By Michael Webster: Investigative Reporter Aug 15, 2008 10:00 AM PDT
Russia sent hundreds of tanks, thousands of combat solders and bombed Georgian air bases killing thousands after Georgia launched a major military offensive with the intent to retake the breakaway province of South Ossetia.
Witnesses said that the Ossetian capital was devastated thousands of civilians were reported dead in the worst outbreak of hostilities since the province won defacto independence in a war against Georgia that ended in 1992.
"I saw bodies lying on the streets, around ruined buildings, in cars," said Lyudmila Ostayeva, 50, who had fled with her family to Dzhava, a village near the border with Russia. "It's impossible to count them now. There is hardly a single building left undamaged."
The fighting broke out as much of the world's attention was focused on the start of the Olympic Games and many leaders, including Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Bush, were in Beijing where it is believed Putin informed Bush for the first time about the soon to be invasion. No warning from Bush to Putin was reported.
Russia has intercontinental ballistic missiles with war heads pointed at the United States and has the capability to strike every major city in America. Both Russia and China have larger standing armies and are building there war machines much faster then the U.S., which includes their navy and air force. The U.S. has few military options to respond to the aggression in Georgia by the Russians and can only fight back with diplomatic and economic retaliation, U.S. officials say.
President Bush after the fact was only able to warn Russia that its push into Georgia could jeopardize relations with the U.S. and Europe, the administration signaled that any retribution would be aimed at the Russian economy and prestige.
The L.A. Times reports that Russia's pummeling of Georgian troops has left Washington with few palatable military options, according to what administration officials told the Times. This high level source requested anonymity when discussing internal policy decisions. He further acknowledged that military aid to Georgia was off the table and sanctions against Russia were impractical, they insisted the U.S. could take longer-term economic and diplomatic measures that would hit the Kremlin hard.
Even before the crisis in Georgia, tensions between Washington and Moscow have been rising over disputes such as the independence of Kosovo, NATO's expansion toward Russia's borders and U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. In another development that infuriated Moscow, the United States and Poland recently reached a deal to install a U.S. missile defense base on Polish territory. Who got Georgia into this mess anyway? Actions by Bush misled the country into thinking the U.S. would come to its aid, according to columnist Rosa Brooks.
Ms. Brooks in her weekly column wrote the Georgians have now been punished enough, declared Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Or maybe not. At press time, Russian tanks were reportedly rolling through the Georgian city of Gori, in violation of a cease-fire agreement. So there could be more punishment in store for the Georgians, who were stupid enough to imagine that if they picked a fight with Russia over the disputed region of South Ossetia, Uncle Sam would come riding to their rescue.
Ms. Brooks went on to say President Bush shares the blame. Once he stopped swooning over the soulfulness of "Vladimir's" baby blues, Bush seemed intent on showing Putin and other Russian leaders that he no longer gave a damn. The Bush administration supported the "color revolutions" in Russia's backyard and denounced antidemocratic crackdowns in Russia -- while making excuses for "friendly" authoritarian regimes elsewhere. The administration also virtually shut down extensive multi-issue dialogues with Russia that had been maintained by previous administrations, hammering in the message that we didn't care much about good relations with Moscow.
The administration also aggressively pushed policies that couldn't have been better designed to enrage the Russians. At the April NATO summit in Romania, Bush urged a fast track to NATO membership for Georgia.
Meanwhile, the administration singled out Georgia for the "Our Best Buddy in the Caucasus" award. The U.S. has supported the development of gas and oil pipelines running through Georgia that will challenge Russia's regional economic hegemony, and provided the fledgling Georgian republic generous economic and military aid, including an overhaul of its forces. In return, Georgia sent 2,000 troops to Iraq, and the administration pretended to be deaf when Georgian politicians crowed that their newly improved military would be perfect for teaching those pesky South Ossetian separatists a lesson.
But it's all gone disastrously wrong for our best buddies, and we're sitting on the sidelines, offering empty reassurances to the Georgians and empty threats to the Russians.
The USA and USSR were the two superpowers during the
Cold War. Here Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev meet in 1985.
According to Wikipedia a superpower is a state with a leading position in the international system and the ability to influence events and project power on a worldwide scale; it is traditionally considered to be one step higher than a great power. Alice Lyman Miller (Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School), defines a superpower as "a country that has the capacity to project dominating power and influence anywhere in the world, and sometimes, in more than one region of the globe at a time, and so may plausibly attain the status of global hegemon." It was a term first applied in 1944 to the United States, the Soviet Union, and the British Empire. Following World War II, the British Empire ceased to exist as its territories became independent, and the Soviet Union and the United States were regarded as the only two superpowers, who then engaged in the Cold War.
After the Cold War, the most common belief held is that only the United States fulfills the criteria to be considered a superpower, although it is a matter of debate if it currently is a hegemon and if it is losing its superpower status, or whether it is currently a superpower at all. Also, there is a debate regarding Russia's status as either a superpower or as a potential superpower. China, the European Union, and to some extent India, are also thought to have the potential of achieving superpower status within the 21st century. Others doubt the existence of superpowers in the post Cold War era altogether, stating that today's complex global marketplace and the rising interdependency between the world's nations has made the concept of a superpower an idea of the past and that the world is now multipolar.
A world map of 1945. According to William T.R. Fox, the United States
(blue), the Soviet Union (red), and the British Empire (green) were superpowers.
Salon reports that nineteen years ago, the fall of the Berlin Wall effectively eliminated the Soviet Union as the world's other superpower. Less than a month ago, the United States similarly lost its claim to superpower status when a barrel of crude oil roared past 0 on the international market, gasoline prices crossed the .50 threshold at American pumps, and diesel fuel topped . As was true of the USSR following the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the USA will no doubt continue to stumble on like the superpower it once was; but as the nation's economy continues to be eviscerated to pay for its daily oil fix, it, too, will be seen by increasing numbers of savvy observers as an ex-superpower in the making. The fall of the Berlin Wall spelled the erasure of the Soviet Union's superpower status was obvious to international observers at the time.
According to the AP Russia's military chief of staff said that Moscow could use nuclear weapons in preventive strikes to protect itself and its allies, the latest aggressive remarks from increasingly assertive Russian authorities.
Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky's comment did not mark a policy shift, military analysts said. Amid disputes with the West over security issues, it may have been meant as a warning that Russia is prepared to use its nuclear might.
"We do not intend to attack anyone, but we consider it necessary for all our partners in the world community to clearly understand ... that to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia and its allies, military forces will be used, including preventively, including with the use of nuclear weapons," Baluyevsky said at a military conference in a remark broadcast on state-run cable channel Vesti-24.
The Russian Government released its new nuclear policy in a document entitled Concept of National Security. The document updates policy statements and indicates a heightened sense of conflict with NATO and the US on nuclear issues, and an increased reliance on nuclear weapons. It affirms a strengthened Russian policy for the use of nuclear weapons, not only in response to a nuclear attack, but also to a conventional attack.
Cooperation between the US and Russia, including the Cooperative Threat Reduction Programs to secure Russian nuclear weapons and fissile materials, have come under strain in the wake of NATO expansion, the NATO attacks on Serbia and the decision by the US to move ahead with National Missile Defense. Russia no longer maintains a 'no-first-use' policy, and is considering re-deployment of tactical nuclear weapons. The Russian Duma (Parliament) ratified START II on the basis that the ABM Treaty be maintained. Thus US plans to withdraw from the ABM are prompting Russia to maintain a number of START II missiles, and possibly even increase the numbers of warheads on some of them.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Kislyakov
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in his address to officers at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia that Russia was focused on strengthening its nuclear capabilities.
The two nuclear superpowers may be building up their nuclear capabilities. More armed conflicts are taking place in the world every year, which means the world needs more conventional arms, or better still, precision weapons with effects comparable to those of nuclear weapons.
As it draws attention to a Russian nuclear threat, the United States has accelerated its transition to conventional armed forces, lessening its dependence on its nuclear arsenal. Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, John C. Rood, said as much in late May.
According to Reuters, "Moscow has boosted military spending as part of an effort to make Russia more assertive on the world stage after the chaos of the post-Soviet period. It has also tried to reform its military to create a more professional, well-equipped and mobile army.
History of nuclear weapons
Nuclear arms race
Nuclear weapon design
Effects of nuclear explosions
Proliferation / Arsenals
US · Russia · UK · France
PR China · India · Iran · Israel
Pakistan · North Korea
Georgia President Saakashvili accepts Russia's truce proposal
· Georgia soldiers, civilians break down on road to battle
· The Russia-Georgia conflict at a glance
· See: Russian / Soviet Doctrine http://fas.org/nuke/guide/russia/doctrine/
· L A Times
· RIA Novosti