Russia sent hundreds of tanks and troops into the separatist province of South Ossetia and bombed Georgian towns today in a major escalation of the conflict that has left scores of civilians dead and wounded.
Russia has been waiting for this moment for a long time. The West was given an indication of it’s belligerence a little over a year ago when Russia cut off the gas supplies to its neighbours Georgia and Ukraine and then doubled the price to have it turned back on.
I am sure that the real point of this wasn’t to scare the Georgians, or even to extort more money from them, but to show Europe just what Russia was prepared to do, if it thought that it had reason to.
After the end of the Cold War, Russia was weak, it couldn’t hold the nations that once formed the USSR together and it attempted to draw the line in Chechnya but was unable to keep the region as part of Russia, at least at first. By 1999 things were different, Russia was stronger and Chechnya was brought into line.
After Chechnya, it seems a re-invigorated Russia may now be turning it’s attention further south, to Georgia.
Russia has been attempting to reassert itself on the world stage in recent years, the money from gas and oil has made sure that it’s once threadbare and unpaid army is once again one of the best in the world. It has also demonstrated that it is not afraid to project its influence outside its own border, even making assassinations, just like the old days.
It was only a matter of time before it stopped taking the slights from its former colonies, who have been moving closer and closer to the West, and further away from Russia. Cutting off of the gas was just one part of this.
Where once there would have been condemnation, threats of aid cuts and the like, now there is only silence. Europe won’t speak out, it cannot threaten Russia and it certainly cannot confront Russia militarily, even if the tanks were to start moving West.
Europe buys most of its oil and gas from Russia, if Russia were to turn off the tap, Europe would be crippled. Russia has, quite literally, got Europe by the short and curlies.
As for the war in Georgia, it cannot really even be called a war. Georgia has a standing army of 37,000 men, with a reserve of about 100,000. Russia has about 400,000 men but very deep pockets, with 2.5 million men available for military service.
Georgia has about 250 tanks, Russia could send just 1 out of every 100 of its tanks into Georgia, and still outnumber the Georgians.
Most modern wars are won in the air; Georgia has about 70 aircraft in its air force, Russia again has over 100 times that number.
This is quite literally a walk in the park for Russia, Georgia can only put up a resistant for so long, before it will be forced to surrender and take whatever terms Russia dictates.
The Georgian appeals for aid from the West have fallen on deaf ears, no one wants to, nor can they afford to get involved. The US is bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and Russia knows that any threats from America would be empty. Europe cannot afford to antagonise Russia too much because of the energy problems.
It seems that now Georgia will have to give up its aspirations of joining NATO and the EU, if not its independence.
But Georgia is surely just a stepping stone for a resurgent Russia, it now has the military might, the support of the Russian public, and a lack of world opposition, to basically do as it pleases and turn the tide of its declining power and influence. Russian leaders must already be eyeing that other troublesome neighbour, that too harbours ambitions of joining NATO and the EU, Ukraine.
Although a different proposition (the Ukraine has a standing army of 300,000 men, 4000 tanks and 2000 aircraft), Ukraine may too be forced to move closer to Russia, to avoid any problems.