Consider this an early warning that the conventions might not be the big news story of the next two weeks.
A ranking Russian military official today said Moscow plans to establish 18 long-term checkpoints inside Georgian territory, including at least eight within undisputed Georgian territory outside the pro-Russian enclave of South Ossetia…
“The president ordered us to stop where we were,” he said. “We are not pulling out and pulling back troops behind this administrative border into the territory of South Ossetia.”
The plans appear to violate the terms of a French-endorsed cease-fire deal signed late last week by the presidents of Georgia and Russia. It called for both countries’ troops and allied armed groups to move back to their positions before hostilities between the two countries’ troops led to a Russian military incursion early this month into the staunchly pro-U.S. Caucasus Mountain nation.
Russian officials insist they may keep troops along the South Ossetian-Georgian border as well as within Georgia proper as part of a peacekeeping mission begun in the 1990s.
They’ve already built one checkpoint 30 miles outside Tbilisi, according to the AP, and are working on three more in west-central Georgia. Curiously enough, the sob story (and ultimatum) issued this morning by Russian FM Sergey Lavrov didn’t mention anything about a sustained occupation. As for the screaming red-fonted banner on Drudge warning of a reaction “beyond diplomacy” to the new U.S.-Poland missile deal, the article itself is excruciatingly vague — but Condi Rice’s reply was not. Taunting the bear:
Such comments “border on the bizarre frankly,” Rice said, speaking to reporters traveling with her in Warsaw.
“When you threaten Poland, you perhaps forget that it is not 1988,” Rice said. “It’s 2008 and the United States has a … firm treaty guarantee to defend Poland’s territory as if it was the territory of the United States. So it’s probably not wise to throw these threats around.”…
Speaking to reporters traveling with her, Rice said, “the Russians are losing their credibility.”
For good measure, NATO’s secretary general sneered that the threats are “pathetic rhetoric.” How smart is it to mock a country that’s jonesing on military victory and already proven it’s willing to spit on a ceasefire it agreed to just days ago? The U.S. and EU seem awfully confident that Russia’s not going to escalate this any further, with Bush insisting this afternoon that Ossetia and Abkhazia are part of Georgia and that western powers will work together to ensure the country’s integrity. The only problem: Russia’s already called an emergency meeting of the Duma for Monday to decide whether to formally recognize the provinces as independent, even though, as the Telegraph notes, they’ve agreed to a raft of UN resolutions over the past 10 years recognizing that the two are part of Georgia. What’s the west’s plan if its bluff is called? Notes WaPo, drily, “Bush did not specify what, if anything, the United States and its allies would do to uphold Georgian sovereignty…”
I have no answers, but find myself wondering how long it’ll be before ambassadors start getting recalled and what a week-long “3 a.m. moment” will do to Obama’s message during the Democratic convention. Exit question: How likely is it that the two provinces, occupied and encircled by Russian troops, will “vote” for independence instead of annexation by Moscow?
Update: To recap, then, we’ve got saber-rattling with Poland, hunkering down in Georgia, the emergency Duma meeting, and now this. I hope someone in a position of influence is considering the possibility that they’re not bluffing.