- Last week, Georgia launched a major military offensive
against the rebel province South Ossetia , just hours after President Mikheil
Saakashvili had announced a unilateral ceasefire. Close to 1,500 have been
killed, Russian officials say. Thirty thousand refugees, mostly women and
children, streamed across the border into the North Ossetian capital Vladikavkaz
in Russia .
- The timing - and subterfuge - suggest the unscrupulous
Saakashvili was counting on surprise. "Most decision makers have gone
for the holidays," he said in an interview with CNN. "Brilliant
moment to attack a small country." Apparently he was referring to
Russia invading Georgia , despite the fact that it was Georgia which had
just launched a full-scale invasion of the "small country" South
Ossetia, while Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was in Beijing for
the Olympics. Twenty-seven Russian peacekeepers and troops have been killed
and 150 wounded so far, many when their barracks were shelled by Georgian
forces at the start of the invasion. Georgian State Minister for Reintegration
Temur Yakobashvili rushed to announce that their mini-blitzkreig had destroyed
ten Russian combat planes ( Russia says two) and that Georgian troops were
in full control of the capital Tskhinvali.
- Russia's Defense Ministry denounced the Georgian attack
as a "dirty adventure." From Beijing , Russian Prime Minister
Vladimir Putin said, "It is regrettable that on the day before the
opening of the Olympic Games, the Georgian authorities have undertaken
aggressive actions in South Ossetia ." He later added, "War has
started." Russian President Dmitry Medvedev vowed that Moscow will
protect Russian citizens - most South Ossetians hold Russian passports.
The offensive prompted Moscow to send in 150 tanks, to launch air strikes
on nearby Gori and military sites, and to order warships to Georgia 's
Black Sea coast.
- Georgia's national security council declared a state
of war with Russia and a full military mobilisation. US military planes
are already flying Georgia 's 2,000 troops in Iraq - the third-largest
force after the United States and Britain - back to confront the Russians.
By Sunday, despite early claims of victory, Georgian troops had retreated
from South Ossetia , leaving diplomatic rubble behind which will be very
hard to clear. Truth is stranger than fiction in Georgia .
- The writing has been on the wall for months. Georgian
President Saakashvili's fawning over Western leaders at the "emergency"
NATO meeting in April and his pre-election anti-Russian bluster in May
made it clear to all that Georgia is the more-than-willing canary in the
Eastern mine shaft. The Georgian attack on South Ossetia's capital Tskhinvali
- I repeat - just hours after Saakashvili declared a cease-fire, looks
very much like an attempt to reincorporate the rebel province into Georgia
unilaterally. But whoever is advising the brash young president ignores
the postscript - no pasaran! South Ossetia has been independent for 16
years and is not likely to drape flowers on invading Georgia tanks. It
also just happens to have Russia as patron.
- The aftershocks of this wild gamble by Saakashvili are
just beginning. This is Russia 's most serious altercation with a foreign
country since the collapse of the Soviet Union and could escalate into
an all-out war engulfing much of the Caucasus region. Russian warships
are not planning to block shipments of oil from Georgia 's Black Sea port
of Poti , Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said on Sunday,
but reserve the right to search ships coming to and from it. Another source
naval source said, "The crews are assigned the task to not allow arms
and military hardware supplies to reach Georgia by sea." The Russians
have already sunk a Georgian missile boat that was trying to attack Russian
ships. Upping the ante, Ukraine said it reserved the right to bar Russian
warships from returning to their nominally Ukrainian - formerly Russian
- base of Sevastopol , on the Crimean peninsula. On Saturday, Russia accused
Ukraine of "arming the Georgians to the teeth."
- Georgia's other separatist region, Abkhazia, was mobilising
its forces for a push into the Kodori Gorge, the only part of Abkhazia
controlled by Georgia . "No dialogue is possible with the current
Georgian leadership," said Abkhazia's President Sergei Bagapsh. "They
are state criminals who must be tried for the crimes committed in South
Ossetia , the genocide of the Ossetian people." Britain has ordered
its nationals to leave Georgia . British charity worker Sian Davis said,
"It's really, really quiet, eerily quiet. Everyone was either at home
or had packed up and moved out of the city. People are really, really scared.
People are panicking." So far the more than 2,000 US nationals in
this tiny but strategic country are mostly staying put.
- This is yet another made-in-the-USA war. US President
George W Bush loudly supported Georgia 's request to join NATO in April,
much to the consternation of European leaders. NATO promised to send advisers
in December. Not losing any time, the US sent more than 1,000 US Marines
and soldiers to the Vaziani military base on the South Ossetian border
in July "to teach combat skills to Georgian troops." The UN Security
Council failed to reach an agreement on the current crisis after three
emergency meetings. A Russian-drafted statement that called on Georgia
and the separatists to "renounce the use of force" was vetoed
by the US , UK and France . To dispel any conceivable doubt, Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday: "We call on Russia to cease
attacks on Georgia by aircraft and missiles, respect Georgia 's territorial
integrity, and withdraw its ground combat forces from Georgian soil."
- But it's also yet another made-in-Israel war. A thousand
military advisers from Israeli security firms have been training the country's
armed forces and were deeply involved in the Georgian army's preparations
to attack and capture the capital of South Ossetia , according to the Israeli
web site Debkafiles which has close links with the regime's intelligence
and military sources. Haaretz reported that Yakobashvili told Army Radio
- in Hebrew, " Israel should be proud of its military which trained
Georgian soldiers." "We killed 60 Russian soldiers just yesterday,"
he boasted on Monday. "The Russians have lost more than 50 tanks,
and we have shot down 11 of their planes. They have enormous damage in
terms of manpower." He warned that the Russians would try and open
another battlefront in Abkhazia and denied reports that the Georgian army
was retreating. "The Georgian forces are not retreating. We move our
military according to security needs."
- Israelis are active in real estate, tourism, gaming,
military manufacturing and security consulting in Georgia, including former
Tel Aviv mayor Roni Milo and Likudite and gambling operator Reuven Gavrieli.
"The Russians don't look kindly on the military cooperation of Israeli
firms with the Georgian army, and as far as I know, Israelis doing security
consulting left Georgia in the past few days because of the events there,"
the former Israeli ambassador to Georgia and Armenia , Baruch Ben Neria,
said yesterday. Since his posting, Ben Neria has represented Rafael Advanced
Defense Systems in Georgia .
- By Sunday, Putin was in Vladikavkaz and said it is unlikely
South Ossetia will ever be reintegrated into Georgia . There are really
only two possible scenarios to end the conflict: a long-term stalemate
or Russian annexation of South Ossetia . The former is beginning to look
pretty good, and Saakashvili is probably already ruing his rash move. The
Georgian president is clearly hoping he can suck the US into the conflict.
Alexander Lomaya, secretary of Georgia 's National Security Council, said
only Western intervention could prevent all-out war. But it is very unlikely
Bush will risk WWIII over this scrap of craggy mountain.
- When US puppets get out of line, like a certain Saddam
Hussein, they are easily abandoned. Saakashvili would be wise to recall
the fate of the first post-Soviet Georgian president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia,
also a darling of the US (in 1978 US Congress nominated him for the Nobel
Peace Prize). He rode to victory on a wave of nationalism in 1990, declaring
independence for Georgia and officially recognising the "Chechen Republic
of Ichkeria". But South Ossetia wanted no part of the fiery Gamsakhurdia's
chauvinistic vision and declared its own "independence". Engulfed
by a wave of disgust a short two years later, abandoned by his US friends,
he fled to his beloved Ichkeria. He snuck back into western Georgia , looking
for support in restive Abkhazia, but his uprising collapsed, prompting
Abkhazia to secede.
- Gamsakhurdia died in 1993, leaving the two secessionist
provinces as a legacy, and was buried in Chechnya . Saakashvili rehabilitated him in
2004 and had his remains interred in Mtatsminda Pantheon with other Georgian
"heroes". Truth really is stranger than fiction in Georgia .
Now the burning question is: will history repeat itself?
- *** Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can
reach him at