WHAT MOSCOW SAYS. Moscow says that the Georgian retreat from South Ossetia became precipitous; the civil authorities, police and armed forces abandoned Gori. Russian reconnaissance elements (and it should be understood that the Russian Army, like many others, practises heavy recce – ie with tanks) found a base with many tanks, APCs and ammunition quite abandoned. The Russian command elected to “secure” this dump lest it fall into irresponsible hands. Moscow say that it is maintaining order in the power vacuum and suppressing looters. It says that something similar happened in many areas of Western Georgia where Russian forces are “securing” another dump in Senaki. There is a good deal of evidence from Western news agencies to support this. Readers are invited to check these links: not everything gets the emphasis it should. Retreat, power vacuum and looting, Western Georgia (note that reporter does not entertain the possibility that these are abandoned Georgian vehicles the Russians are driving: a similar mistake was made by the BBC in Gori), at least one jailbreak in Georgia, looters, some of whom are Georgians (go to 48sec). Moscow claims there is still occasional firing.
BUT/BUT. Moscow keeps saying that it has, or will soon, withdraw, but that never quite seems to happen: it has just been announced that troops will be pulled back “to the area of responsibility of the peacekeeping contingent in South Ossetia” by the end of today; or will it be in ten days? Russian troops keep appearing in the port of Poti and elsewhere, something for which Moscow has given no reason, while Moscow announces there are no Russian troops outside of South Ossetia. There are reports of determined efforts to destroy Georgia military infrastructure. There are unmistakeable indications of triumphalism and hubris in Moscow; perhaps understandable but most unwise. Moscow is also playing a game in which the difference between “peacekeepers” and “servicemen” is blurred. Moscow also intends to increase the “security zone” around South Ossetia. As Shevardnadze said in an interview: the longer the Russians stay and the more they call for Saakashvili’s departure, the less likely it is that the Georgian population will turn on him.
CEASEFIRE. There have been innumerable reports of ceasefire violations which obscure the question of when exactly the agreement that Sarkozy and Medvedev negotiated on the 12th was signed in Tbilisi. I believed, from the reports I had seen, that Saakashvili signed it in Sarkozy’s presence that day but it now seems it was not signed by him until the 15th. So what happened here? And what precisely are the terms of the agreement?
LATEST ACCUSATION. Moscow today charges that the OSCE observers in South Ossetia knew about the Georgian attack but did not warn the Russian peacekeeper force. Moscow is already asserting that the Georgian peacekeepers opened fire on their Russian colleagues. When Ruslan Gelayev’s fighters were moved across Georgia with Tbilisi’s involvement to attack Abkhazia in October 2001, Moscow made similar charges that the OSCE observers had failed to report it.
REPORTING. Interfax claims to have been quoted more often than any other news source during the war. I followed its reporting and found it to be invariably first with the news and most accurate. (No passing off Tskhinvali as Gori, for example).
AFTERMATH. A Georgian parliamentarian has given the following casualty figures on the Georgian side: 133 soldiers and 69 civilians killed and nearly 1500 injured of whom 446 are in hospital. A Russian spokesman has announced army deaths of 64 and 323 wounded. Prisoner exchanges are now happening. Casualties in South Ossetia are still not known, but will likely prove to be significantly fewer than the thousands originally reported but many people are said to have been killed in collapsed buildings or quickly buried. (French report from Tskhinvali.) A rally in Tskhinvali has asked Moscow to recognise South Ossetia’s independence. Abkhazia has likewise asked for Moscow’s recognition.
RUSSIA INC. It is reported that capital flight out of Russia (said to have been $US7 billion) as a result of the war has stopped; that revenue from energy sales has probably peaked as of 2008; agricultural output is said to be up about 5% year-on-year. Putin says that the first half year’s economic numbers were “not bad” but affected by inflation. The question to be asked is: does Moscow care any more about the West’s opinion? It seems to be coming to believe that WTO membership is nothing but an ever-receding carrot.
BLOGS. I have terminated my association with russiablog.org and will now appear here.
© Patrick Armstrong, Ottawa, Canada