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reflections

Aug 12, 2008 | 01:41 GMT

4 mins read

Georgia, Russia: The Twilight Hour

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
As dusk settled Monday over Tbilisi, the capital of the former Soviet state of Georgia, Russian forces were only 40 miles away. After five brief and brutal days of fighting, the Russian army — in league with its proxies — had gutted the Georgian army and destroyed the Georgian air force and navy. Ports are ruined, occupied or blockaded. Roads are barred. Russian advances have in effect split the country into three parts and prevented any interested parties from intervening on Georgia's behalf. No one, however, is trying to intervene. There are very few countries that maintain expeditionary forces, and those that do are overcommitted and unable to reinforce the Georgians. Even if troops had been available it is unlikely that they could have reached the battle in time to have made a difference. The Georgians stand alone, and soon they will fall. The Soviet collapse of 1992 launched a 10-year process of disintegration. Political, economic, military and especially demographic decline set in, eating at the Russian empire from within. During those dark days Moscow lost operational control of most of its own territory, to say nothing of its former provinces and satellites. Of those provinces and satellites, there were nine that did not spare the horses in their attempts to join the West. Eight succeeded and now belong to both NATO and the European Union. For a variety of reasons, Georgia is the one that failed. As Russia regained its balance and strength after its post-Cold War fall, it became obvious that sooner or later Russia would strike down its small southern neighbor that had the insolence to defy the Kremlin's will. But in Georgia's twilight hour, STRATFOR's gaze is not particularly riveted on Tbilisi. Georgia's fate is more or less sealed. At dawn either the bombs will fall and the tanks will advance and depose the Georgian government by force, or a siege will begin that will depose it in time. Either way, the government of what is currently known as Georgia will evolve into a form that slavishly respects Russian wishes. The only reason Russian officials have not said they will enforce "regime change" is because they feel the term is too American. Whatever the nomenclature, the details of how this change happens pale in comparison to what such a change represents. Instead, STRATFOR's gaze is shifting westward, to those states that only recently escaped the Russian grip and "successfully" joined the West: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (formerly Czechoslovakia), Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. They have grown and prospered in NATO and the European Union, but their position remains fragile. They are all small states, and collectively — much less alone — they are no match for a strengthening Russia. And so now we are in a race against time. Moscow will soon attempt to flood its power into the region while the West will try to reinforce its newest members against that flood. In the long run, there is little doubt in our mind as to how the conflict will end. Russia's geography is too big to be easily developed, its ability to directly threaten the United States too limited, and its demographics too poor to ever return Russia to the greatness of its past. But between Georgia's twilight today and Russia's twilight tomorrow, there is an entire chapter of history to be written. That chapter will chronicle the struggle for those European nations that thought they had been lucky enough to outrun the winds of history.

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