Russian forces pushed past the borders of South Ossetia today and into Georgia proper as the Kremlin forewarned about the opening of a second front. Russian troops and tanks overran lightly defended Georgian positions in the town of Senaki, a full twenty-five miles from the South Ossetian border. Concurrently, the Kremlin issued an ultimatum to Georgian special forces digging in along the border with Abkhazia, another renegade province: disarm or face annihilation.
[Above, state-of-the-art medical facilities in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali. Photo courtesy of the New York Times]
The case here seems pretty clear: Russia is out to bust some heads, looking to quell a small, restive, U.S.-allied neighbor and pick up some ethnic Russians and their territory in the process (not an insignificant factor, given Russia's negative population growth rate). This is a naked land grab, and the escalation of the conflict to include sustained bombing of Tblisi, the opening of an Abkhazian front, and the continued drive through South Ossetia make it difficult to argue that Russia is not engaging in pre-meditated aggression...which, for those of you keeping count at home, is a war crime.
The New York Times's Opinionator blog does a good job laying out Georgian-Russian Power Relations 101, but the real story here is how the West will respond. With the Olympics in full swing, world leaders' collective attention is not focused on the Caucasus (never fear: Dubya made sure to bring a sage old friend with him to Beijing, in case circumstances dictate a quick foreign policy decision...someone should give ol' Hank some No-Doz). While Georgia is in a race against time---as GWS pointed out last week, if Georgian defenders can't hold out until Michael Phelps leaves the pool for the last time, they're finished---Russia is somewhat beholden to the same timetable. For the next couple weeks, Russia will be able to turn most of Georgia into a free-fire zone.
The Russian air force bombed Tblisi's airport a few short hours before French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner was slated to arrive, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out what message Russia is trying to send. The Georgians' pleas for a cease-fire have been pocket-vetoed by the Russian President, the Russian Prime Minister, and the Russian Foreign Ministry. American diplomats say the bedraggled, outnumbered, outgunned Georgian forces have tried to surrender and withdraw, but the Russian forces have pursued them and refused to grant quarter. GWS predicts that from now until Beijing's closing ceremonies, Russia's generals will let slip the dogs of war, as they've already cried havoc.
President Saakashvili of Georgia has accused the Russians of ethinc cleansing, and while that claim's outlandish for now, the Russian Army's continued push into Georgian territory does nothing to quell GWS's concerns. It's worth pointing out that Abkhazia didn't have anything to do with this current conflict except having similar demographics to South Ossetia; here, the Russians don't have a leg to stand on when it comes to "punishing Georgian aggression," but the international community has turned a blind eye to this warmongering escalation of the conflict.
GWS's rage gland was inflamed earlier today when he read William Kristol's op-ed in today's Times. GWS agrees with Kristol in many ways, and early reports from retreating Georgian soldiers have contained a running theme: we can't believe you pricks are just going to abandon us like this. DBMIVFK further congratulates Kristol for getting this far through an op-ed without 1) suggesting that lower taxes might solve the problem, and 2) for getting about two-thirds of the way through his piece before vividly demonstrating how frightfully out of touch with reality the man is.
"Surely we cannot simply stand by as an autocratic aggressor gobbles up part of — and perhaps destabilizes all of — a friendly democratic nation that we were sponsoring for NATO membership a few months ago." Surely! Thanks Bill. One quick question: how do you propose we, um, go about doing that?
Kristol somehow fails to connect the dots from Kabul and Baghdad to Tblisi, to wit: if we hadn't launched the absurd War on Terror Kristol's Weekly Standard championed, we'd probably have the force flexibility to credibly deter the Russians' advance. Surely we can't simply stand by? What else would you have us do, Mr. Kristol? Where, exactly, do you get off by advocating a foolish war and then complaining when we don't have any spare combat brigades to throw around? Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?