What is playing out in the Caucasus is being reported in the United States
media in an alarmingly misleading light, making Moscow appear the lone
aggressor after it sent troops into the breakaway Georgian region of South
Ossetia following a Georgian offensive on that territory.
The question is whether President George W Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney
are encouraging Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to force the next US
president to back the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military agenda
of the current Bush administration. Washington may have badly misjudged the
possibilities, as it did in Iraq, and there are even
possible nuclear consequences.
The underlying issue is the fact that since the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact
in 1991, one after another former member as well as former states of the Soviet
Union have been coaxed and in many cases bribed with false promises by
Washington into joining the counter organization, NATO.
Rather than initiate discussions after the 1991 dissolution of the Warsaw Pact
about a systematic dissolution of NATO, Washington has steadily converted NATO
into what can only be called the military vehicle of an American global
imperial rule, linked by a network of military bases from Kosovo to Poland to
Turkey to Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 1999, former Warsaw Pact members Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic
joined NATO. Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia
followed suit in March 2004. Now Washington is putting immense pressure on the
European Union members of NATO, especially Germany and France, that they vote
in December to admit Georgia and Ukraine.
The roots of the conflict
The specific conflict between Georgia and the two breakaway regions of South
Ossetia and Abkhazia has its roots in the following. First, the Southern
Ossetes, who until 1990 formed an autonomous region of the Georgian Soviet
Republic, seek to unite in one state with their co-ethnics in North Ossetia, an
autonomous republic of the Russian Soviet Republic and now the Russian
There is an historically grounded Ossete fear of violent Georgian nationalism
and the experience of Georgian hatred of ethnic minorities under then-Georgian
leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia, which the Ossetes see again under Georgian President
Mikheil Saakashvili. Saakashvili was brought to power with US financing and US
covert regime-change activities in December 2003 in what was called the "Rose
Revolution". Now, the thorns of that rose are causing blood to spill.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia - the first a traditional Black Sea resort area, the
second an impoverished, sparsely populated region that borders Russia to the
north - each has its own language, culture and history. When the Soviet Union
collapsed, both regions sought to separate themselves from Georgia in bloody
conflicts - South Ossetia in 1990-91, Abkhazia in 1992-94.
In December 1990, Georgia under Gamsakhurdia sent troops into South Ossetia
after the region declared sovereignty. This Georgian move was defeated by
Soviet Interior Ministry troops. Then Georgia declared the abolition of the
South Ossete autonomous region and its incorporation into Georgia proper. Both
wars ended with ceasefires that were negotiated by Russia and policed by
peacekeeping forces under the aegis of the recently established Commonwealth of
The situation hardened into "frozen conflicts", like that over Cyprus between
Greece and Turkey. By late 2005, Georgia signed an agreement that it would not
use force, and the Abkhaz would allow the gradual return of 200,000-plus ethnic
Georgians who had fled the violence. But the agreement collapsed in early 2006,
when Saakashvili sent troops to retake the Kodori Valley in Abkhazia. Since
then, Saakashvili has escalated preparations for military action.
Critical is Russia's support for the Southern Ossetes. Russia is unwilling to
see Georgia join NATO. In addition, the Ossetes are the oldest Russian allies
in the Caucasus who have provided troops to the Russian army in many wars.
Russia does not wish to abandon them and the Abkhaz, and fuel yet more ethnic
unrest among their compatriots in the Russian North Caucasus.
In a November 2006 referendum, 99% of South Ossetians voted for independence
from Georgia, at a time when most of them had long held Russian passports. This
enabled Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to justify his military's
counter-attack of Georgia on Friday as an effort to "protect the lives and
dignity of Russian citizens, wherever they may be".
For Russia, Ossetia has been an important strategic base near the Turkish and
Iranian frontiers since the days of the czars. Georgia is also an important
transit country for oil being pumped from the Caspian Sea to the Turkish port
of Ceyhan and a potential base for Washington efforts to encircle Tehran.
As far as the Georgians are concerned, South Ossetia and Abkhazia are simply
part of their national territory, to be recovered at all costs. Promises by
NATO leaders to bring Georgia into the alliance, and ostentatious declarations
of support from Washington, have emboldened Saakashvili to launch his military
offensive against the two provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Saakashvili and likely Cheney's office in Washington appear to have
miscalculated very badly. Russia has made it clear that it has no intention of
ceding its support for South Ossetia or Abkhazia.
In March, as Washington went ahead to recognize the independence of Kosovo in
former Yugoslavia, making Kosovo a de facto NATO-run territory against the will
of the United Nations Security Council and especially against Russian protest,
then president (now Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin responded with Russian Duma
(parliament) hearings on recognition of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and
Transnistria, a pro-Russian breakaway republic in Moldova.
Moscow argued that the West's logic on Kosovo should apply as well to these
ethnic communities seeking to free themselves from the control of a hostile
state. In mid-April, Putin held out the possibility of recognition for the
breakaway republics. It was a geopolitical chess game in the strategic Caucasus
for the highest stakes - the future of Russia itself.
Saakashvili called Putin to demand he reverse the decision. He reminded Putin
that the West had taken Georgia's side. This past April at the NATO summit in
Bucharest, Romania, US President George W Bush proposed accepting Georgia into
NATO's "Action Plan for Membership", a precursor to full NATO membership. To
Washington's surprise, 10 NATO member states refused to support his plan,
including Germany, France and Italy.
They argued that accepting the Georgians was problematic, because of the
conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. They were in reality saying that they
would not be willing to back Georgia as, under Article 5 of the NATO treaty,
which mandates that an armed attack against any NATO member country must be
considered an attack against them all and consequently requires use of
collective armed force of all NATO members, it would mean that Europe could be
faced with war against Russia over the tiny Caucasus Republic of Georgia, with
its incalculable dictator, Saakashvili. That would mean the troubled Caucasus
would be on a hair-trigger to detonate World War III.
Russia threatens Georgia, but Georgia threatens Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Russia looks like a crocodile to Georgia, but Georgia looks to Russia like the
cat's paw of the West. Since Saakashvili took power in late 2003, the Pentagon
has been in Georgia giving military aid and training. Not only are US military
personnel active in Georgia today, according to an Israeli-intelligence source,
Debkafile, in 2007 Saakashvili "commissioned from private Israeli security
firms several hundred military advisers, estimated at up to 1,000, to train the
Georgian armed forces in commando, air, sea, armored and artillery combat
It was reported further, "They also have been giving instruction on military
intelligence and security for the central regime. Tbilisi also purchased
weapons, intelligence and electronic warfare systems from Israel. These
advisers were undoubtedly deeply involved in the Georgian army's preparations
to conquer the South Ossetian capital Friday."
Debkafile also reported, "Moscow has repeatedly demanded that Jerusalem halt
its military assistance to Georgia, finally threatening a crisis in bilateral
relations. Israel responded by saying that the only assistance rendered to
Tbilisi was 'defensive'."
The Israeli news source added that Israel's interest in Georgia had to do as
well with Caspian oil pipeline geopolitics. "Jerusalem has a strong interest in
having Caspian oil and gas pipelines reach the Turkish terminal port of Ceyhan,
rather than the Russian network. Intense negotiations are afoot between Israel,
Turkey, Georgia, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan for pipelines to reach Turkey and
thence to Israel's oil terminal at Ashkelon and on to its Red Sea port of
Eilat. From there, supertankers can carry the gas and oil to the Far East
through the Indian Ocean."
This means that the attack on South Ossetia is the first battle in a new proxy
warfare between Anglo-American-Israeli led interests and Russia. The only
question is whether Washington miscalculated the swiftness and intensity of the
Russian response to the Georgian attacks of August 8.
So far, each step in the Caucasus drama has put the conflict on a yet higher
plane of danger. The next step will no longer be just about the Caucasus, or
even Europe. In 1914 it was the "Guns of August" that initiated the Great War.
This time, the Guns of August 2008 could be the detonator of World War III and
a nuclear holocaust of unspeakable horror.
Most in the West are unaware how dangerous the conflict over two tiny provinces
in a remote part of Eurasia has become. What is left out of most media coverage
is the strategic military security context of the Caucasus dispute.
Since the end of the Cold War in the beginning of the 1990s, NATO and most
directly Washington have systematically pursued what military strategists call
nuclear primacy. Put simply, if one of two opposing nuclear powers is able to
first develop an operational anti-missile defense, even primitive, that can
dramatically weaken a potential counter-strike by the opposing side's nuclear
arsenal, the side with missile defense has "won" the nuclear war.
As questionable as this sounds, it has been explicit Pentagon policy through
the last three presidents from father H W Bush in 1990, to Bill Clinton and
most aggressively, George W Bush. This is the issue over which Russia has drawn
a deep line in the sand, understandably so. The forceful US effort to push
Georgia as well as Ukraine into NATO would present Russia with the specter of
NATO literally coming to its doorstep, a military threat that is aggressive in
the extreme, and untenable for Russian national security.
This is what gives the seemingly obscure fight over two provinces the size of
Luxembourg the potential to become the 1914 Sarajevo trigger to a new nuclear
war by miscalculation. The trigger for such a war is not Georgia's right to
annex South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Rather, it is US insistence on pushing NATO
and its missile defense right up to Russia's door.
F William Engdahl is author of A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil
Politics and the New World Order (Pluto Press) and Seeds of Destruction:
The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation (www.globalresearch.ca. He may be
reached through his website, www.engdahl.oilgeopolitics.net.