Back in 2004, Russia and Georgia had a small war over the territory of South Ossetia, a large holding of land within Georgia leading towards Armenia. The conflict, which had its roots in pre-and-post-Soviet disputes, calmed down once again but was never put to rest. The two nations have continued to be unofficially at war over this region.
Concern has reached nations around world in light of what appears to be a militarization of the region by Russian troops and is threatening a repeat of the 2004 conflict:
Georgia warned Friday of the risk of a “serious confrontation” with Russia-backed South Ossetia after the breakaway region demanded that Georgian authorities remove a checkpoint on its disputed boundary.
The Georgian foreign ministry said it observed “mobilisation of military equipment and personnel” near the village of Chorchana, where the checkpoint has been set up.
The situation risks “escalating into a serious confrontation,” Georgia foreign ministry spokeswoman Mari Narchemashvili told AFP.
At talks mediated by the EU and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on Thursday, South Ossetia demanded that Georgian police dismantle the checkpoint before 0300 GMT on Friday, according to one of the delegates at the meeting.
“If this condition is not met, the government (of South Ossetia) will take all legal measures to ensure security of the South Ossetian people and protect the state border,” South Ossetian delegate Yegor Kochiev said in televised remarks.
Kochiev is a delegate to the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM), which meets to discuss the security situation under EU and OSCE mediation.
South Ossetia officials say the checkpoint is right next to the village of Uista, known as Tsnelisi in Georgia.
Later Friday, the Russian-backed breakaway republic’s president Anatoly Bibilov ordered that a checkpoint be erected nearby, and security officials announced they were starting a “humanitarian operation,” without giving details.
“I hope Georgia… will do everything to resolve the instability they caused by their illegal actions,” Bibilov was quoted as saying by Russian agencies. “Resolving this issue by force would be highly undesirable.”
– ‘Intense exchanges’ –
The US State Department in a statement said it was “monitoring reports of military build-up” in the area and called on all parties to “avoid escalation.”
Russia’s foreign ministry called for “restraint”, while accusing Tbilisi of “deliberately fuelling tensions at the border in recent months through provocations and propaganda campaigns backed by the West”.
On Thursday, the OSCE said in a statement that “recent developments along the administrative boundary line had negatively impacted the overall security situation.”
There had been “intense exchanges” at the meeting about the border post although the talks had been cut short, the statement said, without giving further details.
The boundary line has become contentious in the wake of spiralling tensions between Tbilisi and Moscow over Georgia’s aspirations to join EU and NATO.
The two fought a brief war in 2008 over South Ossetia and another breakaway region Abkhazia.
The war — which claimed the lives of hundreds of people from both sides — erupted after Tbilisi launched a large-scale military offensive against Moscow-backed South Ossetian forces which had been shelling Georgian villages.
Russian forces bombed targets across the country and occupied swathes of its territory before withdrawing to the two separatist enclaves.
After the conflict, which ended thanks to a French-mediated ceasefire, the Kremlin recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states and stationed permanent military bases there.
The situation is being clearly stirred up by Russia, where South Ossetia’s president is now “demanding” that South Ossetia become a part of Russia:
Anatoly Bibilov, the de facto president of South Ossetia, believes that “the republic must be part of Russia and the Ossetian people must get united,” RIA Novosti reported.
Bibilov calls it “historically correct” action.
“It will be historically correct if the republic of South Ossetia becomes part of the Russian Federation. People cannot live separately. In one part, in the smaller one, there is a republic, while the other part belongs to Russia. It would be right for the Ossetian people to be part of Russia and after that, we should try to make Ossetia united again, without being divided in the north and the south. This is very important and vital for the Ossetian people,” Bibilov said.
In his opinion, “if the people are divided, then these people will not have a common development.”
“Therefore, there is no need to change the ideology of unification. There should be only one ideology – the unification of the Ossetian people and development of this united ethnicity in Russia’s development vector,” Bibilov emphasized.
On August 26, 2008, Moscow recognized the independence of Georgian regions Abkhazia and Tskhinvali (so-called South Ossetia). They are partially recognized as independent states by Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru, and Syria. (source, source)
Some years ago, I met by chance as a student at a conference Konstantin Preobrazhensky, a former high-ranking KGB Officer who defected to the USA in the 1990s after his retirement. Preobrazhensky is known for his criticism of Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church, the latter of which he (as of recent) considers himself a member, and has said that the KGB and the ROC are the same entity, and that the KGB was reborn and is completely alive today.
I did not know who he was in such details at the time. However, I was aware of the situation in Georgia that happened in 2004 (to put this in perspective, the year at the time was 2005), and I asked him what he thought about the ordeal. He told me clearly that the reason was not about politics, but one of spirituality. In his words, he said that Putin does not believe in Christianity, but that he only uses it to advance an image of society he wants to present. He elaborated saying that Putin had “mental problems” and that the Orthodox clergy seen with him is a psychiatrist who helps him, especially with medication. What was most interesting was that he said Putin invaded Georgia because Georgia is the nation where Stalin came from, and that Putin believes that if he is able to successfully invade and conquer Georgia, he would be able to “channel the spirit of Stalin” and by doing this could revive Russia to her former glory days.
I have no other source for this data other than our conversation. I have never heard this discussed to the same detail as what I was told. However, a report from Al-Jazeera News in 2015 revealed in an interesting dialogue that Putin is said to “call upon the spirit of Stalin”:
“Putin recreates many of the past communist methods of government,” Yan Rochinsky, co-chairman of the Memorial rights group, told Al Jazeera. “Without calling Stalin’s name, Putin calls upon his spirit.” (source, source)
One article notes that the relationship between Stalin, Putin, and the political ideal of a Russian glory they both aspire to is a perversion in the form of a secular trinity. Putin has also repeatedly defended Stalin, saying that to attack Stalin is a covert way to attack Russia and the Russian people.
Regardless of whether or not one likes Stalin, the fact is that Stalin was a mass murderer whose actions resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of people and has earned him a place of infamy along with his contemporaries of Hitler in Germany and Chairman Mao of China. To call him a “product of his age,” as Putin has done, crassly and intentionally ignore the crimes he committed as well as contributes to the cultural divinization of Stalin that happened during his life and after his death as part of asserting a Sovietesque ideal.
From a material perspective, the Ossetian conflict seems to be part of Russian-backed railway projects into the Caucasus region.
To review, which you can find the material that we have written in the Shoebat archives concerning this, there is a tremendous amount of struggle being waged- a silent war, if one may choose to call it that -over control of the Volga Basin. This is for two reasons. First, based upon available information from partially declassified CIA documents, geological reports, and other publicly available data, it appears that the entire Volga region and all of the Turanian depression is a giant oil field that has scarcely been tapped. Second, is that the control over this region will determine the winner or loser of a future conflict between the West and Russia, as the oil needs for the German war machine drove her in both World Wars I and II to attempt a failed invasion or hold on the Volga basin. This was the purpose of the Battle of Stalingrad, and why World War II was determined there, because since Germany could not get the oil she needed, it was only a matter of time before her economy seized to a halt.
Right now, there are major railway and pipeline networks being laid by the US, Germany, and Turkey in this region. It is the reason for the continual war in Ukraine as well as the reason for the Russian seizure of Crimea and the port city of Kerch, because the Western powers are attempting to assert economic strength in the area in order to put down railway networks so that oil can be easily brought from that area back to Germany. This process is taking place in Turkey as well as Africa, but from an economic view, it is critical that the Caspian and Volga oil fields, starting in Azerbaijan but all throughout that region, are in German hands if Germany is going to successfully win a war. The Russians know this and are working at all costs to prevent such a network from being laid.
North Ossetia is a republic in Russia, but South Ossetia is a semi-republic in Georgia. The entire Ossetian region sits in the Caucasus mountains but due to her geography forms a natural “pass” from the Volga Basin to the Middle East, and likewise to Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Iran. This pass not only is strategic, but because of its geographic location it cuts directly down the middle of points west regardless of location heading towards the Caspian Sea. Essentially, the Western nations can lay all of the pipelines that she wants, but if Russia gets control over this region, she could theoretically block further pipeline building by her mere presence, and in so doing greatly complicate building further pipelines as well as create a choke point that could be attacked by Russian troops in the future to shut off access to oil by the West.
This is not something new to Russia. It was one of the reasons why immediately following the breakup of the USSR, Russia moved to support “independence” for South Ossetia, since she wants to control her. Only Russia and a handful of allies have ever recognized the existence of South Ossetia as an independent nation, but it does not matter to her for the above reasons, as it is viewed as a matter of survival. In 2008, Russia declared that she was going to move forward with potentially moving into parts of South Ossetia to carve out a railway, just four years after her failed attempt at invading Georgia:
Russia is considering blasting a railway line through the Caucasus mountains to link up with South Ossetia, the breakaway region of Georgia over which Moscow and Tbilisi fought a war in August.
Proposals for the link, reminiscent of an abandoned Soviet era plan, seem certain to anger pro-Western Georgia, which accuses Russia of annexing South Ossetia and a second Moscow- backed region, Abkhazia. Russia recognized both as independent states in September after a war that saw Russian forces sweep Georgian troops from South Ossetia and push into core Georgia.
“This initiative has been assigned to us,” said the president of Russian Railways Vladimir Yakunin. “We have looked at various possible projects.”
“Today we have a project that would build a connection from the Russian railway network to the South Ossetian railway network and on to (the regional capital of) Tskhinvali,” Yakunin told a press briefing.
The project involves building 140-150 km (90 miles) of railway lines and the construction of four tunnels to take it through the Caucasus mountains, he said.
Asked by a reporter if the project was motivated by politics or economics, Yakunin said: “Railway men don’t just talk about infrastructure, they act to bring nations together. In the countries of the former Soviet Union it has always been this way.”
The Soviet Union planned in the early 1980s to build a railway through the Caucasus Mountains from Vladikavkaz in southern Russia to Tbilisi in Georgia. The line could have linked up with an east-west railway through Georgia linking the Black Sea with the Caspian in Soviet Azerbaijan.
Yakunin made it clear the line would take a different route through the high and craggy terrain, which has always been a stark hindrance to commerce and trade in the region.
Stratfor commented on this Russian plan in 2016, noting that Russia wants to expand her presence down to Iran and is trying to circumvent historically unfavorable relations with her neighbors at the same time, especially with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan:
Russia wants to expand its transit networks – and its influence – south to Iran, but doing so will not be easy. For the Russians, no geographic barrier has ever proved as daunting as the Caucasus Mountains, and few of the Caucasus transit states could be considered Russia’s friends. These factors will make it difficult for Russia to build infrastructure that transits the region uninterrupted, but in the end, Moscow and Tehran will likely work together to try to overcome the significant obstacles in the Caucasus and to curb the presence of other major powers in the region.
Because of these issues, Russia has actively sought more reliable connections to Iran over the past few years. One solution was to lay down railway lines that extend southward from Russia, down both sides of the Caspian Sea. In late 2014, the Russian railway system was connected to Iran’s in this way, with links that passed through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Meanwhile, Iran is still building the Kazvin-Rasht line on its Caspian shore, directly connecting to the Iranian city of Astara on Azerbaijan’s border. When complete, the line will link Iran’s northern railway branch to the rail network in Azerbaijan and onward to Russia. Still, like Russia’s roads, neither railway is a foolproof solution: Both Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan refuse to allow Russia to transport military equipment through their territories, which limits Moscow’s uses for the lines. (source, source)
This is likewise a reason why Russia supports independence for Abkhazia, a breakaway semi-republic in western Georgia, because it hinders access from Ukraine and Turkey by way of oil pipelines in the Black Sea going into Georgia and then to the Caspian Sea oil fields. It has nothing to do with the people, but all about cutting up that region into more easy to control nations for the purpose of power.
Because of Georgia’s location, she is historically caught in the geopolitical crossfire between the Ottomans and the Persians. She is similar to Poland in that she is in a difficult location and there is little she can do to help herself, because when conflicts arise, she is going to be pulled and divided by the larger entities.
Georgia has been a Christian nation throughout history, and during the Russo-Persian war of the 19th century she sided with the Russians and was brought under her sphere of influence. This continued through the transition of the Russian Empire to the USSR following the Communist Revolution. However, her history with Russia was never easy.
In the past, the Georgians had to contend with Islamic armies and at times, their Armenian neighbors. While Russia gave them protection from the Muslims, the Russian government imposed the Russian Orthodox Church and hierarchy upon and to the direct detriment and decline of the Georgian Orthodox. This should not be considered a surprise, as while the Catholic Church has endured many struggles with government from states attempting to force her to do her will, there is a seamless union between government and Church in Orthodoxy, often times with an added component of race. This makes submission to the Orthodox Church, whatever particular nationality it is, an act of both political and spiritual will of which the two are not able to be divorced.
The Georgians were unhappy with the Russian Orthodox influence in their church, and resisted this through the Communist rebellion, at which time the tiny nation attempted to break away and also to assert the independence of the Georgian Orthodox Church. This was viciously crushed by fellow Georgian Ioseb Jugashvili, known as Jozef Stalin, who had many churches closed and clergy murdered. The Church was not recognized until 1943 by the Soviets, but soon after was again persecuted by the government.
The Georgian Orthodox Church resisted the Communists and did so by allying themselves with their nationalist cause. This sentiment was picked up immediately by the United States, who worked with Zviad Gamsakhurdia, a Georgian Nationalist who promoted the “Christian” nature of the struggle while at the same time was involved in the American support of Islamic terrorists in Chechnya and other parts of the Caucasus as part of the US’ geopolitical program. He was eventually killed by fellow nationalists and replaced with they now former Georgian President Edouard Shevardnazde from 1995 to 2003.
Georgia’s support of the US seems to be from a historical point of view less about a love of the US and more about a disdain for what was about two centuries of direct influence from Russia that they believe attacked their identity and culture. The Georgians are afraid, similar to the Poles and other of Russia’s neighbors, that Russia will attempt to do what she historically has done, which is if not to invade directly than to use blunt force to take down their governments.
Looking at this situation and the details involved in it, it appears that Russia would seem to be the aggressor and not the US. This is not to exclude US involvement in that region, since she has been very active there for decades as a part of “stay-behind” operations. This has not changed. The fundamental rules still apply, but with different temporarily-erected “borders” that, as with the history of that area, are continually redrawn and modified based on the social and political situation. As such, Russia’s aggression is not without cause either, because it is a contest for power between multiple powerful empires for access to resources with an intention of using said resources in the future for murdering each other.
What will be interesting to see is if Russia decides to move ahead and go into the region with troops. If this happens, it could become a politically difficult situation and potentially risk starting a larger war in the area. Likewise, one should then expect to see a series of Islamic “mujahideen” terrorist type attacks, as many of such groups in that region were trained by US Special Forces and in such times are often called upon for serving as soldiers in a proxy war.
The other question is, what does Iran think of this? Iran and Russia have an understanding and trade with each other, but they are not friends as far as history goes, and Iran certainly is not friends with the US. She is at risk again of falling into the undue influence of either party.
The nation that potentially stands to benefit the most from this, if any can be extracted, and with the least amount of potential loss would be Turkey. It is true that her access to oil pipelines could be interrupted, but as an enemy of Russia who also does business with Russia alongside her ally in Germany, and given the position of Turkey as a major hub of gas as well as gas consumer herself as she builds up her own forces and power, Turkey will likely benefit from any pipelines in the region regardless of who installs them because some will necessarily have to go through her nation, and this does not even include her own oilfields and sources that she is working on developing. Azerbaijan will likely benefit, but she would have a concern about the rise of Russian power in the region due to her history as a former Soviet satellite state. However, it is possible that this could be mitigated at least in part by Turkish influence.
In any situation, this is another reminder as to the importance of this region as well as that of the railway lines and pipelines. How these particular transportation hubs develop in this area as well as across Central Asia, the historical land of the Silk Road of antiquity, will likely determine the victor in a future global conflict. It also represents a potential power shift away from the Americas and back to the “old world”, for if, in theory, one can make the journey from Beijing to Rome in a matter of hours by train where it would have taken months and perhaps years on foot, it immediately reduces the need for sea-based routes as they are currently used.