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How realistic is the prospect of a new Russian aggression?

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, June 30
Currently Russian and some Western analysts are speculating about a possible new military assault and full-scale aggression by Russia against Georgia. They cite as arguments the facts that Moscow has ousted the international missions in the conflict zones, the OSCE from South Ossetia and now UNOMIG from Abkhazia, the Kremlin is conducting full-scale military exercises right on the border with Georgia as it did last summer and there are continual provocations, shootings and explosions occurring on the Russian-controlled side of the administrative borders. Therefore the preconditions for a second Georgian war are here.

Georgian analysts donít exclude such a theoretical possibility, but think it improbable. However on June 25 at a briefing in the USA former Putin adviser Andrey Ilarionov went so far as to name the exact date on which this action will begin. According to him Moscow will try to finish the job it started last August and overthrow the current Georgian administration on July 6. He also said that Russia plans the divide Georgia into 7-9 regions. Moscowís desire is to convince the world that Georgia is an unstable country and that nobody except Russia can calm it down.

Furthermore Ilarionov thinks that the West will make almost no reaction to the Kremlinís moves and thus it will reach its goal.

Ilarionovís interview was followed by an article by well-known Russian analyst Yulia Latinina, who highlighted the steps Moscow is taking to prepare for another war in Georgia. She says that from the point of view of common sense it would be madness to start a new war against Georgia but the Kremlin might do it nevertheless.

Why did Ilarionov give July 6 as the possible date of a new attack? On one hand it is the date Russia finishes its exercises, Kavkaz 2009, at the Georgian border, and on the other this is when US President Obamaís visit to Moscow begins. Ilarionov thinks that the date has been chosen by Moscow to show the world that the new war has US approval. The Times of London has also dedicated several articles to this topic, and maintains that the Kremlin is assuming that Europe and the USAís indignation will not last long and no serious sanctions will follow a new invasion.

Russian analyst Matvei Gonopolsky suggests that the Kremlin leadership is so aggressive that it is prepared to frustrate even Obamaís visit to Moscow. Our opinion is that it is improbable that Moscow will frustrate the Obama-Medvedev meeting or attack Georgia, at least for now. It is most likely that the Kremlin is trying to show its aggressiveness by threatening to launch a second campaign against Georgia so the West will focus on preventing this new aggression rather than demanding that Russia comply with the Sarkozy-Medvedev agreement.

The speculations about possible Russian aggression continue against the background of very serious internal political tension. Both the administration and opposition are using the Russian factor to reinforce their own position. Each side is accusing the other of undertaking pro-Russian activities. The administration excludes Russian direct aggression but says that Russia wants to destabilise the country and thus facilitate the removal of the administration, thus hinting that the opposition parties are working for Russia. The opposition categorically deny this, suggesting that the Georgian and Russian administrations are acting in cahoots, with Russia simulating a threat and the Georgian regime using this to divert attention from the internal confrontation.

In less than a month the EU fact finding commission led by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini will produce its final report on the details of the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war. Much will depend on the conclusions it draws. If the commission accuses Saakashvili of starting the war, as the Russian leadership always suggests, then of course this might encourage Moscow to unleash further aggression. If its conclusion is that Russia started the war by invading a neighbouring countryís territory Russia might become less aggressive, although of course it will not abandon its occupation of Georgian territories. Most likely however the commissionís conclusion will not be categorical and will simply be a catalogue of who did what when with no blame being attached to either side. The reportís conclusions will be balanced, and much will therefore depend on what the EU leadership does with it.