Putin’s Options: Flyswatter or Blunderbuss?

Washington’s bloody fingerprints are all over the invasion of South Ossetia. Georgia President Mikhail Saakashvili would never dream of launching a massive military attack unless he got explicit orders from his bosses at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. After all, Saakashvili owes his entire political career to American power-brokers and US intelligence agencies. If he disobeyed them, he’d be gone in a fortnight. Besides an operation like this takes months of planning and logistical support; especially if it’s perfectly timed to coincide with the beginning of the Olympic games. (another petty neocon touch) That means Pentagon planners must have been working hand in hand with Georgian generals for months in advance. Nothing was left to chance.

Another tell-tale sign of US complicity is the way President Bush has avoided ordering Georgian troops to withdraw from a province that has been under the protection of international peacekeepers. Remember how quickly Bush ordered Sharon to withdraw from his rampage in Jenin? Apparently it’s different when the aggression serves US interests.

Saakashvili has been working closely with the Bush administration ever since he replaced Eduard Shevardnadze as president in 2003. That’s when US-backed NGOs and western intelligence agencies toppled the Shevardnadze regime in the so-called color-coded “Rose Revolution.” Since then, Saakashvili has done everything that’s been asked of him; he’s built up the military and internal security apparatus, he’s allowed US advisers to train and arm Georgian troops, he’s applied for membership in NATO, and he’s been a general nuisance to his Russian neighbors. Now, he has sent his army into battle ostensibly on Washington’s orders. At least, that is how the Kremlin sees it. Vladimir Vasilyev, the Chairman of Russia’s State Duma Security Committee, summed up the feelings of many Russians like this: “The further the situation unfolds, the more the world will understand that Georgia would never be able to do all this without America. In essence, the Americans have prepared the force, which destroys everything in South Ossetia, attacks civilians and hospitals.”

True. That’s why Bush is flying Georgian troops back home from Iraq to join the fighting rather than pursuing peaceful alternatives. An Israeli newspaper is also reporting that the US is shipping weaponry to the war zone. Bush still believes that political solutions only arise through the use of force.

But that still doesn’t answer the larger question: Why would Saakashvili embark on such a pointless military adventure when he had no chance of winning? After all, Russia has 20 times the firepower and has been conducting military maneuvers anticipating this very scenario for months. Does Bush really want another war that bad or is the fighting in South Ossetia is just head-fake for a larger war that is brewing in the Straits of Hormuz?

Mikhail Saakashvili is a western educated lawyer and a favorite of the neocons. He rose to power on a platform of anti-corruption and economic reform which emphasized free market solutions and privatization. Instead of raising the standard of living for the Georgian people, Saakashvili has been running up massive deficits to expand the over-bloated military. Saakashvili has made huge purchases of Israeli and US-made (offensive) weapon systems and has devoted more than 4.2% of GDP (more than a quarter of all Georgian public income) to military hardware.

The Chairman of Russia’s State Duma Security Committee, Vladimir Vasiliyev, summed it up like this:

Georgia could have used the years of Saakashvili’s presidency in different ways — to build up the economy, to develop the infrastructure, to solve social issues both in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and the whole state. Instead, the Georgian leadership with president Saakashvili undertook consistent steps to increase its military budget from US$30 million to $1 billion — Georgia was preparing for a military action.

Naturally, Russia is worried about these developments and has brought the matter up repeatedly at the United Nations but to no avail.

Israeli arms manufacturers have also been supplying Saakashvili with state-of-the-art weaponry. According to Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz:

In addition to the spy drones, Israel has also been supplying Georgia with infantry weapons and electronics for artillery systems, and has helped upgrade Soviet-designed Su-25 ground attack jets assembled in Georgia, according to Koba Liklikadze, an independent military expert in Tbilisi. Former Israeli generals also serve as advisers to the Georgian military.1

The Israeli news source DebkaFile elaborates on the geopolitical implications of Israeli involvement in the Georgia’s politics:

The conflict has been sparked by the race for control over the pipelines carrying oil and gas out of the Caspian region… The Russians may just bear with the pro-US Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili’s ambition to bring his country into NATO. But they draw a heavy line against his plans and those of Western oil companies, including Israeli firms, to route the oil routes from Azerbaijan and the gas lines from Turkmenistan, which transit Georgia, through Turkey instead of hooking them up to Russian pipelines.

Jerusalem owns a strong interest in Caspian oil and gas pipelines reach the Turkish terminal port of Ceyhan, rather than the Russian network. Intense negotiations are afoot between Israel Turkey, Georgia, Turkmenistan and Azarbaijan for pipelines to reach Turkey and thence to Israel’s oil terminal at Ashkelon and on to its Red Sea port of Eilat. From there, supertankers can carry the gas and oil to the Far East through the Indian Ocean.2

The United States and Israel are both neck-deep in the “Great Game”; the ongoing war for vital petroleum and natural gas supplies in Central Asia and the Caspian Basin. So far, Putin appears to have the upper-hand because of his alliances with his regional allies — under the Commonwealth of Independent States — and because most of the natural gas from Eurasia is pumped through Russian pipelines. An article in Today’s Zaman gives a good snapshot of Russia’s position vis a vis natural resources in the region:

As far as natural resources are concerned Russia’s hand is very strong: It holds 6.6 percent of the worlds proven oil reserves and 26 percent of the world’s gas reserves. In addition, it currently accounts for 12 percent of world oil and 21 of recent world gas production. In May 2007, Russia was the world’s largest oil and gas producer.

As for national champions, Putin has strengthened and prepared Gazprom (the state-controlled gas company), Transneft (oil pipeline monopoly) and Rosneft (the state-owned oil giant). That is why in 2006 Gazprom retained full ownership in the giant Shtokman gas field (7) and took a controlling stake in the Sakhalin-2 natural gas project. In June 2007, it took back BP’s Kovytka gas field and now is behind Total’s Kharyaga oil and gas field.3

Putin–the black belt Judo-master–has proved to be as adept at geopolitics as he is at “deal-making”. He has collaborated with the Austrian government on a huge natural gas depot in Austria which will facilitate the transport of gas to southern Europe. He has joined forces with German industry to build an underwater pipeline through the Baltic to Germany (which could provide 80% of Germany’s gas requirements) He has selected France’s Total to assist Gazprom in the development of the massive Shtokman gas field. And he is setting up pipeline corridors to provide gas to Turkey and the Balkans. Putin has very deliberately spread Russia’s influence evenly throughout Europe with the intention of severing the Transatlantic Alliance and, eventually, loosening America’s vice-like grip on the continent.

Putin’s overtures to Germany’s Merkel and France’s Sarkozy are calculated to weaken the resolve of Bush’s neocon allies in the EU and put them in Russia’s corner. Putin is also attracting considerable foreign investment to Russian markets and has adopted “a ‘new model of cooperation’ in the energy sector that would ‘allow foreign partners to share in the economic benefits of the project, share the management, and take on a share of the industrial, commercial and financial risks.’”4 All of these are intended to strengthen ties between Europe and Russia and make it harder for the Bush administration to isolate Moscow.

Putin has played his cards very wisely, which makes it look like the fighting in South Ossetia may be Washington’s way of trying to win through military force what they could not achieve via the free market.

Currently, news agencies are reporting that Russian warplanes are pounding Georgia’s military bases, airfields, and the Black sea port of Poti.

According to Bill Van Auken on the World Socialist Web Site:

“Much of the city (Tskhinvali) was reportedly in flames Friday. The regional parliament building had burned down, the university was on fire, and the town’s main hospital had been rendered inoperative by the bombardment.”

An estimated 1,500 people have died in the onslaught and 30,000 more fled across the Russian border. Large swaths of the city have been reduced to rubble including the one hospital that was pounded by Georgia bombers. Georgia has cut off the water supply to the city.The Red Cross now anticipates a “humanitarian catastrophe” as a result of the fighting.

“I saw bodies lying on the streets, around ruined buildings, in cars,” Lyudmila Ostayeva, 50, told the Associated Press after fleeing the city with her family to a village near the Russian border. “It’s impossible to count them now. There is hardly a single building left undamaged.”

At least 15 Russia peacekeepers were killed in the initial fighting and 70 more were sent to hospital. Georgia’s army stormed the South Ossetia capital, Tskhinvali, killing more than 1,000 fleeing civilians.
According to South Ossetia’s president, Eduard Kokoyti, Georgian troops had been taking part in NATO exercises in the region since the beginning of August. Kokoyti claims that there is a connection between the NATO’s activities and the current violence.

Clearly, no one was expecting Russia to react as quickly or as forcefully as they did. In a matter of hours Russian tanks and armored vehicles were streaming over the border while warplanes bombed targets throughout the south. The Bush-Saakashvili strategy unraveled in a matter of hours. The Georgia president is already calling for a cease-fire. He’s had enough.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Sunday:

The actions of Georgia have led to deaths – among them are Russian peacekeepers. The situation reached the point that Georgian peacekeepers have been shooting at Russian peacekeepers. Now women, children and old people are dying in South Ossetia — most of them are citizens of the Russian Federation. As the President of the Russian Federation, I am obligated to protect lives and the dignity of Russian citizens wherever they are. Those responsible for the deaths of our citizens will be punished.

PUTIN’S OPTIONS: Flyswatter or Blunderbuss?

But how will Medvedev and Putin bring an end to the present hostilities? Will they engage the Georgian army and its western allies in conventional warfare creating the possibility of a decades-long Chechnya-type conflict or will they launch an asymmetrical attack on the fragile US financial system by selling all $50 billion of their Fannie Mae mortgage-backed bonds and all of their US dollar-backed assets while refusing to sell oil or natural gas in any currencies other than rubles and euros. Such an announcement could send the dollar crashing and the Dow Jones into a death-spiral. Why would Putin use a blunderbuss when a flyswatter will do just fine.

  1. “Following Russian pressure, Israel freezes defense sales to Georgia” Associated Press. []
  2. Paul Joseph Watson, “US Attacks Russia Through Client State Georgia.” []
  3. “Vladimir Putin’s Energystan and the Caspian” Today’s Zaman. []
  4. M K Bhadrakumar “Russia plays the Shtokman card,” Asia Times. []

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached at: fergiewhitney@msn.com. Read other articles by Mike.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Donald Hawkins said on August 13th, 2008 at 7:13am #

    So again this is about fossil fuels and all that money and I guess these people who play the game well it gives them something to do you know keeps them out of trouble. The fossil fuels in the ground right now if used will bring human civilization to a very bad end and yet we all must move forward with there thinking. Going out in style and having fun and games with twisted logic and is this the thinking that these so called elites use knowing full well what will happen with this thinking. It sure looks like it to me. As far as going out in style no, no, no style is the wrong word pathetic is a much better word brainless works too idiots fits well.

  2. Michael Kenny said on August 13th, 2008 at 8:03am #

    I always chuckle at Mr Whitney’s “American supremacist” ideology! We poor Untermenschen could never come up with anything on our own! Nothing in the world could possibly happen other than by diktat of the goose-stepping gringo master race! You will recall that he did much the same thing after the release of Ingrid Betancourt. He waited until the debate had subsided and then came in with an article claiming that the whole thing had been masterminded from Washington.

    He claims that Saakashvili “would never dream of launching a massive military attack unless he got explicit orders from his bosses at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave”. What an arrogant, racist statement! Why would Washington “order” him to do something that anyone with a lick of common sense could see was going to blow up in Saakashvili’s (and Washington’s!) face?

    He also puts forward as proof of this dastardly conspiracy the fact that “President Bush has avoided ordering Georgian troops to withdraw”. By what stretch of rascist delusion and political naiveté does Mr Whitney imagine that the President of the US would openly “order” the troops of a foreign country to do anything. Or that they would obey him! He doesn’t even do that to the Iraqi army! And, of course, he didn’t order the Russian army to stop fighting either! By Mr Whitneys’s logic that means that he wanted the Russians to continue the fight and that Medvedev is an American stooge!

    Then he starts to contradict himself. First, the whole thing is about Russia, then it’s about Iran, then it’s about oil. Then it’s not an American operation at all but wiley old Putin (he adopts the neocon practice of refusing to recognise Medvedev!) consolidating his position in the rest of Europe. In other words, the whole thing was a Russian set up, which contradicts the idea of “orders” from Washington or “Pentagon planners … working hand in hand with Georgian generals for months in advance”! In other words, he claims that the Russians set up the Georgians to set up the Americans who would then set up the Georgians to set up the Russians to set up the Americans whereas the “inside” story is that Russia was really trying to set up the Georgians to set up the Americans to set up the EU. I hope I’ve got that straight!

    Common sense tells us that Georgia was just a monumental screw-up, not some super-clever American conspiracy.

  3. Danny Ray said on August 13th, 2008 at 8:41am #

    I am somewhat confused is Bush an evil genius or an utter fool. You read one of these yellow rags and you are told that the man is a drooling idiot and the next article tells how he is the mastermind that rules the world. A puppet master who has the whole world dancing to his twisted plan. The same thought applies to America, are we the evil master race, the successors to Nazi Germany or a bunch of third rate bunglers. Who can’t do anything right.

  4. Donald Hawkins said on August 13th, 2008 at 8:50am #

    I read this the other day and is it true of course it is and what I put is not something going to happen it is already underway. Still time and what you hear or listen too on TV is well nothing. These people know but I guess the rest of us are too stupid to understand and that is where I must say the people who need to get started on this and quickly are the ones who are stupid. You see them everyday on TV talking nonsense like little children.

    We need to get prepared for four degrees of global warming, Bob Watson told the Guardian last week. At first sight this looks like wise counsel from the climate science adviser to Defra. But the idea that we could adapt to a 4C rise is absurd and dangerous. Global warming on this scale would be a catastrophe that would mean, in the immortal words that Chief Seattle probably never spoke, “the end of living and the beginning of survival” for humankind. Or perhaps the beginning of our extinction.

    The collapse of the polar ice caps would become inevitable, bringing long-term sea level rises of 70-80 metres. All the world’s coastal plains would be lost, complete with ports, cities, transport and industrial infrastructure, and much of the world’s most productive farmland. The world’s geography would be transformed much as it was at the end of the last ice age, when sea levels rose by about 120 metres to create the Channel, the North Sea and Cardigan Bay out of dry land. Weather would become extreme and unpredictable, with more frequent and severe droughts, floods and hurricanes. The Earth’s carrying capacity would be hugely reduced. Billions would undoubtedly die.

    Watson’s call was supported by the government’s former chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, who warned that “if we get to a four-degree rise it is quite possible that we would begin to see a runaway increase”. This is a remarkable understatement. The climate system is already experiencing significant feedbacks, notably the summer melting of the Arctic sea ice. The more the ice melts, the more sunshine is absorbed by the sea, and the more the Arctic warms. And as the Arctic warms, the release of billions of tonnes of methane – a greenhouse gas 70 times stronger than carbon dioxide over 20 years – captured under melting permafrost is already under way.

    To see how far this process could go, look 55.5m years to the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, when a global temperature increase of 6C coincided with the release of about 5,000 gigatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, both as CO2 and as methane from bogs and seabed sediments. Lush subtropical forests grew in polar regions, and sea levels rose to 100m higher than today. It appears that an initial warming pulse triggered other warming processes. Many scientists warn that this historical event may be analogous to the present: the warming caused by human emissions could propel us towards a similar hothouse Earth. The Guardian, UK

    Now the boundary’s that certain people would like to keep us in the boundary’s of the mind is probably not a good idea anymore. Now are President said yesterday that this is a heck of away to act in the twenty first century. I think he maybe on to something there.

  5. Danny Ray said on August 13th, 2008 at 8:55am #

    Thats nice Donald But what has it to do with Georgia?

  6. Donald Hawkins said on August 13th, 2008 at 10:50am #

    “The end of living and the beginning of survival” for humankind. Or perhaps the beginning of our extinction. The economy, wars so far we always get a second chance climate change global warming I don’t think so.

  7. Deadbeat said on August 13th, 2008 at 12:20pm #

    I don’t think conflict and crisis is “War for Oil” ™. This is all part of the neoconservative or as James Petras says the ZPC geopolitical brinkmanship. The neocons hubris is about extending the power of the ZPC to all corners. They want to weaken the Russians by surrounding them with Western puppets. Exploitation of the resources is ancillary to their overall goal of hegemony.

  8. Deadbeat said on August 13th, 2008 at 12:24pm #

    Also I think Mike Whitney’s analysis is correct. Here’s one from the opposite end of the political spectrum by Paul Craig Roberts…

    Two Morons: Bush and Saakashvili

  9. Donald Hawkins said on August 13th, 2008 at 5:59pm #

    Has anybody done a study on who starts wars and why? You know go all the way back and then see if you can find a common denominator. See if we could find groups that seemed to think war is the answer. The war in Iraq was about oil. Come on it is pretty much known now that was the reason. So let’s go with that and was this war about oil for the American people all the American people or maybe just a few American people? I googled the question in history who has started wars and why study. Most of what I saw was about only one war. So these wars now can we find a common denominator? Mother Jones did an article on this and it was about a study the thinkers at the Pentagon did and is titled,” Don’t Know Much About History”. It was good.