South Ossetia

George Friedman has a good short analysis of what happened in South Ossetia from the Russian perspective. He doesn’t have an explanation from the U.S. perspective, and I don’t either. It seems possible that Saakashvili ordered the invasion of South Ossetia without any support from the U.S., and that the U.S. felt obliged to support him after the fact. It would have been very irresponsible for the U.S. to encourage his attack, given that 1) it predictably led directly to a confrontation with Russia, and 2) the U.S. could not militarily support the move even if they wanted to.

Given that the U.S. supported an independence referendum for Kosovo, they should have supported one for South Ossetia as well. I see no principled difference there, just that Georgia is an ally and Serbia is not. With Russia now occupying South Ossetia (and Abkhazia) the chances of a real independence referendum seem low.

The only reason the small war is of any interest to the U.S. is, of course, oil. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was designed to get oil from the Caspian Sea to the West while avoiding Russia and Iran. It runs through Georgia. This is the pipeline featured in the James Bond film “The World is Not Enough,” though the real one is presumably more prosaic.


  1. fche said,

    October 24, 2008 @ 7:22 am

    This may be worth your time to read – it challenges the gospel of Saakashvili being the aggressor.

  2. ilyak said,

    October 24, 2008 @ 11:21 am

    Now this pipeline wouldn’t run via Tbilisi because of all that war stuff, would it?

  3. Ian Lance Taylor said,

    October 24, 2008 @ 5:01 pm

    fche: Thanks. As you know, all of that information is disputed. The Georgians are changing their story regularly, and the Russians aren’t bothering to provide any story at all. For my purposes, it’s all irrelevant. Whatever the provocation, Saakashvili did order his troops into South Ossetia. The U.S. either did or did not know that he was going to do that. Saakashvili either did or did not expect the U.S. to support him. Russia either acted before he did or they didn’t. What is relevant is that Saakashvili acted, and it was predictable that Russian forces would defeat Georgian forces. For the U.S., this was a bad outcome. If the U.S. knew about his plans beforehand, they should have stopped them.

    ilyak: The pipeline is there and working. Russia wants to gain as much control as possible over it, so they can apply pressure by shutting it down, as they’ve done in the past. The U.S. wants to keep the pipeline out of Russian hands as much as possible. If there were no pipeline, nobody in the U.S. would care about what happened in Georgia, any more than they care about what happens in Congo.

  4. ppluzhnikov said,

    October 24, 2008 @ 8:47 pm

    I don’t agree that this analysis is “from Russian perspective”. The author is CEO of, which is privately owned and has headquarters in Austin, TX.

    Personally, I agree with the analysis: Russians in general can’t tell an Ossetian from a Georgian (they all are “persons of Caucasian nationality”, which is a pejorative term in Russia), and wouldn’t have much cared about a Georgian invasion into Ossetia, except to show U.S. “who is the boss” in ex-USSR.

    As for the current U.S. administration acting irresponsibly, this wouldn’t be the first time they have done so, would it?

  5. fche said,

    October 25, 2008 @ 7:05 am

    > For the U.S., this was a bad outcome. If the U.S. knew about his plans beforehand, they should have stopped them.

    I was under the impression that you were not a supporter of the US imposing its will on other nations.

  6. Ian Lance Taylor said,

    October 27, 2008 @ 7:49 pm

    You both caught me in sloppy and misleading wording. Sorry about that.

    ppluzhnikov: By the “Russian perspective” I meant that it analyzed Russia’s actions in terms of Russia’s interests. This is a perspective which is often missing from U.S. newspapers these days. Back in the 70’s there was quite a bit of Kremlinology, in which the USSR’s intentions were analyzed in terms of signals such as who attended the opera. This always seemed rather desperate to me, an act of using information that was available rather than information that was meaningful, but I have to admit that the Soviet leaders themselves seemed to send those signals deliberately. Hopefully we will not have to go back to those days, although today’s Russia is not much more communicative to the West.

    fche: I didn’t mean that the U.S. should use force or anything like that. I meant that the U.S. should have tried to talk him out of it, and, if he went ahead anyhow, the U.S. should have disavowed his action while still trying to talk Russia back to their own borders. It’s possible that the U.S. did try to talk him out of it, we don’t really know.

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