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The Guns of August

As we pass into October, what has happened to the Guns of August? Those who recall Barbara Tuchman's famous book about the origins of WWI must remember the uncanny way that Europe gives rise to conflict in late summer. In Georgia — or what used to be parts of Georgia — the guns are silent now, but is peace at hand in the Caucasus?

Surveying the scene along these former ramparts should give us pause.

As the New York Times reports today, 200 European Union peacekeepers have arrived in Georgia, one of the provisions set forth in the EU-brokered ceasefire. But — surprise! — the Russian military is hampering their entry into the so-called buffer zones on the Georgian side of the borders of Southern Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russian troops remain in these buffer zones, well beyond the contested regions and well within the territory that all parties — even the Russian Federation — acknowledge to be part of Georgia. Where the Russian troops are, no other "outsiders" are welcome.

As Moscow has enforced its will, the international community — not to mention Tbilisi — has appeared impotent. So, you say, it serves those hotheaded Georgians right. After all, didn't they start the conflict on August 7th, just as the world was distracted by the start of the Olympic games in Beijing? After all, wasn't Russia merely reacting in defense of Russian citizens living in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, crossing into these lands to stop a "genocide" that Georgian forces had already begun?

Surprise, once again. The latest reports show again — and convincingly — that, on August 7th, the Russian guns were primed and ready, Russian forces ready and massed for attack, and compliant Russian media embedded among the troops. This was well before the Georgians, provoked by cross-border fire from within South Ossetia, succumbed to the Russian trap.

We can be thankful that the guns are silent, but we should not be reassured. Russia has concluded that it can work its will in its "near abroad." With so many ethnic Russians residing in these border countries, it is a simple and emotionally compelling act to manufacture a grievance that leaves Russia no choice but to intervene, lest there be another "genocide."

This is well-worn territory in Europe. Hitler's Germany had "no choice" but to help the Sudentendeutsch so victimized by Czechoslovakia in the fall of 1938. Serbia's Milosevic had "no choice" but to rush to the aid of minority Serbs living in Kosovo in the summer of 1989. With the United States distracted by its long election campaign, and world staggering from the turmoil in financial markets, it will not take much for Russia to find another grievance close at hand.

 

Author

Mark Dillen

Mark Dillen heads Dillen Associates LLC, an international public affairs consultancy based in San Francisco and Croatia. A former Senior Foreign Service Officer with the US State Department, Mark managed political, media and cultural relations for US embassies in Rome, Berlin, Moscow, Sofia and Belgrade, then moved to the private sector. He has degrees from Columbia and Michigan and was a Diplomat-in-Residence at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins. Mark has also worked for USAID as a media and political advisor and twice served as election observer and organizer for OSCE in Eastern Europe.

Areas of Focus:
US Government; Europe; Diplomacy

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