A new phase of Georgia war? Russia-US confrontation?

President George Bush said military aircraft and naval forces will send humanitarian aid to Georgia.

Questions:

1. With the presence of Russia army there could it escalate into some US-Russia confrontation?

2. Would you say the US-Russian relationships are at its lowest point since the end of the Cold War?

Answers:

Robert Cutler, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of European, Russian & Eurasian Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa

1. Sending humanitarian aid delivered by military forces is finally an indication of some attempt at seriousness of purpose, belied by President Bush’s decision to stay in Beijing for four days (not hesitating to be photographed with bikini-clad volleyball players) while Prime Minister Vladimir Putin flew back to direct Russian operations from Vladikavkaz. Recall that during the recent Wars of the Yugoslav Succession, just a few hundred U.S. troops on the ground on the border of Macedonia served as an effective tripwire, preventing southward spillover of military hostilities.

In the event of unforeseen contact on the ground, escalation or its absence will depend upon whether the Russian troops show military professionalism or continue to maraud, as numerous reports since the signature of the Sarkozy mediated ceasefire indicate that they do. A possible flashpoint would be Gori city and/or district, where numerous reports indicate that Ossetian (and possibly other North Caucasus) irregulars and vigilantes, some armed on the Russian side of the border and provided with free passage to enter Georgia unsupervised by Russian military, carry out horrific acts.

However, in view of Russian destruction of Georgian civilian and military infrastructure, relief of Gori would have to effected through conveyance by road, or else by airdrop. As the area to its west is occupied by Russian forces, ground conveyance would likely come from Tbilisi, which is less than an hour away by car. It seems unlikely that U.S. forces would participate in the delivery of aid from Tbilisi to Gori. Policing this road would be a sign of greater seriousness, but it would be unexpected that U.S. has sufficiently trained military forces anytime soon in adequate number to be deployed for that purpose, unless they are redeployed from current positions in other theaters.

Tbilisi is a metropolis of over a million people on par with continental European cities. With the country’s main east-west highway impassable because of the occupation of Gori, Tbilisi is in effect blockaded. Delivery of humanitarian aid by air is the only means of relief. There will be no confrontation at Tbilisi airport unless Russian troops march to occupy it.

As for the announcement of humanitarian aid sent by naval forces, meaning that it will land at Georgia’s Black Sea ports, this represents a challenge to Russia’s blockading Black Sea fleet to observe international law of war by permitting its delivery. Beyond mere passage, that means also that it is not looted. Consequently, assuring the intended distribution of the aid in western Georgia will be more of a problem than in Tbilisi.

2. From the U.S. standpoint, probably yes. From the Russian standpoint, the relationship probably is no worse than it has been already for at least a while.

Gordon B. Smith, Professor of Political Science, Director of the Walker Institute, University of South California

1. As long as Tbilisi Airport is open, humanitarian flights might be possible without escalating the crisis.  But if the reports are true that Russia has a naval blockade of the Georgian coast on the Black Sea, there is a real possibility of a naval confrontation.  This is a dangerous situation.  Given that Russia has been very critical of U.S. support for the Georgian government, it might be better to let the EU coordinate Western humanitarian relief to Georgia.

2. Yes.  Relations are very bad and a wrong move by either the US or Russia could end in disaster.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: