09 August 2008
What was Georgia's strategy in South Ossetia?
As Russia pushes deeper and deeper into South Ossetia, let's take a moment to speculate on what Georgia's now doomed strategy actually was. Obviously they must have known that a clear military victory over the massive Russian armed forces was never going to be on the cards, so how did they think that they could win?
The more one looks at the Georgian decision to attack the more it comes to resemble the Argentinian attack on the Falkland Islands in 1982. The decision was not entirely rational, but it reflected the least worst option for both countries at the time. In the case of Argentina, a general strike was due to be held against a backdrop of an economy that was in ruins. Attacking the Falklands in the hope that a conference would then be held, a conference that would hopefully have dragged on for months, thus to keep people's minds off the economic crisis, probably seemed like a good idea back in late March 1982 to the Argentinian generals.
Something similar may have been at work in Georgia, and that is why President Mikheil Saakashvili ordered his army to roll into South Ossetia. As Mark Almond argues in today's Guardian:
Saakashvili faces a domestic economic crisis and public disillusionment. In the years since the so-called Rose revolution, the cronyism and poverty that characterised the Shevardnadze era have not gone away. Allegations of corruption and favouritism towards his mother's clan, together with claims of election fraud, led to mass demonstrations against Saakashvili last November. His ruthless security forces - trained, equipped and subsidised by the west - thrashed the protesters. Lashing out at the Georgians' common enemy in South Ossetia would certainly rally them around the president, at least in the short term.Furthermore, the humiliation and sense of impotency that Georgia must have felt when it realised that its application to join NATO was no longer proceeding as smoothly as everyone had thought that it would may have played a part.
If we put these two strands together, then the plan may have been to concentrate minds in Washington by grabbing South Ossetia in a lightening strike, and then to sit back whilst the USA negotiated the ensuing peace deal. All that against the backdrop of a Georgian population that has suddenly started to love its government for restoring their national pride.
If we think about that for a moment, the idea starts to make more sense. Firstly Russia had not used force over Kosovo, so the Georgians may have gambled that Moscow did not have the stomach for a fight with them either. Secondly, the Georgians may have bought into the western inspired notion that Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev really is a puppet of his current Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin. Putin for his part was in Peking when all this began, so the Georgians may have felt that nothing would happen until he returned and started to give orders.
Finally, we need to speculate on the role of the USA in all of this. Just last month a thousand American troops were in Georgia as part of a military exercise. Georgia for its part has two thousand troops that help to prop up the American backed puppet regime in Baghdad. Did the Americans give the wink to Georgia and encourage them, unofficially of course, to try their luck? Only time will give us the answer to that question.
For the moment it is becoming clearer that the Georgian government, faced with an economic and political crisis at home decided to embark on a spot of adventurism. Unfortunately for them the Russians responded quickly and as we write Georgian forces seem to be in full retreat.
This should be a warning to adventuring warmongers everywhere - sooner or later their plans just go horribly wrong.