Can the Caucasus flames be controlled?

August 11, 2008

ossetia.jpgThe Caucasus tinderbox is alight again. How far will the flames spread this time and what can the outside world – the United States, the European Union, NATO – do to extinguish them?

The strategic significance of this mountainous region stretches back through history.

To the west lies the Black Sea, to the east the Caspian, to the south the Mediterranean, Iran and Turkey.

In the past Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan and the Russian tsars struggled to control its trade routes. Today Russia and the West are competing for influence over its energy pipelines carrying Caspian oil to world markets.

The Caucasus’ blue mountains and fiercely independent people have caught the imagination of Russian writers, Lermontov and Tolstoy. It has created only headaches for political leaders.

Georgia’s pro-Russian breakaway region South Ossetia is the latest battle ground in a long-running conflict.

Will the fighting, involving Russian and Georgian troops end there, or will another of Georgia’s breakaway regions Abkhazia seize the opportunity to press its claim for autonomy?

And what of Chechnya, a thorn in Russia’s side for nearly two centuries. Moscow sent in the troops to bring Chechnya to heel in 1994 and again in 1999. Will it try again to free itself of Moscow’s influence?

And what can the international community do to end the fighting. Dependent on Russian oil and gas, Europe has little or no room for manouevre. The United States has provided vocal backing of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, but he would be misguided to expect more. So who can put out the flames?


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A minor clarification to previous post:
The Georgians are using the deserted Gori which they gave up without a fight as a tool to gain world sympathy. Russia’s not taking the bait. Gori remains unoccupied.

Posted by Markus | Report as abusive

It is incredible that there are people advocating a nuclear war which would kill everybody, including those who advocate it. I can not imagine what would have happened if Georgia had been a NATO member. I think some countries in Western Europe will be tempted to quit NATO in order to avoid becoming the battlefield of the next nuclear war. No political goal is worth the lives of hundreds of million people.

Posted by Robert | Report as abusive

People often fail to think of how skilled the Russians are at strategic thinking. Remember that most of the great chess masters of the world were and are Russian. They are very patient and they have a LONG TERM strategic goal. We here in the “Civilized” Western world are reactionary, we tend to think short term. Certianly, the Foriegn Policy of the United States since President Reagan has been FAR too short sighted. Think of this, IRAN. Funny how this Iranian crisis is back burner now?

Does not matter how much “military might” the United States has, we were and are unwilling to defend a “friend”. How many times have we turned our backs on our friends?

Posted by Chris | Report as abusive

If Russia didn’t step in to stop the Georgians wiping out the local population who would have? The Russian’s deserve congratulations.

Posted by Greg | Report as abusive

France is right the US is a side in this conflict and should retire from this business altogether. The US kept supplying Saakashvilli with weapons, instructing Georgia’s military forces, and eventually giving “ok” to the occupation of S.Ossetia, a region that was de-facto independent since 1992. Ossetia was divided into two parts and the S. part was granted to Georgia by Stalin, who was born in Gori, a georgian town near Ossetia, just like Khrushchev made a special gift of Crimea to Ukraine. Crimea will probably split off Ukraine rather soon, following S.Ossetia and Abhazia’s complete independence from nationalistic Georgia. After Yushenko’s support of his buddy Saakashvilli, I doubt that Russia will prolong peace agreement with Ukraine, which among other things stipulates the status of Crimea and Sevastopol. Ukraine will have to probably part with Crimea diring the next 5 years. Too bad Medvedev decided not to pursue the “regime change” in Georgia… Georgians would certainly benefit from a less blood-thirsty president. Lavrov, Russia’s minister of foreign affairs, is right insisting that “Saakashvilli must go”, this would be the best contribution to Georgia’s democracy and prosperity.

Posted by Canadian | Report as abusive

One last thing I would like to just remind everybody. Georgian president Saakashvili has ordered US trained and equipped georgian army, among other things, to fight and destroy 200 russian soldiers of the batallion stationed in South Ossetia according to valid intergovernmental agreements and under the UN mandate, who were not engaged in fighting at the time of his (Saakashvili’s) decision.
How can those georgian apologists find this to be lawful and democratic? How can you be justifying this?

Ethernal glory and god’s blessing to those russian soldiers, of whom a dousain was killed and a hundred wounded, but who stood up to a >10:1 overwhelming georgian army attacking them. Let the souls of those killed rest in peace.

Finally, about the disproportionate russian responce. Can you imagine proportionate US responce if (god forbid) Cuban army would start an action to drive their soldiers out of Guantanamo? North Koreans would overun US military base near Korea’s division line?

Greetings from Russia.
My comment didn’t pass moderation… Seems strange. There was no abuse, just facts as they are. May be unpleasant facts for west, but it was true.
Is that the “freedom of media” & pure democracy? Or that freedom is only for chosen?

“Control the media – control the mind”

My name is Lena. I can sae same words :

“Greetings from Russia.
My comment didn’t pass moderation… Seems strange. There was no abuse, just facts as they are. May be unpleasant facts for west, but it was true.
Is that the “freedom of media” & pure democracy? Or that freedom is only for chosen?

“Control the media – control the mind”

Why ? May be I write from Russia ?

Posted by Lena | Report as abusive

My comments did not pass moderation either. Why is it that the “Western” governments are blind and deaf to what has really happened.
Reuters, you have not only let yourselves down but all free-thinking people too.
By the way I am English, live in England but try to take all information in – not just that which the American government wants released. I am ashamed of the BBC for not reporting truthfully and accurately, I thought you were better than this.

Posted by Jeff W | Report as abusive

How does America explain the training passes allowing access to areas of Georgia for American Military shown on television yesterday. What are you doing there? As if we didn’t know!

Posted by Jeff W | Report as abusive

Well even though my comment can’t be objective cause I do belong to a side of the conflict but here is my point.
Ok, let’s forget about media war which has the most important part in this conflict. I can compare the work of mass media from both sides – Russian and Western.
To say at least – they might be more correct.
Let’s just look at the historic facts:
1) USSR broke apart in somewhere 1991. There were a lot of local conflicts after that all around the territory (ex-USSR).
2) NATO had assured Russians (Gorby) that it didn’t mean to move its forces to ex-USSR borders.
3) As result of the local conflict S. Ossetia declared it’s independence from Georgia in 1992. After heavy fights between Ossetians and Georgians Russian peacekeeping forces moved in S.Osetia under UN mandate.
But S.Ossetia’s independence was recognized by other countries at that moment. But the fact is that Georgian official didn’t have any power in S. Ossetia from that time. S.Ossetians had their own government, army and all other structures which were not under any kind of control from Georgia or any other country.
4) All this time NATO moved to Russian territory accepting East-European countries into the block one by one. Recently they announced that they are going to accept Georgia and Ukraine which has the shared frontier with Russia.
5) USA launched a series of coups (some colored revolutions) in the ex-USSR republics. Also Americans moved in their troops into some of ex-USSR republics and got the military bases there.
6) Then came the new “Star Wars” program from Bush with rockets and radars in Eastern Europe and ex-USSR countries (Pribaltics come on stage).
Also here comes the precedent in Serbia when USA and NATO forced Serbians not to resist separating Kosovo from the country.
7) A couple of years ago Georgia tried to start the war with S.Osetia but they were stopped by S.Ossetian forces without any help from outside.
8) USA started to send its military instructors there and a lot of money and modern weapons to Georgia. In several years USA armed and trained Georgian forces into one of the most battle-worthy army in the world.
9) There were a lot of local fight between S. Ossetia and Georgia during this year. Saakashvilly stated countless number of times that he is intended to force S.Ossetia and Abkhazia to go back to Georgia by all means. Everyone could predict a forthcoming war if he was interested in the situation around that region. USA and Russia were.
10) 0n August 7, 2008 Saakashvilly gave a promise in oral and written form that he is not going to offend S. Ossetia although he refused to sign a peace treaty w S.Osetia.
11) Next day (to be correct the night from 7th to 8th of August) – on the eve of Olympics Saakashvilly gave and order to start offensive action against S. Ossetia.
He informed Russian peacekeepers about that.
The local time was about midnight.
12) After that Georgian started to shell and bomb Tshinvally, the capital of S. Ossetia republic. The casualties among civilian were horrible – 1500 men, women and children. The fact is that there weren’t Russian regular forces on the stage at that moment. Only Georgians, S.Ossetians and 200 men of Russian peacekeeping forces.
13) Russia gathered UN meeting to develop some resolution about the incident in S.Osetia and called for Georgia to stop violence and military action. The local time was about 10 am. UN wasn’t able to come to any conclusion. USA stated that the situation was not clear and needed more time to understand. During the day of August 8 UN had several meetings but without any results. USA and Europe refused to call on Georgia to stop fighting in S. Ossetia.
14) At the local time about 2 pm Russia published manifest that it’s going to start the military operation to enforce Georgia to peace. There was a statement that the aim was to protect civilians (most of which had double citizenship including Russian) and its peacekeeping forces there.
15) Later this day Saakashvilly was shown on mass media stating that Russia started to invade Georgia and kill the civilians in S. Ossetia. The funny thing is he simply ignored the journalist’s question “Mr. Saakashvilly did you give an order to start shelling and bombing Tshinvally?”. But what he did was – telling a lot about how willing Georgia to follow democratic standards and how it loves freedom. How American is he. A sow his several performances on CNN, BBC and so forth.
16) After that USA and most of European countries called on Russia to “stop invading Georgia”, “Russia must pull back” (I’m not trying to ask whether someone was going to ask Georgia to pull back – money buys the truth in this world.)
17) The war itself – “don’t kill Georgians”, a looped screenplay of Russian tanks invading Georgia, bombing of Georgian cities, bombing oil pipes – on western channels and ruined S. Ossetia’s cities and villages, ethnical cleansing carried out by Georgian forces, thousands of casualties in S. Ossetia – on Russian channels.

Ok, what we have in residue:
There are a very important developments going on in Caucasus region right now. The play has started.
The first right question:
Who is interested in it? Who is it profitable for?
Yes, the region in very important – it’s close to Caspian sea with rich oil fields, it has very important pipe lines to Europe, it borders upon Iran and Russia, very close to both Iraq and Afghanistan, not far from China. An ideal place to have a military base at.
Who is interested in controlling Europe(oil and gas pipe lines), Russia, Middle East and China?
So who goes on the scene?
Yes, there are other players on the scene: Russia who historically has its interests on Caucasus and borders upon it, Iran, Europe who tries to get some influence in the region – Europe needs oil pipe independent from Russia.
But who wins most in destabilization of situation on Caucasus?

Posted by Dmitry | Report as abusive

Just to see how the West and US are telling lies here. US wanted to control Iraq (and its oil). So US invaded Iraq (who authorised that? UN? or EU countries desparately look for oil?) with excuses of terrorist & nuclear weapons(proved not true)…

Imagine this: your family is not good. Your father is hot head and none of the family members really loves him. He beats his wife, his children some times. then a strong and bullying neighbor who is looking for ways/excuses to hunt his tyrant man’s treasures. The neighbor finds an excuse: the father kills his boy. Thus the neighbor kills the father, raping wife and daughter, torturing kids and carrying home treasures! Cool. You see how many people died during Saddam Hussein times vs how many peole died during US and its ally (bully) invasion? How the US and its ally (UK? Geogia?…) justifies for what Iraqi are suffering now? Imagine if you are Iraqi! Bear in mind that the Khmer Rouge killed around 2m of its people in Cambodia in Southeast Asian in late 70s. What US and the West did to prevent that? They did NOTHING because Cambodia has no large proven oil reserves.

US and the West just show their hypocrasy for years. I am not a fan of Russia nor China nor Japan nor any countries. But I am sure US and the West keeps on telling lies and apply double standards. No one should trust big countries but count on themselves.

Poor Geogian people who has a stupid president and foolishly rely on people who keeps telling lies…

Look at the ways US and the West have done on Kosovo, Iraq, Pakistan,…. shampoo!

Posted by Dam Quang Thuan | Report as abusive

I think as each hour goes by, its becoming more and more clearer that georgian president Saakashvili has made the most disasterous political decision of his career. Only four hous ago i listened to a reporter on CNN tell the presenter that he had recieved communications from georgian officials that a deal had been agreed and that the russian convoy heading out of gori would turn north on the main road to tbilisi and not towards the capitol. Only an hour ago Mr saakashvili told CNN that the russian convoy(light tanks, apc carriers and lorries) would arrive at the capitol and that russia`s objective was to take control of georgia. 15 minutes later, what does the convoy do??? surprise, surprise it turns north as previously reported upon. So to a simple guy like me, it seems there was a deal and that its obvious Mr saakashvili is either losing his own ministers and party officials support and this guy knows he has place the noose around his own throat. If other party officials are making secret deals without his knowledge, then it seems the end of Mr Saakashvili is now dawning and political uncertainty within georgia itself.

He thought, with america`s political and military training support that he could finally crush the resistance in south ossetia and end the russian influence there. Big mistake Mr saakashvili.

I suspect that russia will now attempt to set up a de-militarised zone and a muti-national force will take over in the approaching weeks. All this talk from Mr saakashvili and many politicians in the U.S of russia taking over georgia will be proven as lies, lies and more lies in the days and weeks ahead.

The only conclusion we can make from this conflict is the following……..A georgian president intent on making south ossetia become georgian territory once more and over abusing the support of the U.S. Government so as to strengthen his power in georgia and help push towards membership of N.A.T.O. underestimating how far russia would go to prevent these.

A round of applause Mr saakashvili for making one of the biggest blunders in political history,

Posted by Stu from england | Report as abusive

This has not been a war between georgia and russia, but a war between the west and east. Russia is sending a message tothe U.S. and europe……….You have moved as close to our borders as we will allow, you have pushed us back as far as we will let you, try to force us upon our knees and risk bringing the world to the edge of a very, deep, dark abyss. I ask a question to everyone…….How would the united states of america react if its once major enemy stood only a stone`s throw away from its borders????? influencing governments, wishing to place its military forces just a hand shake away from washington. I suspect there reaction would be in much the same method.

Posted by Stu from england | Report as abusive

I just was wondering if [theoretically] it’s possible to institute criminal proceedings against Saakashvilli in European institutions? I’m not talking about USA, because all we know they have planned and organized strike to Tskhinvali. They didn’t know for sure that Russia will respond, so they tried to kill as many Ossetins, as possible. As war comes to end, more and more thinking western people start realizing the role of Saakashvilli and USA in this war.

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

USA, you are disgrace for the rest World.

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

Dear people, for the sake of Reason and Humanity, forget about the West and Russia and the US just for a minute! For this is a real-life tragedy for us, people on the ground. And this is what really matters to us in our region, for the people on the ground, who will have their say sooner rather than later.
The criminal Georgian armada and its master and commander Saakashvili, the insane Butcher of Tskhinval, now also nicknamed as “The Man-Eater” by the Ossetians – must be held responsible for the mass (and possibly premeditated) murder of 1,500-2,000 of innocent civilians killed in their beds by those deadly weapons so generously supplied by to him NATO (those politicians and generals are even more shameless than we thought they were) and their docile servants in places like Ukraine and Poland (for they all simply hate RUSSIA and are only worried about Caspian OIL and GAS but cannot care less about Georgians, Ossetians, Abkhazians, Chechens and so on). Not to mention the shocking devastation that people have to face after four days of hostilities. Saakashvili, the true curse of the Georgian Nation, should also be made answerable to his own people for the loss of face and dignity, likely to be irreparable for many decades with the neighbours in the Caucausus, to say the least, as well as the imminent and permanent loss of territory. The “congenial and educated” Georgian leader and his “refined, smart and professional” entourage should answer for the lies, hypocricy and hatred they keep spreading to the whole world. For the smiles on his face and the faces of his Balto-Slavic allies (shame on them!) and the music played in front of thousands of people gathered (only God knows how many Georgians have been killed) in the centre of Tbilisi and the whole world. Have no illusion: those ordinary Georgians, and certainly most Georgians, are not at all as stupid as their leader and understand this. Humiliated but proud, they need consolation today, tomorrow they will demand truth and only truth. For now, they got idiotic smiles and Western fanfare and lip service diluted in the hypocricy of humanitarian aid (may God excuse me). This man must be stopped, isolated and… As he is not worthy of anything anymore.

Posted by Caucasian | Report as abusive

Can I here write a name of southossetian site ?

Posted by Lena | Report as abusive

It looks like the responses here have been taken over by Russians, Georgians and others in the afflicted area. It’s easy to see why armed conflict develops in the region just from the poisonous name calling and the narrow self serving blame the other diatribes. These would not seem to be helpful in finding a peaceful resolution. Those suffering need everyone to drop the hate mentality and use our intelligence and innate capacity for compassion to find a solution.

Posted by Don | Report as abusive

Neocon moron Bush got a taste of his own medicine. Finally, there is a force in the world that can resist american imperialism. At least, British robbed India and other colonies of resources. What empire are we trying to build — empire of democracy. Paying for all the moronic wars while our taxes head north and so does the national debt. As American I am glad that there are more forces of power in the world now that can oppose us, because after winning the cold war got our neocons drunk with power. While our country slowly slides into thirld world as all education and economic patterns show. May be some pressure will make us more reasonable and more competitive.

Posted by Dennis | Report as abusive

So, Poland finally signed the agreement to allow the American missles/radar defence on their territory. Call me cynical but is this why America backed Sakashwilli, trained their troops and pushed him into attacking South Ossetia – to scare the Poles who were wavering into signing?
How would Americans feel if Russia built a missle defence shield on their doorstep or has everyone forgotten Cuba? There is already a missile defence shield in place in the UK which monitors the airspace to the east, could this not have been upgraded rather than intimidate Russia by placing new installations right on their doorstep in Poland and Czech Republic just in case Al Quaida sends missiles.
Mr Bush do you think that we are all stupid?

Posted by Jeff W | Report as abusive

I would suggest everybody, who understands russian have a look at this opinion concerning Caucasian conflict.
I find it quite objective about roles and situation in SOsetia and Abhazia…

Posted by eduards | Report as abusive

This international game of chance Putin is playing is a very dangerous game???? It does not matter who started it????? Who is on who’s side??? Could this be the beging of the end Alpha Omega??? Think about it?????????ALL OF YOU Then take a lot of history lessons.because some one somewhere Will take advantage of the situation ??????????? or The evil ones in the world. Putin’s playing a very dangerous game and the people of the world will suffer.

Posted by hillbilly1 | Report as abusive

I just wonder what I would do if I were a Russian (or Russian President)? Well, I would dump war/missile weapons on Venezuela, Cuba in Latin America. The same to Syria, Iran (then Iran help the Palestine)… Shake hands w/ China elsewhere. Then help fire between India and Pakistan. Also help Taliban in Afghanistan (like US did there on Soviet). Ah, Basque in Spain/France also. China should also take advantage of this situation in Latin America, African… You may ask what about EU/NATO? Look at what they did to Gruzia… No Action, Talk Only! Brazil should also take advantage of this in Latin America. Now, we have new order of the World!

Posted by Dam Quang Thuan | Report as abusive

It is obvious that Mr. Saakashvili is a puppet. There is no doubt that his behavior is absolutely criminal. Supporting Saakashvili by the West doesn’t help to resolve the situation in Georgia. Neighbors should be friendly. Neither osetians, nor abkhazians will ever agree to reintegrate into Georgia while Saakashvili is in power. Russia is the only country that can ensure stability in this region and territorial integrity of Georgia, provided there is a friendly government in Tbilisi. That what georgian people should think about when they vote for their next president

Posted by From Caucasus | Report as abusive

I think before its too late, Russia and United States better swallow their cowboy pride before we get to a point of no return. The increasing rhetoric, and saber rattling serves nothing more the useless verbiage. Russia was wrong on invading Georgia, and they know it. It is better to let Russia save face, and let them leave quietly. I think essentially this is what they are trying to do, however if you corner a dog their first instinct is to bite in self defense. It is best for NATO, and all responsible nations such as the United States to back off, stop the unnecessary verbiage, and allow Russia to leave. I can almost bet they will leave in the middle of the night, completely un-noticed and act like nothing ever happened. I further believe they acted with out strategy, they now know this was a foreign policy monumental mistake, sort of like the Bush Administration invading Iraq without an exit plan.

Posted by Paul Walker | Report as abusive

As Georgia has grown more Westernized and leaned closer and closer to the leaning tower of NATO, many analysts think that Georgia’s people were believed, erroneously, that they lived under the shadow of NATO’s veil of protection. Now of course it has been made clear that the protection of the West extended not far beyond angry rhetoric. Not quite part of the liberalized elite circle, but not terribly far from it, Georgians must no doubt be suffering from a biting disappointment.

In a burgeoning democratic state, the support of the people for Democracy might likely be on the fringe after such a disappointment. It is not hard to imagine how disappointment might turn to bitterness, doubt, and potentially anger. Is this “mission critical” time to (re)capture the hearts and minds of a beacon of Caucasus Democracy? I believe that, indeed, this might represent an opportunity to put into action a Civil Psychology mission to Condition Democracy in the nation…

For more, look at my blog…

everyone disscuses politics,noone mentions that innocent people died , russian soldiers killed a lot of georgians they raped georgian girls, they distroied everything, only god knows what s going to happen

Posted by salome | Report as abusive

Now US ships arrived in Georgia/Poti port. If Russians is smart enough, I think they should use their spies in Georgian army to cause a Georgian attack to Russian army. Then Russian army counter-attack.

- Then if US army supported Georgian army by attacking Russian army, Russia can make the case that US intentionally intervene or they were there not to ship aid but take part in the war (proved that they told their Georgian stupid puppets to attack Russian). Then with its strong army base around, ships, strikers, tanks, Russian army can humiliate US army easily. Then what US can do? They are stretched in Iraq, Afghanistan…no way they can win that war (with Russia). It is then apparently a failure for US/EU.

- If US do not counter-attack, Russia would prove to Georgian people that: “hey, idiots, you rely on NATO/US/EU, now what? they are here but we can kill you! They can give you money (like they did all over the world: VN, Nicaragua,Cuba, Iraq/Iran… but that’s that” Georgian people would cry for themselves!

- Then China can take advantage of this situation, they would feel they are now in much better position to do what they want to in several reasons around the world!

For what US have done on VN, Afghanistan,Iraq… after they create false/misleading excuses, their governtment serve this situation.

Posted by Dam Quang Thuan | Report as abusive