Monday, August 3, 2009

Georgia vs. Russia, Round 2

Summer is sequel season, so perhaps it's inevitable that as we approach the one year anniversary of the Russia-Georgia conflict (this coming Saturday for those of you keeping score) the two sides are talking bluntly about another conflict.

Georgia is warning of a new wave of Russian aggression after Russian troops briefly set up and then removed an observation post on what the Georgians say is their side of the poorly-defined Georgia-South Ossetia border. The Georgians were quick to call this an attempted land grab. The Russians, meanwhile, say that Georgian forces have twice shot mortars towards the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali. Monitors from the European Union in the area couldn't confirm either allegation, though Russia's Defense Ministry was quick to announce that they would use force to protect Russian peacekeeping forces and South Ossetian citizens from Georgian "aggression".

All of this is sounding a lot like the situation last year, when both sides spent months trying to provoke the other, mostly over Georgia's other breakaway region, Abkhazia. On a number of occasions, Georgia flew drone aircraft over Abkhazia, in direct violation of a cease-fire agreement; while Russia sent in troops to upgrade a railroad that runs between Russia and Abkhazia. In the end, the conflict started over South Ossetia after Georgian forces shelled Tskhinvali on the night of August 7/8. The five day conflict devastated Georgia's military forces (while also illuminating some of the weaknesses of the Russian side as well), and ended with Russian troops stationed in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Moscow then recognized as independent states.

Back in May I wrote that it was fairly likely there could be a new Russian-Georgian conflict this summer, mostly because every side involved could rationalize an upside to a renewal of fighting. That's why it's important to look at these events along the border not just as minor nuisances, but as potentially the start of something big.
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