Friday, August 10, 2007

Georgia and the mysterious missile


Under the umbrella
Aug 9th 2007

Why Georgia must join NATO

IT IS a fair bet that if Georgia were in NATO the missile that hit the village of Tsitelubani on the evening of August 6th would never have been fired.

The Russian view seems to be that on this and other occasions the Georgians have been inventing tales about bombing, or even bombing themselves, in order to attract western sympathy. Georgia says that two Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft entered its airspace from Russia, fired a Raduga Kh-58 air-to-surface missile (which failed to explode) and left.

Russia insists that nothing of the kind happened. It is of course theoretically possible that Georgia is engaged in an elaborate bluff involving secret planes, faked debris, forged radar logs and diplomatic histrionics.

But it is startlingly unlikely. After all, it would be hard to conceal such a ploy from the many American and other foreign military advisers based there. If Georgia is to have a chance of persuading unenthusiastic NATO members like Germany that the club needs to take in still more members, it needs to radiate responsibility, not pull stunts. The former, not the latter, is just what President Mikhail Saakashvili and his government have been doing.

Furthermore, if the attacks were faked to whip up outside support for Georgia, they have failed miserably. In March, a mysterious raid by nightflying attack helicopters rocketed public buildings in villages in the Kodori Gorge, a region of the breakaway region of Abkhazia where Georgia has reestablished its rule. The western response was almost inaudible.

Investigating that bombing—in which, luckily, nobody was killed—was shunted off to the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), which monitors the Russian “peacekeeping” efforts in Abkhazia. UNOMIG's bureaucrats shuffled paper for three months and then produced a feebly inconclusive report.

Wherever the latest, seemingly abortive, attack was actually aimed, it has also produced alarmingly little Western support. That may be because it is August, and most decision-makers are on their holidays. But if the result is to show for a second time that Georgia is rather isolated, that will send a useful signal to the Kremlin about any future planned adventures in the region.

It may also be that Russia wants to derail Georgia’s new and successful approach towards reintegrating the smaller breakaway region of South Ossetia. A pro-Georgian parallel government has been unnerving the Kremlin-backed administration there.

Whatever the aim, it comes at a high price: mysterious air raids just across the border from the Olympic site of Sochi hardly fit the image of stability and dependability that Russia is trying to promote. As with many other events in the Caucasus, the real explanation may lie in the Kremlin's internal power struggles, not in geopolitics or diplomacy.

The underlying lesson though is that Georgia should be in NATO sooner rather than later. Even the most paranoid Russian would presumably admit that once in the alliance, Georgia would have little need to bomb itself. NATO expansion calms things down: that is the lesson of the Baltic states, which joined—in the teeth of Russian objections—in 2004. None of Russia’s warnings about the effect of NATO expansion into the “former Soviet Union” have proved true. The Baltic region is more stable now, not less, as a result (and things would be still better if Finland and Sweden joined too).

If Georgia were in NATO, it would also be less likely that Russia would want to bomb it. It is one thing to try to intimidate a neighbour in a security grey-zone. It is another to jostle someone sheltered by (and contributing to) the Western security umbrella, however stretched and faded its canopy may be.


jibs said...

I wonder what is the interest of Russia to fly over some abandoned village and fire a missile that does not even explode? Usually, in the normal world, countries avoid such steps because of possible diplomatic scandals.

No wonder Russia's ambassador to Georgia, Kovalenko, snapped 'it's not in Russia's interest'.

I would understand if some strategic post was hit. But a mystery missile, I don't see the logic.

Another thing that boggles me is that, with all this military Georgia has been purchasing, why not shoot down an airplane and then see who's there (with a prior agreement with Russia, of course, if such aggression takes place again).

Furthermore, isn't there equipment that can determine without any possible foul-play where the attack came from? Doesn't sound impossible.

Giustino said...

This isn't in Georgia's interest either. NATO won't accept a Georgia with frozen conflicts within its territories. I don't see how this 'helps' Georgia. It makes the more spineless Europeans see Georgia as what Russia perhaps wants them to see it as -- messy and far away.

rusak said...

When Georgia accused Russian of sabotaging its own pipeline to punish Georgia, that was supposed to be taken seriously? The frozen conflicts in Georgia aren't going away, so the Georgians have nothing to lose with these ploys to gain sympathy.

KT said...

"I would understand if some strategic post was hit."

vice versa - real missile to real target would be equal to act of war. but what happened was more like sign ... a message ... that any object can be attacked and there is nothing Georgia can do about it.

it's very similar to those "accidental" overflys through Estonian airspace. and in a way very similar to Lithuanian case ... only there the plane itself crashed, ot just missile.

Giustino said...

vice versa - real missile to real target would be equal to act of war. but what happened was more like sign ... a message ... that any object can be attacked and there is nothing Georgia can do about it.

Maybe this was a local f*ck up, disguised as Georgian self-sabotage by the Kremlin spin doctors?

I have had similar feelings about Litvinenko. In both cases it could have been the decision of more local commanders. But Putin has to look tough so that the world doesn't find out that the "Russia is back" meme is a smokescreen.

KT said...

perhaps ... this can be a decision of local commaders ... like it was with Pristina airport?

then it's like arguments of tovarish Zhirinovski ... who's words are often in "opposition" with mainstream, but then in big picture they are actually part of it.

eatyourbeans said...

Join NATO?

But Russia has de facto veto power over its every move just by turning off a tap in Siberia. In other words, NATO only exists as long as it does nothing

More likely there'll be a Brussels-Moscow Pact, but of course it won't be named that bluntly,

Giustino said...

More likely there'll be a Brussels-Moscow Pact, but of course it won't be named that bluntly

I wonder if they are thinking like that. It could make sense to solidify EU, NATO gains (all of Eastern Europe save Belarus and Ukraine). Not like we'd keep our half of the bargain (nor would they).

It could take the pressure off the EU newcomers, while allowing NATO/EU to regroup and think out future strategies.

Giustino said...

PS. I wonder if that's what the US and UK thought when they signed onto the monstrous settlement at Yalta.

eatyourbeans said...

This time around I think it will be the US that will be sold down the river, along with E. Europe. At least at Yalta the US and the UK had the excuse of naivite.
This is about oil.

Giustino said...

I wonder if that was what the EU thought when they signed up the big enlargement in 2004.

Because the five fast-track members in 1997 were Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia, and Slovenia.

The EU used to be seen as such a status symbol. My German friend still can't believe that Romania is now in the EU, because you may recall the bad days of 1989 when they were executing the Ceauşescus. But time do change.

But -- back to the point -- I wonder if the EU sensed that Russia would grow strong again -- perhaps with the shift-over to Putin -- and decided to take a big bite of the east before somebody else started taking bites back.

They pretend to not engage in 19th century territorial politics, but it's clear that Russia is still in love with them.

jibs said...

I am a bit puzzled why the bomb was destroyed so fast, + indeed, why were the cameras so close to the site where that fat bomb fell -it could explode, couldn't it? This is what Ivanov and others in Russia are saying (not without some logic I should say).
True, but I doubt Georgia was somehow behind this attack - most probably it was a screw up on the Russian side, and Russians didn't want to confess that their airplane was for some reason on other country's territory.
All this could have been settled without so much noise. Now the relations between Russia and Georgia are most likely to remain frozen for some time more... Nor will the planes fly, wine be exported, or letters be sent... great. everyone should be happy now - domestically many profitted...

Colleen said...

The Press Secretary of the Embassy of Russia writes in a letter to The Washington Post: The Post editorial left the impression that there is overwhelming evidence to support Georgia's claims and that Russia is clearly to blame for the missile attack. This could not be further from the truth. Sadly, we've seen this before. In May, The Post published an editorial and a column accusing my government of launching cyber-attacks against Estonia, presenting unsubstantiated accusations as fact. Last week it was reported -- though not in your paper -- that an Israeli security expert concluded that the attacks on Estonian computer systems were carried out by an "Internet mob" and not a foreign government. Russia denied involvement in these events all along, but The Post preferred to jump to its own conclusions. Your audience deserves better than the half-truths and biased reporting it generally receives when it comes to Russia

Colleen said...


TAMARA GOTSIRIDZE (Kavkasiia, Georgian TV channel): Vladimir Vladimirovich the new year started with a new low point in our relations. This is linked with the energy or gas wars, if I can call them by that name. And our relations already depend a little bit on the weather. In your opinion, how is the situation developing? And the question I have been asking for a number of years: when will there be a thaw in our relations?

Thank you.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: It seems to me that this is not linked to the weather but rather to the ability of certain Georgian politicians to correctly evaluate the situation concerning mutual relations with Russia.

There was an unfortunate incident, and yes, deliveries were suspended. Our experts worked around the clock in the mountains in minus 30 degree weather to restore Georgia's power supply.

What have we heard and seen from the Georgian leadership? Some were simply spitting at us. And the citizens of Georgia must understand that such policies vis-a-vis Russia will not improve the situation of the ordinary Georgian. The responsibility for this lies with the Georgian authorities.

As for our intentions, we consider the Georgian people one of the very closest peoples to the Russian people, both with respect to history and culture. You know how many Georgians lived and live in Russia and what an enormous contribution the many citizens of the Russian Federation and the former Soviet Union have made towards developing and strengthening Russia. We very highly value this and never forget about it. We hope that it constitutes a good bridge for strengthening friendly relations in almost all directions. We are ready for this.

Valery said...

War is not a mysterious thing, it's just cruel...