Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Foreign Bank Accounts Prevent War

04 June 2008 By Yulia Latynina / Staff Writer

Georgia says Russia was planning to invade the Kodor Gorge during the early morning hours on May 9. Although the breakaway republic of Abkhazia considers the gorge a part of its territory, in the strict legal sense, the Kodor Gorge is Georgian territory and it is controlled by Tbilisi now. Therefore, had this attack actually taken place on Victory Day, it would have been classified as a Russian-Georgian war.

The main reason why this attack did not take place was unprecedented strong opposition from the West, including the United Nations' sharp condemnation of Russia after Moscow shot down Georgia's unmanned reconnaissance aircraft on April 20. Another reason -- less well known -- was U.S. President George W. Bush's phone call to President Dmitry Medvedev.

The excellent work by Georgia's military intelligence was an unpleasant surprise for Russia's generals. Tbilisi was able to produce clear evidence of Moscow's military buildup in the region, including howitzers brought to the city of Tkvarcheli, an ideal place to shell the Kodor Gorge. In addition, Georgian intelligence spotted intensified paratrooper training exercises in the region, not to mention the relocation of Tochka-U short-range missiles to North Ossetia, from which they could have easily reached Tbilisi.

It is inconceivable that then-President Vladimir Putin was not aware of this military buildup. Moreover, the escalation of forces in the region occurred right after Putin called for closer economic integration between Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

For Abkhazia, the war would have surely meant losing its independence to either Georgia or Russia.

What impact would this war have had on Georgia? If attacked, Tbilisi would have been forced to retaliate. No country will turn the left cheek after the right comes under howitzer fire. But even under the best of military outcomes for Tbilisi, any armed conflict with Russia would have wreaked havoc with Georgia's economy.

What would an Abkhaz war have meant for Russia? It would have caused the total destabilization of the entire Caucasus region, effectively turning it into a new Balkans.

Paradoxically, although this war would have created serious problems for Russia, there were two groups that would have clearly benefited. One is the military, which profits from any war -- even the one that is lost. Another group is Putin and his entourage. A war that would have begun immediately after Medvedev's inauguration would have assured that Putin effectively stayed in power.

In the end, however, it was the West that ruined the general's big plans for an invasion. The military had banked on the hope that the West would not care who was attacking whom in the region. But the West -- and particularly the East European democracies from Poland to Latvia -- were very concerned over a military conflict in the region, because they saw it as part of an attempt to fundamentally restructure the post-Soviet geopolitical landscape in Russia's favor.

If Russia attacked Abkhazia, this would have placed Moscow squarely in the category of the world's rogue state. A country is considered a rogue state not so much because it eliminates freedoms for its own citizens, but because it pursues a reckless, aggressive foreign policy.

One interesting twist, though, is that the leaders of rogue states keep their money in foreign bank accounts, which are often frozen after they wreak havoc in other countries. Perhaps it was precisely this factor that played the most important role in dissuading Moscow from invading Abkhazia.

In the end, Moscow's elite were guided by one sober and pragmatic rule -- you should never fight against those countries in which your bank accounts are located. I think I know why Putin had such a gloomy, sour expression on his face during Medvedev's inauguration.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.

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