July 25, 2009

War of Nerves in the Caucasus

Yesterday US Vice President Joseph Biden visited Georgia, sending a strong signal of the new administration’s continuing support to the territorial integrity of Georgia in a narrower sense and to statehood as such in a wider sense.

24.07.2009, Kaarel Kaas
Eesti Päevaleht
Yesterday US Vice President Joseph Biden visited Georgia, sending a strong signal of the new administration’s continuing support to the territorial integrity of Georgia in a narrower sense and to statehood as such in a wider sense.
The visit took place at a time of an illusory detente between Tbilisi and Moscow. During last month’s second half, Russia began to amass its troops near Georgia’s borders for the Kavkaz 2009 military training exercise, which is held every summer. This mass exercise served as a cover for the deployment of Russian troops to the theatre of operations before last year’s August War between Russia and Georgia. You could almost smell the gunpowder in the air. Numerous Russian and Western analysts warned that a new war could be unleashed after the official end of the Kavkaz 2009 exercise on July 6.
President Barack Obama’s visit to Moscow began on July 6, defusing most of the tensions. Obama’s official statements very clearly supported Tbilisi’s right to determine its own fate.
As a first point, however, Russia has made determined efforts to undermine Georgia’s statehood since 2004 at the least. This has been Moscow’s intentional policy, which has been implemented by using all the instruments at its disposal, from propaganda, diplomacy and intelligence operations to full-scale war.
Russia’s main political line has not changed. A week after Obama’s departure, President Dmitry Medvedev boarded a plane and flew to the ‘independent’ state of South Ossetia, staging a public show of force at the diplomatic level. Medvedev’s words acquired a completely different tone in Tskhinvali and Sochi than in Moscow. He declared that Russian bases in Ossetia sent a “clear signal to those crack-brained people who regularly come up with idiotic plans in their heads.”
Second, Georgia’s disagreements with Russia have followed a well-established pattern of escalation and de-escalation during the last five years: tensions mount, situations become more intense and then conflicts seem to be defused somehow. But de-escalation is only temporary, as tensions re-emerge after some time. In fact, before last year’s August War, quite a long cycle of escalation and de-escalation had started in April, which rendered the military culmination of the conflict unexpected for some observers.
This is a war of nerves, which has two aims: to tire out your opponent psychologically and to make it harder for the other side to predict the form and time of striking of the so-called main blow.
Actually, the cycle of rising tensions, the peak of which was the Kavkaz 2009 exercise, started already in the first half of this year’s April. Suddenly, violations of Georgia’s airspace and reconnaissance flights over Georgia’s territory by Russian aircraft became more frequent.
Additional Russian troops were deployed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where they were at action stations. The Russian Black Sea Fleet moved closer to Georgia’s borders. Provocative attacks by troops from the regions that were controlled by Russian forces, targeting the Georgian Interior Ministry’s inspection posts, were carried out more often and with greater insolence.
At the same time, Georgian government and opposition forces were heading for a confrontation that escalated day by day and reached its culmination at the beginning of May, when Georgian authorities thwarted a Russia-backed attempted mutiny by a tank battalion of the Georgian defence forces in the village of Mukhrovani.
Time is running out for Russia
Let us imagine that street clashes erupt in Tbilisi between the opposition and police forces. It takes only some hundreds of troublemakers and all of a sudden 45 tanks from Mukhrovani come rattling into the capital to help demonstrators. During this tense standoff, somebody fires a couple of shots on Rustaveli Avenue. And the next thing you know, Russian central television is broadcasting reports that Saakashvili’s ‘regime’ has started committing ‘genocide’ against its own people and Russian troops have a duty to intervene for ‘humanitarian reasons’. Does this sound familiar?
I would like to emphasise at this point that I am deeply convinced that the opposition forces in Georgia are not controlled by Russia, which, in turn, does not mean that Moscow refrains from using domestic tensions in Georgia to further its own interests.
Third, the Russian media system is actively reporting for some weeks already that ‘official sources’ in South Ossetia and Abkhazia insist that Georgia has stepped up its rearmament efforts and is planning ‘new provocations’.
Interestingly enough, the Russians supplement the above news by claiming that Georgia provides support to Islamic extremists and terrorists in the Northern Caucasus. These kinds of claims have always been issued to prepare the ground for yet another crisis.
Time is running out for Russia and Moscow knows it. Without the instability and insecurity caused by external pressure, Georgia will be able to solve its internal conflicts sooner or later, meaning that Russia will be the loser in this five-year long conflict. Meanwhile, the war of nerves goes on.
The author expresses his personal views in this article.

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