Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Situation in Georgia Today Recalls Stalin’s in Finland in1939, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Baku, May 8 – Moscow’s charge that Tbilisi preparing to invade Abkhazia is just as absurd as Stalin’s suggestion that Finland was planning to attack the USSR in 1939, according to a Moscow military analyst. But far more serious, the Russian Federation could soon find itself in a similar military situation to that in the Winter War, one in which the Russian side lost.
In an interview to Georgia’s Interpressnews agency late yesterday, Pavel Fel’gengauer, military affairs analyst for Moscow’s Novaya gazeta, discussed the current military situation in Abkhazia, Moscow’s propaganda campaign against Tbilisi, and what is likely to happen next (
Fel’gengauer, who is widely recognized as one of Russia’s most astute national security analysts, said that the Russia side had introduced forces into the Tkvarchel district that “unlike peacekeepers” have “artillery and heavy weapons,” a projection of force apparently intended to help drive the pro-Tbilisi “Abkhaz government in exile” out of Kodorskiy gorge.
That has long been a goal of the Abkhaz government, many of whose members believe that a major “cause of the non-recognition of the independence of Abkhazia” by Russia is that government and its role in maintaining Georgian control of the highland districts of their breakaway republic.
Assertions by the Russian foreign ministry that “Georgia is preparing a place des armes I the Kodorsky gorge for an attack on Abkhazia are laughable,” Fel’gengauer says, because “even if the entire Georgian army were to be placed [there], it would be physically impossible to attack Sukhumi.”
Indeed, the “Novaya gazeta” commentator says, “the declarations by the Russian side [on this point] recall [Stalin’s] propagandistic preparation for the [Soviet] attack on Finland in 1939 when [Moscow] accused the Finns of aggression.” Today, “military actions are being prepared in Kodorskiy gorge but not by the Georgians.”
According to his information, Fel’gengauer said, Abkhazian units are assembling near the village of Tsebella in the lower part of the gorge. From there they can reach the upper reaches of the gorge by passing along the new road Tbilisi has built. Using howitzers and Grad rockets, they can prevent the Georgians from an effective response.
In addition, the additional Russian “peacekeeping forces” now in the Kodorskiy gorge will be in a position to prevent the Georgians from attacking Abkhazia on its flanks.” When his Georgian interlocutor noted that this was not a pleasant prospect, Fel’gengauer said that he understood but that “unfortunately, everything is going in that direction.”
But then he pointed out that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is “speaking the truth when he says that Russia does not intend to conduct a serious fight with Georgia. Moscow only wants to teach Tbilisi a lesson.”
Moscow understands that “threats by Russia against Georgia are insufficient” to force the Georgians to leave the Kodorskiy gorge and not begin military actions in other directions.” And consequently, it has introduced its own forces to help the Abkhaz achieve their goals against the pro-Tbilisi government.
But Fel’gengauer implies, Moscow may have seriously miscalculated. If events develop and get out of hand, “then Russia in reality will find itself in a worse situation than the Soviet Union did in 1939 in connection with Finland.” That is because whatever Russia’s diplomats or generals say, “in the contemporary world, no one will believe them.”
And consequently, Fel’gengauer argues in conclusion, unlike the Finns in 1939, “Georgia today will receive what it has always wanted – international support.

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