Russia certainly demonstrated its capacity for good timing when it decided to make war against Georgia on the same day that the Olympics began in Beijing. I don’t know specifics about the balance of forces between Russia and Georgia but my gut tells me that while the Russian military outclasses the Georgian one, it isn’t by much and the experience of recent Russian military adventures informs us that perhaps, just perhaps, Moscow might have chosen yet again to get over its head militarily.
Of course, the disconcerting thing regarding this latest bout of Russian military adventurism is that it demonstrates an increased and worrisome tendency for Russia to throw its weight around in all sorts of unhealthy and aggressive ways throughout the old Soviet empire. And this exercise of power has very real and very worrisome consequences. According to this report, over 1300 civilians are already dead as a result of the conflict. This report pegs the number of civilian dead at 1500. It also quotes the following rare bit of dissent flowing out of Russia these days:
“The war in Ossetia instantly showed the idiocy of our state management,” said a commentator on the liberal radio station, Ekho Moskvy. “Who is in charge — Putin or Medvedev?”
Surely, this is a trick question. But whatever its answer, “idiocy” is a good way to describe the thinking of the Russian government, which has proceeded to make itself even more of a pariah in the international community.
But this is cold comfort to innocent Russians and Georgians who find themselves embroiled in an appalling conflict. It is cold comfort to Georgian supporters of President Mikhail Saakashvili, who is being targeted for overthrow and elimination by a Kremlin that hates him with a passion. It is cold comfort to the United States, which Saakashvili counts as a friend. And while the conflict over South Ossetia is bad enough, one must remember that there is a separate conflict between the Russians and Georgians as well; this one over the Abkhazia region. In the near term, at least, the Russians and Georgians are, alas, not apt to run out of things to fight about.