Author Topic: The Russo-Georgian War and the Balance of Power  (Read 4376 times)

nestopwar

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The Russo-Georgian War and the Balance of Power
« on: August 25, 2008, 11:32:28 AM »
The Russo-Georgian War and the Balance of Power

http://www.stratfor.com/

The Russian invasion of Georgia has not changed the balance of power in Eurasia. It simply announced that the balance of power had already shifted. The United States has been absorbed in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as potential conflict with Iran and a destabilizing situation in Pakistan. It has no strategic ground forces in reserve and is in no position to intervene on the Russian periphery. This, as we have argued, has opened a window of opportunity for the Russians to reassert their influence in the former Soviet sphere. Moscow did not have to concern itself with the potential response of the United States or Europe; hence, the invasion did not shift the balance of power. The balance of power had already shifted, and it was up to the Russians when to make this public. They did that Aug. 8.

Let’s begin simply by reviewing the last few days.

On the night of Thursday, Aug. 7, forces of the Republic of Georgia drove across the border of South Ossetia, a secessionist region of Georgia that has functioned as an independent entity since the fall of the Soviet Union. The forces drove on to the capital, Tskhinvali, which is close to the border. Georgian forces got bogged down while trying to take the city. In spite of heavy fighting, they never fully secured the city, nor the rest of South Ossetia.

On the morning of Aug. 8, Russian forces entered South Ossetia, using armored and motorized infantry forces along with air power. South Ossetia was informally aligned with Russia, and Russia acted to prevent the region’s absorption by Georgia. Given the speed with which the Russians responded — within hours of the Georgian attack — the Russians were expecting the Georgian attack and were themselves at their jumping-off points. The counterattack was carefully planned and competently executed, and over the next 48 hours, the Russians succeeded in defeating the main Georgian force and forcing a retreat. By Sunday, Aug. 10, the Russians had consolidated their position in South Ossetia.

On Monday, the Russians extended their offensive into Georgia proper, attacking on two axes. One was south from South Ossetia to the Georgian city of Gori. The other drive was from Abkhazia, another secessionist region of Georgia aligned with the Russians. This drive was designed to cut the road between the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and its ports. By this point, the Russians had bombed the military airfields at Marneuli and Vaziani and appeared to have disabled radars at the international airport in Tbilisi. These moves brought Russian forces to within 40 miles of the Georgian capital, while making outside reinforcement and resupply of Georgian forces extremely difficult should anyone wish to undertake it.

The Mystery Behind the Georgian Invasion
In this simple chronicle, there is something quite mysterious: Why did the Georgians choose to invade South Ossetia on Thursday night? There had been a great deal of shelling by the South Ossetians of Georgian villages for the previous three nights, but while possibly more intense than usual, artillery exchanges were routine. The Georgians might not have fought well, but they committed fairly substantial forces that must have taken at the very least several days to deploy and supply. Georgia’s move was deliberate.

The United States is Georgia’s closest ally. It maintained about 130 military advisers in Georgia, along with civilian advisers, contractors involved in all aspects of the Georgian government and people doing business in Georgia. It is inconceivable that the Americans were unaware of Georgia’s mobilization and intentions. It is also inconceivable that the Americans were unaware that the Russians had deployed substantial forces on the South Ossetian frontier. U.S. technical intelligence, from satellite imagery and signals intelligence to unmanned aerial vehicles, could not miss the fact that thousands of Russian troops were moving to forward positions. The Russians clearly knew the Georgians were ready to move. How could the United States not be aware of the Russians? Indeed, given the posture of Russian troops, how could intelligence analysts have missed the possibility that the Russians had laid a trap, hoping for a Georgian invasion to justify its own counterattack?

It is very difficult to imagine that the Georgians launched their attack against U.S. wishes. The Georgians rely on the United States, and they were in no position to defy it. This leaves two possibilities. The first is a massive breakdown in intelligence, in which the United States either was unaware of the existence of Russian forces, or knew of the Russian forces but — along with the Georgians — miscalculated Russia’s intentions. The second is that the United States, along with other countries, has viewed Russia through the prism of the 1990s, when the Russian military was in shambles and the Russian government was paralyzed. The United States has not seen Russia make a decisive military move beyond its borders since the Afghan war of the 1970s-1980s. The Russians had systematically avoided such moves for years. The United States had assumed that the Russians would not risk the consequences of an invasion.

If this was the case, then it points to the central reality of this situation: The Russians had changed dramatically, along with the balance of power in the region. They welcomed the opportunity to drive home the new reality, which was that they could invade Georgia and the United States and Europe could not respond. As for risk, they did not view the invasion as risky. Militarily, there was no counter. Economically, Russia is an energy exporter doing quite well — indeed, the Europeans need Russian energy even more than the Russians need to sell it to them. Politically, as we shall see, the Americans needed the Russians more than the Russians needed the Americans. Moscow’s calculus was that this was the moment to strike. The Russians had been building up to it for months, as we have discussed, and they struck.

The Western Encirclement of Russia
To understand Russian thinking, we need to look at two events. The first is the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. From the U.S. and European point of view, the Orange Revolution represented a triumph of democracy and Western influence. From the Russian point of view, as Moscow made clear, the Orange Revolution was a CIA-funded intrusion into the internal affairs of Ukraine, designed to draw Ukraine into NATO and add to the encirclement of Russia. U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton had promised the Russians that NATO would not expand into the former Soviet Union empire.

That promise had already been broken in 1998 by NATO’s expansion to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic — and again in the 2004 expansion, which absorbed not only the rest of the former Soviet satellites in what is now Central Europe, but also the three Baltic states, which had been components of the Soviet Union.

The Russians had tolerated all that, but the discussion of including Ukraine in NATO represented a fundamental threat to Russia’s national security. It would have rendered Russia indefensible and threatened to destabilize the Russian Federation itself. When the United States went so far as to suggest that Georgia be included as well, bringing NATO deeper into the Caucasus, the Russian conclusion — publicly stated — was that the United States in particular intended to encircle and break Russia.

The second and lesser event was the decision by Europe and the United States to back Kosovo’s separation from Serbia. The Russians were friendly with Serbia, but the deeper issue for Russia was this: The principle of Europe since World War II was that, to prevent conflict, national borders would not be changed. If that principle were violated in Kosovo, other border shifts — including demands by various regions for independence from Russia — might follow. The Russians publicly and privately asked that Kosovo not be given formal independence, but instead continue its informal autonomy, which was the same thing in practical terms. Russia’s requests were ignored.

From the Ukrainian experience, the Russians became convinced that the United States was engaged in a plan of strategic encirclement and strangulation of Russia. From the Kosovo experience, they concluded that the United States and Europe were not prepared to consider Russian wishes even in fairly minor affairs. That was the breaking point. If Russian desires could not be accommodated even in a minor matter like this, then clearly Russia and the West were in conflict. For the Russians, as we said, the question was how to respond. Having declined to respond in Kosovo, the Russians decided to respond where they had all the cards: in South Ossetia.

Moscow had two motives, the lesser of which was as a tit-for-tat over Kosovo. If Kosovo could be declared independent under Western sponsorship, then South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two breakaway regions of Georgia, could be declared independent under Russian sponsorship. Any objections from the United States and Europe would simply confirm their hypocrisy. This was important for internal Russian political reasons, but the second motive was far more important.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin once said that the fall of the Soviet Union was a geopolitical disaster. This didn’t mean that he wanted to retain the Soviet state; rather, it meant that the disintegration of the Soviet Union had created a situation in which Russian national security was threatened by Western interests. As an example, consider that during the Cold War, St. Petersburg was about 1,200 miles away from a NATO country. Today it is about 60 miles away from Estonia, a NATO member. The disintegration of the Soviet Union had left Russia surrounded by a group of countries hostile to Russian interests in various degrees and heavily influenced by the United States, Europe and, in some cases, China.

Resurrecting the Russian Sphere
Putin did not want to re-establish the Soviet Union, but he did want to re-establish the Russian sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union region. To accomplish that, he had to do two things. First, he had to re-establish the credibility of the Russian army as a fighting force, at least in the context of its region. Second, he had to establish that Western guarantees, including NATO membership, meant nothing in the face of Russian power. He did not want to confront NATO directly, but he did want to confront and defeat a power that was closely aligned with the United States, had U.S. support, aid and advisers and was widely seen as being under American protection. Georgia was the perfect choice.

By invading Georgia as Russia did (competently if not brilliantly), Putin re-established the credibility of the Russian army. But far more importantly, by doing this Putin revealed an open secret: While the United States is tied down in the Middle East, American guarantees have no value. This lesson is not for American consumption. It is something that, from the Russian point of view, the Ukrainians, the Balts and the Central Asians need to digest. Indeed, it is a lesson Putin wants to transmit to Poland and the Czech Republic as well. The United States wants to place ballistic missile defense installations in those countries, and the Russians want them to understand that allowing this to happen increases their risk, not their security.

The Russians knew the United States would denounce their attack. This actually plays into Russian hands. The more vocal senior leaders are, the greater the contrast with their inaction, and the Russians wanted to drive home the idea that American guarantees are empty talk.

The Russians also know something else that is of vital importance: For the United States, the Middle East is far more important than the Caucasus, and Iran is particularly important. The United States wants the Russians to participate in sanctions against Iran. Even more importantly, they do not want the Russians to sell weapons to Iran, particularly the highly effective S-300 air defense system. Georgia is a marginal issue to the United States; Iran is a central issue. The Russians are in a position to pose serious problems for the United States not only in Iran, but also with weapons sales to other countries, like Syria.

Therefore, the United States has a problem — it either must reorient its strategy away from the Middle East and toward the Caucasus, or it has to seriously limit its response to Georgia to avoid a Russian counter in Iran. Even if the United States had an appetite for another war in Georgia at this time, it would have to calculate the Russian response in Iran — and possibly in Afghanistan (even though Moscow’s interests there are currently aligned with those of Washington).

In other words, the Russians have backed the Americans into a corner. The Europeans, who for the most part lack expeditionary militaries and are dependent upon Russian energy exports, have even fewer options. If nothing else happens, the Russians will have demonstrated that they have resumed their role as a regional power. Russia is not a global power by any means, but a significant regional power with lots of nuclear weapons and an economy that isn’t all too shabby at the moment. It has also compelled every state on the Russian periphery to re-evaluate its position relative to Moscow. As for Georgia, the Russians appear ready to demand the resignation of President Mikhail Saakashvili. Militarily, that is their option. That is all they wanted to demonstrate, and they have demonstrated it.

The war in Georgia, therefore, is Russia’s public return to great power status. This is not something that just happened — it has been unfolding ever since Putin took power, and with growing intensity in the past five years. Part of it has to do with the increase of Russian power, but a great deal of it has to do with the fact that the Middle Eastern wars have left the United States off-balance and short on resources. As we have written, this conflict created a window of opportunity. The Russian goal is to use that window to assert a new reality throughout the region while the Americans are tied down elsewhere and dependent on the Russians. The war was far from a surprise; it has been building for months. But the geopolitical foundations of the war have been building since 1992. Russia has been an empire for centuries. The last 15 years or so were not the new reality, but simply an aberration that would be rectified. And now it is being rectified.

 
 
« Last Edit: August 25, 2008, 11:39:46 AM by nestopwar »

nestopwar

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Re: The Russo-Georgian War and the Balance of Power
« Reply #1 on: August 25, 2008, 11:35:46 AM »
The Puppet Masters Behind Georgia President Saakashvili
August 21, 2008

The controversy over the Georgian surprise military attacks on South Ossetia and Abkhazia on 8.8.08 makes a closer look at the controversial Georgian President and his puppet masters important. An examination shows 41 year old Mikhail Saakashvili to be a ruthless and corrupt totalitarian who is tied to not only the US NATO establishment, but also to the Israeli military and intelligence establishment. The famous 'Rose Revolution of November 2003 that forced the ageing Edouard Shevardnadze from power and swept the then 36 year old US university graduate into power was run and financed by the US State Department, the Soros Foundations, and agencies tied to the Pentagon and US intelligence community.

Mihkail Saakashvili was deliberately placed in power in one of the most sophisticated US regime change operations, using ostensibly private NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) to create an atmosphere of popular protest against the existing regime of former Soviet Foreign Minister Edouard Shevardnadze, who was no longer useful to Washington when he began to make a deal with Moscow over energy pipelines and privatizations.

Saakashvili was brought to power in a US-engineered coup run on the ground by US-funded NGO’s, in an application of a new method of US destabilization of regimes it considered hostile to its foreign policy agenda. The November 24 2003 Wall Street Journal explicitly credited the toppling of Shevardnadze's regime to the operations of "a raft of non-governmental organizations . . . supported by American and other Western foundations." These NGOs, said the Journal, had "spawned a class of young, English-speaking intellectuals hungry for pro-Western reforms" who were instrumental laying the groundwork for a bloodless coup.

Coup by NGO

But there is more. The NGOs were coordinated by the US Ambassador to Georgia, Richard Miles, who had just arrived in Tbilisi fresh from success in orchestrating the CIA-backed toppling of Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade, using the same NGOs. Miles, who is believed to be an undercover intelligence specialist, supervised the Saakashvili coup.

It involved US billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Georgia Foundation. It involved the Washington-based Freedom House whose chairman was former CIA chief James Woolsey. It involved generous financing from the US Congress-financed National Endowment for Democracy, an agency created by Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s to "do privately what the CIA used to do," namely coups against regimes the US Government finds unfriendly.

George Soros’ foundations have been forced to leave numerous eastern European countries including Russia as well as China after the 1989 student Tiananmen Square uprising. Soros is also the financier together with the US State Department of the Human Rights Watch, a US-based and run propaganda arm of the entire NGO apparatus of regime coups such as Georgia and Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution. Some analysts believe Soros is a high-level operative of the US State Department or intelligence services using his private foundations as cover.

The US State Department funded the Georgia Liberty Institute headed by Saakashvili, US approved candidate to succeed the no-longer cooperative Shevardnadze. The Liberty Institute in turn created "Kmara!" which translates "Enough!" According to a BBC report at the time, Kmara! Was organized in spring of 2003 when Saakashvili along with hand-picked Georgia student activists were paid by the Soros Foundation to go to Belgrade to learn from the US-financed Otpor activists that toppled Milosevic. They were trained in Gene Sharp’s "non-violence as a method of warfare" by the Belgrade Center for Nonviolent Resistance.

Saakashvili as mafioso President

Once he was in place in January 2004 as Georgia’s new President, Saakashvili proceeded to pack the regime with his cronies and kinsmen. The death of Zurab Zhvania, his prime minister in February, 2005, remains a mystery. The official version—poisoning by faulty gas heater—was adopted by American FBI investigators within two weeks of the killing. That has never seemed credible to those familiar with Georgia’s gangland slayings, crime, and other manifestations of social decay. Zhvania’s death was followed closely by a functionary of the Premier’s apparat, Georgi Khelashvili, who allegedly shot himself the day after his chief’s demise. The head of Zhvania’s research staff was later found dead as well.

Figures allied with Saakashvili reportedly had a hand in the premier’s death. Russian journalist Marina Perevozkina quoted Gia Khurashvili, a Georgian economist. Prior to the fatal incident, Mr. Khurashvili had published an article in Resonans newspaper opposing the privatization and sale of Georgia’s main gas pipeline. Ten days before the prime minister’s body was found, Khurashvili was attacked and his editor-in-chief—citing pressure from 'security service’ figures he refused to name—issued him a warning.

The late premier’s position on the pipeline issue was believed the direct reason for the murder of Zhvania. Zhvania’s brother, Georgi, also told Perevozkina that not long before Zhvania’s death he received a warning that someone was preparing to kill his brother. Saakashvili was reportedly livid when the US State Department invited Zhvania to Washington to win a Freedom Medal from the US Government’s National Democratic Institute. Saakashvili tolerates no rivals for power it seems.

Saakashvili, who cleverly marketed himself as "anti-corruption," appointed several of his family members to lucrative posts in government, giving one of his brothers a position as chief adviser on domestic issues to the Baku-Ceyhan Pipeline project, backed by British Petroleum and other oil multinationals.

Since coming to power in 2004 with US aid, Saakashvili has led a policy of mass-scale arrests, imprisonment, torture and deepened corruption. Saakashvili has presided over the creation of a de facto one-party state, with a dummy opposition occupying a tiny portion of seats in the parliament, and this public servant is building a Ceaucescu-style palace for himself on the outskirts of Tbilisi. According to the magazine, Civil Georgia (Mar. 22, 2004) until 2005, the salaries of Saakashvili and many of his ministers were reportedly paid by the NGO network of New York-based currency speculator Soros—along with the United Nations Development Program.

Israel US military train Georgian military

The current military assault on South Ossetia and Abkhazia, in violation of Saakashvili’s pledge to seek a diplomatic not military solution to the territorial disputes, is backed by US and Israeli military "advisers." Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported that on August 10, Georgian Minister of Reintegration, Temur Yakobshvili, "praised the Israel Defense Forces for its role in training Georgian troops and said Israel should be proud of its military might, in an interview with Army Radio. 'Israel should be proud of its military which trained Georgian soldiers,’ Yakobashvili told Army Radio in Hebrew, referring to a private Israeli group Georgia had hired."

One of the targets of Russian bombs near Tbilisi was, according to IsraelNN.com, "a Georgian military plant in which Israeli experts are upgrading jet fighters for the Georgian military… Russian fighter jets bombed runways inside the plant, located near Tbilisi, where Israeli security firm Elbit is in charge of upgrading Georgian SU-25 jets."

Israeli Foreign Minister and candidate to succeed ousted Israeli Prime Minister, Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, proclaimed on August 10 that "Israel recognizes Georgia’s territorial integrity," code for saying it backs Georgia’s attempt to take South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The reported 1,000 Israeli military advisers in Georgia were not alone. On July 15, the Reuters news wire carried the following report: "VAZIANI, Georgia - One thousand U.S. troops began a military training exercise called "Immediate Response 2008," in Georgia on Tuesday against a backdrop of growing friction between Georgia and neighboring Russia. The two-week exercise was taking place at the Vaziani military base near the capital Tbilisi, which was a Russian air force base until Russian forces withdrew at the start of this decade under a European arms reduction agreement... Georgia has a 2,000-strong contingent supporting the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, and Washington provides training and equipment to the Georgian military. The United States is an ally of Georgia and has irritated Russia by backing Tbilisi’s bid to join the NATO military alliance... "The main purpose of these exercises is to increase the cooperation and partnership between U.S. and Georgian forces," Brig. Gen. William B. Garrett, commander of the U.S. military’s Southern European Task Force, told reporters."

With Russia openly backing and training the indigenous military in South Ossetia and Abkhazia to maintain Russian presence in the region, especially since the US-backed pro-NATO Saakashvili regime took power in 2004, the Caucasus is rapidly coming to resemble Spain in the Civil War from 1936-1939 where the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and others poured money and weapons and volunteers into Spain in a devastating war that was a precursor to the Second World War.

In a curious footnote to the actual launch of military fighting on the opening day of the Olympics when Putin, George W. Bush and many world leaders were in Beijing far away, is a report in IsraelNN.com by Gl Ronen, stating that "The Georgian move against South Ossetia was motivated by political considerations having to do with Israel and Iran, according to Nfc. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili decided to assert control over the breakaway region in order to force Israel to reconsider its decision to cut back its support for Georgia's military."

Ronen added, "Russian and Georgian media reported several days ago that Israel decided to stop its support for Georgia after Moscow made it clear to Jerusalem and Washington that Russia would respond to continued aid for Georgia by selling advanced anti-aircraft systems to Syria and Iran." Israel plans to get oil and gas from the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline from the Caspian.

Although as of this writing Russian President Medvedev has announced Russia is halting its military response against Georgian targets, the situation is anything but stable. The insistence of Washington in bringing Georgia into its geopolitical sphere and backing an unstable regime around Mikhail Saakashvili may well have been the straw which broke the Russian camel’s patience if not his back.

Whether oil pipeline disputes or Russian challenges to Israel are the proximate trigger for Saakashvili’s dangerous game, it is clear that the volatile Georgian and his puppet masters may have entered a game where no one will be able to control the outcome.

¤ ¤ ¤ ¤ ¤

© 2008 F. William Engdahl
 
 

nestopwar

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Re: The Russo-Georgian War and the Balance of Power
« Reply #2 on: September 01, 2008, 11:09:33 PM »
Danger grows of NATO-Russian clash in Black Sea

A build-up of naval forces is underway in the Black Sea, involving both NATO and Russian ships. The provocative actions by the US-lead military coalition create the danger of a clash with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Late last week, General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian military’s general staff, claimed that 10 NATO warships were in the Black Sea and that more were on the way.

“In light of the build-up of NATO naval forces in the Black Sea, the [Russian] fleet has also taken on the task of monitoring their activities,” he said.

The ships include two US warships, ostensibly in the region to deliver humanitarian aid to Georgia. These have since been joined by a third.

In addition, NATO admitted that four of its vessels are on a “pre-planned deployment” in the Black Sea, “conducting port visits with Romanian and Bulgarian forces”.

The “long-planned routine” exercise Active Endeavor—which is said to involve training in anti-terrorist and anti-pirate manoeuvres—comprises one warship each from Spain, Germany and Poland. They were reportedly later joined by a US frigate for a three-week schedule of port visits and exercises.

While denying a build-up, a NATO spokesperson said that other NATO countries may have ships in the sea. “Obviously, there are other NATO-affiliated nations out doing things,” Lt. Col. Web Wright said.

These reports confirm that at least six NATO vessels are in the Black Sea, meaning that Russian warnings that warships from the western alliance now outnumber their own fleet anchored off the western coast of Georgia are not as far off the mark as is claimed.

Russia has charged the US with using aid as a cover for rearming Georgia. “Normally warships do not deliver aid and this is gunboat diplomacy, this does not make the situation more stable,” said Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Cliff Kupchan at the Eurasia Group, a US-based consultancy, was cited as stating, “It is a clever policy to have chosen military-led humanitarian relief.” He went on, “Given this administration’s consistently aggressive approach to protecting American influence, one has to ask how long it will allow Russians to dictate which Georgian port to use.”

On Thursday a US coast guard cutter docked at the Georgian port of Batumi, after the American embassy in Tbilisi had initially stated that it was heading towards the Russian-controlled port of Poti, in line with Georgian requests. According to reports, this statement was later retracted and the Dallas instead unloaded its aid supplies in Batumi.

Last Sunday the US destroyer, USS McFaul, docked at Batumi. The US military says a third ship, USS Mount Whitney, the flagship of the US Sixth Fleet, will arrive in Georgia today.

The New York Times August 28 admitted the US was “pursuing a delicate policy of delivering humanitarian aid on military transport planes and ships, apparently to illustrate to the Russians that they do not fully control Georgia’s airspace or coastline.”

The report continued that this policy “has left American and Russian naval vessels manoeuvring in close proximity off the western coast of Georgia, with the Americans concentrated near the southern port of Batumi and the Russians around the central port of Poti. It has also left the Kremlin deeply suspicious of American motives.”

In a further provocative move by the US, the Dallas is to leave Georgia and visit the Ukranian port of Sevastopol the same day. The port is leased by Russia from Ukraine and is integral to its Black Sea operations. In a display of support for the US, Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko has said that the lease will not be extended beyond 2017 and has signed a decree requiring prior notice of all movements by Russian naval vessels and aircraft from Sevastopol.

Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper cited Nogovitsyn as claiming that the US ships are carrying nuclear missiles that could hit Russian targets as far away as St. Petersburg. The RIA news agency claimed that the NATO ships were carrying more than 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles, with more than 50 onboard the USS McFaul alone that could hit ground targets.

On August 26 Reuters reported that Russia’s flagship cruiser, the Moskva, had re-entered the Black Sea for weapons tests. The assistant to the Russian Navy’s commander-in-chief told Russian news agencies the cruiser had put to sea again two days after returning to its base at the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol.

Russian warships also reportedly arrived in the separatist region of Abkhazia. Russian deputy admiral Sergei Menyailo said they would “support peace and stability”. He said, “Our tasks include the control of Abkhazia’s territorial waters and the prevention of arms shipments.” The leader of the separatist region said he will invite Russia to establish a naval base at Sukhumi, a deep-water port in the territory.

In an interview with CNN on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin took the extraordinary step of accusing the US of instigating the assault by Georgia on South Ossetia.

“The suspicion arises that someone in the United States especially created this conflict to make the situation more tense and create a competitive advantage for one of the candidates fighting for the post of US president,” Putin said, clearly referring to Republican candidate John McCain, whose foreign policy advisor was a lobbyist for Saakashlivi government.

Putin also said he had reason to believe US military personnel were working with Georgian forces that fought Russians, a prospect he described as “very dangerous.”

The White House dismissed Putin’s assertions as preposterous. At the same time, McCain’s wife Cindy was visiting Georgia and US Vice President Dick Cheney planned to arrive this week, where he is expected to pledge American military assistance.

For his part, Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama, has joined the bellicose threats against “Russian aggression” and said, if elected, his administration would be committed to protecting Georgia.

The Los Angeles Times ran an article under the headline, “Why Was Cheney’s Guy in Georgia Just Before the War?” on August 26. The piece named Joseph R. Wood, Cheney’s deputy assistant for national security affairs. It asked, “What was a top national security aide to Vice President Dick Cheney doing in Georgia shortly before Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s troops engaged in what became a disastrous fight with South Ossetian rebels—and then Russian troops?”

Nogovitsyn has charged that a US national was amongst the Georgian commando units who invaded South Ossetia. He produced a colour photocopy of a US passport belonging to Michael Lee White from Texas, born in 1967. He told a press conference, “There is a building in Zemonekozi—a settlement to the south of Tskhinvali that was fiercely defended by a Georgian special operations squad. Upon clearing the building, Russian peacekeepers recovered, among other documents, an American passport in the name of Michael Lee White of Texas.”

There is a growing body of evidence and commentary regarding the US role in building up Georgia’s military, with the aim of provoking a conflict with Russia. Writing in the New Statesman August 14 Misha Glenny noted how the US and Israel had worked to arm Georgia, so that “Saakashvili and the hawks around him came to believe the farcical proposition that Georgia’s armed forces could take on the military might of their northern neighbour in a conventional fight and win.”

Glenny noted that the Georgian minister for reintegration of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Temur Yakobashvili, had praised Israel for its military assistance. Following the assault on South Ossetia, Glenny stated, Yakobashvili had said “Israel should be proud of its military, which trained Georgian soldiers.” Thanks to its assistance, “We killed 60 Russian soldiers yesterday alone,” he said. “The Russians have lost more than 50 tanks, and we have shot down 11 of their planes. They have sustained enormous damage in terms of manpower.”

It is known that the US and Georgia held joint war games between July 15-31, codenamed Operation Immediate Response, which involved 1,000 US servicemen. One week later, on August 7, Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia.

As to the immediate future, the Times of London reported, “US military planners are now openly considering how to rearm Georgia’s forces” and cited a Pentagon spokesman as stating, “Down the road we will be looking at what may be required to rebuild the Georgian military... right now the mission of the United States military is to provide humanitarian assistance.”

The Times quoted the former British ambassador to Georgia Donald McLaren stating that NATO might have to send troops to the region. If Moscow rejected such a proposal, he said, NATO had only two choices: “To give up and surrender and say to the Russians, ‘It’s your backyard, you’ve won’, or to put men on the ground to protect Georgia’s sovereignty and the east-west oil and gas pipeline from the Caspian and Central Asia.”

McLaren wrote earlier in the Daily Mail that “Georgia is a part of Europe. It is our gateway to Central Asia and, with Russia and Turkey as neighbours and Iraq and Iran not far to the south, its location alone makes it of strategic significance.

“It is a friend and partner in one of the most highly-pressurised parts of the world. Georgia is a vital conduit for energy supplies from the Caspian to its East and the potential of the Central Asian suppliers beyond.

“There are few issues more immediate than energy security and Georgia’s fragile oil pipeline offers us one alternative to dependence on Russia.”

The US offensive against Russia is destabilising the entire region and inexorably drawing the European powers in its wake.

Asia Times reported, “The US-backed Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline passes through Georgian territory and letting Russia dictate events in Georgia has a definite implication in terms of energy security, given the fierce pipeline geopolitics in the Eurasian landmass, Europe’s heavy energy dependency on Russia and Moscow’s willingness to rely on the energy card for security bargaining with Europe.

“This alone may explain why the European Union, which has been divided over a response to the Georgian crisis, has largely consented to the US’s muscular reaction. The issue has now turned into a defining moment of the post-Cold War era because of its broader implications.”

Both Germany and France have signalled they have retreated from their earlier opposition to Georgian membership of the European Union. EU and Ukranian leaders are to meet in France on September 9 and sign as association on closer relations. Although this does not spell out whether Ukraine will get EU accession, a recent report by the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank argues that the EU cannot afford any more delays in defining and deepening its ties with Ukraine.

Tensions between Russia and Georgia continue to worsen. As Tbilisi announced Friday that it would sever diplomatic ties with Moscow, officials in South Ossetia stated they would seek absorption into Russia.

As well as pitting Georgia and the Ukraine against Russia, the US has embroiled Turkey in a bitter row with Moscow.

Russia argues that the NATO presence in the Black Sea violates the 1936 Montreux Convention, which limits the time non-coastal countries can sail military vessels on the sea to three weeks.

Under the treaty, Turkey—which controls the straits of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles—must be notified 15 days before military ships sail into the sea. These can not remain in the area for longer than 21 days. But Turkey only announced its approval of the US passage on August 20. Russia has warned that Turkey will be held responsible if the US ships do not leave when they are supposed to do so.