Revolution#141, August 24, 2008

Nightmare for the People:

War in Georgia and
U.S.–Russia Tensions

In early August, a long-simmering conflict in the Caucasus region of Southwest Asia erupted into open warfare, bringing great suffering to the peoples of Georgia and South Ossetia (a small break-away province from Georgia). Thousands of Russian troops quickly poured in, escalating U.S./Russian tensions to a level not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

While a fragile ceasefire was signed on August 15, the situation in Georgia remains tense and unpredictable, and international tensions are continuing to escalate and spread from Central Asia to Europe, with the U.S. strengthening anti-Russian military alliances and making ominous threats that there must be “consequences” for Russia’s actions. Meanwhile, influential neo-con William Kristol calls for “offer[ing] emergency military aid to Georgia.”

All this has revealed much about the shifting tectonic plates in world relations...and the potential for pressures to build up suddenly at unexpected points and then ripple through the entire world.

Some background

Georgia is a small but strategically important country. While it has less than 5 million people, it is located on Russia’s southern flank and occupies a key transit point for oil and natural gas moving from the rich fields of Central Asia to the imperialist heartland of Europe. Securing Georgia firmly in its camp, and building oil and gas pipelines through Georgia that bypass Russia, have been major pillars of U.S. strategy for decades.

Georgia was in the forefront of nations once oppressed by Russia who were then drawn into the U.S. orbit when the Soviet Union collapsed. Its current government, headed by U.S.-educated President Mikheil Saakashvilli, is slavishly pro-American. The airport road in the capital of Tbilisi is named for George Bush, and Saakashvilli loudly echoes the Bush regime’s talk about spreading “democracy” and “free markets” as the solution to the world’s problems.

This has a crucial military component: Saakashvilli sent 2,000 Georgian troops to support the bloody U.S. occupation of Iraq, actually doubling its troop commitment this past year, even as other members of the U.S. coalition pulled out or cut back. In turn, the U.S. has stationed hundreds of military advisors in Georgia. About 12,000 Georgian soldiers—more than a fourth of their total military—have received advanced U.S. training. And Georgia—with U.S. backing—has been working vigorously to be admitted to NATO, which would mean that all NATO members would be committed to defend Georgia militarily in the event of future conflicts with Russia.

All this fits in with the U.S.’s global effort to ensure its domination of the whole planet for generations to come. Monopolizing energy control and transport, and hemming in and constraining potential rivals like Russia, are central to this goal, and Georgia plays a major role in both of these. Russia in turn, as an imperialist power, is trying to break out of this encirclement, reestablish its dominance of “its” part of the world, and forge economic and military alliances in other regions.

As Raymond Lotta points out in “Shifts and Faultlines of the World Economy and Great Power Rivalry,” “No potential challengers to U.S. imperialism are seeking to go toe-to-toe with the U.S. militarily, or to confront it in a major way, in this current conjuncture. But the existence of these challenges (and challengers) means that U.S. imperialism has to look more and more over its shoulder.” This is exactly what is playing out now.

What happened: the hand of the U.S. and the imperialist cynicism of the Russians

Most Americans would be shocked to know that the war broke out on August 7, one day before CNN proclaimed “Russian Troops Invade Georgia.” U.S. coverage has been pitched to present this as a “tiny democratic country being overrun by Russia—the neighborhood bully.” But the bloody handprints of the U.S. are all over this war. Condoleezza Rice had visited Georgia in July for high-level discussions with Georgian leaders, and that same month there were joint military exercises involving Georgian and 1,000 U.S. troops. All this was in the context of increasingly aggressive efforts by the U.S. to establish a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, which is clearly aimed at Russia and which Russia considers a major provocation.

While the exact facts of things are hidden in the fog of propaganda statements coming from all sides, even the U.S. now concedes that it was Georgia that made a major move, in line with Saakashvilli’s stated goal of dragging the two effectively autonomous regions (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) back under Georgian rule. (See New York Times, August 13, 2008: “After Mixed US Messages, a War Erupted in Georgia.”) On Friday, August 8, after a week of skirmishing on the Ossetian border, the Times reported that “Georgian officials said their troops had made a significant incursion into the breakaway region, South Ossetia...and had taken up positions outside the capital of the enclave, Tskhinvali.”

The New York Times reports that at the start of the “incursion,” “members of the Georgian army unit assigned to a training program under American advisers did not show up for the day’s exercises. In retrospect, American officials said, it is obvious that they had been ordered to mobilize for the mission in South Ossetia by their commanders.” It’s difficult to believe that whole units of troops being trained by the U.S. would simply “cut class” one day to go attack an ally of Russia…without U.S. approval…, or that Georgian leaders who fawn on the Bush regime would launch a war in defiance of the U.S.

After the Georgian “incursion,” Russia, under the pretext of protecting Ossetians from “atrocities,” poured thousands of troops and tanks into not only South Ossetia, but also Abkhazia (another, larger, separatist region in Georgia) and into central Georgia itself. The Georgian forces were overwhelmed and by August 12 Russia had captured the large town of Gori, 40 miles from the Georgian capital. (They have since pulled back to some extent, but even the terms of the just-signed peace treaty seem to allow for an ongoing Russian military presence in Georgia proper.)

All of this has been a nightmare for the masses of people. Thousands of Ossetians fled across the Russian border and thousands more hid in basements as Tskhinvali was shelled and under siege by Georgian forces. The Times quoted an Ossetian woman who finally came out of her basement and said that the city around her “looked like the end of the world.” Asked how she felt, she said, “I haven’t eaten in three days. I’m hungry, that’s how I feel.” And many hundreds of civilians, if not thousands, were killed in the week of fighting.

And all this was only multiplied by the Russian intervention which spread the war to Georgia, including attacks on major cities.

The major reactionary leaders involved in all this have truly done their best to break world records for hypocrisy, posing as defenders of the innocent victims of wars, of freedom, and of the right of nations to self-determination.

Bush, fresh from invasions and “regime change” in Iraq and Afghanistan, and feverishly working for the same goal in Iran, now insists that “the territorial integrity of Georgia must be respected,” and condemned Russia’s “bullying and intimidation.” Russia’s Putin, leader of a country that has not just once but twice invaded Chechnya (in the same region as Georgia) to crush its independence movement, now announces that Russia just couldn’t help itself when it saw a tiny country being invaded by a larger power! Then there is Georgian President Saakashvilli, touted in the U.S. press as a great defender of “democracy” and “freedom.” Besides being a shameless tool of America’s crimes in Iraq, Saakashvilli used riot police and military forces armed with machine guns to violently disperse protestors in Tbilisi in 2007, ransacking opposition TV stations and jailing dissident leaders.

Saakashvilli’s “democratic” credentials are perhaps best expressed in a 2004 comment cited by Human Rights Watch: “[T]hen President-elect Mikheil Saakash-villi stated: ‘I…have advised my colleague, Justice Minister Zurab Adeishvili—I want criminals both inside and outside prisons to listen to this very carefully—to use force when dealing with any attempt to stage prison riots, and to open fire, shoot to kill and destroy any criminal who attempts to cause turmoil. We will not spare bullets against these people.’ ”

On all sides the major players in this war are pursuing reactionary and imperialist interests, and this underscores again the crying need to forge another path for humanity, away from this dark past of oppressive regimes and cynical wars.

What the future holds

Things are still very much in motion. While the war went badly for U.S. forces in Georgia itself, and Russian power in Southwest Asia has likely grown greater as a result, the U.S. has moved to seize advantage in Eastern Europe. The key part of this has been signing a deal between the U.S. and Poland to place an American missile defense base on Polish territory; along with this there is a commitment that American soldiers will at least temporarily staff air defense sites in Poland “oriented towards Russia” (New York Times). Reactionary Polish leaders, with a clear eye to Georgia, told the Times that “Poland and the Poles do not want to be in alliances in which assistance comes at some point later—it is no good when assistance comes to dead people. Poland wants to be in alliances where assistance comes in the very first hours of—knock on wood—any possible conflict.”

Talks around this deal had dragged on for three years and then were suddenly concluded in the wake of the Georgian fighting. The New York Times described this as “the strongest reaction so far to Russia’s military operations in Georgia.”

The aggressive moves by the U.S., the counter-maneuvers by rival imperialists, the “wild cards” of various smaller states pursuing their interest within the general framework of U.S. domination but pushing and maneuvering both for immediate position and also looking for opportunities to “get on top” somewhere down the road…all these things are making the world a very volatile place. And a place that cries out for a powerful, liberatory revolutionary communist movement that offers the masses a chance to be something other than victims choosing to attach themselves to the schemes and machinations of one oppressor or another.

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