August 13th, 2008


United and defiant.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik and Latvian Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis show their solidarity against Russia at a rally in Tbilisi, Georgia, on Tuesday. France's President visited the other day, and Condoleeza Rice will be there soon, as will US troops and planes, leading humanitarian efforts.

... and people are talking about this conflict as if it were a defeat.  Frankly, I'm not so sure of that. Rather, I think it might be about as much of a victory for the Russians as Israel's failed invasion of Lebanon.

Like Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Georgian military engaged in a provocative, tactically unwise confrontation that helped to trigger the conflict. Like Hezbollah in Lebanon, they appear to have sustained greater losses in combat, as well as in infrastructure and civilian deaths.
Like Hezbollah in Lebanon, they won nothing militarily, and arguably even lost some ground.

And like Hezbollah in Lebanon, they lived to fight another day.

In this case, I think this conflict could be the high water mark for military conflict between Russia and its former Soviet partners. Clearly, the rest of the world won't tolerate a Russian takeover, and are determined, by making an active diplomatic and humanitarian presence in Georgia, to make absolutely sure that Georgia's soveriegnity is protected and respected.  Russia's supposed military strength is useless against the ability of Europe -- and especially, the former Soviet states -- to seriously damage the Russian economy.  Indeed, Russia is already going to pay a significant economic cost by invading Georgia, because by doing so, they have actually helped encourage closer ties between Eastern Europe and the West.

For them, unity equals survival... which is why new NATO members in Eastern Europe are going to be *FAR* more insistant that Georgia be brought into NATO, if only to prevent this kind of conflict in the future.  

So, while Russia has military bragging rights, by the time the peace is negotiated, they will have very little indeed...  quite possibly no more than what Georgia was willing to give the South Ossetians anyway.  The end result is that Russia's pride will be wounded... and they will have to swallow their pride, because they have no legal grounds for the de facto annexation of any part of Georgia.

So, to let this play out to its likely conclusion, expect a more active NATO peacekeeping / protecting role in Georgia, with increased arms sales, increased training, the permanent return of Georgia's Iraq contingent, millions in reconstruction, increased trade and investment, and substantial systemic guarantees that this kind of crap doesn't happen again... followed by NATO membership for Georgia.

...and if Russia doesn't like it, the Ukranians can always threaten to remove Russia's port access to the Black Sea for their fleet, when that treaty comes up for renegotiation in a few years.

Ultimately, this is further proof that unilateral military confrontations are increasingly counterproductive. It's all about going along to get along in the global economic system... and if what you're doing threatens the status quo, the global system will invariably adjust itself to your detriment.