The War in Georgia: Issues of Escalation and Justification
This is a follow-up to my previous post concerning the legal issues of the conflict in Georgia with some more about the current military and diplomatic situations (and the resultant legal concerns).
The fighting is moving beyond South Ossetia and into other parts of Georgia, such as the port city of Poti. According to the New York Times:
Mr. Bush referred particularly to attacks spreading beyond South Ossetia, a reference to the Russian air strikes in parts of Georgia itself. “The attacks are occurring in regions of Georgia far from the zone of conflict in South Ossetia,” he said. “They mark dangerous escalation in the crisis. The violence is endangering regional peace, civilian lives are being lost, and others are in danger.”
Russia is also undertaking operations in Abkhazia, as well. Also from the Times:
On Saturday, Russia notified Western governments that its was moving elements of its Black Sea fleet to Ochamchira, a small port in the disputed enclave, a senior Western official said.
A senior Georgian security official said that Russian ships were moving toward Georgia’s Black Sea Cost in order to land ground troops, and that 12 Russian jets were bombing the Kadori Gorge in Abhazia, another breakaway region that hugs the Black Sea.
The de facto government of pro-Russian Abkhazia asked United Nationspeacekeepers to depart from their posts in the Kodori Gorge, a small mountainous area that Georgia had reclaimed by force in 2006.
The United Nations withdrew. Aerial bombardments of the gorge began soon after, the official said.
The Times also notes: “There were signs as well of a cyberwarfare campaign, as Georgian government Web sites were crashing intermittently during the day.”
On the diplomatic front, the US and European leaders have put the onus on Russia to cease its bombardments. There are indications, though, that US and European leaders were surprised and unhappy with the Georgian military action. The Times report that at the UN,
The Russians, who had called the emergency session [of the Security Council], proposed a short, three-paragraph statement that expressed concern about the escalating violence, and singled out Georgia and South Ossetia as needing to cease hostilities and return to the negotiating table.
But one phrase calling on all parties to “renounce the use of force” met with opposition, particularly from the United States, France and Britain. The three countries argued that the statement was unbalanced, one European diplomat said, because that language would have undermined Georgia’s ability to defend itself. Belgium, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month, circulated a revised draft calling for an immediate cessation of hostility and for “all parties” to return to the negotiating table. By dropping the specific reference to Georgia and South Ossetia, the compromise statement would also encompass Russia.
The Security Council was scheduled to meet Saturday to resume deliberations.
The U.S., France, and Britain are, as expected, focusing its diplomatic rhetoric on the twin goals of the territorial integrity of Georgia and the restoration of peace. It is interesting to note that they did not support language that would require Georgia to renounce the use of force; this is consistent with their position emphasizing the prerogatives of Georgian sovereignty over South Ossetia.
Russia, for its part is playing the card of its special role as peacekeeper for South Ossetia and its need to defend the South Ossetian population. How it will square this with activities in Abkhazia and elsewhere remains to be seen, though I assume it will be an argument that these operations were proportional and out of military necessity to stop Georgian activities in South Ossetia. So far, the US and other countries don’t seem to accept such a justification as they are are terming Russian activities an “escalation.”