Russia Annexes Georgian Provinces on the Installment Plan

A couple of articles in the French language press (one this weekend in Le Monde, the other today in Le Figaro) indicate that, contrary to what I'd expected, Russia is in fact annexing South Ossetia and Abkhazia on the installment plan. Apparently most of the political leaders installed in the two provinces are Russian (the new South Ossetian prime minister is a product of the Russian security forces), a rail bridge that linked the Abkhazia's ethnically Georgian populaiton to Georgia has been blown up, and negotiations are under way for pemanent military bases. (I imagine that bargaining will be less onerous than the U.S.-Iraq SOFA negotiaitons.)

All of that is obviously a shortsighted overreach that will eventually come back to haunt Russia, either in the form of constant minor irritations (the assassination of the head of Abkhazian military intelligence last week, for instance), or else in the form of a regime change operation in Georgia that will simply magnify the problem by a few orders of magnitude. (Le Monde cited a former economic advisor to Vladimir Putin over the weekend who claimed that the Russians have been planning just such an operation since 2004, and that Saakashvili's decision to launch the Georgian incursion into South Ossetia was designed to preempt that plan by gaining the time needed to attract the spotlight of Western outrage.)

Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner declared yesterday that, barring any "surprises," the frozen EU-Russia strategic partnership talks should be unfrozen at an upcoming EU-Russia summit on Nov. 13. The Russian navy announced that a task force on its way to Venezuela for naval exercises next month will be making a call in the French port of Toulon, where the two countries' top naval commanders will meet. And despite China's attachment to territorial integrity arguments and aversion to the recognition of separatist provinces, Premier Wen Jiabao expressed China's resolute support for Russia's accession to the WTO.

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