The bear that invaded Georgia isn’t the same bear that we faced during the Cold War. It’s much older and shaggier bear, a bear that Catherine the Great would recognize. This bear doesn’t follow orders from the Kremlin like the Cold War Red Bear. A couple of calls on the Red Phone or over coffee in Georgetown, and nuclear submarines or border guards would respond immediately. Both Kremlin and White House knew that in a few minutes, both could be incinerated under nuclear mushrooms.
What makes this different is the use of irregulars from outside Georgia. In the Cold War, irregulars would have been taken from disaffected elements inside Georgia as was done when the Red Army conquered the Caucasus during the Russian Civil war. This time, a call went out for the Tsar’s favorite irregulars, the Cossacks. This time, even the Chechens were invited as well as the familiar thuggery of Serbian irregulars used in ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.
The open invitation for Cossack participation in the “return” of the Caucasus to Russian hegemony is a significant signal of the Kremlin’s interest in restoring the historic connection between Russian ambition and the Cossack Hosts that served well in the original conquests between the Ukraine and the Caspian region. Under the Romanov’s the Cossacks formed special units for internal security and personal protection of the Tsar.
During the Russian Civil War, the Cossacks fought on both sides, with a majority favoring the White forces. At the end of the war, the Cossacks were persecuted savagely by Stalin in what were called Decossackization, a classic Soviet style genocide of death and deportation. During WW 2, many of the surviving Cossacks joined the Germans in revenge, and others joined the Russians to regain some post war benefits. After the war, thousands of Cossack POW’s were returned to the Soviets in accordance with an Allied-Soviet agreement where they were promptly executed.
The Kremlin’s best interests lie in controlling the delivery of oil from the Caspian Sea basin, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, control they lost to enterprising oilmen from the West returning to the birthplace of global oil, and the newly unchained people of those lands who wish to benefit from their own oil. The Kremlin’s objective is to force the delivery of that oil through Russian pipelines. The actual destruction of a key railroad bridge that controls the delivery of oil by rail cuts the Georgians out of the fuel delivery business, at least for now.
But the control of pipelines does not need ethnic cleansing, terror tactics, or direct confrontation with the West. The addition of Balkan, Chechen and Cossack tactics is a terror tactic, and terror tactics often backfire. Britain did not fold in the face of the Blitz, nor did Hanoi fold in the face of massive B-52 strikes, nor did Hitler fold in the face of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, nor of the Red Army at the gates. Pearl Harbor was intended to scare the US to negotiate a peace with Japan, which was done …, in Tokyo Bay.
That Georgia bit off more than it could chew is clear, but whether the bite was induced by desperation, deception or delusion, is of less importance than maintaining an open global market for oil. This time, diplomacy with the Kremlin may not work as well as in the old days, as it appears that the Kremlin doesn’t have the control of the military establishment which has been expanded by the use of independently minded Cossack, Chechen, and other factions in the fractious Caucasus region.
Georgia needs to be rearmed, reinforced, and admitted to NATO posthaste and forthwith. Nothing less than a Western military presence will do, be it NATO and/or US. The Soviet’s Kremlin could be dealt with given harsh alternatives, but this Kremlin doesn’t have the same control and, as a result, is relying on the unreliable, unpredictable, and irrepressible in a strife addicted mountainous region. And mountain people are notorious for contention and conflict. Even ours.