The conflict between Russia and Georgia was all but inevitable. Ever since Georgia first attained independence after the Soviet Union fell in 1991, it has been obvious that Russia would one day strive to regain control of the Caucasus. In 1991 the government in Moscow was too weak to consider acting in the region, but its geopolitical position has improved in the last fifteen years.
Georgia is especially vital to Russian interests. It is an important transit route for oil and natural gas, and Russia has demonstrated previously (most recently during the political crisis in Ukraine) that it prizes control over regional pipelines as a tool of statecraft.
In addition, the Russia would like to reassert its historic dominance over the “near abroad”. The Caucasus is its vulnerable underbelly, and the mix of restive Muslim minorities on both sides of the border creates both a crisis and an opportunity for meddling. Russia has gone into South Ossetia with the avowed intention of “protecting Russian citizens”, namely ethnic South Ossetians who hold Russian passports but are now resident on the Georgian side of the border.
AKI has an interesting take on the crisis. According to observers in Serbia, the independence of Kosovo has provided an international precedent for Ossetian and Abkhazian autonomy. It’s yet one more “sauce for the gander” moment in modern geopolitics:
Serbia: South Ossetia Conflict, Result of Kosovo’s Secession, Analysts Claim
The deadly conflict between Russia and Georgia in the breakaway province of South Ossetia is an indirect result of Kosovo’s declaration of independence in February, Serbian analysts and politicians said on Monday.
“If there wasn’t a ‘Kosovo precedent’, as the greatest world powers headed by the United States called the secession of a part of Serbian territory, there wouldn’t have been a war in South Ossetia,” Oliver Ivanovic, Serbian government official in charge of Kosovo told the Belgrade daily Blic.
Ivanovic said that Kosovo’s example was “inspiring to South Ossetia, so they wanted to strain relations and to define their position.”
Georgia wanted to solve the problem of separatist South Ossetia by the use of force, just like Serbia had tried to do in Kosovo in 1999, he explained.
The only difference between the conflict in South Ossetia and Kosovo was that NATO airstrikes drove Serbian forces out of Kosovo, while Russian troops intervened in South Ossetia on behalf of the separatist government, Ivanovic said.
He pointed out that the United Nations Security Council was deadlocked over South Ossetia, just as it was the case over Kosovo.
– – – – – – – – –
The only difference was that this time, western powers insisted on the sovereignty of Georgia over its breakaway province, unlike in Serbia’s case.
On the other hand, Russia, which opposed Kosovo’s independence, this time sided with separatist forces in Ossetia, he noted.
“Like in the case of Kosovo, the policy of double standards has surfaced in the UN again,” Ivanovic said.
Independence for Kosovo has opened a Pandora’s box. What rationale allows for the “legitimate aspirations of the people of Kosovo” but denies the same to the people of Kurdistan (in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran), or Tibet, or Flanders? One could even make the same case for carving an independent Aztlan out of Southern California, New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Texas.
Take a globe and a compass, put the point on the Strait of Hormuz, and inscribe a circle with a radius of about 2,500 miles, passing through China, the Indian Ocean, the Sahara, Central Europe, and Russia. You’ll notice that at least 90% of the world’s most serious and intractable crises occur within that circle. Georgia is just the latest manifestation: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Palestine, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Kosovo, Bosnia, Chechnya, and Xinjiang — all fall within the Mighty Circle of Doom.
The epicenter of all this trouble lies in the Muslim heartland, the Persian Gulf. So it’s no great surprise that the world’s great maritime powers seem to be preparing for a spot of bother in the area. According to ANSAmed:
Gulf: Concentration of War Ships, Aircraft, Missiles Grows
The waters in the Gulf are increasingly agitated, waiting for the UN decisions on possible new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme. The emirate of Kuwait has activated its ‘Emergency War Plan’, while U.S. and European battleships are heading to the region, to add up to the military presence in the Gulf, the Middle East Times reports today.
And whereas Tehran proclaims it ‘‘is ready to face new sanctions’’ of the UN connected with its nuclear programme, which will pursue ‘‘in any situation’’, Saudi Arabia prepares to buy another 72 fighter jets Eurofighter Typhoon. As missionary agency AsiaNews also comments, ‘‘muscles are being flexed in the Gulf’’, waiting for the report of the Deputy Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Olli Heinonen, who went to Tehran on August 7, with the purpose to made clear to Iran the offer of the ‘5+1’ (the permanent members of the Security Council, USA, Russia, China, Britain and France, plus Germany) in exchange for the suspension of the programme for enrichment of nuclear fuel.
The Iranian reply — probably negative or delaying — will cause the request of new sanctions, which could be discussed at the next United Nations General Assembly, scheduled to take place between September 23 and October 1. In the past days, Arab observers noticed the coincidence between the threat of sanctions and the Iranian announcement of the implementation of a land-to-sea missile with a range of 300 kilometres, more than enough to close the ‘‘doorway of oil’’: the Strait of Hormuz, 30 miles (a little over 50 kilometres) long stretch between Iran and Oman.
Today the Middle East Times underlines that the Gulf is being approached by several groups of aircraft carriers and battle ships of the United States, Britain and France, coming from an exercise in the Atlantic — operation ‘Brimstone’ — having as a goal the breaking of a possible blockade of the Strait. It is the largest naval deployment in these waters since the two wars of the Gulf.
Beyond the feared military clashes, the presence of the western naval forces could lead one into thinking, according to Middle Eastern observers, of a blockade of the Iranian oil exports and imports. Despite being the second oil producer of OPEC, Iran is actually forced to import petrol, as it does not have enough refineries for its domestic needs. A rationing of the fuel is already in force, the block of its imports would have a devastating effect on the Iranian economy.
In this scenario, in which the possible reactions of Tehran are not to be foreseen, the small oil-rich state of Kuwait (the capital Kuwait City is less than 60 miles from the Iranian territory) shows strong worry and is already starting to try to take precautions. ‘‘Kuwait was caught by surprise last time, when Iraqi troops invaded the small emirate and routed the Kuwaiti army in just a few hours,’’ a former US diplomat to Kuwait told the Middle East Times.
So it appears that trouble may be on the way for Iran, not to mention Israel and any other country in the region that draws the mullahs’ attention once the Iranian nukes are in place.
Ever since I started paying attention to international affairs during the mid-1960s, the world has been in a state of continuous crisis. We had a small breather from 1989 to 1991, when it looked like the sky might clear at last, but it turned out to be just a brief interlude between the Communist hurricane and the Jihad typhoon.
Every year looks more and more apocalyptic, yet somehow Western Civilization keeps lurching past each crisis without encountering the Eschaton. Even so… 2009 still seems to me to be shaping up as the Year of the Jackpot.
How long until our luck runs out?
Hat tips: C. Cantoni and Insubria.