FRESNO (Independent Exile) -- Ames tells me the eXile must now "be more sensitive to Russian interests" and I've got to play along. Tough job. But like any Cold-War brat, I always kinda wanted to be a Russian agent of influence -- just like that all-American boy Hansen at the FBI, who turned traitor just because he was bored at his desk.
So I spun the globe a few times and came up with a war where, believe it or leave it, Russia actually comes off like the White Knight. I'm talking about South Ossetia.
I see your little eyes glazing over, so I better give you some idea where and what South Ossetia is. Well, for starters, it's just south of North Ossetia. Does that help? Didn't think so. OK, how about this: it's in Northeast Georgia. And I don't mean Jimmy Carter peanut-farming country. I mean the other Georgia, on the east shore of the Black Sea, just north of the Caucasus, where all us Caucasians came from, although we got sorta less hairy along the way, thank God.
The east shore of the Black Sea -- that's where Jason went to get that Golden Fleece, only he ended up with Medea, one of those high-maintenance foreign girlfriends. She ended up feeding Jason his own sons one night. Moral of the story: those exotic war brides never work out, long term.
Other moral of the story: folks in this part of the world play rough. The Caucasus may be the part of the world that's hardest for Americans to understand, because over there every inch of land is marked off with its own language and basketweaving traditions. We're just the opposite, which is why it's so hard for us to get. In the US you can drive a thousand miles without seeing one thing different. No matter how far you go, it's the same Interstate landscape, like you're in a stuck video game: crops, offramp, Denny's, Mickey D's, AM/PM Minimart, more crops, offramp. You cheer up when you come across a car crash because at least it's a little variety.
The Caucasus doesn't have an Interstate. If it did, you'd pay a toll in blood every single mile. The Caucasus is a crazy maze of mountain valleys, every damn one marked off as the property of one tribe or another. Step across some imaginary line and you're walking into a blood feud that's been going since the last Ice Age. This is feudin' country that makes Appalachia look like Haight-Ashbury.
While the Soviets were in charge, the Caucasians put their feudin' gear in storage. Stalin was one babysitter you didn't act up with. He came from this part of the world himself. That's where he got so tough.
In fact, as long as Comrade Stalin (real name: Dzhugashvili) was on top, every Caucasian tribe wanted to claim him. The Ossetians said he was Ossetian, and the Georgians told everybody he was Georgian. And when everybody decided Stalin was a bad guy, it reversed: the Georgians said he was nuthin' but a bloodthirsty Ossetian.
When Georgia turned independent after the USSR dissolved, the locals changed their tune again. Instead of going on about how Ossetians were totally different from Georgians, the Georgians went around yelling that Ossetia was an integral part of Georgia, with no reason to go thinking about seceding. At the time Georgia was run by this crazy poet-fascist named Gam-sakhurdia, one of the first post-Communist rabid nationalists, and he kinda got all the non-ethnic Georgians a little paranoid with his Gruzya (Georgia) for the Gruzininy rant.
See, Georgia's small enough already, but even so, there are at least three parts of it that may or may not be ethnically distinct, depending on who you ask and who's got the gun at the moment. Think of Georgia as a big mouth, opening to take a bite out of the Black Sea. There are three teeth in this mouth that are sort of loose, like GULAG prisoners' teeth used to get from the scurvy. There's Adzharia, the bottom front tooth; Abkhazia, the top front tooth; and there's South Ossetia, back inland there like a top molar.
When this new Georgian president, Saakashvili, took power last year (with a whole lotta help from the CIA and George Soros), he started some intensive dental surgery to make sure none of those loose ethnic teeth fell out. First he went after Adzharia, that loose lower-front tooth. He got lucky there, because Adzharia was ruled by some white-haired nut-case who was more interested in raising fighting dogs than government. They liberated his kennels -- seriously, this fruitloop had about 200 pit bulls and Dogos Argentinos, those all-white monsters -- and voila, Adzharia was back in Georgia again.
Adzharia was pretty easy, because most of the locals saw themselves as ethnically Georgian, only they were nominally Muslim instead of nominally Orthodox Christian as most Georgians are.
Ossetians don't think of themselves as ethnic Georgians. The Ossetians have what you call "a glorious past," and in their case it's true. The Ossetians are nothing but the stay-at-home remains of the Alanii.
If you know your late-Roman and Dark-Ages military history, that made you sit up and grab for your helmet. The Alanii! They really were glorious. The Alanii were horse nomads who raided around the steppes east of the Black Sea. They had a lot of cool nomad war tricks. One I like is that they used Great Danes, who used to be called "Alanii Dogs," to attack enemy horses.
The Alanii kicked ass until they encountered the Roman Empire pushing east. The Romans beat them in 175 AD, and then incorporated them into the Imperial Army. The Romans were smart that way: they didn't take it personally if you put up a good fight. They admired you for it, helped you up and offered you a job somewhere else in the Empire -- somewhere where you didn't have any relatives who'd try to talk you into rebelling.
t a unit of Alan cavalry to Britain, where an Alan leader Artoris became sort of a local legend under the English version of his name: Arthur. The Alanii who stayed home soon had a big problem: the Huns, who were moving west all through the fourth century. The Romans were getting weaker; the Huns were unstoppable. One thing you'll notice about Western military history is that we always had a hard time dealing with mounted archers, and the Huns were the best. They could put an arrow through your eye and make their horses dance a waltz at the same time.
The Alanii were good horsemen too, but they used the spear and the sword. Like their friends the Vandals, they couldn't handle those mounted archers. The Alanii did the sensible thing: got the Hell outta Dodge. They may not have had an Interstate, but they made pretty good time: they went all the way West. Some stopped in Gaul, but some kept going into Iberia (Spain) and further into North Africa.
Some Alanii still roamed the steppe till the Mongols came. The Mongols were like the Huns, squared. Same tactics and weapons but much more systematic about wiping out everyone in their path. The Alanii fled into the mountains, and that's how they became the Ossetians.
From then on it was just a matter of who was going to dominate them, the Russians or the Georgians. Most Ossetians preferred the Russians, who were farther away and not so damn interested in them. In this part of the world, the less interested your masters are in you, the better. The Georgians were too close, too bossy, too similar.
When the USSR dissolved in '91, one of those classic border messes developed: North Ossetia was still inside Russia -- the new, smaller Russia, the Russian Federation -- but South Ossetia was officially part of Georgia. Which it didn't want to be.
In 1989, all fizzy with that liberation chatter that was going around back then, South Ossetia declared itself united with North Ossetia. The Georgians, led by the nutcase Gamsakhurdia, begged to differ. In 1991, the Georgian Army made its point about South Ossetia being an integral, beloved part of Georgia the traditional Caucasian way -- by shelling every rebel village in range of its guns. And since these were Soviet artillery, the best guns ever made, the point got through. At least 100,000 South Ossetians fled North, which meant that the entire population of South Ossetia is now only 70,000 people. Backed by the Russians and plenty of North Ossetian first cousins, the South Ossetian irregulars wound up flattening the Georgians and have been free-ish ever since.
See what I mean about how crazy this stuff seems to us Americans? All this fuss about a place with a population about one-fifth of Fresno's. But like I keep saying, and like the Bush people keep not figuring out, not everybody thinks like us.
The ones who are left in South Ossetia are the hard core, the ones who can't or won't leave, and they're backed by Russian "peacekeepers." Not all of those 70,000 are even Ossetians; some of the villages in the nominal breakaway region are Georgian, so there's no way even God himself could draw a clean border that would put all the Ossetians on one side and all the Georgians on the other.
Truth is, if God himself had to solve problems like this or Bosnia, He'd probably end up using Ethnic Cleansing Powder. It makes more sense and in the long run might even be less bloody than just letting the locals carve each other up from now till Doomsday.
But God's not involved here. The players are Russia, Georgia -- and us, as Georgia's new best pal. The CIA and the Georgians are very, very tight. The reason is the same reason as Iraq: oil. We want Caspian Sea oil, and the pipeline we're building to take that oil passes through goes through Georgia. Or more specifically, through Adzharia, and into Turkey. America armed and trained the Georgians so they could take back Adzharia, which they did. We got what we wanted, but Saakashvili wants more. He thinks it's a quid pro quo, and he wants South Ossetia too. The Russians don't like this at all, and the Ossetians side with the Russians. Or rather, they need the Russians.
The Georgians figured they were on a roll after doing their root-canal on Adzharia and they moved on to South Ossetia this year. The result was a war. A little, nasty war, the kind you get these days, mostly snipers and mortars. And of course the usual targets are civilians; both sides accuse the other of mortaring hospitals, and both are probably telling the truth. Because that's how war works nowadays. Civilian targets are preferred; they're easier to sight, they don't fire back, and since the whole point is to scare the ethnic enemy into running away, it just makes more sense to target them than the enemy army.
The Georgians say the Ossetian rebels are trying to scare Georgian villages into running south to Georgia. That's probably true; after all, it's exactly what the Georgians did to the South Ossetians in 1991. It worked for them, so why shouldn't the Ossetians do it?
Trouble is, the Georgians have the big guns, the money, and the backing -- America. The Georgian army even wears surplus US Army uniforms, and we've got advisors teaching them how to do everything from brush their teeth to sight their artillery pieces.
The only friends the Ossetians have are the Russians. And...well, I don't want to offend the people running the eXile now, but...well, let's put it this way: in the past -- not now, of course, just in the past -- having Russia for a friend was like having the worst enemy you could imagine. Russia -- in the past, just in the past! -- betrays every ally it ever had, from the Serbs to the Egyptians.
But now under the glorious reign of Mr. Putin, uh...that's all changed. Totally changed. So hey, you besieged South Ossetians, get ready for the glory of the Alanii to come back! With the new Russia on your side, you...uh...oh yeah: you can't lose!