New Russia-Georgia War?

Whispers of war are heard in the Caucasus, as the anniversary of last year’s South Ossetian War approaches. Will the guns of August be fired in anger to mark the occasion?

Here are some things we need to keep in mind when analyzing this:

    • It was Georgia that attacked South Ossetia last year, mere hours after Saakashvili promised them peace and eternal friendship and candy. The Georgians proceeded to indiscriminately bombard Tskhinvali, a densely populated town full of civilians, with Grad missiles. They also attacked UN-mandated Russian peacekeepers, which constitutes a clear casus belli. Russia’s response was just and proportionate.
    • The Western media at the time presented this as a struggle between aggressive Russian tyranny and democratic Georgia, spewing the most propagandistic bilge imaginable (e.g. headlines about Russia attacking poor little Georgia, while showing Georgian Grad rockets being fired at Tskhinvali!). Putin’s well-argued justifications of Russian intervention were censored and manipulated by CNN and Western journalists with enough personal integrity to refrain from unconditionally siding with Saakashvili were blacklisted.
    • In reality there is much evidence, including the testimonies of former Georgian cabinet members, to the effect that Saakashvili was planning to retake the “lost territories” months beforehand.
    • Since then the media retracted their most sensationalist claims in a bid to reinforce their (questionable) reputations for objectivity. Many media outlets now acknowledge the reality of Georgian aggression and war crimes. Amongst those who looked at the issue in detail, only the most diehard neocons and Russophobes still deny that it was Georgia that was primarily responsible for the war. In their circles, the idea of Russian war guilt is almost an article of faith. Applying Occam’s Razor would suggest they are wrong.
    • Nonetheless, the US continues to unconditionally support Saakashvili, even under the Obama administration (whether this is because of American geopolitical interests, or because they really are hoodwinked by Georgian PR, is an exercise I leave to the reader). In doing so they turn a blind eye to Saakashvili’s repression of the opposition. This only serves to further reinforce the Russian conviction that the West cares about democracy only in so far as it advances its geopolitical interests. Far from pressuring the Russians to cease and desist, the West’s hostile rhetoric, encroachment on Russia’s security space and dismissal of Russian protestations will only reinforce Russia’s disillusionment with the West and make it ever more unwilling to consider Western interests.
    • This disillusionment is especially prevalent amongst the Russian elites and younger people with Internet access. Thanks to the West, they are coming to the conclusion that no matter what their country does – right or wrong – it will be condemned by the champions of Western chauvinism regardless. The only way to make them the West happy would be to lie down and lick its boots, but few peoples anywhere think this way, let alone in a nation as proud as Russia. Though Georgia struck first, this war marked the most significant Russian retaliation to years of humiliations yet; it sent a message that it would no longer passively resign itself to Western imperialism.
    • Look at the detailed Legal Case for Russian Intervention in Georgia by Nicolai Petro which looks at these issues in scholarly depth.
    • All this may lead to a growing preference for Realpolitik over “liberal internationalist” solutions to Russia’s geopolitical problems, which will go in tandem with an internal power shift towards the hardliners. They are interested in more than just responding to external aggression against the Russian Federation; they want to redefine Russia itself.
    • As I pointed out in my previous post Reconsidering Parshev, the weight of history is forcing Russia back to its future, the desires of its leadership regardless (let alone the desires of Westerners). This past-and-future is a Eurasian empire based on economic autarky, political sovereignty and spiritual sobornost. Amongst many other things, this implies control over the Caucasus.
    • Georgia is the linchpin of the Caucasus. Securing a Russian-friendly government there will reinforce Russian control of gas flows from Central Asia to Europe, extend its influence over the Black Sea region and allow it to link up with its ally Armenia, which hosts a Russian military base. Nabucco will turn into a pipedream, at least as long as relations between Iran and the West remain strained.
    • As Stratfor points out in Georgia: Left to Russia’s Mercy?, Georgia is not a strong nation. It is riven by divisions that could be exploited, e.g. separatist-minded Adjara and Armenian-populated Samtskhe-Javakheti. Its economy is dependent on agriculture and the government budget relies on pipeline rents. Meanwhile, Saakashvili’s brand of market fundamentalism may have provided a temporary boost from efficiency gains, but the attendant deindustrialization now limits its longer-term prospects.
    • “Soft” measures failed to topple Saakashvili in the past year. He retains the approval of perhaps half the population, crushed an attempted military coup (or set it up himself) and now appears to be more secure in his position than he was in months.
    • Another important point is that many elements of the Russian military were disappointed at being ordered to stop before overthrowing Saakashvili. They would love to finish the job (and furnish the excuse).
    • That said, Saakashvili is hardly a peacenik either. According to Kirill Troitsky’s “War taught them nothing” in Voyenno-Promyshlenny Kurier, the Georgians have been rapidly rearming since 2008. Regaining control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia remains a strategic goal of the Georgian regime.
    • Russia is upgrading and expanding its forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It is renovating Soviet-era air and naval bases in Abkhazia, deploying its own border guards to the region (which increases the chances of an incident), kicking out foreign observers, and equipping the 131st Motor Rifle Brigade in Abkhazia with the latest T-90 tanks. Below is a photo of a Russian soldier in Abkhazia posing in front of his new kit, first posted to the social networking site Odnoklassniki (the Russian Facebook).

  • The focus on Abkhazia suggests that any Russian offensive would be focused on the west of the country, bypassing urban quagmires in Tbilisi. This would cut Georgia’s links to the Black Sea and sever the gas pipelines running across its territory. The Armenians may be persuaded to join in the dismembering of Georgia through the “liberation” of their compatriots in Samtskhe-Javakheti, through which Georgia would be cut clean in half. Azerbaijan would be cornered into quiescence. The main uncertainty is how Turkey would respond to such developments; it is not as pro-NATO and pro-West as it was a decade ago.
  • Several commentators believe the risks of a new war are high. Stratfor believes Georgia will return into Russia’s fold by the early 2010’s, though it does not believe there will be a Russian military offensive this year. Vaha Gelaev, a former member of the now-disbanded “Vostok” Chechen battalion, is certain there will be war this summer. Pavel Felgenhauer has been raising the prospect of a new war since March in Wartime Approaching in the Caucasus and Risk Increasing of Russian Intervention in Georgia. Now he’s saying there’s an 80% chance of war breaking out this August. The Chechen terrorist site Kavkazcenter claims a 300-strong convoy of Russian tanks, BMPs, BTRs and multiple launch rocket systems are moving towards Georgia. If Russia were to attack Georgia, the optimal time would be August, before the autumn rains set in.
  • That said, Felgenhauer is not a reliable military analyst. He predicted the Georgians would humiliate the Russian Army in a war.

In conclusion, though innocent of starting last year’s Ossetia War, Russia made significant geopolitical gains and its elites became more disillusioned with the West. Control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia now make an invasion much easier to carry out than in 2009. The troops in the region conducted military exercises in July, they are being equipped with modern armaments and Russia’s naval forces in the region are recently very active. The main question is, are these forces meant to deter Georgia from another military attempt to reintegrate its “lost territories”, or are they to be the spearheads of a pre-meditated Russian aggression?

I think somewhere in between, as is usually the case. Russia still respects its foreign relations enough, if not with the West then with the rest, to pay lip service to international law; however, it won’t hesitate to exploit any serious Georgian provocation. I don’t think Saakashvili is a complete idiot, so barring independent lower-rank Georgian military adventurism (or very skilled Russian feigning of said adventurism), the chances of war breaking out this August must be rather small. Perhaps 10-20%. We’ll see. In any case this August is going to be a tense and potentially very fun time in the Caucasus. And that’s not going to change any time soon, because based on current trends the reassertion of Russian power over the Caucasus is almost inevitable this decade.


  1. Let’s use our imagination here:
    Saakashvili is overthrown/retires/leaves and is replaced by someone rational like Nino Burjanadze. That is, someone who understands that decent relations with Moscow are necessary for an independent and prosperous Georgia.
    2. Let’s really power up our imaginations and imagine a post-Sakkashvili government apologising to the Abkhaz and Ossetians for everything Tbilisi has done since Gamsakhurdia’s wars against them 15 years ago and which then devotes itself to making Georgia an attractive place to be a part of.

    Maybe too much use of the imagination here.

    So we’re left with this:
    it is quite certain that the overwhelming majority of Georgians (ie Kartevelians) do not want to be part of Russia. So what would Russia gain if it “took over” Georgia?

    A year ago the Georgian Armed Forces (which Saakashvili used to boast about) gave it their best shot; they were stopped dead by the Ossetian militia and, when the Russians turned up, ran screaming down the road abandoning cities and weapons.

    So, given that they are weaker, the Ossetians are stronger, the Russians are already there and Russia doesn’t have any good reason for acquiring a couple of million people who hate it, why would there be another war (other than Saakashvili’s “volatility” — but now he knows the US does not back him which he thought it did last year — see Kitsmarishvili’s testimony).

    All this talk of another war, IMO, is Saakashvili trying to spin his way out of reality (opposed by practically all his former allies) into defender of democracy against Russia.

    • If Russia “took over” Georgia, then it will install one of those Moscow Georgians onto the Presidency, leave behind a military base or two and offer political support to the new (authoritarian and pro-Russian) President. Kind of like the USA swapping anti-US leftists with pro-US juntas in Central & South American regime changes. I don’t see the Russians actually attempting to annex Georgia; that would certainly be a stupid idea.

      I agree Saakashvili benefits from talking up a new war, but on the other hand a) what is the reason behind Russia moving heavy military equipment to Abkhazia (e.g. the S-300, Georgia no longer even has an air force)?, and b) the noecons could be right in thinking Russia is becoming a revisionist power, even if they don’t realize that they themselves contributed to it.

  2. Just a point, but whilst there is a lot in the media about Russia’s demographic problems, Russia has a population of 140,000,000. Georgia has a similar birthrate but a far smaller population (about 4,000,000 I think). I’m sure this must give them a degree of anxiety.

    My own view (which is entirely subjective and could be nonsense) is that in some ways the 2008 intervention was the ‘anti-Chechnya’ war. Russia had discovered that defeating a (semi?) conventional army is easy but holding on to hostile territory is difficult. A quick and decisive war possibly reinstated national pride after a long and nasty conflict in Chechnya.

    I do not think that Medvedev would be fooled into thinking that occupying Georgia would be a good idea.

    As for Saakashvilli in the West, sadly I wrote to my MP about the ludicrous bias favouring Georgia and he wrote back criticising Russia. When I wrote back that there were many criticisms I had of Russia but also many of Georgia (including a list), my MP did not reply to give his verdict on Georgia’s many failings. And he was from the most ‘sensible’ of the mainstream political parties. Whilst everyone criticises our Prime Minister (of whom I am no fan) for very facile reasons, it seems that a tie-chewing foreign leader is above criticism.

    Personally, I have a very bad feeling about Britain’s immediate future. It seems that the British people are jaded with war after losing a few hundred soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet the Brits are about to elect David Cameron because he is more personable than Brown: and he wanted Georgia’s NATO application speeded up after Saakashvilli bombed his own people.

    Now America has elected a President who is apparently more isolationist than either of Britain’s main parties, we are left looking very foolish. We’ll just have to see what happens. At first I was fairly cynical about Obama’s victory (imagining it was just the 51% common in FPTP elections) yet it seems he was by far the most popular candidate. It seems that America has jettisoned hyper-reality to an extent, whilst Britain is stagnating.

    In conclusion, I do have some faith in Orthodoxy as a cultural force for peace in Eastern Europe. It will take some time, but it does seem to be surprisingly vibrant and appealing to those of us felt let down by ‘politics’.

    • 1. On objective criteria I think occupying Georgia would be relatively easy. They may not like Russia much, but unlike the Chechens they’re not the sort of people to wage a bloody guerrilla war. You mentioned demographics – exactly! Chechenya’s fertility rate in the 1970’s-1980’s had been around 4-5 children per woman, Georgia’s was only slightly higher than Russia’s, i.e. barely above replacement level rates. Not the sort of demographics you need for an intifada.

      2. But IMO an “occupation” is very unlikely to happen – see my reply to Patrick.

  3. AK, I pretty much agree with what you wrote about the western media during the Georgia-Russia conflict of last year. For the sake of fairness, though, let us also admit that the Russian media did not cover itself in glory. It was ridiculously lopsided.

    I guess it’s a matter of expectations: for good reason we expect more professionalism and objectivity from western media than from Russian media. (Please note that I’m using relative language: nobody expects total objectivity from anyone.)

    • Kolya, I agree with you that the Russian media weren’t a paragon of objectivity either during the South Ossetian war. However, one should bear in mind that this was a war Russia was fighting, and in such circumstances coverage is expected to be skewed. The West ought to have been neutral observers, but they weren’t due to geopolitics, Russophobia, Georgian influence, or some other reason.

      I think the real comparison should be not with the West’s coverage of the Ossetian War, but with the US media’s coverage of the Iraq War in 2003, which drummed up war fervor over Saddam’s huge WMD arsenal and helped the Bush administration smear anti-war people as unpatriotic. The major difference of course being that 1) the Iraq War was much more a war of choice for the US and 2) not actually backed up by international law, since there was no one of a) approval by the UN Security Council or b) attack on American citizens, soldiers or other assets. That is not the case for Russia because its UN-mandated peacekeepers were unquestionably attacked by Georgian artillery in the early hours of the war.

  4. OK, I think Pavel Felgenhauer is officially a quack now. He thinks that the recently publicized Russian attack sub patrols off the US coast, are meant to prevent American troops from being transported to Georgia.

    The US won’t intervene, of course, but even if it did it would be using military transport planes and commandeered commercial jets for transport.

  5. AK

    To follow-up on your point which touched on how Russians are perceived in Georgia, RFE/RL cited a poll showing how Russians as a people are well thought of among Georgians in comparison to others. This poll result indicated that Russians are the most desired of non-Georgians for Georgians to marry. The same poll notes a general Georgian opposition to the Russian government.

    This finding seems to support what I’ve been suggesting. IMO and that of some others, Russia was arguably mistaken for having decided to recognize S. Ossetian and Abkhaz independence.

    Had Russia refrained, it stands to reason that the Georgian opposition to the Russian government wouldn’t be as great.

    Like I’ve said, the Russian game plan should be to have the entire former Georgian SSR on good terms with Russia. I’m aware that as stands, the next Georgian president isn’t likely to be particularly pro-Russian. With the right policies in place from the Kremlin, this likelihood could’ve decreased.

    A periodically ongoing theme of the post-Soviet Russo-Georgian relationship notes how good the ties between the two were during pre-Soviet and Soviet times. As quickly (in historical terms) as that relationship has declined, there’s reason to believe that it can eventually change for the better.

    Rregretfully (from my line of thinking), this change seems to have been decreased by the Russian recognition of S. Ossetian and Abkhaz independence. As you might know from elsewhere, I’ve looked at the pros and cons involved on this matter.

    With all these points considered, I still think that in the long run there’s a possibility that the kinks between Rusia and Georgia can be worked out. Part of my optimism involves how some great power chauvinists from outside that part of the world have had a knack for screwing up their own geo-strategic, if not more correctly put hegemonistic plans.

  6. On the chance of another war, things seem to be calming down:

    Put mildly, Felgenhauer has an oy factor.

  7. PS. Stratfor is really in on this, planning to publish a few articles on the possibility of a new Georgia-Russia war in the next few days.

    Georgia, Russia: Possible Indications of War Preparations

    A list of possible indicators that a second war is brewing, however two indicators are still missing:

    * Before hostilities erupted into full-scale war last year, the Russians dropped leaflets by air into South Ossetia and Abkhazia warning of “Georgian aggressions.” This, in effect, led to the second indicator:
    * There was a mass movement of civilians from South Ossetia and Abkhazia into Russia, mainly into the republic of North Ossetia. While Russia could be warning the breakaway provinces’ populations of impending conflict by other means (considering Russia now maintains a significant troop presence in both regions), STRATFOR sources in Abkhazia have yet to witness such developments on the ground.

    Geopolitical Diary: Shades of a Second War

    A rather more apocalyptic take…

    War is not a process that Russia would choose carelessly, even if it would be a very, very easy war to win. What simply doesn’t fit in current circumstances is the boldness with which the Russians are acting. They have all but stated that war is imminent, they are backing the Iranians to the hilt, sending top Kremlin strategists to the region to coordinate with allies, and have even resumed nuclear submarine patrols off the east coast of the United States. The Russians have a well-earned reputation for being far more circumspect than this in the shell game that is international relations. It is almost as if all of this is simply noise designed to keep the Americans off balance while something else, something no one is watching, is quietly put into play.

    STRATFOR doesn’t have a good answer for this. All we can say is that the Russians are up to something — and if it is not a war, it is something big enough that a war would seem to make a good distraction. Now that bears some watching.

  8. Looking at the map on Stratfor, it looks like that with some effort Georgia could be cut off from the West completely.

  9. @Leo,

    Thanks for the map link – it is detailed and would be highly useful for following the war if it breaks out. I completely agree that if an offensive does happen, it will be concentrated west of Tbilisi, with the Russians advancing south of Abkhazia and making amphibious landings off the western coast. It is not impossible that Armenia will join in and occupy Samtskhe-Javakheti, the people there are majority-Armenian and have chafed at perceived Georgian discrimination. Needless to say, Turkey will be concerned and may seek to influence and detach Adjara, which has many Muslim Georgians, to serve as a buffer between against a resurgent Russia in the Caucasus and its Anatolian heartland.


    For what its worth (probably nothing), the Chechen jihadi site Kazvkazwatcher is predicting August 12-15 as the day of the invasion, which will be preceded by strikes on objects on Tbilisi. The casus belli will be the assassination of Kokoity, which will be blamed on Saakashvili. They somewhat discredit themselves (apart from what they are) by repeating Felgenhauer’s gibberish about the purpose of the submarines off the US East Coast. I’ll eat my tie if they turn out to be correct, though! 😉

  10. Given that Georgia is surrounded by Muslims and are set for population decline, they may be even more likely to change their views towards Russia. Whilst Turkey is regarded as ‘secular’ because it hates some foreign Christians less than it hates some Muslims, looking at their Greek minority doesn’t make things look reassuring for Georgia. For what it’s worth (less than the Chechen jihadis probably 😉 I voted that Georgia will try to retake S Ossetia.

    I hope I’m wrong, and there is a very good chance I am, but if Obama is caught, literally or metaphorically, with his pants down, a conflict would be all for the good. His promotion of Brezhinsky is not an encouraging sign. When David Cameron is crowned for providing a neo-liberal, totalitarian government with a posh accent and less of a weight problem, he will no doubt give his support to Saakashvilli. The Big Brother state needs a proper external enemy to help take our freedoms away.

    As for Saakashvilli, this is more complex. Perhaps he will go the way of Yushenko even if he is currently popular. Alternatively, whilst he can do stupid things, he does not seem to be a stupid guy and he may have learnt his lesson now.

    But of course, I am just talking from a position of ignorance; who knows what they are saying in the smoky rooms?

  11. Perhaps one issue trumps all others, and that is that most Georgians are indeed quite passionate about getting Abkhazia and South Ossetia “back.” They do consider that they properly belong to Georgia regardless of what the majority of Abkhaz and Ossetians think.

    I’m basing comment on a recent conversation I had with an American who lived in Tbilisi for three years and traveled all over the Georgia. He left about a year before the war. He loved Georgia and the Georgians, but he did say that at the time (a couple years before last August) he was surprised by how universal among the Georgians was the feeling that they should get those lands back as well as by the strong feeling of hostility toward the Abkhaz and the Ossets. He said those feeling cut across all political spectrums of Georgian society. The one thing he noticed is that it was the older folks (those over 40) who expressed themselves in the most bloodthirsty and revengeful language. The younger folks used more nuanced languaged. He speculated that perhaps the younger folks were more aware of the political incorrectness of the language used by their older peers.

    So it’s not a problem that will go away soon. At best, we can hope is that years of peace (even if tense) will slowly erase these passions (hey, it has happened in plenty of places in Europe during the last sixty years.) But it is just as easy for interested parties to purposefully keep this issue alive with periodic provocations and eruptions (think of the Middle East.)

    • Thank you for this interesting and useful anecdote, Kolya. Indeed the position of the Georgians seems rather paradoxical – if they are so hostile to the Ossetians and the Abkhazians, why would they want their lands back at all? (Unless they implicitly support ethnic cleansing, that is).

      • Yes, I’m afraid that the position of the people on all sides (Georgian, Abkhazian and Ossetian) is one that ultimately says: this land is ours, either you accept this, or we will get rid of you. The only peaceful resolution, the way I see it, is an enforced peace in which the passage of time (perhaps decades) will eventually cool down such feelings. Unfortunately, in the interim such peace is unstable and easily disrupted by provocations.

  12. The same kind of attitude appears evident regarding Serbs and Kosovo, Azeris and Nagorno-Karabakh and a good many Moldovans in Moldova towards Pridnestrovie (Transnistria).

    The Russian government’s decision to recognize South Ossetian and Abkhaz independence appears to have been greatly influenced by a disgust with Saakashvili and the likelihood that Georgia’s next president isn’t likely to be particularly Russia friendly (at least there seems to be a consensus on the latter point).

    All this said, I still think it would’ve been wise for Russia to haven’t made their decision on independence recognition (at least at this time). This is based on what was previously brought up at this thread.

  13. Nuclear Submarines Deployed to Deter U.S. Interference in Russia’s Confrontation with Georgia

    Pavel Felgenhauer seems to be taking the most extreme position – the subs are there because they have nuclear-tipped cruise missiles which would threaten the US with a decapitating strike should it interfere in the new war he feels ever more certain is coming about:

    This week it was reported that two Russian Akula-class attack nuclear submarines were recently deployed close to the U.S. East coast. These submarines known in Russia as Shyuka-B (project 971), are the best and most silent nuclear attack submarines. The Shyuka-B submarines carry torpedoes and long-range cruise Granat missiles with a range of up to 3,000 kilometers and a 200-kiloton warhead. According to U.S. defense experts, the Russian navy has not deployed nuclear attack submarines so close to the U.S. East coast for some 15 years… [AK: Russia said they resumed these submarine patrols at around the same time they restarted the Bear bomber patrols in late 2007].

    The sharp increase in tension between Georgia and Russia and the deployment of the Akula nuclear submarines close to the U.S. mainland might not be coincidental. Moscow sees the confrontation with Georgia as a proxy standoff with the U.S. and NATO. In September 2008 after the August war, the Russian military staged major strategic exercises (Stability 2008) which outlined a local conflict escalating into an all-out air, sea and land war between Russia and the West that in turn erupts into a global nuclear conflict with the U.S. At the time Medvedev stressed, recalling the war with Georgia, “We have seen that an absolutely real war can erupt suddenly and local simmering conflicts, which are sometimes even called ‘frozen,’ can turn into a real military firestorm” (, September 26, 2008).

    Present Russian military planning envisages the limited first use of sea or air-based nuclear cruise missiles against targets in Europe and the U.S. to prevent local conflict from evolving into a full scale global nuclear war. The Akula submarines could threaten a sudden limited nuclear attack on Washington and other targets on the eastern seaboard to deter any possible U.S. interference if Russian forces again move deep into Georgia to change the present pro-Western regime of President Mikheil Saakashvili.

    Малой кровью, могучим ударом, на грузинской территории? is Felgenhauer’s Russian article for Novaya Gazeta, with more details of the alleged organization of the coming war and a repeat of the nuclear war preparations claim:

    В случае вполне возможной новой войны с Грузией в ближайшее время развернутые подлодки, очевидно, должны ядерно сдерживать США от прямого вмешательства в конфликт. Наши неядерные вооруженные силы настолько сегодня отстали от западных в части организации, подготовки и вооружения, что только на ядерное сдерживание надежда. …

    Действующие планы применения вооруженных сил предусматривают на случай, если ядерное сдерживание не сработает, постараться предотвратить начало полномасштабной ядерной войны с помощью ограниченного ядерного удара, используя прежде всего КРБД морского и воздушного базирования.

    By now raising the possibility of nuclear war, Felgenhauer is certainly putting his reputation at stake as never before. I’m not saying this is theoretically impossible… but for some reason I really, really doubt that Russia would risk a nuclear war with the US over mere Georgia, especially since the US may have nuclear primacy. Anyhow, make of these as you will.

    Finally, part of Stratfor’s Intelligence Guidance for the week:

    4. Tensions between Russia and Georgia: Aug. 8 is the anniversary of the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. So far there are no signs of the mass civilian evacuations that immediately preceded the 2008 conflict, but that doesn’t mean we can afford to take it easy. There are many reasons the Russians might want an easy war right now. Watch not only for population movements, but also the disposition of Russian-allied Chechen forces. There are 40,000 troops in Chechnya and Ingushetia, and many likely would be used in any new conflict.

    6. Russia’s meeting schedule: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met this week with the Turkish leadership, and in the coming week Russian President Dmitri Medvedev will meet with the leaders of Finland and Germany. Russia is trying to secure the neutrality of these three states in the brewing fights he expects with the Americans. All three states are leaning toward neutrality (albeit for radically different reasons). Obviously we need to watch the meetings and gather what intelligence we can, but we also need to watch the partners of the states closest to these three — the United States, the Swedes and the French. They will be the ones most immediately interested in the outcomes of these meetings.

    The next two weeks will be very interesting; certainly in the yellow press, at any rate.

    • Call Felgenhauer paranoid, I agree… but really, why is this happening NOW??

      Power Shifts in Plan for Capital Calamity

      WASHINGTON — A shift in authority has given military officials at the White House a bigger operational role in creating a backup government if the nation’s capital were “decapitated by a terrorist attack or other calamity, according to current and former officials involved in the decision.

      But calm down, folks. Not a new initiative, just the new Obama team tweaking Bush-era arrangements.

  14. PS. Two final notes on this matter for the day.

    Re-media. I’m picking only the more “alarmist” reports coming out on this situation; the vast majority do not give serious consideration to the prospect of a new war between Russia and Georgia (to say nothing of Fegenhauer’s apocalyptic visions of a superpower nuclear armageddon). Though I continue to believe Saakashvili is doomed in the long-term and that geopolitical trends indicate the eventual return of Russian hegemony over the Caucasus, there is no particular reason for this to happen in 2009 in particular.

    Re-the Twitter outage due to Russian nationalist cyberwarriors DDoSing the Georgian nationalist blogger cyxymu. Note that Twitter has major security glitches and shitty coding in general: their commercial plans were exposed to the world thanks to the efforts of one intrepid hacker. Facebook, a more serious company, was little effected, and Google didn’t notice it at all. So really more an indictment of the Internet’s fragility, and in particular Twitter’s fecklessness, than of Russian cybercrime – if indeed it was even Russian in origin. Tracing these attacks is really hard.

  15. Daniel Olsson says:

    Felgenhauer is nothing but a fraud; he just writes what his russophobic masters tell him to write. What, exactly, are his qualifications as a “military analyst”?

    • Not any that I know of (Wiki says he’s a biologist by training), and he messed up big beforehand. The most prominent example being his pre-August 2008 opinion that the Georgian Army would kick Russian butt thanks to their American-Israeli training and fancy new equipment. Most likely Pavel is now setting himself up for another epic fail. Though who knows? The world of intelligence, security and the military is opaque, and all outside postulations are worth little.

      • Daniel Olsson says:

        He claimed as early as 2004 that Georgia would beat Russia in a war, when Georgia was militarily much weaker than in 2008, while the Russian army in the Caucasus was pretty much the same in 2008 as in 2004.

        Just some glaring examples of Felgenhauer’s “knowledge”: He claimed that the Kilo-class submarine is a copy of a german WWII class submarine, and as an example of it’s worthlessness wrote that “it has a snorkel”. DOH! I also remember that Felgenhauer snarkely claimed that the Russian military reform would fail. As a military analyst, he truly has his eyes wide shut.

  16. Like some others, Felgenhauer’s continued mishaps don’t seem to hurt his standing in certain elitny circles.

    This contrasts from some others who do present more responsible and originally thought out commentary, while being comparatively downplayed.

    This kind of observation doesn’t seem to make the high profile discussion on what’s wrong with the coverage.

    With the idea of supporting good and often under-represented commentary, I link the following:

    About a week ago, one BBC source uncritically referred to “Georgia’s democracy.” On the other hand, yesterday, another BBC commentator made it a point to emphasize that Georgia attacked South Ossetia.

    • Thanks for the link Michael; the comments were interesting in themselves as despite the official Tory line on the issue, they were highly critical of Saakashvilli. This was another link where I was pleasantly surprised by the comments:

      Maybe I underestimate my compatriots. It is a strange paradox of our media that despite being pro-free market, the journalists themselves are not the product of customer choice. I am hoping that British politics as it stands will disintegrate soon and we will have FPTP voting.

      Maybe this comment may not make much sense to he non-Brits, but our media is wall to wall neo-conservatism and Georgian propaganda. It is good to see that many people are not fooled.

  17. You’re quite welcome Gregor.

    There’re some (IMO) politically pretty good Brits out there who offer views different from the likes of the HJS and EL.

  18. Thanks Gregor for that Guardian link.

    I share your take on some of the comments there.

  19. Two blog posts were made about this article.

    Monkey Cage: A Coming Second Russian-Georgian War?

    From the comments:

    Alex Birch:

    We might see a second war, but neither part can afford it. Russia wants energy influence, but mostly as a tool to bully the West, and it certainly wouldn’t afford to plunge Russian-Western relations to the bottom thanks to another war.

    Why not? If it invades Georgia, which as above I gave a low probability of happening (10-20%), then the only nations to put economic sanctions on it will be the US and some of its closer allies. What’s the big deal? Trade with the Anglo-Saxon world, France, Sweden and Poland is unimportant; the likelihood that nations like Germany or Italy, with whom relations are much more important, will interfere with more than rhetoric, is next to zero. Nor does Russia depend on the West for credit, considering much of that system has collapsed and in any case largely withdrawn from emerging markets. There are valid arguments about why Russia will not initiate a new war, but this is not one, IMO.


    Furthermore if Russia wanted to occupy Georgia, why did they retreat when they had tanks in Gori? What would they gain from a puppet governement, especially now as NATO-membership for Georgia seems very unlikely in the short and medium turn? I think it is much more useful to them to keep the situation in Abkhazia and South-Ossetia unclear, so they can use it as a negotiation token.

    I think the Georgian attack was unexpected and Russia did not make the preparations to be able to exploit it in full, its gear in the region was old and the war showed the Russian forces to be ill-coordinated and rather incompetent. It also probably expected to be able to topple Saakashvili via other means in the months after the conflict, expectations that were not fulfilled.

    I’ve pointed out what a Russian puppet government in Georgia will be useful for in the article:

    reinforce Russian control of gas flows from Central Asia to Europe, extend its influence over the Black Sea region and allow it to link up with its ally Armenia, which hosts a Russian military base

    Another point I will make here is that Russia won’t even be that isolated. Turkey would likely accept a partitioning of Georgia on the understanding it gets a sphere of influence over Adjara, and Armenia will be very happy too. The recent Russian-encouraged talks between Armenia and Turkey, aimed at reconciliation, should probably be seen in this light; as Russia and Turkey reaching a temporary geopolitical understanding. The signs are that Israel understands too (see Russian back-pedalling over the selling of S-300’s to Iran), and so does Iran (they don’t like Georgia and see it as an unwelcome US outpost in the region).

  20. The other post is Steht ein zweiter Georgisch-Russischer Krieg vor der Tür? at the German zoon policon blog. (See here for a Google-translated page).

    From the article:

    I am convinced that the Georgian side wrong and that he did not really geopolitically but argued strongly from a Russian emotional perspective. I guess Russia’s leadership is in the relationship much more predictable. Especially clear this contradiction comes to light when it is pointed respects, as the author of moral justifications and changing geopolitical considerations. This analysis levels are from very different basic assumptions and can simultaneously be used but, in my eyes and clearly separated arguments are specified to be convincing.

    He makes a valid point that the article is rather paradoxical, at first running down why Russia’s intervention was justified in 2008, but then giving a list of reasons why Russia may want to bring Georgia back under its thumb anyhow. But that’s not really paradoxical, because a sense of justice and a sense of geopolitical necessity are both features of world politics. The essence of what I argue above is that:

    1) After the 2008 War, which was primarily based on Georgian nationalism & irredentism, the Russian leadership finally realized that the West, especially the US, has no genuine interest in maintaining good, fair, equal relations with Russia (this is particularly grating because Russia spent a great deal of strength and endured much pain, especially in the 1990’s, to achieve such relations). Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and all that. This trend has been building up since the late 1990’s (when NATO bombed Serbia) or even earlier, of course, but I think 2008 really constituted the breaking point.

    2) Disillusioned with attaining justice through good relations with the “international community” no matter the cost, Russia will start to shift at an accelerating rate to 19th century ways of realizing its national interests in the world, i.e. “amoral” power politics. Simultaneously, the (relative) weakening of the West during this economic crisis will remove the barriers to said return back to the future.

    Ironically, Georgian aggression / “wrong-doing” (in the form of ethnic nationalism), may have contributed to unlocking the doors to future Russian aggression / “wrong-doing” (in the form of imperial nationalism).

    If Russia Georgia really wants to take, then the question arises why they have not done so, as they already are tanks in Gori had? It seems to me much more plausible that it is the occupation of South Ossetia and the situation in Abkhazia more benefit if they leave the status quo. So they have a negotiating chip to the West. This is especially true since the NATO membership of Georgia is now in even more remote prospect is. I do not see what Russia by occupation could win, but much that it can lose.

    See previous reply to ali’s comment @ Monkey Cage. Would also like to reiterate that an invasion will not lead to any (formal) occupation. Re-negotiating chips, they aren’t needed when you hold all the trump cards, which Russia increasingly does with respect to the West.


    The author seems to be a soldier Strammer Putin to be. Der Author scheint ein strammer Putin-soldat zu sein. It is a waste of time to read it. Es ist eine Zeitverschwendung ihn zu lesen. As voted on nothing. Da stimmt überhaupt nichts. Neither in his head, still in the blog. Weder in seinem Kopf, noch im Blog.

    Quoted for entertainment purposes.

  21. Joshua Tucker penned the article Guessing Game: What we still don’t know about the Russian-Georgian War, where he emphasizes just how little we really know about its causes and meaning.

    Four explanations for why the war occurred seem plausible. First, it may have been a “mistake” on Georgia’s part. It’s possible Saakashvili guessed wrong, thinking he could grab South Ossetia and get back under the West’s protection before Russia did anything. Second, the war may have been a “mistake” on the part of a Russia determined to remove Saakashvili from power. Perhaps Moscow underestimated what the international community’s reaction would be and/or overestimated the capabilities of the Georgian opposition to Saakashvili. Third, as I have suggested previously on this website, the war may have been an attempt by the Russians to send a costly “signal” about its concern with growing Western influence in the former Soviet republics–in particular, vis a vis Georgian or Ukrainian NATO membership. Finally, the war may have been the start of a series of aggressive moves by Russia to reclaim parts of its former empire by force, as John McCain seemed to suggest last fall.

    My opinion was that the initial attack was mostly due to 1) – Georgian ethnic nationalism & aggression, but Russia was certainly not unhappy to exploit it to fulfill 3) – sending a hard message to NATO. This war in turn led increased the power of the Kremlin factions who wish to recreate an empire, i.e. 4), and they will be further strengthened by the accelerating (economic) decline of the West. So as it usually and paradoxically the case, many truths are simultaneously valid.

    With regard to this fourth possibility, however, nothing we’ve seen since the conclusion of the war suggests that the Russia-on-the-march explanation is remotely likely. Moreover, forthcoming research in the journal Post-Soviet Affairs by University of Michigan professor William Zimmerman suggests that Russian foreign policy elites’ conception of Russia’s appropriate sphere of influence is sensitive to the price of oil. Put another way, if Russia restrained itself from going all the way to Tbilisi last summer with oil at $147 per barrel, it seems unlikely we’ll see Russian troops in Ukraine anytime soon.

    Here I cardinally disagree. Despite the fact that Russia’s decline in GDP was greater than in the West, in relative power terms it has continued to strengthen against them, because of 1) the perceived bankruptcy of the Washington consensus, 2) the forced end to Russia’s dependence on Western intermediation of credit flows into the Russian economy, 3) the mounting fiscal challenges to dollar hegemony and even the solvency of the US and 4) the increasing degree of political disillusionment and decreasing popularity of foreign intervention in the US, which is not in much evidence in Russia. The correlation between Russian economic and political strength is historically weaker than in most other states. Furthermore, the short oil price glut is almost certainly temporary because of supply constraints arising from the recent peak of world oil production.

  22. Fascinating article and comments. It is almost impossible to find this type of intelligent discussion in Washington–at least for the time being. Let me add three thoughts. The Russian Orthodox Church has maintained decent relations with the Georgian Orthodox Church and will be important in re-establishing relations between the peoples once the American stooge is inevitably removed. Secondly,Moscow has recently appeared to send a strong signal that Nagorno-Karabakh may become “independent” or attach to Armenia;it will not be returned to Azerbaijan. Another possible threat to Georgia:continue to whine and pine for NATO and we’ll help hand oppressed Javakh over to our (Christian) Armenian allies.As to Turkish claims on Georgia–there is an openly American project involving the unwelcome Meskhetian Turk resettlement.Only Russia has historically protected and would protect Georgia from Turkish or Islamic dominance.

  23. Cybercountry shows concern:
    “August 9th, 2009 – In connection with the first anniversary of the Russia-Georgia armed conflict that erupted on August 7-8, 2008, The Government of Wirtland expresses concern about new tensions between Russian Federation and Georgia, building up military presence in the Transcaucasian region, and warlike propaganda in the mass media… ”

  24. This is good discussion. Back to Felgenhauer….his claims of the Russian subs off the east coast are sensationalist. The Russians understand the futility of a limited nuclear strike on Washington and other east coast targets. A limited strike would invite a full response from the US land based missiles. Therefore any hopes of a “limited” exchange would be dashed.
    Second, sub maneuvers were a common feature of the Cold War. To be honest, I’m sure that our subs have patrolled near Russian territory even during the post Cold war years. The patrol mission is simply a message to Washington that the Russian navy is still capable of approaching US territory. Coincidentally, the Russian maneuvers coincide with a failed test of the Bulava missile several weeks prior.
    As for the Georgia matter, the US and NATO would do well to leave Georgia out of NATO. Saakashvali showed his true colors last August by bombing South Ossetia and then pleading to Washington for military intervention when the Russians came calling.

    • Let me be the devil’s / Felgenhauer’s advocate here…

      Nuclear-tipped cruise missile can be launched from the two subs in a decapitation strike against the US. No Obama = no nuclear football = slowed US retaliation, especially since it would be complemented by destruction of key C4 nodes. Immediately afterwards, US observation satellites are killed or blinded (or not – I don’t know if that is technically possible) and MIRVed RS-18 “Satan” missiles are launched against the silo fields in North Dakota, submarine bases, and airbases with B-2 bombers. Russia’s other SLBMs and attack subs leave port and urban populations are forcibly dispersed into the countryside. They order the US to refrain from retaliating with any surviving nuclear assets on pain of an annihilating countervalue strike by Russian SLBMs and bombers. (Of course this scenario is wholly unrealistic if the US possesses a classified fail-deadly deterrent, though then again as Dr. Strangelove rightly pointed out, keeping it secret defeats its whole purpose).

  25. Russ

    Recall the Kursk tragedy. I’d have to check back on the specifics. If I’m not mistaken, I recall it being said that a foreign sub was in the area at the time.

    On your sensationalist point, the coverage of the former Communist bloc feels challenged in terms of an interest base. At times, some folks with a less sensationalist m.o. appear to over-dramatize for the apparent purpose of getting a greater reach.

  26. Salomé Zourabichvili (I don’t who she is) has a guest post titled “The Saakashvili Paradox” at the Harry’s Place blog. Here is an excerpt:

    “As for the idea that Prime Minister Putin or President Medvedev might go to war in order to finish the job and get rid of President Saakashvili, it is an argument for Saakashvili, by Saakashvili.
    The reality is different, for there is a “Saakashvili paradox” that reads as follows: having lost much of his legitimacy within and most of his international credit outside, he is the Georgian leader the Russians hate most, but also their best objective ally.
    He has managed to give Russia everything they want: NATO membership for Georgia has moved from a feasible project to a distant possibility; 20% of our territories have been lost and seem for many to be lost for ever. The Georgian economy has, through an opaque privatisation process, been transferred mostly to Russian hands and western investment is more of a myth than a reality. Finally, as Freedom House and others have demonstrated Georgia has moved from the promising democracy of the Rose Revolution to an increasingly authoritarian state that can no longer exert a positive role model on Russia.
    Ironically, President Saakashvili is the most helpful leader the Kremlin could wish for.
    For the President, the threat of war is the last resort to raise European interest and American support for ‘small Georgia’ by making it appear as a victim of its big and imperial neighbour, while hiding the failures of its democratic process.
    The threat of war is one of the last cards that an illegitimate regime can use to force the opposition to a demonstration of national unity and get a temporary popularity boost.”

    To read the whole thing:

  27. Well, I guess 10 out of the 89 people voting in this poll, not to mention Pavel Felgenhauer and the Chechen mujahideen, were in fact wrong. Thanks for participating, anyway – I have a feeling future years will be just as interesting.

  28. Erm why?

  29. Mariana K. says:

    Did the Georgians not enter Tskhinvali because they had received reports of illegal Russian movements towards Georgia? I believe it is very one sided to blame everything on Georgia when it is clear that both parties, even South Ossetia, acted against the norms of International law.

  30. michael mathews of berkeley domecq consultancy has mental health problems