Monday, August 18, 2008

"Implications of the Russo-Georgian War for the Middle East and the Gulf littoral"

Special INEGMA Report on Russia-Georgia Conflict Impact on ME Region.


Dr. Theodore Karasik
Director of Research and Development
INEGMA - Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis
The August 2008 Russo-Georgian war is much more than about Moscow's claims to South Ossetia or Abkhazia. There are broad regional implications that affect the Middle East and the Gulf littoral in particular.
Background & Developments
South Ossetian separatists, supported by Moscow, escalated their machine gun and mortar fire attacks against neighboring Georgian villages last week. In response, Georgia attacked the separatist capital South Ossetian Tskhinvali with artillery to suppress fire. Tskhinvali suffered severe damage, thus providing the pretext for Moscow's invasion of Georgia. Russians in Abkhazia are also fighting the Georgians.
As Russia responded with overwhelming force, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin flew from the Beijing Olympics to Vladikavkaz, taking control of the military operations. Putin sidelined his successor, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, thereby leaving no doubt as to who is in charge. Medvedev's role is to handle the international diplomatic front which seems to be not on the table. Under Putin's orders, the 58th Russian Army of the North Caucasus Military District rolled into South Ossetia, reinforced by the 76th Airborne "Pskov" Division. Cossacks from the neighboring Russian territories moved in to combat the Georgians as well.
The Black Sea Fleet is blockading Georgia from the sea, while Russian ballistic missiles and its air force are attacking Georgian military bases and cities including Tbilisi International Airport .What Russia is trying to do-and looking like she may succeed- is to establish a pro-Russian regime in Georgia that will also bring the strategic Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Erzurum (Turkey) gas pipeline under Moscow's control.
Impact on Israel
More importantly and with immense strategic implications, Russia is also trying to send Israel a clear message that Tel Aviv's military support for Tbilisi in organizing, training and equipping Georgia's army will no longer be tolerated. Private Israeli security firms and retired military officials are actively involved in Georgian security. In addition, Israel's interest in Caspian oil and gas pipelines is growing and Moscow seeks to stop this activity at this time. Intense negotiations about current and future pipelines between Israel, Turkey, Georgia, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan are tied to receiving oil at the terminal at Ashkelon and on to the Red Sea port of Eilat. Finally, Russia is sending a clear message that Moscow will not tolerate American influence in Georgia nor Tbilisi's interests –supported by the pro-U.S. Georgian President Mikhal Saakashvili--in joining NATO. Overall, the military crisis will push Moscow to punish Israel for its assistance to Georgia, and challenge the U.S. to do more than voice rhetoric.

Impact on Arab Gulf States, Iran
In the Gulf, there are several broad implications. First is the impact of the war on Gulf investment in the Caucasus and in Russia. The Russian damage to Ras al Khaimah's investment plan in Georgia is troublesome. The Ras Al Khaimah Government has recently invested in the Georgian port of Poti where its real estate development arm Rakeen is developing a free zone. Rakeen is also developing some mixed-use projects near capital Tbilisi. The company has three projects in Georgia - Tiblisi Heights and Uptown Tiblisi - with a total value of Dh7.3 billion, while a third is being planned. However, Ras Al Khaimah's other major investment did not remain unhurt. The Georgian harbor Poti, which is majority owned by the Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority (Rakia), was badly damaged in Russian air raids. In April 2008, Georgia sold a 51 per cent stake in the Poti port area to Rakia to develop a free economic zone (FEZ) in a 49-year management concession, and to manage a new port terminal. The creation of FEZ, to be developed by Rakeen, was officially inaugurated by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili April 15 2008. Previously the trend in Russo-GCC relations focused on strengthening the "north-south" economic corridor between the two regions; this linkage may now be in jeopardy if more Gulf investment goes up in smoke.
The second implication is the growing military presence in both Gulf waters and the Mediterranean Sea by the West and Russia that cannot be separated from the Russo-Georgian conflict. There is an unprecedented build-up of American, French, British and Canadian naval and air assets-the most since the 2003 invasion of Iraq-that are to be in place shortly for a partial naval blockade of Iran. Three U.S. strike forces are en route to the Gulf namely the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Iwo Jima. Already in place are the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea opposite Iranian shores and the USS Peleliu which is cruising in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
There is also a growing Russian navy deployment begun earlier this year to the eastern Mediterranean comprising the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov with approximately 50 Su-33 warplanes that have the capacity for mid-air refueling along with the guided missile heavy cruiser Moskva. This means the Russian warplanes could reach the Gulf from the Mediterranean, a distance of some 850 miles and would be forced to fly over Syria but Iraq as well, where the skies are controlled by the U.S. military. The Russian task force is believed to be composed of a dozen warships as well as several submarines. While the West is seeking to defend Gulf oil sources destined to the West and the Far East, Russia is increasing its desire to control Caspian oil resources and setting herself in a strategic position near the Levant.
A final implication is what may be a complete collapse of any back channel communications via Russia to Iran regarding Tehran's preparation for confrontation with the West and slowing down Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon. In the past year, Russia acted as an intermediary between the U.S., Israel, the GCC-specifically Saudi Arabia-and Tehran. With the Russian-Georgian war, the door may now slam shut between these players. Saudi Arabia, for instance, is attempting to halt the Russian sale of the S-300 anti-air defense system to Tehran and also is seeking to purchase large amounts of Russian weapons in order to "buy-off" Moscow's pursuit of selling conventional weapons to Iran. As a consequence of the Russo-Georgian war, Russia may start to play hardball with going through with arms sales to Iran and dropping support for sanctions against Iran that may invite a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran.
As further evidence of the heightening of tensions, Kuwait is activating its "Emergency War Plan" as the massive U.S. and European flotilla is heading for the region. Part of Kuwait's plan is to put strategic petroleum assets in reserve in the Far East and outside the forthcoming battle space. And Israel is building up its strike capabilities for an attack on Iran, purchasing 90 F-16I planes that can carry enough fuel to reach Iran. Israel has also bought two new Dolphin submarines from Germany capable of firing nuclear-armed warheads, in addition to the three already in service with its navy. Many strategic and tactical pieces for a confrontation are falling into place.
Overall, analysts have argued in the past few years that there might be a series of triggers that could force a confrontation between the West and Iran. Some maintained that this trigger may occur in the Gulf itself or in the Levant-whether accidental or on purpose. There were potential triggers before-the April 2007 seizure of British sailors in the Gulf, the September 2007 Israeli attack on a suspected Syrian nuclear facility, and Hezbollah's seizure of Western Beirut in May 2008. Now it appears that a more serious trigger may be the Russo-Georgian war –despite geographical distance-- that may carry dire consequences for all-especially in the Gulf littoral.

.... and in MESH, Walter Lacqueur writes this
"......What will be the impact of these trends on the Middle East? Ideally, it would be wise to wait with any major action in the area until Russian domination in its closer neighborhood is established. But if opportunities for a Russian return to the Middle East arise, they should be used.
There are no illusions about finding allies in the region. As one of the last Tsars (Alexander III) said (and as Putin repeated after him), Russia has only two reliable allies: its army and artillery. Among the police and army ideologues there has been of late the idea to give up Panslav dreams, since the Slav brothers can be trusted even less than the rest, and to consider instead a strategic alliance with Turkic peoples. But these are largely fantasies.
The main aim will be to weaken America’s position in the Middle East. In this respect, there are differences of opinion in the Kremlin. Some ex-generals have come on record to the effect that a war with America is inevitable in a perspective of 10-15 years. The influence of these radical military men should not be overrated. But it is certainly true that the belief that America is Russia’s worst and most dangerous enemy is quite common (see for instance the recent Russkaia Doktrina). The downfall of the Soviet empire is thought to be mainly if not entirely America’s fault; Washington, it is believed, is trying to hurt Russia all the time in every possible way. This paranoiac attitude is deeply rooted (in contrast to China) and it will be an uphill struggle in the years to come to persuade the Russian leadership that this is not the case.
Moscow has threatened to supply greater help to Iran and Syria, which would certainly annoy America and perhaps hurt it. But Russia does not want to do this at the price of creating political and military problems for itself in the years to come. Russian distrust does not stop at its southern borders.
The attack on South Ossetia provided Russia with an unique opportunity; it was motivated by a militant Georgian nationalism which failed to understand that small and weak countries, unlike big and powerful ones, are not in a position to keep separatist regions indefinitely under their control. Such opportunities will not frequently return, and other opportunities will have to be created by the Kremlin—probably by exploiting existing conflicts such as those in the Middle East. This could open the door to serious miscalculations."

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