August 8th, 2008
09:42 PM ET

Russia vs. Georgia, why such concern?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/08/08/art.russian.soldiers.jpg caption="Russian peacekeepers guard their outpost at South Ossetian border in an unknown location in Georgia, Thursday."]

Jill Dougherty | Bio
U.S. Affairs Correspondent

If you’ve never heard of South Ossetia it’s understandable.

This tiny, mountainous region in the Republic of Georgia, population only 70,000, considers itself independent from Georgia and lives that way, with its own secessionist government. Most of its citizens, ethnic Ossetians, want to be reunited with Ossetians in Russia; many of them even have Russian passports and use Russian money.

The South Ossetians have held two referendums on independence but no country in the world has recognized their vote.

Now, South Ossetia is engulfed in fighting, refugees are fleeing north to Russia and the international community is scrambling to avert a wider conflict. Why such concern?

One reason is the potential for the fighting to spin out of control. South Ossetia is no stranger to violence. After the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991, South Ossetia was hit with heavy fighting between Ossetians and Georgians. In 1992 Russian, Ossetian and Georgian peacekeepers were brought in to quell tensions. The entire Caucasus mountain region in which the region is located is a patchwork quilt of ethnic groups and ethnic tensions. One example is neighboring Chechnya.

Georgia also strategically sits astride an oil pipeline route from the Caspian Sea to the West.

Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili has made Georgian unification a centerpiece of his domestic policy and his foreign policy goals, along with integration with the West and joining NATO. All of those goals worry Russia which has grave concern about NATO’s encroaching on its southern flank.

Both sides, Georgia and Russia, have extremists who are eager to provoke the other side. Some in Russia openly speak of annexing South Ossetia and carrying out “regime change” against the Georgian president. Some in Georgia have no compunction about tempting Russia to intervene in order to bring down the West’s condemnation on Moscow and curry the West’s support for Georgia.

President Saakashvili, who went down in history as the leader of the 2003 “Rose Revolution,” is urging President Bush to “stand up for freedom” and support Georgia’s cause. Russian president Dmitri Medvedev claims Moscow is justified in using force, and says he has no choice but to intervene when Russian peacekeepers and Russian citizens are under attack.

Ultimately, what happens in tiny South Ossetia has big implications for the United States. More than any other country, the U.S. has strong influence on Georgia. President Saakashvili, for example, contributed 2,000 peacekeepers to Iraq. Now, Georgia says its must bring them home as its own country mobilizes for war.

The U.S. faces a serious challenge: Can Washington help pull both sides back from the brink of war, support its ally Georgia, without increasing tensions with Russia?

Filed under: 360° Radar • Global 360° • Jill Dougherty
soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. Blair

    Why are we not supporting Georgia more formally, in terms of military support? They supported us to the tune of 2000 soldiers in Iraq, and now we're turning our backs on an ally. This is wrong.

    People won't be our allies if we continually turn our backs on the people that help us in THEIR moment of need (e.g. think mujahadeen in afghanistan after the Soviet War or the Kurds of northern Iraq after the first Gulf War).

    Americans look like hypocrites here and I'm getting really tired of it.

    August 11, 2008 at 9:39 am |
  2. Jack Quann, Dublin (Ireland)

    I never really fully understood the Russia-Gerogia conflict, and I'm not sure I do now. But from the sounds of things, this is more like tribal fighting over land or the Basque's fighting in Spain than it is anything else. Did we not have a similar situation earlier this yesr with Kosovo? And that worked out fine in the end. If nothing else, this current conflict is giving South Ossetia (and it's factions) a voice and a place on the map.

    August 11, 2008 at 9:23 am |
  3. Cee

    I would oppose going to war with Russia over their invasion of Georgia, BUT isn't it ironic that the military options of the US are limited there because our army is currently over extended. And one huge reason for that is that we have deployed additional troops to Iraq when it stressed our military to do so.

    George Bush and John McCain think only in terms of tactics; they fail to plan two moves ahead in global strategy. I want a commander-in-chief who thinks big picture and long range and doesn't take a position based on the views of the last person he spoke with.

    August 11, 2008 at 9:16 am |
  4. james A. Joher

    Good work on the broadcasts last week
    This e-mail is in reference to more information on reasons why there has been an abrupt war in Georgia with Russia.
    good job over the weekend on the broadcasts Christiana very good work
    James from Anaheim, Ca.

    August 11, 2008 at 2:39 am |
  5. Dr. MBJ

    If it is confirmed that Saakashvili engaged in ethnic cleansing of civilians in S. Ossetia (and the UN ultimately will need to determine whether this really is the case), then the US, I feel, has a legitimate reason for not providing any military support for Georgia. The US can support Georgia's independence and democracy, but cannot condone the military action against civilizations - just as it must reject the bombing of Georgian civilian targets by the Russians. This is the high road that allows the US to avoid military confrontation but always attenuate some perceptions that it is abandoning its allies. The US will support its allies militarily, but not if they engage in ethnic cleansing and other human rights abuses.

    August 10, 2008 at 11:52 pm |
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