August 13, 2004

Ossetia: Impending War, Georgia vs. Russia

The fighting between ethnic Russians in Ossetia and Georgia is escalating. This is not good. Up til now, Russia has fought this war through it's proxies in the Ossetian resistance. If Russia refuses to withdraw it's 'peacekeepers', this could escelate from civil war to full fledged international conflict. Further, other regional actors could get drawn into the fight in an effort to exploit the instability.

I have been speculating for some time that the reason Putin suddenly decided to improve relations with the US, by backing our pre-war claims of WMD in Iraq, was that he wanted a free hand in dealing with the Chechen rebels. I now wonder if Ossetia was part of his calculations? It should be noted that Georgian troops are US trained, while Ossetian rebels are backed by Russia. News and other info in extended entry.

The Australian:

HEAVY exchanges of gunfire between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in Georgia's South Ossetia region have left at least seven people dead and dozens wounded, according to both sides.

The night-time fighting, involving 120mm mortars and cannons mounted on armoured vehicles, marked a sharp escalation after weeks of sporadic gunfights mostly with small arms and often without casualties.

Both sides -- which include US-trained Georgian troops and what Georgia says are Russian-trained South Ossetian fighters -- accused each other of firing first.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has warned against the onset of "ethnic cleansing" and a spokesman for the South Ossetians said the separatists' 50 casualties were mostly civilians.

The Georgian Prime Minister, Zurab Zhvania, left for the conflict zone and called for urgent internationally backed talks. Action was concentrated on the outskirts of the province's capital, Tskhinvali, which is overwhelmingly populated by ethnic Ossetians, and around nearby ethnic Georgian villages....

Georgian officials said three civilians had been killed and a woman wounded in the villages of Achabet and Tamarasheni. "Until two days ago there were only provocations," said Colonel Alexander Kiknadze, commander of a Georgian battalion that is supposed to be keeping the peace alongside Russian and Ossetian battalions.

"Yesterday and the day before it was war."

The Georgian parliament called Friday for the suspension of the mandate of Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zone between Georgia and the separatist region of South Ossetia, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.

"It has become obvious over the past 13 years that the Russian peacekeeping forces are not capable of accomplishing their mission," the Georgian parliament said in a statement.

"It is unacceptable to entrust this peacekeeping mission to a country whose political interests run counter to any fair and final settlement," the statement noted.

Georgian deputies also accused Russia of representing "one of the conflicting parties" and of "doing everything in its power to maintain this dangerous status quo."

The deputies called on the international community "to use its political and legal mechanisms to help Georgia find a fair and peaceful solution to the conflict."

The parliament also said that in the near future it would raise the issue of withdrawing Russian peacekeeping forces from Abkhazia,another autonomous region seeking independence from Georgia.

Russian peacekeepers along with Georgian and South Ossetian troops have been patrolling the conflict zone since 1992 when South Ossetia won de-facto independence after defeating Georgia ina bloody war.

Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the Russian Duma's committee for international affairs, described the statement as "illogical."

"If the Russian peacekeepers' mandate is unilaterally suspended,the situation in the conflict zone may dramatically worsen and then the responsibility for it will fully rest on Tbilisi," Kosachyov was quoted as saying by Interfax.

Georgia recently repeatedly called for an expansion of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mandate in the conflict zone.

On Thursday, Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili saidshe had asked ambassadors of EU countries to Tbilisi to expand the mandate and increase the number of OSCE observers in the conflict zone.

Russia dismissed Georgia's call.

"There is no need to increase the OSCE presence in South Ossetia or geographically expand its operating zone," Mikhail Mayorov, head of the Russian delegation to the Joint Control Commission for settling the conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia, was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying earlier Friday.

South Ossetia, which borders Russia's North Ossetia, has repeatedly refused to bow to the Georgian government and has sought to become part of Russia.

Tensions have remained high between Tbilisi and South Ossetia since May when Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili briefly sent troops into the region.

Saakashvili, who took office in January, has vowed to reunify the country by bringing South Ossetia and Abkhazia back under Tbilisi's control.

Georgia accuses Russia of backing the two renegade regions while Russia has called for the settlement of the crisis by peaceful means.

Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania said his convoy had come under fire on Friday in the breakaway region of South Ossetia where a dispute between separatists and central government has turned violent.

No one was injured in the shooting during Zhvania’s visit to Georgian-populated villages of the region, which is resisting President Mikhail Saakashvili’s bid to take it back under central control after 12 years of effective independence.

“Everyone knew my route and everyone knew what my cortege looked like but still they opened fire,” Zhvania said on television, without specifying who had opened fire.

But parliamentary speaker Nino Burdzhanadze was fast to blame separatist forces and Russian peacekeepers, deployed in the region under a deal that ended bloody conflict in 1992.

“This will have a large international significance and retaliatory measures will follow,” she said. “We will see what the reaction of the international community is to this shooting by Ossetian separatists with the help of Russian peacekeepers.”

The march toward war continues....

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 10:52 AM | Comments |