Robert Parsons, a english-language blogger for France 24 reported cynically today on an exchange of mortar fire on the border of South Ossetia resulting in the death of three Ossetians.
“South Ossetia – a tiny breakaway province in the Republic of Georgia, on the border with Russia – is in the news again today. Headlines say that the Ossetian rebels have ordered a “general mobilization” after three people were killed in shelling overnight.
The Ossetians say Georgian forces fired mortars on their main city, Tskhinvali. The Georgians categorically deny bombarding the city with mortars, but say their peace-keeping forces returned fire after the Ossetians atacked Georgian villages in the area.
Strong stuff – but pretty much business as usual in this on-again, off-again conflict, which has been running for 16 years now. This sort of clash has become almost routine in South Ossetia, particularly during the summer months. Determining which side opened fire first is almost impossible.”
While this may seem like business as usual to Westerners at computers thousands of miles away, it is certainly not being taken lightly by the parties involved–especially Russia, who predictably blamed Georgia for the fighting.
Russian newspaper Kommersant declared the incident the most serious since summer 2004. While taken as an individual event, it truly was small news, but given recent trends in the region, the big picture issue of Georgia’s separatist republics is quite frightening.
Nonetheless, the situation in Georgia is one totally ignored from the American press. Why? It’s far away and complicated. But whether or not Americans understand it, it will have ramifications for America.
Russia currently has several thousand peacekeeping troops (with questionable goodwill) in the two break-off republics Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These two provinces have been de facto independent since 1992, and in order to help these regions, whose citizens’ national identities are in limbo (and to possibly move towards annexation), Russia has granted citizenship to nearly all of their residents.
Georgia, which has been at the edge of war with Russia over the last five years, under an ongoing trade embargo and faced with expulsion of its citizens from Russian territory, has built up troops and tanks on the borders of the two regions and occasionally bombards rebel positions with artillery.
Much of this Georgian hardware comes from the West, or Western surrogates like Israel. The United States has specifically sold Georgia spy drones, one of which was shot down by a Russian jet in May over Abkhazian territory. The United States continues to support the Georgian government after it became dominated by anti-Moscow pro-Western elements in the Rose Revolution. Most recently, President Bush made a major push to have Georgia, along with Ukraine, join NATO–a move that was fiercly denounced by Moscow, and ultimately thwarted by European countries not wanting to be embroiled in Georgia’s tensions with Russia.
How does this affect the West now?
Image a very plausible scenario. A Georgian (possibly Western-made) mortar kills Russian soldiers. Russia will not hesitate to react, and would like nothing more than an excuse to take down the new Georgian regime, which with Russia’s military might, could be easily done.
That could very well spin into a situation where we are militarily supporting a state that is at war with Russia, a nuclear power, now the second biggest exporter of oil in the world and a voting member of the Security Council. Neither Georgia nor Russia are likely to back down in the near future.
The real question is, do we really want to be involved in this?