25 August 2008

* US Aid to Georgia Raises Questions for Russia

The Russians still have not completed withdrawal from Georgia. It is clear that, at least for the time being, the Russians intend to use the clause in the cease-fire agreement that allows them unspecified rights to protect their security to maintain troops in some parts of Georgia. Moscow obviously wants to demonstrate to the Georgians that Russia moves at its own discretion, not at the West's. A train carrying fuel was blown up outside of Gori, with the Georgians claiming that the Russians have planted mines.
Whether the claim is true or not, the Russians are trying to send a simple message: We are your best friends and worst enemies. The emphasis for the
moment is on the latter.

It is essential for the Russians to demonstrate that they are not intimidated by the West in any way. The audience for this is the other former Soviet republics, but also the Georgian public. It is becoming clear that the Russians are intent on seeing Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili removed from office. Moscow is betting that as the crisis dies down and Russian troops remain in Georgia, the Georgians will develop a feeling of isolation and turn on Saakashvili for leading them into a disaster. If that doesn't work, and he remains president, then the Russians have forward positions in Georgia. Either way, full withdrawal does not make sense for them, when the only force against them is Western public opinion.
That alone will make the Russians more intractable.

It is interesting, therefore, that a U.S. warship delivered humanitarian supplies to the Georgians. The ship did not use the port of Poti, which the Russians have effectively blocked, but Batumi, to the south. That the ship was a destroyer is important. It demonstrates that the Americans have a force available that is inherently superior to anything the Russians have:
the U.S. Navy. A Navy deployment in the Black Sea could well be an effective
counter, threatening Russian sea lanes.

While it was a warship, however, it was only a destroyer -- so it is a gesture, but not a threat. But there are rumors of other warships readying to transit into the Black Sea. This raises an important issue: Turkey.
Turkey borders Georgia but has very carefully stayed out of the conflict.
Any ships that pass through Turkish straits do so under Turkish supervision guided by the Montreux Convention, an old agreement restricting the movement of warships through the straits -- which the Russians in particular have ignored in moving ships into the Mediterranean. But the United States has a particular problem in moving through the Bosporus. Whatever the Convention says or precedent is, the United States can't afford to alienate Turkey -- not if there is a crisis in the Caucasus.

Each potential American move has a complication attached. However, at this moment, the decision as to what to do is in the hands of the United States. The strategic question is whether it has the appetite for a naval deployment in the Black Sea at this historical moment. After that is answered, Washington needs to address the Turkish position. And after a U.S. squadron deploys in the Black Sea, the question will be what Russia, a land power, will do in response. The Europeans are irrelevant to the equation, even if they do hold a summit as the French want. They can do nothing unless the United States decides to act, and they can't stop the United States if it does decide to go.

The focus now is on the Americans. They can let the Russo-Georgian war slide into history and deal with Russia later on, or they can act. What Washington will decide to do is the question the arrival of the U.S.S. McFaul in Georgia posed for the Russians.


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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.