Russia: Another Rhineland


September 1,2008:  Russia has announced that it will, in effect, annex the Georgian separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. No one is willing to face down the Russians on this issue, which many of Russias neighbors see as the first of many such annexations. There is a precedent for this sort of thing, and it all began on the French-German border in 1936.

Some historians see the German reoccupation of the Rhineland in 1936 as the real beginning of World War II. As part of the treaty that ended World War I, Germany agreed to keep troops out of the Rhineland (a German region on the French border). Going back in was a huge gamble for the Germans, who were in the midst of rebuilding their military, and, in 1936, much weaker than France or Britain. But neither of these countries were willing to risk the violence that might occur if they went after the 32,000 troops and police Germany sent into the Rhineland. This convinced Hitler that he could bully the Western allies, and grab neighboring countries with impunity. This worked for Austria and Czechoslovakia, but triggered World War II when Germany and Russia (by prior agreement) carved up Poland in 1939.

Russia may not have its sights on Poland this time around, but Belarus, Ukraine, the Baltic States and a few of the Central Asian "stans" would be nice. Would, or could, anyone stop them? Hitler didn't have nuclear weapons, nor was Germany the supplier of a quarter of Europe's energy needs. Hitler also didn't have the support of the German people for such military adventures, the current Russian government does. Russia also still has its secret police apparatus. Perhaps not as large as when the Soviet Union was still around, but it's still there. Credit Cards, the Internet  and cell phones make it easier to keep track of people. There are still KGB old timers around who remember how to run a prison camps. Absorbing the nations of the "near abroad" (as Russia calls its neighbors), would mean having to deal with a lot of dissidents. That's what the Gulag (the Russian acronym for the prison camp system, or "The Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps and Colonies") was created for. It gets the troublemakers off the streets, permanently, as needed. Puts the fear of Moscow into the newly acquired citizens of the Russian State. It worked before, it can work again. So did taking over the Rhineland.

August 31, 2008: In Chechnya, two suicide bomb attacks left two Russian soldiers dead, in addition to the two bombers.

In Ingushetia (adjacent to Chechnya), an opponent of the pro-Russian provincial government, Magomed Yevloyev, was killed by police, after being arrested after he flew back into a local airport. Yevloyev was "accidentally" shot in the head while in a police car. Yevloyev ran a website ( that reported on similar incidents.

August 29, 2008: China refused to back the Russian annexations in Georgia, as did the Central Asian nations and Iran.

August 27, 2008: Most major Western nations denounce Russias annexation of parts of Georgia. Russia threatens to retaliate against any Western sanctions. Everyone, especially the Russians,  now expects the Western nations to make a lot of noise, but do nothing.

August 26, 2008: Russia says it will recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia has already issued Russian passports to the citizens of these two areas, and basically incorporated them into Russia. The latest action means that Russia no longer recognizes these two areas as belonging to Georgia.

August 24, 2008: U.S. warships arrived at the port of Batumi, carrying relief supplies for Georgia. The port of Poti is still occupied by Russian troops, who sank three Georgian troops they found there. U.S. aid is also arriving by air.

August 21, 2008: In Georgia, Russia began moving most of its troops out of the country and into South Ossetia. These troops had already destroyed most Georgian military bases, and equipment, in the northern part of the country. Civilians could hear explosions coming from the bases over the last few days, apparently the result of Russian engineers destroying buildings and weapons. While most of the Russian troops are leaving, enough are remaining to man road check points and the port of Poti. The Russians have a loophole in the August 11 ceasefire agreement, that, by their interpretation, allows them to keep "peacekeepers" inside Georgia.

Russia has halted all military cooperation with NATO. Since a 2002 agreement was signed, Russia and NATO have been working together on several projects, including tracking heroin shipments from Afghanistan and coordinating air-sea rescue efforts.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close