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South Ossetia - The Stakes

The military actions in South Ossetia are not just a confrontation between Georgia and its breakaway republic, says Viktor Mizin, a political analyst from the Institute of Strategic Assessment in Moscow. "What we see here is not just a confrontation of minor republics but probably the confrontation between, I am sorry to say that, Moscow and the entire West because now Russia is basically protecting its clients and its own citizens. Up to 80 per cent of South Ossetian population have Russian passports," Mizin says.

Aleksandr Pikaev, a political analyst from the Committee of Scientists for Global Security, says since Russian peacekeepers were killed in Georgia's attack against South Ossetia, it is an attack against Russia as well. "Several Russian peacekeepers have been killed and that has greatly increased the stakes in the conflict because, a few weeks ago, President Medvedev personally called Mikhail Saakashvili and asked him to refrain from using force against Russian peacekeepers, and the worst has happened. The Georgians killed Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia - and it is an attack not only against South Ossetia. It's an attack against Russia," Pikaev said.

Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, linked Georgia's onslaught into South Ossetia to the support given to Saakashvili at the recent NATO summit in Bucharest. At the meeting, Rogozin says, it "was hinted Georgia has prospects in NATO."

Vadim Gustov, Chairman of the Federation Council Committee for CIS Affairs, blamed the United States and its allies for developments in South Ossetia. "Washington is pursuing its aggressive policy of deploying NATO systems around Russia, first in Europe, close to our borders, and now it seems to be Georgia's turn," he noted. "Georgia's army numbers 37,000 troops, they are well-trained and well-armed military units, financed largely with the help of the United States. Gustov is convinced that if Washington showed displeasure with the events in South Ossetia, Georgia would stop immediately. "It is not accidental that Georgia is forcing events now, when the US presidential election is in full swing and George Bush's days in the White House are numbered. By doing do, Georgia wants to gain favor with the Americans, persuading them to accept the republic into NATO as soon as possible," he thinks.

Chairman of the State Duma Committee for Security Vladimir Vasilyev said the current conflict is South Ossetia is very reminiscent to the wars in Iraq and Kosovo. "The things that were happening in Kosovo, the things that were happening in Iraq - we are now following the same path. The further the situation unfolds, the more the world will understand that Georgia would never be able to do all this without America.... In essence, they have prepared the force, which destroys everything in South Ossetia, attacks civilians and hospitals. They are responsible for this. The world community will learn about it," the official said.

Arriving from the Olympic Games in Beijing to the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz on 10 August 2008, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that "... it has become absolutely clear that the desire of Georgian authorities to join NATO is motivated not by their ambition to form part of a global security system and contribute to the strengthening of international peace. Tbilisi's NATO bid is determined by other considerations, namely an attempt to embroil other nations in its bloody undertakings." He added that "from a legal point of view, Russia's actions in South Ossetia are totally legitimate."

According to Aslan Doukaev, the director of RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, "For years, Russia has made repeated attempts to provoke Georgia into taking military action against its breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Behind that plan was a basic belief that a Georgian crackdown on these regions -- which was bound to cause destruction, civilian casualties, and an exodus of refugees -- would discredit Tbilisi in the eyes of its Western backers and cast permanent doubts on its aspirations to join NATO and the European Union. ... The Georgians finally obliged last week. .... Putin's statement on August 9 that the fighting in South Ossetia virtually demolished in Russia's eyes any claim Georgia formally had to the region, and that "a return to the status quo" is now impossible may backfire as it exposes Russia to charges of land grabbing and abetting separatism."

Daniel Kimmage, RFE/RL's senior geopolitics correspondent, suggested that "Russia may have reached a tipping point at which domestic propaganda is beginning to force action abroad. State-controlled television, Kremlin-funded youth groups, and a veritable army of salaried propagandists have whipped up a storm of anti-Western paranoia and revanchist rhetoric. .... a regime that bombards its population with aggressive propaganda will eventually feel obligated to match words with deeds in order to maintain domestic credibility."

President Mikheil Saakashvili's strategy to regain control of South Ossetia is to globalize the conflict and turn it into a central front of a new struggle between Moscow and the West. "What Russia has been doing against Georgia for the last two days represents an open aggression, unprecedented in modern times," Saakashvili said in a televised address on 08 August 2008. "It is a direct challenge for the whole world. If Russia is not stopped today by the whole world, tomorrow Russian tanks might reach any European capital. I think everyone has understood this by now."

"Saakashvili has been trying to internationalize the conflicts in Georgia since he has come to office," says Sabine Freizer, the Europe program director for the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank. "It has been very much his strategy to make this an international conflict between the traditional West and Russia, speaking in language of the Cold War and saying that this is really the last frontier. He's been racking up those kind of expressions in the past few days, but this is really nothing new."

On Saturday 09 August 2008 Russia's Foreign Ministry accused Ukraine of encouraging Georgia to launch an offensive against South Ossetia. "The Ukrainian state, which has in recent times been misguidedly arming the Georgian army, and in so doing directly encouraging the Georgian leadership to engage in intervention and ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia, has no moral right to preach to others, let alone to seek a role in regulating the conflict," the ministry said in a statement.

Russia's president and premier vowed retaliation for what they called "the Georgian aggression" and punishment for those who kill Russian nationals in South Ossetia. President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia would "not allow the death of our compatriots to go unpunished." Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, on a visit to Beijing, lambasted the Georgian leadership for what he described as "very aggressive actions" that he said killed several Russian peacekeepers.

In remarks on Monday 11 August 2008, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili accused Russia of trying to take over all of Georgia. "And the result and the end game of this operation of Russian troops is to commit ethnic cleansing and the annihilation of the ethnic Georgian population in the entire Abkhazia," said Mikhail Saakashvili. "I want to appeal to the world's present consciousness - can one, in the eyes of today's world, say openly and cynically those lies, and can one still hesitate and so 'oh you know, maybe we should think who is at fault and who is doing what and who started and who responded.' It is so clear what's happening: we are in the process of invasion, occupation and annihilation of an independent democratic country."

US President George W. Bush called on all sides in the South Ossetian conflict to end hostilities. In his first statement since violence erupted, The US President has said there must be a return to the status-quo. The president said the US is working with its European allies to launch international mediation. He added that his administration was working with all sides in the conflict to restart dialogue.

U.S. President George Bush said Russia may be seeking to depose the Georgian government. Speaking at the White House Monday 11 August 2008, Mr. Bush said such a move against a democratically elected government is unacceptable. "Russia's government must respect Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty," Bush said. "The Russian government must reverse the course it appears to be on and accept this peace agreement as a first step toward resolving this conflict."

US Senator John McCain issued a statement on his campaign website regarding the current conflict between Georgia and Russia: "Today, news reports indicate that Russian military forces crossed an internationally-recognized border into the sovereign territory of Georgia. Russia should immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory. ... We should immediately call a meeting of the North Atlantic Council to assess Georgia's security and review measures NATO can take to contribute to stabilizing this very dangerous situation. Finally, the international community needs to establish a truly independent and neutral peacekeeping force in South Ossetia."

On 23 July 2008 Senator Barack Obama stated "Over the last several weeks, Russia and Georgia have been engaged in a steadily more dangerous confrontation over two secessionist regions of Georgia -- South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Although these territories are located within Georgia's internationally-recognized borders, the Russian government seems determined to challenge Georgia's territorial integrity in both places.... As I stated in April this year, I am committed to upholding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia. This commitment has long been a fundamental building block of U.S. policy, and it will not change under the Obama administration. I also affirm Georgia's right to pursue NATO membership. This aspiration in no way threatens the legitimate defense interests of Georgia's neighbors.... The Euro-Atlantic community must speak with one voice in helping to promote peace in this volatile region. As part of the de-escalation process, a multilateral peacekeeping force must eventually replace the Russian peacekeeping force currently deployed in Abkhazia.""

Senator Barack Obama said in a written statement issued by his campaign "I strongly condemn the outbreak of violence in Georgia, and urge an immediate end to armed conflict. Now is the time for Georgia and Russia to show restraint, and to avoid an escalation to full-scale war. Georgia's territorial integrity must be respected." The statement concluded that "all sides should enter into direct talks on behalf of stability in Georgia."

The battle over who has performed best has already begun. A McCain aid called Obama "bizarrely in sync with Moscow". Obama's campaign suggests McCain had a conflict of interest, as his foreign policy advisor has lobbied for Georgia.



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