The Next South Ossetia: Crimea

Though South Ossetia is only recognized by Russia and Nicaragua, it has still allowed Russia to extend its influence by attacking neighboring states. South Ossetia, along with Abkhazia and Transnistria, are puppet entities supported by Russia.

The next puppet state may well be Crimea, which is part of Ukraine:

World Briefing – Europe – Ukraine – Concern About Russia – NYTimes.com
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France said Tuesday that Moscow had been issuing Russian passports in Crimea, a region in southern Ukraine where Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based. “We all know that they are handing out Russian passports over there,” Mr. Kouchner said in an interview with Kommersant, a Russian online newspaper. The government of Ukraine has said it wants the fleet to leave the Crimean base in Sevastopol when its lease runs out in 2017. But the Russian naval authorities have indicated that they want to retain the base. Mr. Kouchner said Russia might try to make advances in Crimea after the success of its military operations in Georgia in August.

Gap regimes such as Russia rise and fall with hydrocarbon prices. The lower we can keep the price of oil, the less Russia will be able to create this kind of trouble.

29 thoughts on “The Next South Ossetia: Crimea”

  1. It is time for the Ukraine to set up their stay-behind-ish/guerilla-ish/4gw-ish militia for for the defense of the Crimea instead of a mini-2GW force.

  2. I’m with purpleslog, the Ukrainian government should use the suggestions of the John Robb to punish any Russian activity in their nation. But honestly, could Russia afford another move as aggressive like South Ossetia? Surly they would have to use a much defter touch.

  3. “Surly they would have to use a much defter touch.”

    The Russians are surly all right!

    But more importantly they are Russians.

    Russians don’t do deft touches. They do ICBMs with 18 MIRVed warheads, thousand gun artillery barrages, armadas of tanks, pounding the lectern with a shoe and shouting, assassinating journalists without shame or pretense, hauling people off screaming into the vans in the middle of the night where the whole neighborhood can hear the screams.

    Russians do sledgehammers not scalpels.

    They despise and exploit weakness.

    How about an invasion of Crimea on inauguration day?

  4. I agree that Robb’s theories are useful for Seam states threatened by Russia [1].

    Ukraine’s stance should be complicated by Russia having two interests that could be destroyed conventionally — the Black Sea port facility and Transnistra.

    Whatever defense Ukraine is planning, it should focus on pushing the costs for Russia continuing offensive actions as high as possible.

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/09/13/john-robb-on-how-the-seam-can-fight-the-gap.html

  5. Of course its a generalization.

    This is a blog, not a peer-reviewed journal.

    Generalizations need only be generally true, and that one is.

    Not ridiculous, though.

    Russia’s government has not recently shown an aptitude for subtlety in its foreign relations or in dealing with its enemies. That has often been true historically as well.

    Are their counter examples? Sure. Stalin was often patient. But more often, out came the sledgehammer. The Red Army was known for being the sledgehammer, but its use of deception and concealment are part of that, and are perhaps more subtle. Also, the Russians used long term covert operations in foreign countries, not really hammerlike.

    But, still, I stick with the generalization.

    And the main point of it was: Yeah, as insane as it would be, an invasion of Crimea by the Russian military is not out of the question. It would be consistent with current and historical patterns.

  6. On the oil prices-Russian aggression link: [1]

    After all, it was the collapse of global oil prices in the early 1990s that brought down the Soviet Union. And Iran today is looking very Soviet to me.

    As Vladimir Mau, president of Russia’s Academy of National Economy, pointed out to me, it was the long period of high oil prices followed by sharply lower oil prices that killed the Soviet Union. The spike in oil prices in the 1970s deluded the Kremlin into overextending subsidies at home and invading Afghanistan abroad — and then the collapse in prices in the ‘80s helped bring down that overextended empire.

    (Incidentally, this was exactly what happened to the shah of Iran: 1) Sudden surge in oil prices. 2) Delusions of grandeur. 3) Sudden contraction of oil prices. 4) Dramatic downfall. 5) You’re toast.)

    The context is an editorial on Ahmadinejad, but it seems to fit Putin equally well.

    [1] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/29/opinion/29friedman.html?em

  7. Here’s my Modest Proposal for dealing with Ukraine and other nations along the southern border of Russia over then next few years.

    Build railroads connecting the Russian gauge railroad networks in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan into Kabul. This will simplify the transportation of petroleum products purchased from nations along the Caspian Sea into Afghanistan. It will also help consolidate the Kabul government’s hold on a wider part of Afghanistan’s territory and reduce the toll taken by highwaymen since even if a train is hijacked, you can’t take it anywhere except where the tracks go.

    The rails, switching equipment and other stuff used in construction should be purchased in Ukraine and transported overland through Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. All this activity will boost the economies of those countries and make them somewhat more prosperous relative to Russia, particularly now that the price of oil is low enough that I filled up with $2.12 a gallon gas this morning. Keeping the price of gasoline low is part of the solution for dealing with Russia. Other parts are improving connectivity and helping the seam states become more prosperous.

    At the same time that Russian gauge tracks are building south to Kabul, we should be buying Pakistani steel rails to build standard gauge railroads from the Khyber pass through Jalalabad into Kabul and from Baluchistan through Kandahar into Kabul. In addition to the construction activity making everybody involved much better off financially, the economic activity and connectivity from having a railroad route connecting India and Pakistan into the rail net that goes to the Caspian and ultimately into Europe is going to raise the economic and military capabilities of all the countries in the area so that any future Russian sledge hammer activities will be a lot more expensive.

  8. Comintern and other schemes at international planned development didn’t work half a century ago. No reason to expect better luck this time, either.

    Can’t imagine why you want to ease Russian movement down into Afghanistan, or why you believe that those lines will be more secure than the Ottoman ones so easily disrupted by insurgents a century ago.

  9. Think of it more in terms of US government subsidies for the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s. The government involvement got it done somewhat sooner than it would have happened if the decisions had been made on a strictly economic basis. Once in place, the connectivity infrastructure accelerated economic development and also led to some unifying political developments.

    Improved transportation infrastructure would make Russian military movement south into Afghanistan easier, just like the advanced transportation infrastructure would aid Russian military movement into Europe. I think that the trade off is worth it. Improved connectivity leads to increased GDP making all the countries connected to the rail net richer and better able to afford the military capacity to resist Russian military incursions.

    It also gives countries like India and Pakistan a real economic interest in Russian troops not moving down into Afghanistan. If the Russians were to cut off the trade between India and Kazhakstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan that a railroad through Afghanistan would promote, the Indians might be strongly tempted to cut off further arms purchases from Russia and start buying US F-16s. Even if they bought French Rafales or Swedish SAABs, it would cut off a source of funds for Russian arms development.

    Yes, railroads can be disrupted, but how do you make that pay? A local warlord can stop trains from passing through his bailiwick but unlike a truck, he can’t hijack the cargo and drive it off to where it can be sold. That is why you need at least two rail routes south from Kabul and at least two routes north. If some warlord gets too greedy in his demands for protection payments, you route the traffic around him and he gets nothing.

    Once there is a railroad link connecting across Afghanistan, there will pretty quickly be a whole lot of people who will be very concerned with keeping that link in service.

  10. Mark in Texas,

    Thanks for the extended comment.

    Think of it more in terms of US government subsidies for the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s. The government involvement got it done somewhat sooner than it would have happened if the decisions had been made on a strictly economic basis. Once in place, the connectivity infrastructure accelerated economic development and also led to some unifying political developments.

    If an analogy between a globalizing economic dynamic with a collection of stagnate Brezhnevian dictatorships was valid, that would be a reasonable analogy.

    Improved transportation infrastructure would make Russian military movement south into Afghanistan easier, just like the advanced transportation infrastructure would aid Russian military movement into Europe. I think that the trade off is worth it. Improved connectivity leads to increased GDP making all the countries connected to the rail net richer and better able to afford the military capacity to resist Russian military incursions.

    Why not provide subsidized C-5 Galaxy flights from Caracas to anywhere else in South America, no question asked?

    if connectivity is a magic elixer that creates greater economic growth, then it’s a great idea.

    If connectivity just means making logistics easier for a Gap actor in a Gap neighborhood… then life is more complicated than just ‘disconnectedness defines danger.’

    It also gives countries like India and Pakistan a real economic interest in Russian troops not moving down into Afghanistan. If the Russians were to cut off the trade between India and Kazhakstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan that a railroad through Afghanistan would promote, the Indians might be strongly tempted to cut off further arms purchases from Russia and start buying US F-16s. Even if they bought French Rafales or Swedish SAABs, it would cut off a source of funds for Russian arms development.

    Why do you think there would be substantial (non-narcotic) trade between India and any of the Central Asian states?

    Yes, railroads can be disrupted, but how do you make that pay? A local warlord can stop trains from passing through his bailiwick but unlike a truck, he can’t hijack the cargo and drive it off to where it can be sold. That is why you need at least two rail routes south from Kabul and at least two routes north. If some warlord gets too greedy in his demands for protection payments, you route the traffic around him and he gets nothing.

    So as long as Afghani warlords are not actually at war with us (in other words, presuming a complete defeat of the Taliban), this logistics infrastructure is at the mercy of only gangsters.

    Once there is a railroad link connecting across Afghanistan, there will pretty quickly be a whole lot of people who will be very concerned with keeping that link in service.

    Narcotics dealers will be very interested. Likewise rug merchants.

    As there is little economy outside of hydrocarbons, drugs, and rugs in the area of interest, few other economic actors will care.

    And of course, the reliability of this network (as you mentioned) relies on the grace of warlords and the Taliban.

  11. Of course, just from looking at the photos, the perfect thing for Afghanistan and the FATA would be … tourism, especially skiing, but also hunting and hiking. Too bad the human populution in the area is the way it is. The place makes Colorado look like Iowa.

  12. Lexington,

    I think it may be easy to market the Tianshan (Mountains of Heaven) [1] than the Hindu Kush (Indian Killer!) [2], at least in South Asia… 😉

    Belarus is running in an interesting crowd — Libya [3], Ukraine [4], Vietnam [5], Finland [6]… the sort of friends in the New Core and Seam that may help it avoid becoming the next Georgia…

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tian_Shan
    [2] http://www.hindunet.org/hindu_history/modern/hindu_kush.html
    [3] http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5iSKYZmRwcGWaSqI0YRKE55u8eGxwD947L1P80
    [4] http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5iUPlfwmpZQojpaJ52FODTGzVY10gD9488HLG0
    [5] http://news.trendaz.com/index.shtml?show=news&newsid=1336954&lang=EN
    [6] http://law.by/work/EnglPortal.nsf/0/F67565ED52008F17C22574F70054273F?OpenDocument

  13. Dan, your reply basically boils down to this: Why do you think there would be substantial (non-narcotic) trade between India and any of the Central Asian states?

    The answer is that the Central Asian states have raw materials like oil, cotton, wool, grains that India wold like to buy and India has a pretty well developed industrial sector that can produce large quantities of manufactured goods, particularly cheap consumer crap, that the Central Asian states would like to buy.

    Afghanistan winds up like the north east corner of Wyoming where maintaining Interstate 90 (which is useful only for getting through Wyoming and of little use to the people who live in Wyoming) is a disproportionately large part of the local economy. Since the GDP of Afghanistan is so low, maintaining the railroad will have a disproportionately large impact on the economy.

  14. There are hydrocarbons to be had — they can already be exported through Russia or Iran, Turkish and Chinese pipes are coming online soon.. while the dream of an Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline still does very little to help the Afghan people.

    Cotton, wool, etc, are the raw materials of textiles. If Central Asia exports a significant quantity of those, it’s because (as expected) Central Asia cannot even achieve a 19th century level of industrialization (looms, etc.) — at least, not with a “road to nowhere.”

    It’s interesting to hear the same arguments that Nigeria and others used for their ‘scientific socialism’ in the 1970s — if we create enough nonproductive work and plan the economy of backwards states well enough, prosperity must follow soon!

  15. The Central Asian countries have existing rail networks that were build when they were part of the Soviet Union. For obvious reasons, those rail networks were built primarily to connect with other parts of the Soviet Union. That is one of the things that keeps those countries economically tied to Russia.

    One of the interesting developments since the breakup of the Soviet Union is the growth of railroad barge traffic across the Caspian Sea. Trains are loaded onto barges and ferried between Azerbaijan and Kazhakstan or Turkmenistan. This allows rail traffic to avoid passing through Russia or Iran.

    If the railroad networks of the Central Asian countries were connected through Afghanistan to the railroad networks of Pakistan and India that would hardly be a “road to nowhere”. Afghanistan, in addition to being a Gap country is quite literally the gap in the railroad network that would otherwise allow railroad traffic to travel between India and Europe.

    An oil pipeline through Afghanistan would do very little for the Afghan people. A railroad network is an entirely different thing.

  16. Again, this Brezhnevian Scientific Socialism is totally bankrupt — no one, anywhere, even pretends to believe in it.

    The ‘Stans can’t even form a functional trade regime for the Fergana Valley, but somehow they are going to build a trade corridor to the Pacific Ocean to boost Afghanistan’s economy?

    And if it’s built, then what? Afghanistan becomes as rich and prosperous as Waziristan of the FATA?

    The arguments in favor of it have been little more than data-free hand waving.

  17. Dan, I wonder how many people were saying the same things when the Trans-Continental railroad was being built:P

    An endeavor like Mark’s talking about is a task of generations, not years. Even without guerrilla disruptions, building the tracks will take years. Years (if not decades) more will be required for the tracks to be of use in pacifying the territory. Then there’s economic development . . .

  18. Dan, I wonder how many people were saying the same things when the Trans-Continental railroad was being built:P

    It’s a baseless analogy with little connection to the real world, so who cares?

    For another bizarre idea to build a railroad to nowhere, check out Lyndon LaRouche’s Bering Strait Project. [1]

    An endeavor like Mark’s talking about is a task of generations, not years.

    Agreed, it’s nonsensical to think about it as a plan for the “next few years.”

    [1] http://www.larouchepac.com/news/2007/06/09/chronology-bering-strait-project.html

  19. Comparatively rich country (India, Pakistan and/or China in this case) building a railroad through a wilderness chock-full of hostiles and poor of resources? Sounds like a reasonable analogy to me–remember that gold and a shrinking beaver population was about all California had that the US proper did not. Remember, too, that a railroad investment will last a lot longer (barring accident and sabotage) than those surplus C-5As you mentioned.

  20. Sounds like a reasonable analogy to me–remember that gold and a shrinking beaver population was about all California had that the US proper did not.

    Presuming that the Indian economy is capital rich, Afghanistan easily accessible from India, the Afghan people militarily incompetent and easily relocatable, the area devoid of hostile foreign powers, etc., the analogy might have some hope.

    None of those are true, however. The analogy is worse than wrong: it’s backed up by no data, nor any way of invalidating it.

    No argument put in forward of this plan has any more basis in reasoned discussion than the central tenants of Scientology.

    Feel free to prove me wrong.

    Remember, too, that a railroad investment will last a lot longer (barring accident and sabotage) than those surplus C-5As you mentioned.

    The C-5 quip was intentionally ridiculous, an argument ad absurdum against this enormous subsidy to poppy growers and the Russian military.

    Again, feel free to provide some data or at least way of attacking this idea. Right now the proponents of the railroad-to-nowhere are stuck repeating meaningless analogies to each other.

  21. Dan

    What do you propose for Afghanistan? Should we walk away and forget about it the way we did after the Russians left? I seem to recall that there were some adverse consequences to letting the place become a failed state and sanctuary training ground for Islamic radicals. The only way that I can see preventing Taliban 2.0 from taking over Afghanistan is to either keep American troops there for a very long time, exterminating the Pushtun in Afghanistan and Pakistan with nuclear and chemical weapons or changing Afghanistan into a more normal, connected and prosperous country. Keeping American troops there is not politically feasible in the long run and genocide is something that most Christians are likely to have moral qualms over if there are still reasonable alternatives that can be tried.

    I also seem to recall that you were pretty upset about Russia’s Olympics war in Georgia and wanted to do something unpleasant to the Russians about it. Making it possible for the Central Asian nations to build economic and other ties to some place other than Russia would seem to be in the class of things that the Russians would not like but that they are unlikely to go to war over.

    Why would it have to be Indian capital? Why not an EU financed project to build a railroad from Kunduz or Mazar e Sharif to Kabul? If European civil engineering firms were used for the design and European construction equipment were used, the EU might be willing to redirect some of the money that they currently pay to the Palestinians to this worthy project. And why would you have to relocate anybody? India and Pakistan resumed cross border rail traffic about a year or so ago so India already has rail access as far as the Khyber pass.

    Because Afghanistan is the kind of place that it is, politics and demographics would be as much of a factor in selecting railroad routes as physical terrain. Our ability to overcome physical barriers today with bridges and tunnels, especially when unconstrained by environmentalists and legal challenges is very much greater than it was when the Transcontinental railroad was built. If a local warlord does not want the railroad going through his territory, build it around him. The extra construction costs are probably cheaper than fighting a war with him.

  22. Mark in Texas,

    Thank you for your comment

    What do you propose for Afghanistan?

    In Afghanistan we have two related but distinct questions

    a) what is the future of al Qaeda?
    b) what is the future of the Taliban

    al Qaeda is a light infantry force which in the late 1990s and early 2000s was able to unacceptable casualties against the United States. al Qaeda appears to be as operionatlly intact as the National-Socialist German Workers Party [1]. There are terrorists who call themselves Qaedists or Nazis, but no indication that either group is able to do what they were once able to. Generous interpretations of the strength of al Qaeda indicate it is a major faction in a civil conflict taking place within the borders of Waziristan. A far cry from what it once was. So wrt al Qaeda are problem is very manageable.

    The Taliban is a political-religious movement primarily attractive to the Pashtuns, a group that amounts to about 40% of the Afghani population and a much smaller percentage of the Pakistani population. Except insofar as we wish to prevent or disrupt any alliance between the Talbian and al Qaeda, there’s no need to destroy the Taliban and no reason to prevent the Pashtun people from exercising the power that its plurality position in Afghanistan naturally grants it. So in Afghanistan we have a balance-of-power issue in a 4th world country: against, very manageable.

    The answer to neither question involves “keep[ing] American troops there for a very long time, exterminating the Pushtun in Afghanistan and Pakistan with nuclear and chemical weapons or changing Afghanistan into a more normal, connected and prosperous country.” Indeed, all three policy options you presented are politically unsustainable. More to the point, there’s no reason to waste resources on any of them. Afghanistan’s problems, from our perspective, are very manageable.

    I also seem to recall that you were pretty upset about Russia’s Olympics war in Georgia and wanted to do something unpleasant to the Russians about it. Making it possible for the Central Asian nations to build economic and other ties to some place other than Russia would seem to be in the class of things that the Russians would not like but that they are unlikely to go to war over.

    Of course. Feasible policy options, such as pipelines to China, encouraging Iranian and Turkish adventurism, and some form of trade regim ein the Fergana Valley may be wise.

    Why would it have to be…

    I was addressing Michael’s falty analogy to America’s transcontinental railroad.

    The Afghan Railraod scheme is so absurd on its face that its admittedly hard to keep farcial ideas presented with a straight face seperate from points made to demonstrate its absurdity.

    I have no interest in encouraging trolling, so I’ll repeat my last paragraph from my previous comment:

    Again, feel free to provide some data or at least way of attacking this idea. Right now the proponents of the railroad-to-nowhere are stuck repeating meaningless analogies to each other.

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2007/07/15/al-qaeda-dead-iraq-to-be-left.html

  23. What sort of data are you looking for? Cost / benefit studies? Engineering surveys? I don’t know of any.

    I do know that Railroads run up to the border of Afghanistan in several places. I think that there is a railroad that runs into Mazar e Sharif. In the south, there is a railroad that runs up to the Afghan border in the Khyber pass.

    As you have pointed out, there is not a lot of economic potential in Afghanistan besides producing drugs and terrorists, both of which are a consequence of it being a remote and disconnected Hobbsian anarchy that has never really been a country so it can’t even aspire to be a failed state. The one resource that Afghanistan does have is its location. It is in between the New Core state of India and a bunch of places that range from Gap to Seam status.

    The railroad network exists on both sides of Afghanistan. One of the things that George Gilder said in the context of computer networks is that the value of the network is increased by the power of the nodes that are added to it. If Gilder is correct and his theory applies to transportation networks as well as communication networks (and I think it does), the value of the railroad network on the South Asian subcontinent would be increased significantly and the value of the Central Asian railroad network would be increased astronomically. That increased value translates into additional GDP and gives everybody involved an incentive to sustain the network.

    The problem with managing problems like the Taliban and al Qaeda is that “managing problems” is not something that Americans are very good at. The British were good at that sort of thing but then the British play cricket matches that last for days without getting bored. Americans prefer short, violent and decisive games like football and often leave the stadium early if the outcome looks like a forgone conclusion.

    I am not trying to troll your site. It is difficult to address your objections if you state them as “The Afghan Railraod scheme is so absurd on its face” or “Brezhnevian Scientific Socialism”. Neither of these helps me understand your objections. Although there are some physical challenges and a bunch of local political issues, this is basically a pretty straightforward civil engineering project that does not require any new technology to be invented. Ultimately I think that it will turn out to be cheaper than a wholly military solution. It is your site so obviously you can run it any way you like but I would like to understand your visceral rejection of this idea.

  24. “Presuming that the Indian economy is capital rich,”

    It’s got more capital than Afghanistan has. Remember, too, that I also mentioned China and Pakistan, each of which has its own interests in pacifying the situation. Speaking of which . . .

    “Afghanistan easily accessible from India,”

    Valid point:P I forgot that Kashmir is between India and Afghanistan. Mark’s already pointed out, though, the possibility of working through Pakistan. And China has borders with all three countries.

    “the Afghan people militarily incompetent”
    The Sioux, Apache, et al weren’t incompetents, either. The railroad still got built, and contributed to their defeat.

    “and easily relocatable,”
    That is a difference between the two situations, yes. Relocation isn’t a necessity, though, just a lazy man’s way of dealing with ethnic strife.

    “the area devoid of hostile foreign powers,”
    What can hostile foreign powers accomplish in the area without local cooperation? With or without their presence, you’re still mostly fighting-or attempting to coopt- locals, the only difference is a matter of degree.

  25. Mark in Texas, thank you for your question.

    What sort of data are you looking for? Cost / benefit studies? Engineering surveys? I don’t know of any.

    What is the average economic impact of a train system?
    How much money has already been spent on Afghani transportation modernization?
    What is the typical economic impact of transportation investment in the Gap?

    I am lookng for something to back up the idea beyond loose analogies.

    Thank you for addressing the concern. As I mentioned, this conversation is currently data-free, and playing into these loose analogies is not any more useful to me than playing with any set of trolls who may stop by.

    Michael did not address data, instead going back to his data-free analogy.

    Further data-free comments in this thread will be marked as trolling and held for moderation pending considerate posts. They are worthless to me. [1]

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/06/22/trolls.html

  26. Michael, interesting, but it returns again to the empty transcontinental analogy.

    I’m looking for something of the ROI, or at least cost, or, say the Nigerian interstate highway system, a recent Uzbek rail buildout, etc.).

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