[The Russian foreign minister] said Russia will keep 500 troops in the buffer zone around South Ossetia and establish eight checkpoints, Reuters reported.It looks like Russia is pushing to set up de facto protectorates in Ossetia and Abkhazia. Rebel governments in both areas want Russia to acknowledge their independence from Georgia. Russia might just do it--but it will be clear that formal "independence" means permanent Russian domination. Making that move could prove counterproductive--why rub everyone's face in the mud?--but military success can lead to political overreach.
No significant withdrawal of Russian forces has taken place or is being prepared. Reuters related a report that a column of Russian armor withdrew from central Georgia. Interfax, however, withdrew an earlier report of a pullback from Gori. Russian forces still hold positions around the cities of Gori and Igoeti, about 30 miles from the Georgian capital in the center of the country.
Georgia no longer has the right to conduct peacekeeping operations in its secessionist region of South Ossetia [my emphasis--PO], Russian General Colonel Anatoly Nogovitsyn said, as RIA Novosti reported. Nogovitsyn insisted only Russian forces have the right to carry out peacekeeping missions in South Ossetia and that Russian peacekeepers are still operating in Abkhazia. Russia will set up additional peacekeeping observer posts there soon.
Nogovitsyn announced any planes flying over South Ossetia and neighboring Georgian regions [my emphasis--PO] must have Russia's permission and that foreign observers must coordinate visits to the conflict zone with the Russian Defense Ministry. (Note: This is a new requirement.)
Comment: The gap between statements by the Russian President and the Foreign Minister and those by the Deputy Chief of the General Staff has widened this week. Ground truth favors the Deputy Chief of the General Staff. The miscommunication and disinformation are reminiscent of the Soviet era in which civilian officials, including the highest ranking diplomats, lacked the clearances to discuss military operational issues, but hated to admit it.
The Russian moves this week reinforce the assessment that the Russians have carved out a security zone from the north center to the northwest of Georgia. Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia have requested Russian recognition of their independence. Russian behavior suggests it will grant that recognition in some form and back it up with a mutual defense agreement, a conventional military presence including armored forces, plus a security zone of lightly equipped peacekeepers in Georgia proper. Recognition might not occur immediately, but the other moves are nearing completion. Georgia as it existed on 6 August 2008 no longer exists except as a memory.
I wonder if the Russians would be happy with a "lawless zone" not officially under its control, but with the understanding that criminal activity would be disproportionately aimed at the Georgians?