Notes From Hairenik
August 10, 2008
Georgia has finally managed to irritate its former boss up north to such a degree of intolerability that Russia has made a move. The issue is about South Ossetia, which declared independence from Georgia in the early 1990s shortly after the Soviet Union broke apart and has managed to maintain autonomy since then. Nevertheless, President Mikheil Saakashvili, who has misguided, egotistic perspectives about his country’s fate in the Caucasus region, namely to rapidly Westernize Georgia while aspiring to join NATO and antagonize Russia as much as possible in the process, decided to stir up tension in South Ossetia earlier in the week and finally launched a military operation there Friday morning, with 15 reported dead. Many South Ossetians are Russian citizens, so Russia felt that it had no other choice but to send in its own troops to protect them. As of this writing, there are an estimated 2000 people reported dead, mainly civilians, according to the Interfax news service.

Russian jet fighters have started hitting targets within Georgia, including an airport outside of the capital of Tbilisi. Three other airports have also been hit across Georgia. Purportedly one of the oil pipelines running through the country has been damaged. Nevertheless Russia insists it is there on a peacekeeping mission. Now it is threatening a naval blockade of the Georgian port city on the Black Sea, Poti. Meanwhile, the Georgian parliament hastily declared a state of war, but wisely stopped short of declaring war with Russia.

Saakashvili’s dangerous games shrouded in reiterations of the hot-button terms “democracy” and “freedom” as pretexts for his actions are going to devastate the socioeconomic situation of Georgia in a matter of days, and Armenia will start feeling the impact well before the end of next week unless he gets on the phone with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and begs for an immediate, unconditional ceasefire. He chose to rant and rave for 10 minutes on CNN World News Saturday evening, complaining that Russia was “irresponsible,” “sadistic,” and was committing “war crimes.” His cantankerous tune better change fast since he was the one who started this fiasco, and news outlets have been saying as much.

Armenia relies on Poti as a trade outlet. If all import/export operations at that port stop indefinitely it will mean that business in Armenia will be hard-hit. There were problems there last year as I remember but the issue was resolved thankfully before this country began to suffer a prolonged negative impact. A Russian naval blockade would be daunting. Furthermore, Georgia offers a bustling transit route between Armenia and Turkey. The cheap Turkish crap as well as I am sure many other goods originating in Europe which is readily available in Armenian stores and markets is trucked in across the Georgian border. If Georgia continues to destabilize the region with its eye-poking nonsense Armenia’s trade with the outside world could very feasibly be severely crippled (unless of course Turkey opens a portion of its border to continue its multi-million dollar commerce with Armenia, which is unlikely even though Turkish businessmen are doing very well thanks to Armenian consumers). The conflict in the region of Abkhazia, which has also declared independence from Georgia and whose allegiances are with Russia, may also explode—that region’s troops have beefed up their presence along the border with Georgia proper. I don’t want to contemplate what else could happen in this region, although some thoughts have already come to mind.

Bottom line—President Saakashvili has to stop this insanity. He has been saying since shortly after taking office that he would win back Georgian control of those territories which both have Russian support. But he cannot beat The Bear, he cannot taunt him by throwing stones and certainly cannot afford to make him the slightest bit upset. The tension during the last 36 hours is certainly proof of that. The South Caucasus does not need any more unrest, whether active or dormant.

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