For most of us, the conflict in South Ossetia Georgia came out of nowhere. But while we were watching the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, Russian regional politics turned bloody. So where is this place? Why are Russians throwing bombs at these people? And why is the Georgian leader asking the USA for help?

Over the weekend Crucial Voices gave a brief history of the conflict, recalling the Persian ancestry of the Ossetians, their inclusion in the USSR, its dissolution in 1990, and Georgian aggression since then:

The conflict boiling over in South Ossetia today is far from a new one. A Persian people surrounded by ethnicities with nothing in common with them, Ossetians have found themselves trapped for centuries between the Russians and Georgians.

The Washington Post blames neo-Russian expansion:

The violence appeared to show gargantuan Russia’s determination to subdue diminutive, U.S.-backed Georgia, even at the risk of international reproach. Russia fended off a wave of international calls to observe Georgia’s cease-fire, saying it must first be assured that Georgian troops have indeed pulled back from South Ossetia.

The International Herald Tribune reports that now Russia has mobilised its military, it is not about to take a step back:

Russia expanded its attacks on Georgia on Sunday, moving tanks and troops through the separatist enclave of South Ossetia and advancing toward the city of Gori in central Georgia, in its first direct assault on a Georgian city with ground forces after three days of heavy fighting, Georgian officials said.

The maneuver — along with aerial bombing of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi — suggested that Russia’s aims in the conflict had gone beyond securing the pro-Russian enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to weakening the armed forces of Georgia, a former Soviet republic and an ally of the United States whose Western leanings have long irritated the Kremlin.

Reuters offers a helpful timeline taking readers back to when South Ossetia first declared autonomy from Georgia in 1989. Comparisons to Kosovo abound in US blogs. Doug Stych of Doug’s Darkworld says:

Many Russians for their part regard this situation as very analogous to the situation in Kosovo, where NATO launched massive air strikes on Russia’s ally Serbia to force them to accede to Kosovar demands of independence from Serbia. If it’s OK for NATO to attack a Russian ally to force them to grant independence to a rebellious province, why shouldn’t Russia be justified in doing the same in Georgia?

But Fire Dog Lake blogger Jo Fish addressed the ahh absurdity of possible US involvement in the region:

The Georgian Big Kahuna is asking the US to use its “clout” to help end yet another dirty little war between their country and Pootie-Poot’s troops from the Country Once Known As Evil. For some strange and unknown reason Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili is asking for our help in ending the dust-up between his country and Rrrroooshya. Good luck with that, Mikhail.

The Moscow Times has reported Russian censorship of the conflict:

Russian television is flush with footage of misery left by the Georgian assault in the separatist district of South Ossetia, but few, if any, reports mention Russia’s bombing of Georgia.

And the Times Online takes a broaders, arguing there is a role for western diplomats:

The first instinct of Western diplomats is to urge compromise and negotiation. And there are numerous criticisms that can be levelled at President Saakashvili of Georgia. To launch an assault on Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, was a model case of Talleyrand’s dictum: worse than a crime, it was a blunder – and an inexcusable provocation to Moscow. Mr Saakashvili is no model democrat: in May’s elections, observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe verified cases of intimidation of his political opponents. And in numerous global issues, Britain and its allies require support from Russian diplomacy and seek a rational accommodation with Russian interests.

But the attack on Georgia is something else. Russia has plainly involved itself in the internal politics of Georgia. Moscow’s support for the independence of South Ossetia might instructively be compared with its wider attitude to independence in the Caucasus. When Chechnya rebelled, Russia responded with a brutal war of suppression, motivated in part by a wish to keep control of the energy pipeline running through the republic. Russia is concerned also at Georgia’s control of the pipeline running from Azerbaijan to Turkey, which offers Europe an alternative source of energy to that provided by Russia.

Western diplomacy should certainly urge negotiations over the separatist enclaves in Georgia.

Peter Fray

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