AFTERMATH. I think the dust is still settling after what has been a power earthquake of some significance and it’s still too early to make pronouncements. But one thing that seems to be happening is a rift between Washington and the EU, at least under Paris’ presidency. Sarkozy reacted quickly and decisively and negotiated the settlement that is actually being put into effect. But then it started to become rather murky: when, for example, did Saakashvili sign the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan? Was it 12 August as the French reported? Or was it on the 15th when Rice visited? Did Washington try to re-write it? And if so, how would Sarkozy feel about such second-guessing from the sidelines? At any case, while Washington is doubling down on its bet on Saakashvili and talking of excluding Russia, France, apart from pro forma references to territorial integrity, is moving in the opposite direction. The French PM was quoted as saying “Russia should play an important role in the world as well as the EU for the sake of the world’s stability, and besides, the more we talk to each other and the more confidence is between us, the closer our economic ties and the more stability and peace on our planet”. Meanwhile – and perhaps this is his answer to Washington – Sarkozy has suggested a “joint economic community” between Europe and Russia. This is quite different from regarding Russia as a pariah state that must be shunned.

FINANCIAL CRISIS. Seems to be dying down, at least for now, with the stock markets and ruble making a recovery.

DUUMVIRATE. I am more and more inclined to think my fifth hypothesis is the winner. In any event, the latest Levada poll shows that Medvedev is becoming almost as popular and trusted as Putin (83% to 88%). I believe that this is the very first time since 1991 when we have seen the President and the PM equal in popularity and both at a high level. So, at last, there are in Russia two centres of constitutional power.

ENERGY SUPPLY. In yet another attempt to try and get the obvious across, Medvedev has said supplies of energy resources should be predictable and stable both for suppliers and consumers. Given that Russia earns so much through oil and gas supplies and the government gets so much of its taxes from this source it would be disastrous for Moscow to cut supplies to its customers to the West. And vice versa. It is, in fact, a mutual dependence between Russia and its customers.

SKINHEADS. A court in Moscow has sentenced a group of skinheads to prison terms varying between 3 and 10 years for numerous crimes, including the murder of the Yakut chess master Sergey Nikolayev last October.

NEWS YOU PROBABLY WON’T HEAR. Russia just moved 40 T-72 tanks out of Kaliningrad, through Lithuania (with the complete, nay enthusiastic, approval of Vilnius) into “mainland” Russia.

SEVASTOPOL. The treaty between Moscow and Kiev has the Russian Black Sea fleet leaving the base in Sevastopol by 2017. A few years ago it was announced that Moscow would begin construction of a base in Novorossiysk but it is very unclear how much, if anything, has been done. The Russian Defence Minister has just said that Moscow is prepared to offer Kiev “lucrative” terms to keep the base there after 2017. Discussions begin today in Kiev.

YAMADAYEV. Ruslan Yamadayev, the brother of Sulim, was assassinated in Moscow. Sulim, who fought against Moscow in the first war and was a most effective hunter-killer of jihadists in the second, is now being accused by Groznyy of a multitude of crimes. I noticed a BMP captured by Chechens from the Georgians last month had “Yamadayevtsy” written on it indicating support for him. Neither event augurs well for peace and quiet in Chechnya.

ABKHAZIA. President Sergey Bagapsh has announced that there will be two Russian basses in Abkhazia: an army base in Gudauta and a naval group at Achamchira. Meanwhile, the first EU observers have arrived in Tbilisi and should take up their posts in Poti soon.

UKRAINE. The “Orange coalition” has now become outright political war with President Yushchenko describing PM Tymoshenko’s actions as “treachery”. She, possibly in connection with the rather large amount of heavy weaponry acquired by Georgia from Ukraine, has called for an inquiry into the arms trade carried by Ukrspetsexport. Meanwhile a recent poll shows that 61.2% of respondents would vote “no” in a referendum on NATO membership and 23.7% “yes”. Nonetheless Washington still pushes for NATO membership for Ukraine.

© Patrick Armstrong Analysis, Ottawa, Canada


CORRUPTION. A poll this week suggests the size of the problem. About three-quarters of the respondents believe the corruption level in Russia to be “high” or “very high” and that there has been no improvement in the last year or only an insignificant amount. The only encouraging thing from Medvedev’s perspective is that 15% believe corruption in the federal government is high down from 20% in 2006. (The cynic would suggest that the decrease may be more a result of publicity than reality). The most corrupt elements were named by respondents as: traffic police (33%), local government (28%), police in general (26%), society on the whole (23%), medical sphere (16%), education sector (15%), federal government (15%) and judicial branch (15%), big business (13%), military commandant offices (8%), show business (6%), the armed forces (5%), the trade sector (4%), the media (3%), political parties (3%), and parliament (3%). A comprehensive list indeed.

WAR AFTERMATH. Sarkozy and Medvedev worked out a settlement. Sarkozy said he brought a letter “from President Saakashvili with [Georgia’s] commitment to not using force against Abkhazia and South Ossetia”. An EU observer force of at least 200 will patrol the “security zones” in Georgia proper and Russia will withdraw its forces from there (the pullout from western Georgia is already underway). The EU, Medvedev reported, has said that it will “assist in resolving the conflict, including by launching international mechanisms to maintain security around South Ossetia and Abkhazia”. Yesterday Medvedev signed treaties with South Ossetia and Abkhazia that will allow Russian troops to be based there: “We will not allow any new military adventure”, and there are plans to build a gas pipeline from Russia into South Ossetia. The peace settlements of the early 1990s are, of course, dead. Meanwhile Saakashvili continues to make ever wilder accusations: the most outrageous being that the Russians destroyed Tskhinvali. As to his current excuse that the Russians moved first, see JRL2008/170/21. Two accounts of the war: Georgian and Russian; they both provide indications, as I thought, that the Georgians were stopped by the Ossetians and, when the Russian got there, fled.

KHODORKOVSKIY. Lost in last month’s news was the fact that the local court rejected his request for parole.

ECONOMY ETC. Inflation seems to be coming down in the second half of the year as the government hoped: RosStat reports that the cost of the basic food basket declined 3.7% in Aug from Jul and, more recently, that inflation has been 10% since the beginning of the year. The Central Bank, however, expects the year-end rate to be 12%. But the financial crisis is hitting Russia hard with big losses on its stock exchanges; the government remains publicly confident and has just made large short-term loans to some banks. So, all bets are off.

ARCTIC. Turn up the hyperventilation index to eleven.

CARIBBEAN ADVENTURES. Russia will send some naval units, including the Petr Velikiy, to exercise with the Venezuelan Navy. A couple of long-range bombers visited recently. No doubt designed to irritate Washington. But all I can say is: does Moscow really think that Venezuela, Nicaragua and Belarus are very useful allies?

CAUCASIAN RUMOURS OF WARS. In the last two weeks, there have been several fights with “illegal armed groups”, as Moscow calls them, in Dagestan and Ingushetia. The situation is not getting quieter – especially in Ingushetia where the ill fruits of Putin’s decision to push Ruslan Aushev out of the presidency are being harvested.

OPPOSITION IN GEORGIA. Immediately upon the ending of martial law in Georgia on the 4th, the opposition began demanding Saakashvili’ departure. An open letter called for the launch of a public debate; Nino Burjanadze, and many in the opposition, refused to sign his “Charter of Georgian Politicians”; Kakha Kukava said the United Opposition will demand early elections: “We will not allow Saakashvili to continue living in a virtual world and people in a bitter reality”. Former Defence Minister Okruashvili, confirmed as a political refugee in France last week, confirmed there were long-standing invasion plans; said Saakashvili’s “days are numbered”; his party demanded Saakashvili’s immediate resignation as did several others. Even though the news media in Georgia is completely under the control of the government, this level of dissatisfaction cannot be hidden. (Something that got little coverage in the West was the shutdown of Georgia’s last independent TV station in November: last broadcast in Georgian, Russia Today coverage, interview with US manager). I do not see Saakashvili going willingly and the question will likely turn on whether his security apparatus will be as loyal to him as it was a year ago.

© Patrick Armstrong, Ottawa, Canada

The War He Actually Got

Probably published first on the now-defunct Russia Blog

President Saakashvili of Georgia is now (since 25 August) claiming that the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia on 7 August was a response to the movement of Russian forces through the Roki Tunnel into South Ossetia. (

First, we know this claim to be false because, in his “victory speech” on 8 August (, he did not say so. His excuse then was that the Ossetians had not responded to his ceasefire proposal made a few hours earlier and he also claimed a rather ineffective air attack by Russian forces. Second, deputy defence minister Batu Kutelia was quoted on 21 August saying Tbilisi did not expect a Russian response ( Third, Georgia’s former defence minister, Irakly Okruashvili, (now, like many of Saakashvili’s former colleagues, in opposition) has admitted that Tbilisi always had plans to conquer South Ossetia and Abkhazia (

But, let us assume – pretend – that on 7 August, the Russian 58th Army had started through Roki and ignore the fact that, had it done so, the Georgian forces would have met Russian soldiers in the early hours of the next day in Tskhinvali – the road distance from Roki to Tskhinvali is only about 55 kilometres. But there are no reports that they did.

But nevertheless, even if we assume this to be true, two serious questions remain. First, Tbilisi still has to explain the indiscriminate bombardment of a town that Saakashvili considers to be full of Georgian citizens: “liberated” being the word he used on the 8th. (A list of 312 Ossetians, by name, so far identified as killed is here (Although Saakashvili has the brass to blame Russia for that: “They leveled city of Tskhinvali with carpet bombardments and came around and blamed Georgians for that.” (or so he told Ms Rice on 15 August Second, we have to explain what the Georgian army thought it was doing in attempting a race up the single road hoping to beat the Russians, with their supposed head start, to Didi-Gupta or Roki. The “Russians moved first” accusation is a red herring.

Surely there is a much simpler explanation: Saakashvili always intended to re-gain South Ossetia, by war if necessary (we have Okruashvili’s testimony). The whole thing was supposed to have been more-or-less complete by Friday night; indeed, Saakashvili thought it was nearly over then and on the 8th he claimed that Georgian forces already controlled “most of South Ossetia”. Georgia’s friends in the West would be then be calling for a ceasefire in place. (Okruashvili’s assessment: “Saakashvili’s offensive only aimed at taking Tskhinvali, because he thought the U.S. would block a Russian reaction through diplomatic channels.”) Therefore, by Friday or Saturday, it would have been a done deal. A large percentage of Ossetians would have fled to the north away from the bombardment (a third to a half already had), more would be leaving, the Russians would be blocked and everyone would be looking at a fait accompli.

In short, the war that Tbilisi thought it was starting was a one- or two-day war which would have left South Ossetia empty of Ossetians and the Russians unable to do anything about it. And, as Okruashvili made clear, it would then be the turn of Abkhazia (“Abkhazia was our strategic priority, but we drew up military plans in 2005 for taking both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well”). In short a coup de main producing a quick fait accompli. Had the Georgian forces got through Tskhinvali and blocked the bridge at Didi-Gupta by Friday night, we’d be looking at a very different situation today.

A weakness of much analysis about wars is that analysts often try to explain why the war that actually happened began: how could Tbilisi have expected “little Georgia” to prevail against “mighty Russia”? But the real effort is to explain the war that the attacker thought he was starting. On the night of 7 August, Tbilisi, as many others in history have done (vide NATO’s 78-day, 20,000 sortie campaign in Kosovo and Serbia), began an operation that was expected to be short and victorious. But, as Field Marshal von Moltke observed: “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy”. Tbilisi’s hopes were stopped, first by the resolute action of Ossetian defenders (some Tskhinvali combat footage in; go to 7:50) and the arrival of Russian ground forces on Friday.

Saakashvili today has a different war to explain than he did on 8 August. Then it was the successful “liberation” of Georgia territory. Today he’s trying to justify something rather more apocalyptic: “Russia intends to destroy not just a country, but an idea…. This war threatens not only Georgia but security and liberty around the world.”, 15 August). He needs a new, bigger, explanation in which Georgia is the defender of “security and liberty around the world” against a Russia that wants to “demolish the post-cold war system of international relations in Europe”.


GEORGIA. Moscow has announced that all troops introduced on and after the 8th are back in Russia. But the peacekeepers remain, at a strength it is said, of 500 in South Ossetia. They have set up checkpoints south of the South Ossetian border (as well as to the east of the Abkhazia border). Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in a statement yesterday, insisted that the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan has in it “written in black and white that, before international mechanisms are created, Russian peacekeepers must carry out additional security measures”. Moscow is clearly taking this to mean that its forces can set up check points on the edges of the demilitarised zones (Map for Abkhazia showing restricted weapons zone; for South Ossetia reference (II.A.3)to 14-km band on either side of the border). Thus, pending the arrival of patrollers from elsewhere (Moscow has just said it would welcome an international police presence in the security zone), Moscow argues that it is abiding by the ceasefire agreements of the early 1990s. (Here is Shevardnadze discussing the South Ossetia agreement and its necessity: “Gamsakhurdia decided to invade the region… the Georgians were not ready for war and they were defeated”).

REINFORCING FAILURE. The US Vice President has just doubled Washington’s bet on Saakashvili. I particularly enjoyed his statement: “After your nation won its freedom in the Rose Revolution”. Freedom from what? Shevardnadze in his time was hailed as a brave democrat too, and not that long ago either.

AFTERMATH. The Organisation of Residents of South Ossetia Against Genocide has filed more than 300 lawsuits with the International Court. This website lists the names of 311 South Ossetian citizens killed who have been identified so far. Meanwhile there are credible reports of Georgians being driven out of South Ossetia. The Chairman of Georgia’s parliamentary defence and national security committee has slightly revised the figure he gave a couple of weeks ago to 156 soldiers, 13 police and 69 civilians killed.

AGITPROP. Two films. South Ossetian point of view (“The Wounds of Tskhinvali” – 30 min Russian, English subtitles). Georgian TV “Russian Marauding in Poti” – 4min, Georgian, no subtitles).

RUSSIAN FOREIGN POLICY PRINCIPLES. On Sunday Medvedev outlined five points of Moscow’s foreign policy. Appeal to international law principles (ie the UN et al); opposition to unilateralism; no desire for isolation; protection of citizens and interests; there are parts of the world where Russian has special interests. All this should be familiar from years of repetition, but no one used to bother to listen. Now they do and, because it all seems new to them, they draw the wrong conclusions.

A REMINDER. On Thursday a Russian ICBM, said to have measures against ABM systems, was launched.

TNK-BP. The long struggle may be over – the principals signed an MOU today.

CHICKEN WARS. PM Putin has announced that 19 US firms will not be allowed to export to Russia; he claimed sanitary grounds saying that the 19 had ignored Russian remonstrations.

MAGOMED YEVLOYEV. Magomed Yevloyev, an opponent of President Zyazikov of Ingushetia. was killed while in police custody on Sunday. The police story is that he was accidentally shot while trying to seize a weapon. The federal Investigative Committee has opened an investigation into his death.

GAS WARS. The low price that Ukraine has been paying for gas since 2006 was the consequence of Turkmenistan’s willingness to sell cheap. But it, the source of about 60% of Ukraine’s gas, is no longer prepared to do so; this has been clear since at least October 2007 and the Achilles heel of the January 2006 deal was always the question of how long it was willing to subsidise Ukrainian customers. It all began to unravel when President Niyazov died about 18 months ago and Berdymukhammedov started slowly reversing his acts. This will, as usual, be painted as another piece of Russian imperialism.

UKRAINE. The two principals of the “Orange Revolution” are again at each other’s throats. Yesterday, saying that PM Tymoshenko was starting a “political and constitutional coup d’état”, President Yushchenko threatened to dissolve parliament and call new elections. Tymoshenko’s party scorned this as “adventuristic lies”. Meanwhile, Yanukovich, head of the largest single party in the parliament, must be smiling. A new poll shows 46% of Ukrainians expecting NATO accession to destabilise the country and only 30% disagreeing with that proposition. But what do Ukrainians know about their own interests?

© Patrick Armstrong, Ottawa, Canada