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|Georgia on my mind|
The single-most important news item with long-reaching security and energy implications is the conflict between Russia and Georgia.
Nothing else is close and here is why.
During the summer, there was increased saber-rattling by Georgia toward the breakaway republics of South Ossetia, which is separated from Russia by the Roki Tunnel and Abkhazia. Then, following an enormous military assault launched overnight by Georgia on Aug. 7, which killed at least 15 Russian 'peacekeepers', Russia's 58th Army quickly responded by storming across the borders while their planes bombed Georgian civilians and military targets alike.
This was by no means the first such attack by Russia on her Georgian neighbor. Since 1991, Russia has violated international law by meddling in the internal affairs of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Sound like Cold War intrigue? The Russian bear flexing her muscles? Putin showing he is still in control? All of the above.
Maxim Gunjia, the Abkhazian Deputy Foreign Minister, said that this latest attack by Georgia demonstrates that it is hardly a democracy. From Sukhumi, Abkhazia, he claimed, "Neither Abkhazia nor South Ossetia will ever be part of that country; Georgia has shown us its true face."
Russia's new president also chimed in. "It is my duty as president of the Russian Federation to protect the lives and dignity of Russian citizens, wherever they may be," Dmitry Medvedev said.
That is dangerous talk. More than 50 million Russians are scattered throughout Western Europe. No doubt French, German and British leaders want clarification from Mr. Medvedev. Does that mean that he (rather Putin) reserves the right to pound London on behalf of Russian security?
Not to be out done by the rhetoric, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili framed this conflict as a battle for his country's struggling democracy. And, it is true that his government has gone some ways to clean up corruption and a flagging economy left behind by the Soviets. But, everyone is not convinced that this conflict is about ideology.
Professor Michael Klare of Amherst College, and author of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy, sees the conflict as "not a battle for democracy," as portrayed by Washington; instead this "was a battle for energy."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, added her voice to the crisis, "There no doubt there will be further consequences to Russia." Rice followed up her tough talk with meetings with NATO and a trip to Poland. There, missile interceptor agreements, which were taboo for Poles just this past spring, are now being sought.
Now to the energy side of the conflict. So how much are we talking about here?
The 1,100-mile Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline provides only about 1 percent of the global demand for oil. Klare notes, "There's not a lot of spare crude oil capacity" in the world. Meaning: with reserves coming on-line, this region could become a major route for oil to Central and Western Europe. Oil reserves underneath the Caspian Sea are believed to be colossal: as much as 200 billion barrels. For comparative purposes, Saudi Arabia has 260 billion barrels. For some, that amount of oil is worth the dangerous game being played by all sides here.
What about the political investment made by the US?
Remember: it was the U.S. that helped Mikheil Saakashvili win the presidency in Georgia after its 2003 "Rose Revolution" as well as train Georgia's armed forces. When the American-educated Saakashvili attempted to show his determination and bring back the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgia's control, Don Putin left no doubt in anyone's mind that Russia was still the boss, and he the ex-KGB thug he has always been.
U.S. officials told the New York Times that Russia has deployed several SS-21 missile launchers to positions north of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital. Strategically, this is critical to a long-term campaign, because that would put the missiles within range of Tbilisi, Georgia's capital. Of course, President Saakashvili has responded with cries of help.
Can anyone say Hungary 1956? How about Czechoslovakia 1968? Would the world respond differently if it had been Latvia or Lithuania? What message is being sent to other states adjacent to Russia that have openly supported the U.S.?
While the UN, EU, NATO and the U.S. figure out whether to confront Russia's brazen aggression, the bear is preparing to hibernate in its Georgian cave.
Meanwhile, the toll on civilians has been considerable despite the relatively short conflict. According to the UN refugee agency, more than 150,000 have been displaced by fighting in Georgia, including 30,000 in South Ossetia.
Here is an idea: maybe we should resurrect British Prime Minister Chamberlain, have a peace conference in Munich and get Putin to commit to no more territorial demands.
Then, there can be peace in our time.
John W. Sutherlin is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Contact him via e-mail to email@example.com.
John W. Sutherlin, PhD, is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Louisiana-Monroe. He also is co-director at the ULM Social Science Research Lab. He can be reached by e-mailing Sutherlin@ulm.edu.