Georgia and Russia Nearing All-Out War
By Anne Barnard
August 9, 2008
The conflict between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia moved toward all-out war on Saturday as Russia prepared to land ground troops on Georgia’s coast and broadened its bombing campaign both within Georgia and in the disputed territory of Abkhazia.
The fighting that began when Georgian forces tried to retake the capital of South Ossetia, a pro-Russian region that won de facto autonomy from Georgia in the early 1990s, appeared to be developing into the worst clashes between Russia and a foreign military since the 1980s war in Afghanistan.
Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, declared that Georgia was in a state of war, ordering government offices to work around the clock, and said that Russia was planning a full-scale invasion of his country.
Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, eclipsing the authority of President Dmitri A. Medvedev, left the Olympics in China and arrived Saturday evening in Vladikavkaz, a city in southern Russia just over the border that is a military staging area. State-controlled news broadcasts showed Mr. Putin meeting generals, suggesting that he was in charge of the operations on Georgian soil.
Mr. Putin made clear that Russia now viewed Georgian claims over the breakaway regions within its borders to be invalid, and that Russia had no intention of withdrawing. “There is almost no way we can imagine a return to the status quo,” he said, according to Interfax.
Russian armored vehicles continued to stream into South Ossetia, and Russian officials said that 1,500 civilians had been killed in South Ossetia and that 12 Russian soldiers had died.
A Georgian government spokesman said that 60 civilians had been killed in airstrikes on the city of Gori. Each side’s figures were impossible to confirm independently.
Attending the Olympic Games in Beijing, President Bush directly called on Russia on Saturday to stop bombing Georgian territory, expressing strong support for Georgia in a direct challenge to Russia’s leaders.
“Georgia is a sovereign nation, and its territorial integrity must be respected,” Mr. Bush said in a hastily arranged appearance at his hotel in Beijing. “We have urged an immediate halt to the violence and a stand-down by all troops. We call for the end of the Russian bombings.”
A Lesson on U.S. Need for Russia
By Helene Cooper
August 9, 2008
What did Mr. Putin do? First, he repudiated President Nicolas Sarkozy of France in Beijing, refusing to budge when Mr. Sarkozy tried to dissuade Russia from its military operation. “It was a very, very tough meeting,” a senior Western official said afterward. “Putin was saying, ‘We are going to make them pay. We are going to make justice.’ ”
Then, Mr. Putin flew from Beijing to a region that borders South Ossetia, arriving after an announcement that Georgia was pulling its troops out of the capital of the breakaway region. He appeared ostensibly to coordinate assistance to refugees who had fled South Ossetia into Russia, but the Russian message was clear: This is our sphere of influence; others stay out.
“What the Russians just did is, for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, they have taken a decisive military action and imposed a military reality,” said George Friedman, chief executive of Stratfor, a geopolitical analysis and intelligence company. “They’ve done it unilaterally, and all of the countries that have been looking to the West to intimidate the Russians are now forced into a position to consider what just happened.”
Taunting the Bear
By James Traub
August 9, 2008
NYT – Week In Review (4000 words)
It was, of course, at this very moment that another ambitious young figure was reshaping Russia’s politics, economy and self-image. The combination of Vladimir Putin’s reforms and the dizzying rise in the price of oil and gas have rapidly restored Russia to the status of world power. And Mr. Putin has harnessed that power in the service of aggressive nationalism.
Marshall Goldman, a leading Russia scholar, argues in a recent book that Mr. Putin has established a “petrostate,” in which oil and gas are strategically deployed as punishments, rewards and threats. The author details the lengths to which Mr. Putin has gone to retain control over the delivery of natural gas from Central Asia to the West. A proposed alternative pipeline would skirt Russia and run through Georgia, as an oil pipeline now does. “If Georgia collapses in turmoil,” Mr. Goldman notes, “investors will not put up the money for a bypass pipeline.” And so, he concludes, Mr. Putin has done his best to destabilize the Saakashvili regime.