Monday, October 6, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Will Explosions in South Ossetia Slow Moscow’s Withdrawal from Buffer Zone?

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 6 – After Friday’s explosions in Tskhinvali, South Ossetian officials and Russian media outlets have suggested that Georgian security services “are preparing new terrorist acts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” charges that Moscow could use to justify slowing its promised withdrawal of forces from other parts of the Republic of Georgia by October 10.
Even as Moscow begun pulling out some military units from the so-called “buffer zones” around South Ossetia and Abkhazia yesterday, officials in South Ossetia and Moscow blamed Georgia for the blasts whicih resulted in 11 deaths and said Tbilisi is planning more such attacks in the future (
In two articles over the last four days, Russian analyst Andrei Areshev suggests that he, like many in both Tskhinvali and Moscow, views Friday’s action as either part of a Georgian “low intensity” campaign against Russia or a second August 8th, the day the Russian-Georgian war began ( and
According to Areshev, “the diplomatic interference of the European Union” in the Russian-Georgian conflict up to this point and by means of its observers is intended to “transform the military-political success of Moscow into its political-diplomatic and eventually its military defeat in the Caucasus”
The Europeans, he continues in terms many Russians probably agree with, “want to penetrate the territory of the states newly recognized by Russia as if they remained Georgian territory,” a goal that Tbilisi fully supports as a step toward its recovery of these two breakaway republics.
And consequently, he writes, “the border territories of Georgia are being transformed into a launch pad for terrorist acts and provocations against the new states,” given that the EU observers not only will provide protection to Georgian activists but can be counted on to broadcast to the world Georgia’s version of whatever happens.
Indeed, he charges, “the OSCE observers have worked with the Georgian special services (the Interior Ministry and the department of military intelligence of the joint staff of the Armed Forces of Georgia) and have handed over to them information about the force structures of South Ossetia and the Russian peacekeeping battalion.”
It is in this context, Areshev argues that “the terrorist act in Tskhinval” [as Russians and South Ossetians now insist Tskhinvali be spelled] last Friday must be understood, an action that he insists represents “the beginning of a new stage of low intensity conflict” which perhaps points to a new Georgian adventure that could re-ignite the broader conflict.
According to Areshev, the South Ossetian interior ministry has in its possession “information about the preparation by Georgian special services of new terrorist acts on the territory” not only of South Ossetia but in Abkhazia as well. And he says that to inflame the situation, Georgians plan to stage provocations by dressing in Russian uniforms.
As a result, the Moscow analyst argues, “it is difficult not to agree” with a South Ossetian official “when he speaks about the complete lack of trust there to European observers” because “in the past they have already compromised themselves by their cooperation with Georgian military commanders.”
Over the next week, Russian peacekeepers are scheduled to quit “the buffer territory,” and as they do, South Ossetian interior minister Mikhail Mindzayev says “the Georgian side will continue its diversionary-terrorist activity on the territory of the Republic of South Ossetia,” shield by the presence of EU observers.
In this “difficult” situation, Areshev concludes, fulfilling the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan, especially since Tbilisi has put its own spin on it, could create real dangers, especially if Russian forces do not “destroy regardless of their location and despite diplomatic conditions” all the facilities that could be used for terrorist actions against South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
While he is careful not to suggest that Russia might fail to live up to its side of the plan, others are less so, with one independent Russian portal even being willing to ask pointedly who benefits from this explosion ( – Areshev’s words clearly reflect the view of many in the Russian security agencies who oppose a pullback.
And their beliefs, especially if carefully and cleverly articulated by Russian officials, almost certainly would find understanding among many in the West who are increasingly willing to accept Moscow’s version of the Russian-Georgian war in which Tbilisi is to blame even though it did not invade another country and Moscow is innocent even though it did.

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