While the world’s attention was focused on the sensational Olympic opening ceremonies in Beijing, Russian tanks were rolling into the former Soviet republic of Georgia. The Russians claimed they were protecting the ethnic Russians living in South Ossetia, a region in northern Georgia, from Georgian forces who had moved in to punish separatist forces. Let’s go back a bit to see how this all came to a head. When Georgia declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the people in South Ossetia shortly after tried to become independent from Georgia. Fighting erupted and finally Georgia and Russia signed a peace treaty where South Ossetia remained part of Georgia, but Russian peacekeeping troops remained. Russia also issued Russian passports to the people of South Ossetia, essentially making them Russian citizens.
What set off the recent conflict is that Georgia launched a surprise operation last week to restore its control in South Ossetia. This was all Russia needed to launch a full scale invasion with their forces that just happened to be at the border. In addition to driving the Georgian forces out of South Ossetia, Russian troops advanced into clear Georgian territory to capture the town of Gori which is located in the middle of the country along the main east-west highway. Furthermore, Russia captured Georgian military bases and sank a Georgian naval vessel. Russian aircraft bombed the Georgian capitol of Tbillsi attacking not only military targets, but also civilians.
From my point of view (I have a degree in history and military history as well as teach high school history), Russia was just waiting for an opportunity to move into Georgia. This former republic has become very friendly with the west and the US is working with it to include it in NATO. Russia, which is becoming an economic power due to its oil reserves, has taken a back seat since the end of Communism and under the leadership of Putin, who by the way is no longer president, but still pulls the strings, has tried to regain its status are a world power with which to be reckoned. Other former Soviet republics are also leaning to the west. It appears that Georgia may be Russia’s example to the rest. Russian foreign policy has often been heavy-handed, especially when dealing with smaller countries. Now it looks like Putin is taking a page out of Al Capone’s tactics from 1920’s Chicago.
As for Tom Clancy, it is interesting that part of the premise of the upcoming game, Tom Clancy’s EndWar is that Russia, gaining power by exporting oil after trouble in the Middle East, starts World War III in order to regain its supremacy in Europe. However, with the US busy in Iraq and Afghanistan, will the west be able to support Georgia? Or will they let it fall to Russia just like France and Britain let Czechoslovakia fall to Hitler’s Germany (which also began as protection for ethnic Germans)? Time will tell.