The Blog

Frederick Kagan Testifies before Congress on the Russian Threat to International Order

9:26 AM, Sep 12, 2008 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

On September 9, Fred Kagan testified before before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the challenge posed by Russia and how the United States should respond. Kagan's remarks, provided here in full, are well worth reading:

Representative Berman, Representative Ros-Lehtinen, distinguished members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, it is an honor to appear before you today on a matter of great importance to the future of Europe, of NATO, and of the United States. Were it not for the gravity of the issue before us, it would also, frankly, be a relief to be talking with you about something other than Iraq. But the issue is indeed grave. Without hyperbole, it is fair to say that we have reached a watershed moment in world history. The Russian military assault on Georgia, in violation of international law and Russia's own agreements, for the purpose of expanding Russia's influence in the region and, ultimately, I believe, Russia's territory, marks a fundamental inflection point in international relations almost as significant in its own way as Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Much hinges on the West's response to this challenge, which must be both strong and nuanced. Although we must guard against overreacting, we must also guard against underreacting, which I believe is the greater danger now. Whatever we and our allies choose to do concretely in response to Russia's actions, we must begin by understanding the real clarity of the issue, including the international legal clarity of the situation, and the magnitude of the damage Russia has inflicted and proposes to inflict on the global states system.

We must start by dispensing with the notion that there is any sort of legal or moral equivalency between what Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili did on August 7 and Russia's reactions. A magnificently prepared and executed Russian information operations campaign has attempted to portray Georgia's actions as unprovoked aggression and to accuse Georgia of "genocide" and war crimes.

The use of Georgian military forces within Georgia's territory (and even the Russian leadership formally recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as Georgian territory at that time) is not aggression against Russia under any circumstances. More to the point, Saakashvili's actions were anything but unprovoked. Since the Western recognition of Kosovar independence in February and, even more dramatically, after NATO's refusal to offer a membership action plan (MAP) to Georgia at the Bucharest Summit in April, Abkhazian and South Ossetian secessionists had staged a series of attacks on Georgians within those regions and on Georgia proper. Russian peacekeepers in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, legally obliged to prevent precisely such provocations and to identify and punish the offenders, instead aided and abetted them-in at least one case using a Russian fighter to shoot down a Georgian UAV over Abkhazia. Russian peacekeepers were clearly in violation of their own legal obligations long before August 7, when Saakashvili decided that he had to send additional military forces into South Ossetia to protect the lives of Georgians under attack by the secessionists.

In retrospect, it is easy to see that this decision was a mistake. Saakashvili walked right into a well-prepared Russian ambush in every sense of the word. Russian military forces had completed a large-scale military exercise starting on July 15, Caucasus 2008, in which they developed the plans for the invasion of Georgia and rehearsed them-even down to practicing the deployment of some of the units that moved rapidly into South Ossetia and Abkhazia in August. Within hours, perhaps minutes, of the Georgian movement into South Ossetia, a Russian motorized rifle regiment was driving from its base at Vladikavkaz through the Roki Tunnel which separates Georgia from Russia and which had already been secured by Russian Spetznaz troops on both sides, and toward the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali. Airborne units from the Moscow and Leningrad Military Districts were on their way at once and arrived in South Ossetia within days-repeating movements one of them had rehearsed less than three weeks before. And literally thousands of Russian troops began flowing into Abkhazia at the same time, despite the fact that the Georgians had taken no action on that front and were preparing to take none.