Russia Broadens Attack on Georgia

Russian troops have attacked and occupied a Georgian military base near the town of Senaki, which is in western Georgia, nowhere near South Ossetia. This map, courtesy of Stratfor, shows the position clearly:

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Russia’s attack on the Senaki base contradicts its prior assurances that “We are not moving beyond the boundaries [of South Ossetia] on principle…. Russian peacekeeping forces do not have the task of invading Georgian territory.”

Which raises the question: what are we going to do about it? Responses by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are detailed here. Bush says he was “very firm” when he spoke with Vladimir Putin. Cheney told Georgia’s President that “Russian aggression must not go unanswered, and that its continuation would have serious consequences for its relations with the United States.” However, “White House officials refused to indicate what recourse the United States might have if the attacks continue.”

In this crisis, the strongest voice has been John McCain’s. He gave a statement on the situation today in Pennsylvania in which he emphasized both Georgia’s friendship with the United States and its strategic importance:

What the people of Georgia have accomplished in terms of democratic governance, a Western orientation, and domestic reform is nothing short of remarkable. That makes Russia’s recent actions against the Georgians all the more alarming. In the face of Russian aggression, the very existence of independent Georgia and the survival of its democratically-elected government are at stake.

In recent days Moscow has sent its tanks and troops across the internationally recognized border into the Georgian region of South Ossetia. Statements by Moscow that it was merely aiding the Ossetians are belied by reports of Russian troops in the region of Abkhazia, repeated Russian bombing raids across Georgia, and reports of a de facto Russian naval blockade of the Georgian coast. …

The implications of Russian actions go beyond their threat to the territorial integrity and independence of a democratic Georgia. Russia is using violence against Georgia, in part, to intimidate other neighbors such as Ukraine for choosing to associate with the West and adhering to Western political and economic values. As such, the fate of Georgia should be of grave concern to Americans and all people who welcomed the end of a divided of Europe, and the independence of former Soviet republics. The international response to this crisis will determine how Russia manages its relationships with other neighbors.

We have other important strategic interests at stake in Georgia, especially the continued flow of oil through the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which Russia attempted to bomb in recent days; the operation of a critical communication and trade route from Georgia through Azerbaijan and Central Asia; and the integrity and influence of NATO, whose members reaffirmed last April the territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty of Georgia.

The question, of course, is what the West–which mostly means us–should do. McCain offers a laundry list of measures, some of which are standard diplomatic fare. These could amount to more:

NATO’s North Atlantic Council should convene in emergency session to demand a ceasefire and begin discussions on both the deployment of an international peacekeeping force to South Ossetia and the implications for NATO’s future relationship with Russia, a Partnership for Peace nation. NATO’s decision to withhold a Membership Action Plan for Georgia might have been viewed as a green light by Russia for its attacks on Georgia, and I urge the NATO allies to revisit the decision. …

Working with allied partners, the U.S. should immediately consult with the Ukrainian government and other concerned countries on steps to secure their continued independence. This is particularly important as a number of Russian Black Sea fleet vessels currently in Georgian territorial waters are stationed at Russia’s base in the Ukrainian Crimea.

The U.S. should work with Azerbaijan and Turkey, and other interested friends, to develop plans to strengthen the security of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.

All such measures–not to mention the usual diplomatic steps–are useful only to the extent that they involve the actual or potential use of force or meaningful economic sanction. Russia will not be deterred from trying to reassert control over the lost provinces of its empire by condemnations and resolutions. Frankly, I’d feel more confident that such measures would be undertaken or credibly threatened if McCain were President. President Bush once had the fortitude to deal with this sort of crisis, but seems to have lost it. As for Barack Obama, the less said the better.

UPDATE: Onrushing Russian troops, continuing to drive into the heart of Georgia, have captured the city of Gori. In Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, there was a surreal scene as President Saakashvili’s bodyguards rushed him to safety, apparently believing that the capital was about to come under attack from Russian planes:

FURTHER UPDATE: Oddly, the Defense Department says they aren’t sure the Russians are in Gori:

US defense officials said they were unable to corroborate the Georgian claims.

“We don’t see anything that supports they are in Gori,” said a defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I don’t know why the Georgians are saying that.”

“That assessment is ongoing,” said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.

An anonymous DOD spokesman says our military was surprised by the speed of the Russians’ attack:

“We were tracking it earlier in that week and we knew that things were escalating,” said a military official, who asked not to be identified. “I can tell you it moved quicker than we anticipated that first day.”

Sounds like they may have been relying on the CIA.

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