The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 72/No. 34      September 1, 2008

Invading Russian troops dig in
(lead article)
Despite statements that they would withdraw from Georgia, Russian troops are still digging in.

Russian soldiers fortified positions at the entrance of Georgia’s main Black Sea port in the city of Poti, according to the August 21 Washington Post. They dug trenches, set up mortar stations, and blocked a key bridge with armored personnel carriers.

They also dug permanent structures, including earthen berms with barbed wire, on the road between Gori and Tskhinvali, capital of South Ossetia. In other parts of Georgia, Russian troops continued to destroy Georgian military equipment and bases.

“This is the buffer zone,” Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian military’s general staff, declared at an August 19 news conference. He pointed to a map showing a swath of Georgian territory stretching from South Ossetia to the region of Abkhazia, effectively dividing Georgia in half. The country is slightly smaller than South Carolina,

Nogovitsyn claims a cease-fire agreement gives Russian forces the right “to move and occupy the borders of the zone.”

The six-point “cease-fire” was crammed down the throat of the Georgian government by Paris and Washington.

A Georgian official said French president Nicolas Sarkozy told the Georgians they had to accept the August 12 agreement because otherwise a Russian tank assault on the capital could ensue.

U.S. secretary of state Condolezza Rice flew to Tbilisi to strong-arm the Georgian government into signing the accord. She brought a side letter signed by Sarkozy that “clarified” that the accord allows the Russian forces to stay in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and to “implement additional security measures.”

Rice hammered Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili during a nearly five-hour meeting. According to press reports, he emerged shaken and almost in tears. He agreed to sign.

According to the Wall Street Journal the revised accord allows Russian troops that were in South Ossetia before the fighting broke out “to stay and to patrol temporarily in a strip of up to 6.2 miles” deeper inside Georgian territory.

Moscow claimed its invasion was necessary to defend South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two regions that have declared independence from Georgia. On August 14, Russian president Dimitry Medvedev met with South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity and Abhkazian president Sergei Bagapsh in Moscow to call for international recognition of the independence of the two regions.

Kokoity, formerly the head of the Stalinist Communist Youth in Tskhinvali, won the presidency in 2001 in elections that were not recognized outside of Moscow. Kokoity admits that 23,000 Georgians have been forced out of South Ossetia. “We do not intend to allow them back,” he said August 15.

Bagapsh spent most of his political career inside the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Abkhazia’s independence was declared in 1992 after a war that ended in the expulsion of 300,000 Georgians from Abhkazia and the election of Bagapsh, first as prime minister and then as president.  
Russian domination of Georgia
From the time of the tsars, Russia has been a prisonhouse of nations. Except during the early years of the Russian revolution—under the leadership of the Bolsheviks led by V.I. Lenin—Georgia faced chauvinist domination by governments based in Russia. That domination continues today.

Thirty-one percent of Georgia’s 4.5 million people live below the official poverty line. Until the advance of cellular service, which now reaches the entire country, only 4 out of 100 people in the countryside had phone access. Even with the rising tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi, 50 percent or more of Georgia’s economy is owned by Russian businesses, according to the Association for Economic Security of Georgia.

Remittances from up to 1 million Georgians who live in more industrially advanced Russia reached $558 million in 2007.

More than half of Georgia’s labor force works in agriculture, which includes grapes, citrus fruits, and hazelnuts. There are also small manganese and copper mines which employ 8,600 workers.

Once part of the Silk Road between Europe and Asia, Georgia continues to be an important transit point for everything from stockings to eggs shipped from Turkey to the former Soviet Union.  
Georgian gov’t looks to Washington
Saakashvili, after he was elected president of Georgia in January 2004, moved to deepen ties with Washington and accelerate capitalist investment.

Moscow was not pleased with construction of the 1,000-mile Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline from Azerbaijan to Georgia, which began operation in 2006, along with a natural gas line. The pipelines weakened Russian control of energy in the region.

Moscow also saw a challenge to its power when U.S. president George Bush pushed for both Georgia and Ukraine to begin the road to membership in NATO, the U.S.-led imperialist military alliance.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin bluntly told a NATO meeting that he viewed “the appearance of a powerful military bloc” on Russia’s borders as “a direct threat.”

Since coming to power, Saakashvili has tripled the country’s military budget to $3.2 billion and accepted U.S. and Israeli advisors.

He also sent 2,000 Georgian troops to bolster U.S. forces in Iraq. At the start of the recent fighting, Washington agreed to bring the Georgian brigade home aboard U.S. aircraft—but without their gear.  
U.S. missile base in Poland
While Moscow hoped that the invasion of Georgia would maintain its domination of the region and push back NATO, Washington took advantage of the Russian invasion to seal a long-stalled deal with Warsaw to place a U.S. missile defense base with 10 interceptors in Poland.

A week after the invasion, agreement was reached that U.S. soldiers would staff air defense sites in Poland—the first permanent stationing of U.S. troops there—and would rapidly defend Poland in case of an attack. A U.S. Patriot battery will be moved from Germany to Poland and operated by a U.S. crew.

“We have crossed the Rubicon,” Polish primer minister Donald Tusk said.

In an angry response Russian colonel general Anatoly Nogovitsyn said Poland was “exposing” itself to a possible Russian nuclear attack by allowing the missiles to be placed there. Moscow rejected U.S. assurances that the missiles are needed to protect against threats from Iran.

Another complication for Moscow occurred when Ukranian president Viktor Yuschenko issued a decree that the Russian navy give 72 hours’ notice before undertaking any movements from Sevastopol, the Black Sea Fleet’s main base, which is on Ukrainian territory. According to the weekly Argumenty Nedeli, the fleet has been severely weakened since the break up of the Soviet Union.

Moscow charges that the Saakashvili government committed “genocide” in South Ossetia. Russian officials claim that as many as 2,000 of Tskhinvali’s 10,000 residents were killed when Georgian troops attacked the South Ossetian city with rockets August 7.

However, the Financial Times reported that a later Russian commission looking into the charges said 133 civilians has been killed by Georgian troops.

While some neighborhoods were leveled during the fighting, according to some reporters, the heaviest damage was around the city’s government center. Many neighborhoods were unscathed. Tshkhinvali Regional Hospital has confirmed some 40 deaths, including civilians and combatants.

In contrast, the Financial Times noted that in some Georgian villages in South Ossetia, 90 percent of the houses are charred and abandoned. Russian officers admit that Ossetian irregular forces had been “marauding,” looting, and killing Georgians. Russian troops have done nothing to prevent this.

On August 15, Nogovitsyn denied reports by Human Rights Watch that Russian planes had dropped cluster bombs on the towns of Gori and Ruisi, Georgia.  
Moscow steps up pressure
Moscow had stepped up economic and military pressure against Georgia for the last three years.

Until 2006 most Georgian exports went to Russia, including 90 percent of Georgian wine production. That year Moscow banned imports of Georgian wine and mineral water and imposed an air, sea, and postal blockade after Georgian officials arrested several Russians on spy charges. Russia, Georgia’s main energy source at the time, also steeply raised gas prices.

During the winter of 2006 South Ossetian forces blew up a gas pipeline to Georgia, leaving the country without electricity or heat for two weeks, according to the Los Angeles Times.  
Russian army gets ready
Steps were taken well beforehand to prepare for combat. A week before the fighting Moscow completed a major railway upgrade in Abkhazia, key to the transport of troops. In July the Russian army held a military exercise called Caucasus 2008, just north of Georgia’s border. Among the units involved was the 58th Army, which later led the attack into Georgia. Skirmishes between the so-called South Ossetian “irregular” forces and the Georgian army increased.

It makes no difference who fired the first shot or whether or not Tbilisi fell into a Russian “trap.” The attempt by Georgian troops to occupy South Ossetia lasted less than a day; Russian troops backed by air power pushed the Georgians out and continued to advance into Georgian territory.

According to the United Nations more than 118,000 people, mostly Georgians, have been forced to flee their homes.

Since the invasion, Moscow has tightened the squeeze on Georgia.

British Petroleum (BP) closed down its 150,000-barrel-a-day oil pipeline that runs through Georgia to the Black Sea, citing fears of fallout from the fighting. It also temporarily shut down a second pipeline carrying Azerbaijani natural gas to Georgia and Turkey. After a key rail line was destroyed August 16—the only route across the country since the closure of the pipelines—BP halted all oil shipments.

On August 17 Russian troops seized the Inguri hydroelectric plant in Abhkazia, which supplies about 60 percent of Georgia’s electricity.  
A weakened Russian military
Moscow’s rapid military victory against a much smaller army can be misleading. The Russian army has about 640,000 troops, Georgia’s some 27,000. According to the Moscow Times, an English-language daily, the assault relied on elite commando and army units.

“The technical sophistication of the Russian forces turned out to be inferior in comparison with the Georgian military,” the Moscow-based daily said. Much of its equipment is antiquated. Several tanks and armored personnel carriers broke down as the Russian forces headed to South Ossetia.

The U.S. military also paid close attention to the Russian capabilities. “To the surprise of American military officers,” the New York Times said, “an impaired Georgian air-defense system was able to down at least six Russian jets.”  
U.S. ‘left’ groups back invasion
Virtually all U.S. middle-class radical groups that call themselves socialists have backed or covered up for Moscow’s invasion of Georgia.

Among these is the Communist Party USA, which for decades backed the Stalinist bureaucratic regime in Moscow, including its Great Russian chauvinist policies against oppressed nations in the Soviet Union. An article in the August 16-22 issue of the People’s Weekly World, which reflects the CPUSA’s views, defends the invasion, noting that “Russia has said it would never tolerate a NATO power on its borders.” It falsely dresses up the Russian grab for territory as Moscow defending self-determination for an oppressed people, claiming “With Russian support, Georgia granted South Ossetia autonomy [in the early 1990s]. It has functioned as a de facto independent country ever since.”.

An editorial in the same issue emphasizes a bourgeois pacifist appeal, as part of the U.S. Stalinists’ class-collaborationist course and pro-Democratic Party orientation. “The current conflict in Georgia shows just how dangerous it is in this 21st century world to pursue political goals by military means,” it states.

Workers World Party, whichhas backed reactionary actions by Stalinist regimes from the 1956 Soviet crushing of a workers revolt in Hungary to the Serb regime’s bloody assaults on Kosova, is unabashedly backing the current Russian assault on Georgia. It use the fallacious argument that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”—if Washington is at odds with Moscow, then the Kremlin is on the side of progress.

“U.S. hidden hand pushes Ossetia war” is the headline of an article in the August 13 issue of the weekly Workers World. In the August 21 issue it declares, “Georgia is at the center of U.S. imperialism’s moves to control the oil-rich Caspian Sea region.” It says Moscow is seeking to control oil fields in the region and that the “U.S. ruling class has no intention of allowing Russia to become an imperialist rival.” That’s put forward bald-facedly as a reason to hail the Russian invasion of Georgia. The paper repeats Moscow’s lie about Georgian “genocide” and reprints a statement by a Stalinist outfit in Georgia condemning the “Russian-phobic and pro-fascist antipopular regime of Saakashvili,” a statement that could have appeared in the Moscow pro-government press.

The Party for Socialism and Liberation, a split from Workers World Party, applauded the Kremlin thugs with an article on their Web site,, titled, “Moscow deals a setback to Washington’s geostrategic goals.” It proudly reports that PSL presidential candidate Gloria La Riva was interviewed on Russia Today Television, where she declared, “Russia has a right to defend itself and a right to be concerned about encroachment by the United States in the former Soviet republics.”

The Socialist Worker, reflecting the views of the International Socialist Organization, echoes some of the same arguments in a piece in the August 12 issue titled “How imperial rivalries stoked war in Georgia.” It takes a “plague on both your houses” approach in decrying the Russian invasion while complaining that “far less attention is given to the vicious attack of the Georgian military—trained by the U.S.—on the disputed South Ossetia region.” The paper also dismisses the Kosova independence struggle, stating that “the U.S. used the nationalist movement of Kosovar Albanians to carve out a now-independent Kosovo as an outpost of NATO in the Balkans.” It ends with a CPUSA-like pacifist wail, “Russia’s war in Georgia signals a new, dangerous phase in world politics that is already dominated by endless war and economic crisis.

In France, the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR), which is part of the same international current as Socialist Action in the United States, ran an editorial in the August 12 issue of its paper, Rouge, titled “The Caucasus region: Stop the fighting now!” The editorial declares, “Blame lies on both sides,” referring to the Great Russian invaders and Georgia. Instead of calling on all Russian troops to get out of Georgia now, it ends with a pacific plea, “A spirit of brotherhood is needed.”
Related articles:
Russian troops out of Georgia!
Wars in Chechnya revealed Moscow’s chauvinism
How Lenin fought to defend Georgia’s self-determination
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