by Felix Quigley
August 17, 2008
This is the report from Stratfor
The Russian Georgian War and the Balance of Power
By George Friedman
The Russian invasion of Georgia has not changed the balance of power in Eurasia. It simply announced that the balance of power had already shifted. The United States has been absorbed in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as potential conflict with Iran and a destabilizing situation in Pakistan. It has no strategic ground forces in reserve and is in no position to intervene on the Russian periphery. This, as we have argued, has opened a window of opportunity for the Russians to reassert their influence in the former Soviet sphere. Moscow did not have to concern itself with the potential response of the United States or Europe; hence, the invasion did not shift the balance of power. The balance of power had already shifted, and it was up to the Russians when to make this public. They did that Aug. 8.
Let’s begin simply by reviewing the last few days.
On the night of Thursday, Aug. 7, forces of the Republic of Georgia drove across the border of South Ossetia, a secessionist region of Georgia that has functioned as an independent entity since the fall of the Soviet Union. The forces drove on to the capital, Tskhinvali, which is close to the border. Georgian forces got bogged down while trying to take the city. In spite of heavy fighting, they never fully secured the city, nor the rest of South Ossetia.
On the morning of Aug. 8, Russian forces entered South Ossetia, using armored and motorized infantry forces along with air power. South Ossetia was informally aligned with Russia, and Russia acted to prevent the region’s absorption by Georgia. Given the speed with which the Russians responded — within hours of the Georgian attack — the Russians were expecting the Georgian attack and were themselves at their jumping-off points. The counterattack was carefully planned and competently executed, and over the next 48 hours, the Russians succeeded in defeating the main Georgian force and forcing a retreat. By Sunday, Aug. 10, the Russians had consolidated their position in South Ossetia.
On Monday, the Russians extended their offensive into Georgia proper, attacking on two axes. One was south from South Ossetia to the Georgian city of Gori. The other drive was from Abkhazia, another secessionist region of Georgia aligned with the Russians. This drive was designed to cut the road between the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and its ports. By this point, the Russians had bombed the military airfields at Marneuli and Vaziani and appeared to have disabled radars at the international airport in Tbilisi. These moves brought Russian forces to within 40 miles of the Georgian capital, while making outside reinforcement and resupply of Georgian forces extremely difficult should anyone wish to undertake it.
The Mystery Behind the Georgian Invasion
In this simple chronicle, there is something quite mysterious: Why did the Georgians choose to invade South Ossetia on Thursday night? There had been a great deal of shelling by the South Ossetians of Georgian villages for the previous three nights, but while possibly more intense than usual, artillery exchanges were routine. The Georgians might not have fought well, but they committed fairly substantial forces that must have taken at the very least several days to deploy and supply. Georgia’s move was deliberate.
The United States is Georgia’s closest ally. It maintained about 130 military advisers in Georgia, along with civilian advisers, contractors involved in all aspects of the Georgian government and people doing business in Georgia. It is inconceivable that the Americans were unaware of Georgia’s mobilization and intentions. It is also inconceivable that the Americans were unaware that the Russians had deployed substantial forces on the South Ossetian frontier. U.S. technical intelligence, from satellite imagery and signals intelligence to unmanned aerial vehicles, could not miss the fact that thousands of Russian troops were moving to forward positions. The Russians clearly knew the Georgians were ready to move. How could the United States not be aware of the Russians? Indeed, given the posture of Russian troops, how could intelligence analysts have missed the possibility that the Russians had laid a trap, hoping for a Georgian invasion to justify its own counterattack?
It is very difficult to imagine that the Georgians launched their attack against U.S. wishes. The Georgians rely on the United States, and they were in no position to defy it. This leaves two possibilities. The first is a massive breakdown in intelligence, in which the United States either was unaware of the existence of Russian forces, or knew of the Russian forces but — along with the Georgians — miscalculated Russia’s intentions. The second is that the United States, along with other countries, has viewed Russia through the prism of the 1990s, when the Russian military was in shambles and the Russian government was paralyzed. The United States has not seen Russia make a decisive military move beyond its borders since the Afghan war of the 1970s-1980s. The Russians had systematically avoided such moves for years. The United States had assumed that the Russians would not risk the consequences of an invasion.
If this was the case, then it points to the central reality of this situation: The Russians had changed dramatically, along with the balance of power in the region. They welcomed the opportunity to drive home the new reality, which was that they could invade Georgia and the United States and Europe could not respond. As for risk, they did not view the invasion as risky. Militarily, there was no counter. Economically, Russia is an energy exporter doing quite well — indeed, the Europeans need Russian energy even more than the Russians need to sell it to them. Politically, as we shall see, the Americans needed the Russians more than the Russians needed the Americans. Moscow’s calculus was that this was the moment to strike. The Russians had been building up to it for months, as we have discussed, and they struck.
The Western Encirclement of Russia
To understand Russian thinking, we need to look at two events. The first is the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. From the U.S. and European point of view, the Orange Revolution represented a triumph of democracy and Western influence. From the Russian point of view, as Moscow made clear, the Orange Revolution was a CIA-funded intrusion into the internal affairs of Ukraine, designed to draw Ukraine into NATO and add to the encirclement of Russia. U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton had promised the Russians that NATO would not expand into the former Soviet Union empire.
That promise had already been broken in 1998 by NATO’s expansion to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic — and again in the 2004 expansion, which absorbed not only the rest of the former Soviet satellites in what is now Central Europe, but also the three Baltic states, which had been components of the Soviet Union.
The Russians had tolerated all that, but the discussion of including Ukraine in NATO represented a fundamental threat to Russia’s national security. It would have rendered Russia indefensible and threatened to destabilize the Russian Federation itself. When the United States went so far as to suggest that Georgia be included as well, bringing NATO deeper into the Caucasus, the Russian conclusion — publicly stated — was that the United States in particular intended to encircle and break Russia.
The second and lesser event was the decision by Europe and the United States to back Kosovo’s separation from Serbia. The Russians were friendly with Serbia, but the deeper issue for Russia was this: The principle of Europe since World War II was that, to prevent conflict, national borders would not be changed. If that principle were violated in Kosovo, other border shifts — including demands by various regions for independence from Russia — might follow. The Russians publicly and privately asked that Kosovo not be given formal independence, but instead continue its informal autonomy, which was the same thing in practical terms. Russia’s requests were ignored.
From the Ukrainian experience, the Russians became convinced that the United States was engaged in a plan of strategic encirclement and strangulation of Russia. From the Kosovo experience, they concluded that the United States and Europe were not prepared to consider Russian wishes even in fairly minor affairs. That was the breaking point. If Russian desires could not be accommodated even in a minor matter like this, then clearly Russia and the West were in conflict. For the Russians, as we said, the question was how to respond. Having declined to respond in Kosovo, the Russians decided to respond where they had all the cards: in South Ossetia.
Moscow had two motives, the lesser of which was as a tit-for-tat over Kosovo. If Kosovo could be declared independent under Western sponsorship, then South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two breakaway regions of Georgia, could be declared independent under Russian sponsorship. Any objections from the United States and Europe would simply confirm their hypocrisy. This was important for internal Russian political reasons, but the second motive was far more important.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin once said that the fall of the Soviet Union was a geopolitical disaster. This didn’t mean that he wanted to retain the Soviet state; rather, it meant that the disintegration of the Soviet Union had created a situation in which Russian national security was threatened by Western interests. As an example, consider that during the Cold War, St. Petersburg was about 1,200 miles away from a NATO country. Today it is about 60 miles away from Estonia, a NATO member. The disintegration of the Soviet Union had left Russia surrounded by a group of countries hostile to Russian interests in various degrees and heavily influenced by the United States, Europe and, in some cases, China.
Resurrecting the Russian Sphere
Putin did not want to re-establish the Soviet Union, but he did want to re-establish the Russian sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union region. To accomplish that, he had to do two things. First, he had to re-establish the credibility of the Russian army as a fighting force, at least in the context of its region. Second, he had to establish that Western guarantees, including NATO membership, meant nothing in the face of Russian power. He did not want to confront NATO directly, but he did want to confront and defeat a power that was closely aligned with the United States, had U.S. support, aid and advisers and was widely seen as being under American protection. Georgia was the perfect choice.
By invading Georgia as Russia did (competently if not brilliantly), Putin re-established the credibility of the Russian army. But far more importantly, by doing this Putin revealed an open secret: While the United States is tied down in the Middle East, American guarantees have no value. This lesson is not for American consumption. It is something that, from the Russian point of view, the Ukrainians, the Balts and the Central Asians need to digest. Indeed, it is a lesson Putin wants to transmit to Poland and the Czech Republic as well. The United States wants to place ballistic missile defense installations in those countries, and the Russians want them to understand that allowing this to happen increases their risk, not their security.
The Russians knew the United States would denounce their attack. This actually plays into Russian hands. The more vocal senior leaders are, the greater the contrast with their inaction, and the Russians wanted to drive home the idea that American guarantees are empty talk.
The Russians also know something else that is of vital importance: For the United States, the Middle East is far more important than the Caucasus, and Iran is particularly important. The United States wants the Russians to participate in sanctions against Iran. Even more importantly, they do not want the Russians to sell weapons to Iran, particularly the highly effective S-300 air defense system. Georgia is a marginal issue to the United States; Iran is a central issue. The Russians are in a position to pose serious problems for the United States not only in Iran, but also with weapons sales to other countries, like Syria.
Therefore, the United States has a problem — it either must reorient its strategy away from the Middle East and toward the Caucasus, or it has to seriously limit its response to Georgia to avoid a Russian counter in Iran. Even if the United States had an appetite for another war in Georgia at this time, it would have to calculate the Russian response in Iran — and possibly in Afghanistan (even though Moscow’s interests there are currently aligned with those of Washington).
In other words, the Russians have backed the Americans into a corner. The Europeans, who for the most part lack expeditionary militaries and are dependent upon Russian energy exports, have even fewer options. If nothing else happens, the Russians will have demonstrated that they have resumed their role as a regional power. Russia is not a global power by any means, but a significant regional power with lots of nuclear weapons and an economy that isn’t all too shabby at the moment. It has also compelled every state on the Russian periphery to re-evaluate its position relative to Moscow. As for Georgia, the Russians appear ready to demand the resignation of President Mikhail Saakashvili. Militarily, that is their option. That is all they wanted to demonstrate, and they have demonstrated it.
The war in Georgia, therefore, is Russia’s public return to great power status. This is not something that just happened — it has been unfolding ever since Putin took power, and with growing intensity in the past five years. Part of it has to do with the increase of Russian power, but a great deal of it has to do with the fact that the Middle Eastern wars have left the United States off-balance and short on resources. As we have written, this conflict created a window of opportunity. The Russian goal is to use that window to assert a new reality throughout the region while the Americans are tied down elsewhere and dependent on the Russians. The war was far from a surprise; it has been building for months. But the geopolitical foundations of the war have been building since 1992. Russia has been an empire for centuries. The last 15 years or so were not the new reality, but simply an aberration that would be rectified. And now it is being rectified.
Comments on the above
The Stratfor Report above is both useful and deficient at the same time. Let me explain
USEFUL…The Report explains well the extreme perfidy of the US and British Governments and what has become known as NATO, this strange concoction put together to defeat Russia and now used as a battering ram in every part of the globe. Other extremely important points as well. The maps which I have not included are particularly vital (please do see the original on http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/russo_georgian_war_and_balance_power)
DEFICIENT…The Stratfor Report is written from a purely bourgeois point of view. But we need to look at this Georgia event and situation from a revolutionary socialist point of view. But I do not really criticise Stratfor on that score. Just to point out that there is a chasm between this type of Report and the situation which we as revolutionary socialists, that is as Trotskyism, sees in events such as this. Our understanding overlap, but then at critical juncture separate drastically.
What you had in 1917 was a worker’s revolution in Russia. The world imperialist system had been breached and it happened at its weakest link. This was unexpected to classical Marxists who thought that revolution would happen in the strongest countries, such as Britain or Germany, where the working class had developed powerful organization.
But it was not unexpected to Leon Trotsky (Bronstein) and to Parvus.
For the sake of convenience I have turned to Wikipedia, somebody else has done the spadework, but the quotations are from Trotsky, and part of the quotations are from very early, around 1905, another pivotal time in the Russian experience:
[begin quote here]
‘The very fact of the proletariat’s representatives entering the government, not as powerless hostages, but as the leading force, destroys the border line between maximum and minimum program; that is to say, it places collectivism on the order of the day. The point at which the proletariat will be held up in its advance in this direction depends upon the relation of forces, but in no way upon the original intentions of the proletarian party.
‘For this reason there can be no talk of any sort of special form of proletarian dictatorship in the bourgeois revolution, of democratic proletarian dictatorship (or dictatorship of proletariat and peasantry). The working class cannot preserve the democratic character of its dictatorship without overstepping the limits of its democratic program… ‘The proletariat, once having taken power, will fight for it to the very end. While one of the weapons in this struggle for the maintenance and the consolidation of power will be agitation and organization, especially in the countryside, another will be a policy of collectivism. Collectivism will become not only the inevitable way forward from the position in which the party in power will find itself, but will also be a means of preserving this position with the support of the proletariat.’
Let us go further:
‘We know a classic example (I wrote in 1908 against the Menshevik Cherevanin) of a revolution in which the conditions for the rule of the capitalist bourgeoisie were prepared by the terrorist dictatorship of the victorious sans-culottes. That was in an epoch when the bulk of the urban population was composed of petty-bourgeoisie of the artisan and tradesman type. It followed the leadership of the Jacobins. The bulk of the urban population in Russia is composed today of the industrial proletariat. This analogy alone points to the possibility of a historical situation in which the victory of the “bourgeois” revolution will prove possible only through the conquest of revolutionary power by the proletariat. Does the revolution thereby cease to be bourgeois? Yes and no. This does not depend upon the formal designation but upon the further development of events. If the proletariat is overthrown by a coalition of bourgeois classes, among them also the peasantry it has liberated, then the revolution will retain its limited bourgeois character. Should the proletariat, however, prove able and find it possible to set in motion all the means of its political rule in order to break through the national framework of the Russian revolution, then the latter can become the prologue to the world socialist cataclysm. The question: what stage will the Russian Revolution attain? permits naturally only a conditional reply. Only one thing is absolutely and indubitably correct: the mere characterization of the Russian revolution as bourgeois tells us nothing about the type of its internal development and in no case signifies that the proletariat must adapt its tactics to the conduct of bourgeois democracy as the sole legal claimant to state power.’
From the same article:
‘Our revolution, which is a bourgeois revolution with regard to the immediate tasks it grew out of, knows, as a consequence of the extreme class differentiation of the industrial population, of no bourgeois class capable of placing itself at the head of the popular masses by combining its own social weight and political experience with their revolutionary energy. The oppressed worker and peasant masses, left to their own resources, must take it upon themselves to create, in the hard school of implacable conflicts and cruel defeats, the necessary political and organizational preconditions for their triumph. No other road is open to them.’
One more quotation from Results and Prospects must be adduced on the most violently assailed point—on the peasantry. In a special chapter, ‘The Proletariat in Power and the Peasantry’, the following is said:
‘The proletariat, in order to consolidate its power, cannot but widen the base of the revolution. Many sections of the working masses, particularly in the countryside, will be drawn into the revolution and become politically organized only after the advance-guard of the revolution, the urban proletariat, stands at the helm of state. Revolutionary agitation and organization will then be conducted with the help of state resources. The legislative power itself will become a powerful instrument for revolutionizing the masses … ‘The fate of the most elementary revolutionary interests of the peasantry—even the peasantry as a whole, as an estate, is bound up with the fate of the revolution, i.e., with the fate of the proletariat. ’The proletariat in power will stand before tire peasantry as the class which has emancipated it. The domination of the proletariat will mean not only democratic equality, free self-government, the transference of the whole burden of taxation to the rich classes, the dissolution of the standing army in the armed people, and the abolition of compulsory church imposts, but also recognition of all revolutionary changes (expropriations) in land relationships carried out by the peasants. The proletariat will make these changes the starting point for further state measures in agriculture. Under such conditions, the Russian peasantry in the first and most difficult period of the revolution, will be interested in the maintenance of a proletarian regime (“workers’ democracy”) at all events not less than was the French peasantry in the maintenance of the military regime of Napoleon Bonaparte, which guaranteed to the new property owners, by the force of its bayonets, the inviolability of their holdings … ‘But is it not possible that the peasantry may push the proletariat aside and take its place? This is impossible. All historical experience protests against this assumption. Historical experience shows that the peasantry is absolutely incapable of taking up an independent political role.’
All this was written not in 1929, nor yet in 1924, but in 1905. Does this look like ‘ignoring the peasantry’, I should like to know? Where is the ‘jumping over’ of the agrarian question here? Is it not time, friends, to be somewhat more scrupulous?
Now let us see how ‘scrupulous’ Stalin is on this question. Referring to my New York articles on the February, 1917, Revolution, which agree in every essential with Lenin’s Geneva articles, this theoretician of party reaction writes:
(It then continues, obviously part of the polemic against the extreme imperialist influence which grew inside the revolutionary socialist movement internationally, which came to be called “Stalinism”
All questions concerning discussion of these issues, Kosovo, the destruction of Yugoslavia during the past 20 years by The US and British Governments etc. have to posed in that context.
This, of course, Stratfor does not do and cannot for obvious reasons do. Hence there is a chasm between the Trotskyist analysis and that of Stratfor. Trotskyism is an active participant in the struggle. We find the efforts of Stratfor useful but he describes (to an extent), he does not take sides.
We are active participants in (to put it grandly) the human drama.
Read again the analysis made by Trotsky above. It can be condensed to
1. Following Marxist analysis the class struggle is primary
2. In the coming Russian Revolution the Russian Proletariat would be fully involved
3. But being fully involved there had to ensue a situation of either a. accept bourgeois rule or bourgeois outcome or b. go forward to take the power of the state in its own hands.
As regards path a that soon became apparent would entail massacre and dictatorship, with foreign powers such as Britain and Japan fully involved. As regards path b that became a driving necessity during those months of 1917 when the Bolshevik Party came under extreme pressure from the advanced secions of the working class to go forward, take the decisive step and take power.
Of course the latter is a “putsch” to the present bourgeois type! So be it then!
(These characters like Levinson can disregard any fact of history in order to rewrite it.)
What about the Jews in the Russian Revolution. Most Jews did not take part but I would suggest that Jewish workers who were part of this amazing Russian proletariat certainly did. They were in a minority. The atheistic Jews who made up the intelligentia also did. Many, many of these we know very well became leaders in the Bolshevik Party. We know this very well because we are always reminded of this by antisemites and anti socialist revolution people today also.
And what about the Bolsheviks and their leaders. Well they were prepared for this revolution, or at least some were as the above prophetic passages by Trotsky aided by friend Parvus show. But they were not supernatural, they were human beings trying to grapple with a new reality.
Even that prognosis by Trotsky and Parvus, Lenin only came to this position in the famous April Theses of 1917, late enough in the day, and then he had to fight with Trotsky to turn the party around onto the path of revolution. Even then Stalin was on the opposite side.
And in relation to the Jews.
1. Much of the Jewish population were opposed to socialist revolution
2. The Marxist leaders themselves were unprepared on the issue of Jewish nationhood.
I said that the Jewish intellectuals who joined the Bolsheviks were atheists. But that did not mean that they were dialectical materialists.
It took time, unfortunately, and other experiences. Yet by 1937 Trotsky representing the continuation of revolutionary socialist theory was spelling out that
1. The Jews were a nation
2. The Ukrainians were a nation
And that the Jews had to escape the Nazis and set up their own JEWISH state in Palestine and had to defend that state from antisemitism
The creature who was given the name “Lucy” by Don Johanson, discovered in Ethiopia, had not everything worked out in its head either. But that creature, our magnificent forerunner, was engaged in a practice. That practice is primary in all human and animal development. Sometimes it takes time.
But our enemies say…Damm you forever. You should have known. You should have got it dead on right first time around.
This is roughly the stage where Belman and our friends on Israpundit are located. It is a philosophical chasm which separates us. We have much agreement on issues connected with our detestation of Abbas etc, but on that issue, of method, none at all.
Similarly with this guy above. I applaud his piece. Special thanks to Mick Tanzer for alerting me to this article. It is of great importance for us.
But we are participants. In the special world situation of today Russia is the victim and it is the victim of tiny Georgia; because of course Georgia is not tiny at all. Our defence of Russia against this puppet is unconditional.
Also the method of Stratfor leads him into a peculiar optimism at the end. It is actually a very reactionary optimism. Russia is in huge danger of total destruction. He minimises that. Bush, Rice, McCain and Obama are a busted flush but there is no situation which is actually impossible for capitalism in crisis.
Stratfor minimises the dangers from this totally dangerous system.
We are at the beginnings of the wars against Russia and China.