The Bear Resurgent

The Russian invasion of Georgia is more than just a military action, it is a statement to the world that Russia is back and seeking to regain its superpower status.

In a carefully chosen military action, it is essentially thumbing its nose at the West and especially NATO.

I say carefully chosen because unlike the Ukraine, for instance, there is very little if anything we can do of any immediacy to help Georgia right now. Mounting any sort of military operation would be extremely difficult without the ability to support them from, say Turkey or Armenia if we’re talking about ground and airforces. Getting the permission to do that is very unlikely.

That leaves the sea and the same sorts of difficulties. Again, permission to pushing a fleet through narrows of the Dardanelles is not likely. It would also be of limited military value. And then we’d face a Russian Black Sea fleet.

Rumors of an amphibious landing on the western coast of Georgia seem unlikely. It doesn’t appear an operation like that will be necessary. Russian troops have pushed through South Ossetia into the Georgian town of Gori, effectively cutting the country in half. Tblisi is isolated to the east. The other breakaway province of Abkhazia, in NW Georgia, is also effectively in Russian hands.

While Georgia pretty much brought this about by invading South Ossetia Friday, it is obvious by the quick reaction that Russia anticipated the move and was more than prepared to counter it. And their counter-attack was an overwhelming attack with a purpose. It is also obvious that the plan involved going beyond what most observers consider to be the logical stopping point if the purpose was only to repel the Georgian attack into South Ossetia.

Russia, it would seem, is making a statement. One part of the statement has to do with NATO and the reality, not the promise, of the protection it does offer to those former Warsaw Pact nations (and new nations which were formed when the USSR disintegrated). Or said another way, it is demonstrating what NATO is and isn’t willing to go to war over – and it seems Russia has a very good handle on that. NATO isn’t going to go to war over Georgia. Nor is the US.

Of course that’s not what Georgia expected.

As a Russian jet bombed fields around his village, Djimali Avago, a Georgian farmer, asked me: “Why won’t America and Nato help us? If they won’t help us now, why did we help them in Iraq?”

A similar sense of betrayal coursed through the conversations of many Georgians here yesterday as their troops retreated under shellfire and the Russian Army pressed forward to take full control of South Ossetia.

Of course the expectations of Georgians are pretty unrealistic. A) it was Georgia who started the conflict – NATO is a defensive organization which is under no obligation to back aggression by one of its members (and Georgia isn’t yet a member). B) it is obvious Georgia completely miscalculated the Russian response. And C) by the time NATO or the US could actually respond in force, the conflict will be over.

So back to Russia, if part of their action is to demonstrate the impotence of NATO to the new nations formed out of the old USSR, what else is it trying to say?

I think it is saying it is no longer the shambling, bumbling, toothless bear of the recent past. It is demonstrating in a very visible way that it can and will again project power, at least militarily, within its region and do it both swiftly and decisively. If you don’t think the Ukraine and other bordering nations aren’t paying attention, you’re wrong. This will, at a minimum, indeed change the balance of power within the region. While Russia is nowhere near the power it once was, it is no longer an impotent state either, and it has just served warning that it will no longer stand idly by and allow what it considers to be assaults on its sovereignty to go unanswered.

How does that relate to us and what is going on in Georgia? Well, regardless of how resurgent the Russian military is, it still can’t stand up to ours and they know it. So they will pick their battles carefully until they feel they’re capable of doing so (if necessary). Georgia is perfect example of that. They know perfectly well that neither NATO or the US can really do much, militarily, to aid the Georgians. Russia has a 1.1 million man military, Georgia has about 37,000. The time and basing factors preclude any meaningful intervention on our part. About all we can do is put intense diplomatic pressure on them to stop the invasion and withdraw.

Endgame? Most likely they “get” South Ossetia and perhaps Abkhazia out of the deal. I say “get” meaning they will exercise control over what will become “autonomous regions.”

A bit of payback over Kosovo, whose independence the Russians opposed. Georgia will regain its sovereignty but at the price of those two areas and with the understanding that Russia holds the mortgage on it and will foreclose at the slightest provocation and there isn’t much the West or NATO is willing or able to do about it.

Crossposted at QandO.

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