Russian Invasion of Georgia Shattered Old Assumptions, Prompts New Concerns
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 25, 2009 The Russian invasion of Georgia last year, the first such attack since the Cold War ended, did more than debunk long-held assumptions about stability in the former Soviet bloc, a U.S. commander said.
It also has caused tension among Russia’s neighbors and NATO allies in the region, and prompted a turn in U.S.-Russian relations, Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, said in testimony on Capitol Hill yesterday.
Strategists and policymakers had concluded that the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact in the early 1990s rendered obsolete the threat of a border invasion by Moscow. But confidence in the stability of this post-Cold War arrangement disappeared when hundreds of Russian tanks and vehicles, and thousands of combat troops poured over the Georgian border last August.
“The assumption made in our focus on Europe was that there would be no invasions of anyone's land borders. Well, that turned upside down. And that created an angst, a sense of tension among many of the NATO nations,” Craddock told the House Armed Services Committee yesterday.
The attack caused Russia’s bordering countries to worry about Moscow’s future intentions, and suggests the former Soviet empire hopes to retain its sway over its former satellite neighbors, Craddock said.
“They want that sphere of influence to remain,” he said. “They want to be involved in the politics, the decisions, in these nations.”
NATO denounced the Kremlin’s aggression a week after the Georgian invasion in a sternly worded statement that called for an immediate withdrawal of Russian forces to pre-conflict levels. Georgia is not a NATO member, and therefore is not included under the alliance’s Article 5 provision in which an attack against one member country equates to an attack against all 26.
But Craddock acknowledged that Poland and Ukraine -- both full NATO members -- have expressed doubt about whether NATO would exercise its Article 5 responsibilities to come to their defense from a conventional, cyber or other attack by Russia.
In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing yesterday, Craddock addressed these concerns. He said a transformation of NATO from a group of large forces into a more agile and deployable military does not make a member’s national boundaries more vulnerable.
“The argument is we have asked NATO to transform the militaries from large, static territorial forces to agile, expeditionary deployable. And the fear is, in being agile and expeditionary deployable, they don't have the capability to defend the borders,” he said. “But if the transformation is done from a perspective that deployable away also means defendable at home, this still works.”
Craddock also told the congressional panel that NATO conducts “prudent planning” for contingencies that could arise, and also is boosting the capabilities of the alliance’s rapid response force.
“We have to craft it to be not only a response force, but a rapid response force so that the NATO nations know that there is indeed capability behind the promise,” he said, noting that the response force will be available if Article 5 is invoked.
Relations between the United States and Russia underwent a shift after Washington signaled that “business as usual” was on hold during the Georgian invasion. At that time, Russia and NATO suspended military cooperation, with high-level talks between parties expected to resume following the 60th NATO anniversary next month.
Craddock suggested that declining oil revenue and the global economic downturn may contribute to a cease in the “stretching” or “posing” Russia has conducted in the past two years.
He also expressed hope in the prospect of renewed military-to-military relations with Moscow as part of a “whole of government” approach.
“I think that we had engagement. We had the opportunity to communicate, dialogue and discuss, and that was helpful. We've lost that for a while,” he said. “And in my experience as an armor officer, when you break contact and lose contact on the flanks with friends or break contact with a foe, then everything gets a little bit more confusing and ambiguous in our business. It's not what we like.”