Putin's Winning Hand
by Mike Whitney
August 16, 2008
There are no military installations in
the city of Tskhinvali. In fact, there are no military targets
at all. It is an industrial center consisting of lumber mills,
manufacturing plants and residential areas. It is also the home
to 30,000 South Ossetians. When Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili
ordered the city to be bombed by warplanes and shelled by heavy
artillery last Thursday, he knew that he would be killing hundreds
of civilians in their homes and neighborhoods. But he ordered
the bombing anyway.
There was no "Battle of Tskhinvali"; that's another
fiction. A battle implies that there is an opposing force that
is resisting or fighting back. That's not the case here. The Georgian
army entered the city unopposed; after all, how can unarmed civilians
stop armed units. Most of the townspeople had already fled across
the border into Russia or hid in their basements while the tanks
and armored vehicles rumbled bye firing at anything that moved.
What took place in South Ossetia last
Thursday, was not an invasion or a siege; it was a massacre. The
people had no way to defend themselves against a fully-equiped
modern army. It was a war crime.
In less than 24 hours, the Russian army
was deployed to the war zone where it chased the Georgian army
away without a fight. Journalist Michael Binyon put it like this,
"The attack was short, sharp and deadly-enough to send the
Georgians fleeing in humiliating panic." Indeed, the Georgians
left in such haste that many of their weapons were left behind.
It was a complete rout; another black-eye for the US and Israeli
advisers who trained the clatter of thugs they call the Georgian
army. Soon vendors on the streets of Tskhinvali will be hawking
weapons that were left behind with a mocking sign: "Georgia
Army M-16; Never used, dropped once."
By the time the army was driven out, the
downtown area was in engulfed in flames and the bodies of those
who had been killed by sniper-fire were strewn along the streets
and sidewalks. Many of people who stayed behind were simply too
old or infirm to leave. Instead, they huddled in their basements
waiting for the shelling to stop. It was a bloodbath. The city's
only hospital was deliberately targeted and destroyed; another
war crime. By day's end, over 2,000 people were killed in an operation
that was clearly engineered with the assistance of the Bush White
House. Bush regards Saakashvilli as his main client in the region;
they are friends. He is America's cat's paw in the Caucasus.
Saakashvilli's assignment is to try to
get Putin to overreact militarily and demonstrate to European
allies that Russia still poses a threat to their national security.
Fortunately, many Europeans see through the ruse and know that
the trouble originates in Washington.
For the most part, Americans are still
in the dark about what really happened last weekend. There's a
great video circulating on the Internet by a Russian citizen that
has been living in USA for the last 10 years. He sums up the role
of the US media with great precision. He says, "The western
media-especially CNN-is feeding you complete horseshit. Russia
did not invade Georgia first." The youtube can be seen here:
The coverage of the western media has
been abysmal. Nearly every article and TV news segment begins
with accusations of Russian aggression concealing the fact that
the Georgian Army bombarded and invaded the capital of South Ossetia
one full day before the first Russian even tank crossed the border.
By the time the Russians arrived, the city was already in a shambles
and thousands were dead.
These facts are not in dispute by those
who followed the developments as they took place. Now the media
is revising the facts to manage public perceptions, just as they
did with the fictional WMD in Iraq. Many people think that the
media learned its lesson after they were exposed for using bogus
information in the lead up to the war in Iraq. But that is not
true. The corporate media-especially FOX News, CNN and PBS (the
smug, liberal-sounding channel)-continue to operate like the propaganda
arm of the Pentagon. Its disgraceful.
In a 2006 referendum, 99% of South Ossetians
said they supported independence from Georgia. The voter turnout
was 95% and the balloting was monitored by 34 international observers
from the west. No one has challenged the results. The province
has been under the protection of Russian and Georgian peacekeepers
since 1992 and has been a de facto independent state ever since.
If Putin applied the same standard as Bush did in Kosovo, he would
unilaterally declare South Ossetia independent from Georgia and
then thumb his nose at the UN. (Sauce for the goose, is sauce
for the gander) But Putin and newly-elected Russian President
Dmitry Medvedev have taken a conciliatory attitude towards the
international community and tried to resolve the issue through
diplomatic channels. So far, they have conducted themselves with
restraint and avoided any confrontation.
Still, Russia's operation in South Ossetia has ignited a firestorm
in the US political establishment and Democrats and Republicans
alike are demanding that Russia be "taught a lesson".
Condoleeza Rice flew to Tbilisi on Friday and ordered Russian
combat troops to withdraw from Georgia immediately. Saakashvili
topped off Rice's comments by saying that the Russian troops were
"cold-blooded killers" and "barbarians". So
much for reconciliation.
Saakashvili's hyperbolic rhetoric was
followed by a surprise announcement from Poland that they had
approved Bush's plans for deploying the Missile Defense Shield
in Eastern Europe. The system is supposed to defend Europe from
the possibility of attacks from so-called "rogue states"
like Iran, but the Kremlin knows that it is intended to neutralize
their nuclear arsenal. Political analyst William Engdahl explains
the importance of the proposed system in his recent article, "Missile
Defense: Washington & Poland just moved the World closer to
"The signing now insures an escalation
of tensions between Russia and NATO and a new Cold War arms race
in full force. It is important for readers to understandthe ability
of one of two opposing sides to put anti-missile missiles to within
90 miles of the territory of the other in even a primitive first-generation
anti-missile missile array gives that side virtual victory in
a nuclear balance of power and forces the other to consider unconditional
surrender or to pre-emptively react by launching its nuclear strike
The new "shield" will be integrated
into the larger US nuclear weapons system placing the world's
most lethal weapons just a few hundred miles from Russia's capital.
It is a clear threat to Russia's national security and it must
be opposed at all cost. It is no different than nuclear weapons
in Cuba. The timing of the announcement is particularly troubling
as it only adds to the tensions between the two superpowers.
President Medvedev made this statement
after hearing of Poland's decision: "This decision clearly
demonstrates everything we have said recently. The deployment
of new anti-missile forces in Europe is aimed at the Russian Federation."
It was President Ronald Reagan, the darling
of the neoconservatives, who decided to remove short-range nuclear
weapons from the European theater. Now, ironically, it is his
ideological heir, George W. Bush, who is on track to restart the
Cold War by putting a high-tech nuclear system on Russia's perimeter.
The younger Bush has already broken his father's commitment to
Mikail Gorbachev to never expand NATO beyond Germany. Presently,
Bush is pushing to gain NATO membership for two former-Soviet
states; Ukraine and Georgia. If they are approved, then any future
dispute with Russia will pit the United States and Europe against
Moscow. It's no wonder Putin is trying to derail the process.
The Bush administration has been planning
for a confrontation with Russia for more than a year. In fact,
Raw Story reported on operations that were conducted by the military
on July 14, 2008 which were probably a dress rehearsal for the
current conflict. According to Raw Story:
"US troops on Monday (July 14) began
military exercises near the Russian border in ex-Soviet Ukraine
and were poised to launch them in Georgia, amid tense relations
between Moscow and Washington. A ceremony inaugurating the Sea
Breeze-2008 NATO exercise was held off Ukraine's Black Sea coast
against anti-NATO protests and a hostile reaction from officials
in Russia. Sea Breeze-2008includes forces from Armenia, Azerbaijan,
Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece,
Latvia, Macedonia and Turkey'The US-Georgia joint exercises will
be held at the Vaziani military base' less than 100 kilometers
(60 miles) from the Russian border with a total of 1,650 servicemen
So, it appears the Bush administration,
working in conjunction with the Pentagon, did have contingency
plans for dealing with a flare-up with Georgia. The real question
is whether or not they planned to initiate those hostilities to
advance their own regional agenda? No one knows for sure.
Now that Georgia's American-trained army has been humiliated in
front of the world, Bush is trying desperately to save face by
demanding that Russia allow the US Air force to deliver humanitarian
aid via C-17 military aircraft to the tens of thousands of Georgians
who were displaced in the fighting. It is worth noting that, as
yet, Bush has never delivered as much as a bag of rice to the
2 million Iraqi refugees living in Jordan and Syria due to his
war in Iraq. Bush's magnanimity is not only suspect, it also creates
real problems for Putin who will have to decide whether the offer
is sincere or just a ploy to open up the ports and airfields so
that more weaponry and ordnance can be delivered. As Barry Grey
suggests in his article "Bush Dispatches US Military forces
to Georgia" the humanitarian operation could be a scam:
"This is a formula for an injection
of US military and naval forces into Georgia of indeterminate
scope and duration. It will certainly involve the presence of
hundreds if not thousands of uniformed US military personnel on
the ground, and a substantial number of warships in the region.
The US is introducing this military force into a situation that
remains highly unstable and combustible, raising the possibility
of a direct military clash between the United States and Russia."
Grey is right, but what choice does Putin
have? His task is to avoid a military confrontation with the United
States while demonstrating to his Europeon partners that their
future lies with Russia not America. That's the real goal. To
achieve that, he needs to expose Bush as reckless, petulant, and
incapable of being a responsible steward of the global system.
Maybe Putin will have to back-down at some point and swallow his
pride; it makes no difference. What matters, is the endgame; showing
that Russia is strong and dependable and will provide its European
allies with oil and natural gas in a businesslike manner. That's
the winning hand. Meanwhile, the United States will be forced
to take a long-overdue look in the mirror and revisit its strategy
for perennial war. Unfortunately, once the Atlantic Alliance is
shattered; America's lifeline to the world is kaput.