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By Sean — 4 years ago
War looms once again over eastern Ukraine as speculation floods the internet of a possible offensive by Russian backed separatists. There have been reports of a stream of new amour and weapons crossing the Russia-Ukraine border. Russia continues to issue denials, as it has done since the beginning of the conflict. Is a separatist offensive imminent? It’s hard to say. Most experts seem to think so, as they mull over Putin’s possible game plan. Does he want a land bridge to Crimea? Is he keeping the Ukraine destabilized enough to scuttle reforms? Looking to consolidate control over rebel territory? Assert control over a fragmented and unruly rebel force? It’s hard to say. What is clear is that the claims that an offensive is imminent resound in a unified voice.
This is why I found an article in Yahoo News arguing that an offensive is unlikely so refreshing. According to experts interviewed by Yahoo, “The amount of military hardware being moved into the war-torn region is insufficient for a major operation.”
Instead, the article claims, Moscow’s design is to deter Ukraine from launching a bid to reclaim rebel controlled territories.
“There is a positional war of attrition going on. Any large-scale offensives are highly unlikely,” said Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent military analyst based in Moscow [and no Kremlin stooge].
“For a major operation, you need thousands of tanks. There are a lot less than that — and mainly just artillery.”
Another expert, Konstantin Kalachev, head of Moscow-based Political Expert think tank, doesn’t think a return to open conflict will benefit the Kremlin. “What is happening now is not the build-up to an offensive,” he told Yahoo.”Russia needs a military presence (in Donetsk and Lugansk) in order to start marshalling these people (the separatists) and to force the field commanders to work together.” Basically, after the elections in Donetsk and Lugansk, Russia wants to consolidate its control over the region. Also Kalachev added, the buildup of forces is to prevent an attempt by the Ukrainians to take back rebel controlled coal mines. The saber rattling, he says, is to “stop Ukraine [from] thinking about trying to reclaim the territories where the coalmines are.”
After gas, Ukraine generates 35 percent of its energy and 45 percent of its electricity from coal. Rebels currently control 88 of Ukraine’s 93 mines. Because of the war, 68 of those mines have ceased spitting out coal. Ukraine only has 1.7 million tons of coal in its reserves and it needs coal to get through the winter. Kiev would like to buy coal from the rebels because it’s cheaper than importing. But the rebels aren’t willing to sell without “equal dialogue.” Going to South Africa for hasn’t fared so well. So Ukraine is turning, ironically, to Russia. “South Africa has refused to maintain further deliveries of coal to us. A new contract can be signed in at least a month and a half. We have no other choice but to turn to Russian suppliers and purchase their coal. The situation with coal supply is threatening. Energy security is at risk,“ said Yury Prodan Ukrainian Energy and Coal Industry Minister. So preventing Kiev from recapturing Donbas coal mines is certainly a reason for Russia to shore up the rebel’s forces.
Another reason for the military build up is that the rebels have convinced Moscow that Kiev is ready for an attack.
Felgenhauer suggested that the rebels see the current ceasefire deal as a “betrayal” and were trying to provoke an escalation in fighting.
“They’re trying to show to the Kremlin that Kiev is getting ready to attack,” he said. “Their appeals seem to have worked somehow and Russia has sent in some weaponry, mainly artillery.”
But Felgenhauer didn’t discount an offensive in the near future, just not now. He contends that the deployed hardware is “completely inadequate for an offensive and the time of year is not suitable.” “In theory, he added, there is a possibility of major actions after New Year, in January or February. But I doubt it will happen in the winter — more likely spring.”
All of this is, of course, speculation upon speculation. An offensive could start tomorrow or the next day or the next. Or not. It’s hard to know whether Putin is playing the short or the long game. What is clear the recent build up of forces threatens to makes the semi-cold war in the east hot again.Post Views: 927
By Sean — 10 years ago
The Western media is finally discovering the Ossetians. The Washington Post details the destruction of Tskhinvali. The Post‘s Peter Finn writes,
The scale of the destruction is undeniable; some streets summon iconic images of Stalingrad during World War II or Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, which was leveled in two wars between Russian and Chechen separatists.
The Financial Times also gives voice to the anger Ossetian refugees feel toward Saakashvili. My favorite quote in the article comes from an Ossetian woman’s take on the assault on Tskhinvali. “They must have been Nato troops,” she told the Times. “The Georgians don’t know how to shoot.”
The quote by this woman raises another interesting aspect to the coverage of the war. The vast majority of quotes from “average people” are from women. It all makes me wonder if the prevalence of women’s voices is because they are the majority of refugees (all the men have gone to fight), are more apt to talk to reporters, or women have more truth value as victims. Perhaps it’s a strange combination of all three.
The Independent‘s Shaun Walker looks at how the ethnic tensions in the Caucuses are the result of Stalin’s footprint in the region. “Borders between the different entities of the union were changed at will, often with the express intention of fomenting ethnic unrest,” he writes. Actually, he’s wrong. Borders weren’t changed at will nor were they drawn to foment ethnic unrest. The “divide and rule” thesis doesn’t apply anymore in light of archival evidence. Soviet border drawing was a complex process that implemented all the knowledges of modernity: census taking, ethnographic surveys, map making, as well as central and local administrative and political concerns. As Francine Hirsch writes in regard to border drawing in Central Asia in her masterful Empire of Nations: Ethnographic Knowledge and the Making of the Soviet Union,
The archival record suggests that the Soviet approach to Central Asia was consistent with its approach to the Belorussian and Ukrainian republics. In all of these cases, Soviet administrators and experts evaluated ethnographic, economic, and administrative criteria, while giving priority to larger all-union concerns. The archival record further suggests that the classic argument about the delimitation, which asserts that Soviet leaders set out to subordinate Central Asia by drawing borders in a way that would intentionally sow discord, misses the mark.
Adrienne Edgar finds a similar process in the formation of Turkmenistan in her Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan. Given the consistency in the making of Soviet national republics, one can assume that the process in Transcaucasia was no different. I suggest that Walker familiarize himself with this literature before making reductive assertions about the relationship between Soviet border making and ethnic identities and conflict. More often than not these conflicts tend to be more localized and contingent rather than an outgrowth of some grand scheme from the center.
Ossetian and Abkhazian self-determination is finally creeping into the agenda. The Russians have been emphasizing the breakaway regions right to decide their own fate for years (though they at the same time denied the Chechens theirs). Now the Organization for Security and Cooperation Europe has come on board to the idea. Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, the OSCE’s secretary general, told reporters that “The fate of South Ossetia must be decided by the people of South Ossetia. They live in very difficult conditions and the context of what has happened is quite complex.”
The only problem is that the Ossetians already have. Twice. The first was in 1992 where the vote was 99% in favor of independence. The second was in November 2006. Again 99% of voters said “yes!” to the question: “Should South Ossetia preserve its present status of a de facto independent state?” Both votes, however, were dismissed as fixed by Russian interlopers and subsequently ignored. Maybe they should have the referendum again. What will be said is the outcome is the same?
Father Vissarion, the head of the Orthodox Church in Abkhazia succinctly defined Abkhazian sepratism to Reuters, “What does separatism mean anyway? It means you want to separate. And who do we want to separate from? From murderers.” “If a man beats his wife,” he continued, “a court will allow her to leave him. People say we are Abkhazian separatists, but this means what? Are we supposed to be Georgians? We have nothing in common with them.”
Russian President Medvedev announced that the Russian military will pull out its forces from Georgia beginning Monday, though there is no indication that they will leave South Ossetia. This will happen only after “the situation in the region stabilizes,” a Russian Defensive Ministry spokesman told Interfax.
Georgia has its own refugee problems. There is an estimated 100,000 displaced people from both Ossetia and Georgia. A lot has been said of the Ossetians. As for the Georgians, it’s clear that the Saakashvili’s government wasn’t even prepared. “This is a very hard situation for which we were absolutely unprepared,” said Besik Tserediani, a deputy in the Georgia’s Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation. “There’s a huge amount of people coming in, and it’s impossible to deal with it.”
The sentiment among Georgians is that the Americans and Europeans were supposed to help them. Now help, in the form of humanitarian aid, is coming after the fact. The Moscow Times reports that humanitarian aid is pouring into Georgia. The International Committee of the Red Cross is demanding safe access to South Ossetian but the Russians have provided no guarantees. As a result “South Ossetia is generally off limits for humanitarian workers at this stage,” says European Union spokesman John Clancy.
Here is Al-Jazeera‘s take on aid to Ossetia:
The Americans have pledged aid to Georgia and Georgia only. Two military aircraft landed in Tbilisi on Wednesday bringing $1.28 million in emergency supplies. These cargo lifts, of course, concern the Russians.
The Russians are engaging in their own partisan humanitarian work. One of Medvedev’s first acts was to order humanitarian aid to South Ossetia. There is no doubt that this has helped getting doctors, nurses and other medical aid there.
With the Americans aiding their proxies in Tbilisi and the Russians aiding theirs in Ossetia, it sadly looks like the new front in the war will take place on the humanitarian front.Post Views: 595
By Sean — 1 year ago