Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Forcing It

In EDM, defence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer considers that Moscow is so desperate for regime change in Tbilisi that it will resort to almost any measures in order to achieve this:

After 9/11 Putin declared himself an ally of the United States and the West in the “War on Terror.” In return, the Kremlin had expected that the post-Soviet space encompassing the Commonwealth of Independent States would be recognized as its undisputed sphere of influence, where Russia could do anything it wishes without any “third party” interfering. The West has never formally or informally recognized such a “sphere” and the Kremlin, together with the Russian military/security/foreign policy elite, has interpreted this as a clear sign of ill intent.

The mirage of a new Russian-led union to replace the old Soviet one has obsessed the Kremlin since the collapse of the USSR in 1991. The ruling elite in Moscow today is split between those who want to recreate the Soviet Union per se and “reformers” who want a new, remodeled Soviet Union (or “Imperial Russia”) with a thriving market economy and a newly armed, professional military imposing itself on its neighbors. As Putin told the country in August 2000, after the sinking of the Kursk nuclear submarine, “We will overcome it all and restore it all, the military and the navy and the state” (RTR TV, AP, August 24, 2000).

Today the Kremlin seems to feel itself strong enough, thanks to billions of petro-dollars, to enforce its sovereignty on former Soviet republics. Georgia, a small, impoverished country, riddled with separatist problems, may seem to be a good showcase to install a pro-Moscow regime and at the same time kick out the United States, the West, and NATO.

Moscow’s blockade of Georgia will continue and may get worse. Russian officials have threatened to begin mass repatriation of Georgians living in Russia. Hopes have been expressed that the thousands of refugees ethnically cleansed from Russia will, when arriving in Tbilisi, be “more well-disposed toward Moscow” and will overthrow Saakashvili (Strana.ru, October 3).

If the noose of sanctions and pressure fails to achieve regime change, direct military action is possible. The first sortie could be by proxy, using armed separatists supported by “North Caucasian volunteers.” If the proxy forces fail, the regular Russian military could become involved.

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