Early in the morning on Fri august 8th a Russian armored column of 150 vehicles plus infantry entered the Georgian breakaway province of South Ossetia. At this point there is fighting in and around the regional capital Tskhinvali, which is adding to the damage inflicted by Georgian troops yesterday. Additionally Russian attack aircraft have struck at the Black sea port of Poti late Friday evening, with possible other attacks unconfirmed.
Now what does this all mean? Actually, a few things. Firstly at this point in time this looks to be Russia’s first post Chechnya military action in support of their new expansionist policies under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. This may be the first step in reconsolidating a Russian empire from the various breakaway states that formed at the end of the Cold War. At the very least Russia gets to improve the support of friendly populations by supporting the people of South Ossetia who are technically Russian citizens.
Secondly, Russia is looking to show up the west and its allies in the area by hurting Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and frustrating his desires to force South Ossetia into line. Or Russia will use this invasion as an excuse to move into Georgia proper to dispose of him or otherwise remove him from power/weaken him. This in turn may make other former Soviet republics reconsider aligning themselves with the West and NATO. Which will in turn give Russia more room to maneuver and manipulate in its former territories.
Thirdly, where will Russia stop with this action? Either it will force Georgian forces from South Ossetia and content themselves with that, or they will push into Georgia itself and take Tbilisi. In the first case South Ossetia will fully become a Russian client state and possibly be joined with the Russian province of North Ossetia. In the second they depose the president and possibly annex the territory outright or let it exist under a puppet ruler. Either way I don’t see Georgian forces holding the Russians off from what they want to do very long unless the quality of the Georgian troops is higher than the Russian’s. I don’t believe that’s the case.
Finally the response of the rest of the world doesn’t seem to be that definitive at this point in time. Other than protestations and condemnations nothing else seems to be happening. The UN Security Council has failed to release a statement since the US, UK, and France could not agree with the rest on the wording of the statement. Additionally there is the wrinkle that Georgia is an ally of ours and we have about 2000 military personnel in country currently engaged in training Georgian forces to NATO standard. Will we engage Russian Forces in a holding action while we rush more troops there? Probably not, unless Russia invades Georgia proper and then all bets are off at this time. I don’t see the US backing down and hurting their position in the region since they have set themselves up as a counterpoint to Russia.
So in short this could be the beginning of Russia’s territorial ambitions, in which case we should keeps our eyes on other breakaway areas in the region. The Georgian region of Abkhazia and the Moldovan region of Transdniester should be on our watch list at this point. Or they will set a more modest goal of the consolidation of South Ossetia, just to see what the west will do in return. I’m thinking more along the lines of the latter concept with a possible expansion into the rest of Georgia somewhere down the line. Especially considering the actions of Putin over the last several years such as the reactivation of the of the Russian strategic bomber force. However all we can do right now is watch and see.
Thank you for reading.