Caucasian conflict escalates
Yet another Caucasian conflict leads to blows, but this time, perhaps, it is not a “clash of civilizations”, since all parties seem to be linked to the “Orthodox civilization”. There’s not much reporting going on in the news media: locally they’re too busy reporting on Cosatu’s strike against high prices and their annoyance at not being consulted about new premiers in the Eastern and Western Cape, and in the US they’re more concerned about the adultery of a failed wannabe presidential candidate and the Olympic Games.
What reporting there has been seems to have been in conflicting headlines — Georgia and Russia have invaded each other, or attacked each other, it seems. And if and when the background pieces do appear to explain the conflict, it will be more difficult than ever to counter the spin, because the difficulty in discerning what the spin is.
The trouble is, if the conflict does escalate much further, the spin will already be established, as it was with Kosovo. And this particular conflict seems to have some parallels with Kosovo.
Voices from Russia reports:
the official representative of the South Ossetian government, Irina Gagloeva, reported that all Georgian military units had been driven out of Tskhinvali. “Now, there is an ominous silence above the city, the skirmishes have ceased. The city is entirely cleared of Georgian military units”, she said, after saying that she had no information concerning the situation on the heights around the city. It is true that the government of Georgia denied these reports, state minister Temur Yakobashvili saying that all the Russian reports were lies. “Tskhinvali is completely in the hands of Georgian troops. Moreover, we control all populated areas in South Ossetia except Dzhavy and the Rokskim tunnel”, Mr Yakobashvili said. He also said, “The President of Georgia is constantly ringing up world leaders and is expressing his anxiety over the situation. This is a patriotic war for Georgia, and we shall not yield even one handful of our soil. This is not a conflict over the Tskhinvali region; it is a patriotic war against Russia”.
But that still doesn’t tell us very much. But here’s some of the background in the form of a comment on Voices from Russia:
The war started because Georgia treacherously invaded South Ossetia after agreeing to a ceasefire on Thursday. Georgian members of the peacekeeping force there fired on their Russian colleagues without warning. The regular Georgian army then marched into Ossetia. The Ossetians are not Georgians, but, due to Soviet gerrymandering, were part of the Georgian SSR. As long as there was a Soviet Union, it didn’t matter, for Moscow defended the rights of the Ossetians against the Georgians. When the USSR fell apart, S Ossetia refused to be part of Georgia. It never became part of post-Soviet Georgia. Since 1992, there has been a joint peacekeeping force in the region, but, Georgia has always refused to deal fairly with the Ossetians.
On Friday, Georgia invaded, and its forces targeted civilian areas instead of military bases. Russian forces have entered S Ossetia to drive out the Georgians and relieve the city of Tskhinvali. Georgia has shot down NO Russian aircraft. CNN, NPR, and the NY Times are not telling the truth. The Georgians invaded because they received military and financial aid from the USA, because the Bush government is anti-Russian.
The Wars of the Yugoslav Succession in the Balkans have often been portrayed in the media as wars of religion, as, to some extent, have the Caucasian wars. But in this case all the participants are, at least nominally, of the same religion. Nevertheless, there seem to be some ingredients similar to the Balkan wars, and the breakup of Yugoslavia. As long as there was a Yugoslav central government, ethic minorities in the different Yugoslav republics and provinces could feel reasonably secure. But when the different regions broke away, fears of ethnic dominance came to the fore, leading to wars that have lasted nearly two decades. And according to the account given above, something similar is found in the Caucasus, or at least in South Ossetia.
For more on the parallels with Kosovo, see here and here. As Art Russilo says, “The root of the problem is that the international community cannot agree on rules for the independence of small regions. I agree with those who said, that conflicts can be determined only by negotiations, not by imposition.”
And there’s more in the Guardian: “The dispute between Georgia and the two regions was called “the frozen conflict” because the issues remain unresolved, but there was no fighting. The heat began to rise this year when the west recognised Kosovo, against Russia’s advice. The South Ossetians and Abkhazians argued that if Kosovo could be independent, then so could they.”
The question is, will George Bush promote the independence of South Ossetia, as he has done with Kosovo?