Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Dr. Pavel Felgenhauer Comments on the War in Georgia

Map of Georgia from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty [Georgia news from RFE/RL]

Dr. Pavel E. Felgenhauer (above) is a Moscow-based defense analyst and columnist who writes for Novaya gazeta.
[See Novaya gazeta in Russian and English; scroll down to see the "In Memory" section at the bottom and the 10-21-06 interview with the paper's Editor-in-Chief Dmitri Muratov].
Dr. Felgenhauer also writes articles for many other local and international media organizatons. His articles for the Jamestown Foundation are listed here.
On Thursday, August 7, 2008, Dr. Felgenhauer published an article titled "Ossetian Separatists Are Provoking a Major Russian Intervention." Dr. Felgenhauer has been predicting that Russia was preparing to move in Georgia and Ukraine because these countries want to join NATO.
Some American television commentators seem to think that Georgia just suddenly attacked the break-away republic of South Ossetia, but Dr. Felgenhauer writes that the South Ossetians have been attacking Georgians, as the Russian journalist Yulia Latynina has also observed.
Vladimir Sucor writes (8-8-08) that the Russians used the South Ossetians to provoke the Georgians so that they could punish them for their Western orientation:
Moscow has initiated an offensive military operation by proxy against Georgia in South Ossetia...
[B]razen attacks during the night of August 7 to 8 in South Ossetia left Tbilisi with no choice but to respond. Continuing Georgian restraint would have resulted in irreparable human, territorial, and political losses. Moscow’s military and propaganda operation bears the hallmarks of its blitzkriegs in Transnistria in 1992 and Abkhazia in 1993. Georgia’s defensive response in South Ossetia since August 8 is legally within the country’s rights under international law and militarily commensurate with the attacks...
The strategic political goal is to dissuade NATO from approving a membership action plan (MAP) for Georgia at the alliance’s December 2008 or April 2009 meetings. [Full text]
In his 8-7-08 article, Dr. Felgenhauer wrote:
Military tension in Georgia's separatist region of South Ossetia has been building up for several months. In June the head of the OSCE Mission to Georgia Teri Hakala told me in Tbilisi that military clashes were happening on an almost daily basis, that OSCE [my link] monitors are also being attacked and that the "sides are not speaking." Since then the situation has gotten worse. Last week the tension escalated into clashes that left at least six Ossetians dead and dozens of Ossetians and Georgians wounded (Interfax, August 1). Further shooting incidents have been reported. The Georgians say the Ossetian claims are exaggerated, but all agree that tension is high and further escalation is possible (RIA-Novosti, August 5, 6).
The latest outbreak of hostilities began on July 31 after two roadside bombs hit a Georgian police Toyota SUV near the Georgian village of Eredvi. Six Georgian policemen were wounded (Interfax, August 1). Russian peacekeepers, according to the Russian Defense Ministry, discovered that the bombs were made out of 122 mm artillery shells (www.mil.ru, August 2). The road leading to Eredvi was built by the Georgians to bypass Ossetian roadblocks near the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali. Last November I traveled that road in a similar Toyota to visit the Georgian-controlled part of South Ossetia. This road has been a thorn in the side of the Ossetian separatists for some time. On July 4 a car with the pro-Georgian leader of South Ossetia Dmitry Sanakoyev, whom the separatists consider a renegade, was hit by a roadside bomb and shot at on the same road in almost the same spot. Three bodyguards were wounded, but Sanakoyev was unhurt. A surge of tension followed the attack (RIA-Novosti, July 4; Kommersant, August 4).
The roadside bomb attack on July 31 was followed the next day by bloody clashes. Both sides accused the other of initiating the fighting. The Ossetians admitted six dead and 15 wounded, many hit by sniper fire. The Georgians admitted nine wounded. Both sides accused the other of using mortar fire. The Ossetians announced that 29 Georgian solders had been killed but did not substantiate the claim (RIA-Novosti, August 4). The Ossetians began an evacuation of women and children to North Ossetia (a Russian autonomous republic), called for volunteers from the North Caucasus to join the fight against Georgia, and threatened to attack Georgian cities and to cleanse the Georgian forces out of South Ossetia. The South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity claimed that Georgians living in South Ossetia were begging to be "liberated" from the forces of the regime in Tbilisi (RIA-Novosti, August 2, 3, and 4).
Kokoity has announced that some 300 volunteers have arrived in South Ossetia to fight the Georgians and that more are coming (www.newsru.com, August 5). Most of the “volunteers” seem to be South Ossetians that were serving in police and other militarized formations in North Ossetia and were sent south as reinforcements. Kokoity has ordered that these “volunteers” be integrated into the South Ossetian Interior Ministry forces (RIA-Novosti, August 6). Yesterday the Ossetians were reporting fierce battles with Georgian forces, while Georgian authorities and Russian peacekeepers reported only shooting incidents in which no one was injured (Interfax, August 6).
...In South Ossetia, no limited action is possible. The Georgians are holding back from outright offensive action, but if the Ossetians succeed in provoking a major confrontation, they will be in trouble. Tskhinvali is semi-surrounded by Georgian positions and is virtually indefensible. To prevent the fall of Tskhinvali thousands of Russian troops with hundreds of pieces of armor must invade South Ossetia through the Rokki tunnel and be rushed forward. High casualties are possible and this would be a clear act of aggression.
Kokoity and other Ossetian officials seem to be bent on provoking a major Russian intervention, but apparently not everyone in Moscow is ready to plunge headlong into war. [Full text]

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