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U.S. Ambassador: Russian response in Georgia 'well-grounded'

In an interview with the Kommersant, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, John Beyrle, confirmed that the Russian response to Georgia's attack on South Ossetia was legitimate. He also stated, however, that Russia went too far by invading Georgia 'proper', and that Russia now has to abide by the cease-fire agreement and stop hinting at regime-change in Tblisi. A small bit of an AP report in the International Herald Tribune:

John Beyrle [...] told the Kommersant Friday that Russia "gave a well-grounded response" to a Georgian attack on Russian peacekeepers, but exceeded its authority by invading Georgia proper.

Ambassador Beyrle has presumably been green-lighted to give this statement, and he has also stated to the Kommersant that Saakashvili acted without the consent and against the advice of the United States in attacking South Ossetia. This signals a certain ratcheting-down of tensions between the U.S. and Russia, and a readiness on the side of the U.S. to come to an accommodation.

The full interview is available in Russian, here.

Late update: Telo notes in the comments that the translation of the AP might be off, and that the relevant statement by Ambassador Beyrle implies that the Russians had a reason to respond, but is ambiguous on whether that reason was completely sufficient.

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Pat Patterson on :

The AP seems to be quoting from a different article than the interview in the link. There is no mention of a "...well grounded reponse" and unless I am hallucinating he made absolutely no statement either directly or by implication that the Russian response was legitimate. In fact the Kommersant interview says that, "The ambassador avoided direct answer[s] to the question about Washington's idea of Russia's adquate response to Georgia." Not reading Russian I can only assume that the use of adequate here must have meant to be referring to Russia's rationale for invading Russia. And the ambassador repeated the demand that Russia withdraw to the recognized borders, that is back to the status quo ante. No Russian troops in Georgia, South Ossetia or Abkhazia. Plus the article mentions that Amb. Beryle stated that the US advised Georgia to delay the use of force to the last minute. There is no mention of the US either consented or not consented to Georgian actions.

Nanne on :

The article in the Kommersant is a report about the interview, which is only available in Rusian. At the bottom of the article, there is a link to the full interview, which I've run through the babelfish (very imperfect, but serviceable) and which appears to contain exactly what the AP reports it to. I'll clarify a bit.

Pat Patterson on :

It appears that the AP story is taken from Kommersant and thus the discrepancy between what both sites claimed are said are even more troublesome. Plus to further obscure the issue all of the Russian blogs are not referring to the original text but the edited version in Kommersant. What we need is a better translation as the Kommersant article, as I pointed out, contradicts the AP story.

John in Michigan, USA on :

"[url=http://abcnews.go.com/International/story?id=5617271&page=1]Russia Makes New Threats Over U.S.-Poland Missile Deal[/url]" by TOMEK ROLSKI and JONATHAN KARL. I knew Jon Karl in college, he is a reliable source. Reporting from Moscow, this article contains information I suspected was true, but haven't seen in print before. "According to the deal, the United States will construct a military base at Redzikowo on the Baltic coast. There, on an area no larger than the size of a football field, will be 10 silos with missiles ready for possible launch by 2012. "The relatively small missile defense system could be easily overwhelmed by Russia's vast force of long-range missiles, [i]but under the deal the United States also agreed to provide a Patriot missile defense system that could be used to defend Poland against a short-range missile defense threat that could potentially come from Russia[/i]." (italics added by me) So if this is correct, the US-Poland deal involves at least three components: 1) Theater missile defense. Probably the [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/THAAD]THAAD[/url] system. This had been the main topic of discussion for years. 2) Tactical missile defense: A [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MIM-104_Patriot]PAC-3[/url] (Patriot) battery. This system only makes sense to defend against missiles originating near Poland. I had not read this detail anyplace before. 3) Bi-lateral, mutual defense agreement(s). This was reported earlier on Atlantic Review. Before the Russian attack on Georgia, apparently we were having problems convincing the Poles to limit themselves to component 1). Our position was that 2) and 3) are more provocative to Russia, for obvious reasons. The Polish position appeared to be, in for a penny, in for a pound. Any missile defense system in Poland was going to upset Russia, so might as well get the system needed to defend against Russia. Also 3) is also somewhat disrespectful to NATO and the ideal of collective security. Before Georgia, even item 1) was controversial in Poland and in the US. Russia's actions seem to have changed the public mood considerably; before the Russian actions, items 2) and 3) were apparently not very much on the agenda. "Only weeks ago, the 18 months of Polish-U.S. missile talks appeared on the verge of collapse. The Poles suspended negotiations after the United States refused to meet their demands and public opinion polls found that 70 percent of Poles were against the missile shield on their territory. Poles began protesting the plan. "All that changed on Aug. 8, when Russian armor rolled into Georgia. "'When Russia performs military operations that are perceived as aggressive and brutal, even relatively far from our borders, people in Poland fear,' political analyst Grzegorz Kostrzewa-Zorbas told ABC News. "'The war in Georgia very quickly and suddenly changed the mood of Poles,' Kostrzewa-Zorbas said. 'In a week, a strong majority emerged supporting the American missile shield in Poland.' "Now, 63 percent support American military presence on Polish soil and feel that the closer ties enhance Poland's security. "The American side also had a large shift in opinion. "'The Americans were unwilling to give Poland any anti-missile and air defense system optimized to defend Polish airspace and territory. They did not want to give Poland Patriot missiles,' he said. 'Now it is different.'

Pat Patterson on :

I missed finding a link to the poll. Are those high approval numbers for a US presence limited to Redzikowo or are they for a much larger presence? Under the circumstances I would find the former to be expected and the latter to be a huge about face in Polish attitudes. Attitudes which I thought were less to do with anti-Americanism then simply not wanting any large foreign presence on its soil again.

John in Michigan, USA on :

Pat, It would have been better if Rolski and Karl had included more info re their polling methods, but too often that stuff is cut by one of the many editors that alter the article before it is published. I am guessing that is what happened, since writers typically want to see as many of their glorious words in print as possible.... "[url=http://bh.heraldinteractive.com/news/international/europe/view/2008_08_18_Polish_support_for_missile_defense_pact_soars/]Polish support for missile defense pact soars[/url]" is a report from the Associated Press (staff) of a survey by the Gfk Polonia institute in Warsaw. It cites a 58% approval for the recent US Poland agreement, 500 people surveyed, error +/- 4.5%. That is different from Rolski and Karl's figure of 63% approval, so perhaps they were using a different survey for their article? Still, the second article supports the first one on the general statement that there was a major change of opinion. As to the resentment of having US troops on Polish soil: One assumes there will be liaison officers, technicians, etc. as part of the proposed missile base. It would be interesting if we learned that there is a 4th component to the deal, consisting of a significant US troop presence at Redzikowo or elsewhere in Poland, more than what is needed for the missile base. I have not seen anything suggesting that. Naturally, there will be some resentment of the mere presence of the base. But that is tempered by realism: any country would prefer to be wholly independent and able to defend itself, but until Poland becomes as prosperous as, well, Germany, that is not possible against an opponent like Russia.

Pat Patterson on :

Thanks, for a second I was hitting every word in your comment to find a link. So it seems that the question and the positive support at this time is limited to that football sized island. O/T-I still remember how excited some of my maternal Polish and Polish-American relatives were when Pres. Bush visited Poland in 1991. One of my distant cousins, who had been a spetsnaz in Poland until he simply deserted and then walked across the German border, was watching the arrival on TV and excitedly pointing out that part of the honor guard of the Polish Armed Forces at the airport was a company of the new SOF of Poland, Grom, who were wearing dark green berets, US Army forest camo, American webbing and boots as well as the carrying the usual Ak-47 and the newer Hechler and Koch. But the main thing was that he observed that they didn't stand or act like ersatz Russians anymore but stood like Americans. A few years later it became common knowledge that American trainers were in Poland even before 1989. So I would suspect that at least in the Polish Armed Forces cooperation and sympathy may be more congenial then that of the general public.

John in Michigan, USA on :

Interesting about the trainers in the late 80's -- very interesting. How did we manage that, I wonder?? "limited to that football sized island" huh? The survey is a nationwide opinion survey or are you seeing something I'm not?

Pat Patterson on :

I assumed that since the poll showed a reversal of support for the missile pact then approval could only be safely said to include just that island in the personnel either manning it or supporting it. I think that the question of actually stationing a larger and more general military force has not actually been publicly mentioned. Though I am sure that there are letters of understanding that provide for guarantees of cooperation much more expansive then just the current missile shield. My understanding of the role trainers had prior to '89 is based solely on conversations with some of the NCOs that claimed to have been there. So I cannot provide any documentation so I must acknowledge that even though I believe this occurred they still should be considered anecdotal. As early as '88 some mid-level Polish officer contacted the American government while performing peace keeping duties outside of Poland, Gaza I think. They wanted to establish relations with the US Army because they were convinced, without being psychic, that Poland would soon be independent and would want and need a new military doctrine. At this point even though Poland was still a Warsaw Pact nation they were providing little to no cooperation to the Russians except for some of the Soviet versions of REFORGER. But the contact were made through various channels, one story had that the Vatican passed on documents. But these were only basic training manuals but various American soldiers were made available to explain what they meant and how to implement them. None of this until '89 was done in the field and it appears that some contact with through the Embassy, some through the interest office for the Poles at Brussels and some through actual contact during various peacekeeping missions, though within weeks of the Berlin Wall falling American trainers both regular and SOFs were in Poland wearing Polish uniforms to begin to retrain the Polish Armed Forces bit by bit.

Pat Patterson on :

The Embassy of the United States in Moscow has denied that Ambassador Beyrle endorsed Russian responses to the first days of fighting in South Ossetia. "In an interview in Kommersant published August 22, Ambassador Beyrle was quote as saying that the Russian reaction to attacks on its peacekeeping forces was "completely justified." This is an inaccurate translation of Ambassador Beyrle's comments. As we have stated repeatedly, Russia's use of force in Georgia has been disproportionate, and we call on Russia to respect its obligation to withdraw its forces from Georgian territory in accordance with the ceasefire agreement." This [url=http://moscow.usembassy.gov/]statement[/url] is on the embassy homepage for Aug. 23, entitled Ambassador Beyrle Interview in Kommersant. There is a complete text of the interview in Russian but no English translation yet.

Nanne on :

Thanks for watching this story. To me it looks rather like a typical non-denial denial, though. Beyrle did say that the Russian use of force was disproportionate in the interview.

John in Michigan, USA on :

Interestingly, there has been a great deal of "translation errors" and general blowing of smoke in this conflict. For example, when we announced humanitarian shipments arriving at Poti, the Georgians promptly announced we would be taking over control of the port. Wishful thinking on their part, unfortunately. Even if we were willing to put a military presence in the port, I am not sure the Turks would be willing to let our ships into the Black Sea for anything other than humanitarian aid. As an Iraq war supporter, I have to admit, this is part of the huge price to be paid for the Iraq war. When we did not manage to get Turkey's permission to land the 4th infantry division in Turkey in order to open up a northern front in Iraq, it caused (or revealed) a deterioration in the US-Turkey relationship that still hasn't been mended, and won't be anytime soon. Google "[url=http://www.google.com/search?q=Who+lost+Turkey%3F]Who lost Turkey?[/url]" (but take the first hit, an item on Juan Cole's Informed Comment, with a HUGE grain of salt, Mr. Cole has a very loose relationship with the facts).

Telo on :

"вполне обоснованно" means "sufficiently grounded", not "well-grounded" and this "grounded-ness" concerns the assault of Georgian troops on Russian peace-keepers stationed in South Ossetia (the civilians are somehow out of the picture). So this is to say that Russian military action in response to Georgian assault against the peace-keeping mission is somewhat justified. Then, he continues: "But now Russian military forces has entered the Georgian territory and it is the Georgian territorial integrity that is under threat now."

Pat Patterson on :

So were back to the well-establsihed idea, or at least should be, that peacekeepers are not necessarily meant to be targets or collateral damage. I may not agree with what the ambassador said but the new translation confines the Russians initial response to somewhat conform to the Sochii Agreement and specifically excludes any act the Russians took outside of the agreed territorial limits. BTW, thanks for the better translation as it appeared that the Kommersant one was shaded somewhat and all the other sources relied on that one translation with varying degrees of accuracy.

John in Michigan, USA on :

Telo, thanks for the translation help, it is important to understand exactly what was said. Slightly off topic, re the peacekeepers. Normally, when UN peacekeepers are attacked, they either 1) take cover and count shots, shells, etc. or 2) leave the area because "there is no peace to keep". The Russian (CIS) peacekeepers were not UN-sponsored, as we can tell from their behavior which was, shall we say, very different... Peacekeepers are usually bored, and therefore misbehave. Sex trade, looting, cutting deals with local mafia for safety or for luxuries, etc. After this is over and research can be done, it will be interesting to compare the amount of misbehavior from the CIS peacekeepers with the amount of misbehavior in a typical UN mission.

Telo on :

> peacekeepers John and all, from what I have gathered watching the news "on the other side", they did just that. They were hiding for two days in the shelter with a bunch of journalists and civilians, while the Ossetians did the combat. Though there was a bit of news on TV about the commander of the peacekeeping forces who allegedly blew up one a Georgian tank with a hand-held rocket in downtown of Tskhinvali. Involvement of Russian military is another story. It came two days later. It took down the Georgian firing positions on the top of the hills – the town is in the low place perfectly surrounded by Georgian highlands on three sides (a lousy place strategically) and kicked the Georgians 30 or something km deep into Georgia. So that’s where the issue is located. Now here is this supposedly leading German International Law expert, professor Daniel- Erasmus Khan, who argues on the pages of Spiegel magazine, that from the legal point of view the Russian military was right to interfere to defend autonomous Ossetia form Georgians. I am wondering if it is the same rationale that the US ambassador was alluding to when speaking in terms of “sufficient grounds”. Here is a link. It’s in German, though. There is also a Russian translation. I can summarize his points, if you want - later. Check this out.. http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,571853,00.html

Telo on :

I do not know what notion of grounded-ness is operative in the statement and what are its political implications, but linguistically the options would be: To deem the action unjustified (not permissible) To deem it somewhat justified (but still not permissible) To deem it sufficiently justified (permissible, but hardly obligatory) To deem it fully justified (obligatory) So that's a rough range where you can find its meaning. This "sufficiently" part expresses some reluctance (whatever the basis for it – legal or political) in rendering positive qualification. My impression is that he wants to shift the focus on to presence of Russian forces in Georgia – regardless of how and why they got involved. It is perhaps noteworthy, that with this "sufficiently grounded" line he is actually responding to a question why no one from the administration (Bush and Rice) ever for the duration of this conflict criticized the Georgian government for the attack on South Ossetia; and whether this lack of criticism suggests that the US is in favor of such actions. Tough question. He also says that "up to the very last moment we were trying to reason Georgian side against it [was this plan actually considered at the meetings with the US officials? He restates this a few times in the interview.] And now we are trying to reason Russian side for respecting the cease-fire agreement and that of withdrawing military forces from Georgian territory" Best,

Nanne on :

Thanks, Telo. I've added an update. My reading of the 'we were telling the Georgians not to do this' is that it has been evident for months that the situation might escalate, and that officials in the EU and the US have warned the Georgian President against this. So it does not need to mean that Georgia gave the US a heads up. Although that is still possible.

Pat Patterson on :

Considering the US missed the transport and arrival of at least 3 divisions, 45,000 men and equipment, of the 58th Army then even if Saakashvili did a Punch and Judy show announcing the date and time he was planning to go after South Ossetian irregulars ther is still a good chance that the folks at Langley and Ft. Meade would have missed it. It's nice that our satellites can pick up four jihadists in a Hi-Lux but a couple of hundred tanks and APCs are not noted. Plus if Amb. Beyrle did chose a politic explanation of the events leading up to the invasion I would still believe that US policy, at worst if in all honesty, would be #2 on Telo's list.

joe on :

There also was an American Ambassador to the Soviet Union, George F. Kennan, who said.... "russia can have at its boarders only enemies or vassals." It would appear as much as things change the more they remain the same.

E.J on :

Russia claims Bush administration abet Georgia military venture for focus-divertion . Georgia conflicts will promote West's solidairty and transfer people's sight off the trocity in Iraq and Afghanistan. Russia, at odds with the United States over Georgia, will press the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to condemn U.S.-led air strikes in Afghanistan that killed dozens of civilians, diplomats said. The Russian delegation has drafted a statement that would say the council's 15 member states are "seriously concerned" about the U.S.-led coalition attacks on Aug. 22, which the U.N. mission in Afghanistan says it believes left 90 civilians dead, most of them children. It's not the best way to condole those allied Nation's military staffs' sacrifice. Russia and the United States are permanent members of the council with veto power, along with France, Britain and China. I doubt France, Britain will support such draft. 90 civilians death will definitely not overweigh Britain and France's friendship with USA. Britain politicians never truely believe in human rights , they chase for wealth and power for now and for ever. Russia's draft statement, which several diplomats said had no chance of getting the unanimous backing it would need for approval, also says council members "deplore" the fact that this has happened before in Afghanistan. "I think the Americans want to divert attention from Iraq and Afghan ,They want to annoy the Russians with Georgia for Polar Bear's compromise on Iran's nuclear issue and US Missile defence system along Russia's border" said one diplomat on the sidelines of a council session on unrelated matters. Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was asked whether the draft statement will be approved by Britain and France, but he declined to comment. "We hope those countries who continually criticize other country's human rights will keep their words!" he told reporters. The council will meet again later on Tuesday to discuss Somalia and the Russian statement, diplomats said. The U.S. military has launched an investigation of the incident, after first saying it was unaware of any civilian casualties in an air strike.

John in Michigan, USA on :

"Britain politicians never truely believe in human rights" Have you ever visited Britain? They practice human rights there every day. If Russia, the Taliban, or the other groups you mention did half as much as the British, they would have much more credibility on this issue. As to the latest incident of alledged mass civilian casualties in Afghanistan, [url=http://atlanticreview.org/archives/1111-Afghanistan-Germanys-Troop-Surge.html#c14911]I raised some questions about a previous incident (the now infamous wedding massacre)[/url], and [url=http://atlanticreview.org/archives/1111-Afghanistan-Germanys-Troop-Surge.html#c14947]no-one has answered them, they prefer to distort what I said[/url]. I also showed how [url=http://atlanticreview.org/archives/1111-Afghanistan-Germanys-Troop-Surge.html#c14992]anonymous video provided to the BBC was almost certainly fake[/url]. This latest incident fits the same pattern, so far.

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