ve done to his town – bombed the shit out of it for defying Russia.

What’s been most illuminating about this war is just how quickly and how far the US / West / NATO have distanced themselves from the Georgian president following his disastrous military ‘reintegration’ of South Ossetia.

Both America and their every willing allies, Israel, have been deeply involved in Georgian affairs for many years now. In fact, President Saakashvili owes his job to the USA, courtesy of the National Endowment for Democracy.

The NED, part of the US State Department, is the first choice for pro-American regime change around the world. All of the various ‘colour revolutions’ that have brought pro-US regimes to power (Rose Revolution in Georgia – see SchNEWS 433, Orange in Ukraine, Cedar in Lebanon, and Saffron in Burma) have the NED’s fingerprints all over them. They sent some thousand US special forces to train the Georgian military. In fact, the ‘Georgia-US Immediate Response Military Exercise 2008′ had ended just one week before the Ossetia invasion. Since the rout of the Georgian army, those advisors and any hint of US military involvement have been nowhere to be seen. As the separatist leader of Abzkhazia put it, Georgian forces had received “American training in running away.’’

The Israelis’ response has been just as telling. As soon as events turned sour, they froze all high tech arms sales to Georgia – fearful of Russians wrath if they’re seen as supporting Georgia. But supporting Georgia is exactly what they’ve been doing for years. Not only have the Israelis provided weapons and training, but over a thousand advisors – mostly ex-officers freshly retired out of the Israeli Defense Force – found employment in Georgia’s military. The Georgians should have looked a bit closer. A lot of these officers left the IDF in disgrace after Israel’s own lost war of ‘06 against Hezbollah. Fresh from one defeat, they appear to have taught the Georgians how to lose another war.

This conflict (well, war really) is possibly the most dangerous on the planet at the moment. If Georgia ever gets to join NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty states that an attack on one country is an attack on all NATO members. Were round three of this conflict to kick off with Georgia as a full NATO member, NATO could be forced by its own logic into full scale war with Russia – with South Ossetia occupying the place in history that Sarajevo held in 1914 just before the start of World War One, only this time round both sides are nuclear armed…