When a Grizzly Bear Invades

Map of Georgia showing the autonomous republic...
Image via Wikipedia

By Chuck Fisher
Staff Writer

When the Russian grizzly bear entered a campsite (or sovereign nation) looking for picnic baskets (or to extend its sphere of influence) all of the campers in the park started to feel nervous. Although the bear only entered a small campsite (Georgian Acres!) in the boondocks of the park and chowed down on some sandwiches and soda (along with some tanks and armored personnel carriers), its mere presence sent shockwaves all over the wildlife preserve. Forest creature metaphors aside, conflict arose last August when Russia invaded the small Caucasus Mountain country of Georgia after Georgia invaded and tried to retake a separatist region of its country called South Ossetia. This small military action has many countries and peoples asking some big questions.

Georgia is a small democratic former Soviet republic nestled in the Caucasus Mountains. After centuries of being invaded off and on, Georgia was annexed by Russia in the early 1800s. After gaining freedom and subsequently losing it again in the years after the Russian Revolution, Georgia became a formal Soviet Socialist Republic. When the USSR collapsed, Georgia made a run for it and finally became its own nation. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia strengthened its ties to the west and on starry nights still dreams of joining NATO and the European Union when it grows up.

When Georgia decided to extricate itself from the folds of Mother Russia, it took a good chunk of turf with it. Although ethnic Georgians were thrilled that they could now be their own masters, ethnic Abkhazians and Ossetians weren’t looking forward to Georgians being their masters. They wanted to be independent in their own right. So after a few years of living in Georgia, the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia seceded in the early ‘90s. Conflict followed between both regions and eventually ended in a cease fire with Abkhazia and South Ossetia becoming de facto independent. While Georgia was trying to shoot hoops with the big kids on the west side of the street/world, Abkhazia and South Ossetia were hanging around with Russia.

Years went by and tensions (“Mom, make him stop bothering me’s”) seethed in the region until August 2008 when small skirmishes (pillow fights with Kalashnikovs) between Georgia and South Ossetia caused Georgian president Mikhiel Saakashvili to launch an invasion to capture the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali and reunify the country once and for all. Saakashvili might as well have been poking a bear cub. Mamma Russia invaded from the north and started mauling Georgia with teeth, claws, and tanks.

Georgian forces were overwhelmed and driven out South Ossetia and well back into their own territory. Unfortunately, the bear gave chase and pursued the Georgian forces back into their country. Russian forces took the important city of Gori and came to within thirty-four miles of the Georgian Capital of Tbilisi before they stopped.

A six-point peace agreement was drawn up by the Russians and signed by all parties. Among other things, this document stated that Georgia would return its forces to their pre-war positions and that an “international debate” would take place over the future of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. After the agreement was signed, Russian forces gradually withdrew.

So why should we care about this? Why should we give a hoot about a bear chewing up a campsite on the other side of the park when our campsite is fine? Bears can be unpredictable animals.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has degraded to a shadow of its former self. Although still formidable, Russia doesn’t nearly have as much influence as it used to even in its own backyard. Western leaning governments have taken hold in Poland, the Ukraine, and (gasp!) Georgia. The United States has been quick to praise Georgian democracy and George W. Bush became the first sitting president to visit the country when he landed there in 2005. Some have seen Russia’s invasion as a way for it to assert itself as still being powerful and to warn the West not to intrude on its part of the world.

Russia’s relations with NATO have chilled down since the conflict and some have suggested that these actions could lead to another Cold War (you know, that thing our parents worried about back when most of us Marywood students were still in diapers). Add in Poland’s agreement to house part of the American missile defense system only a few hundred miles from the Russian border and you have a steamed up bear whose capabilities and intentions should be taken seriously and PAID ATTENTION TO!!!

According to Dr. Vari from the Social Sciences Department, “The Georgian crisis has stirred a lot of disquiet in the region. Last month the presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine and Romania demonstrated their solidarity with Georgia by making official visits to Tbilisi. As Georgia’s borders are challenged, neighboring states –especially those that before were included in the former Soviet Union – worry about their own security. And they have all the reason to do so since the violation of Georgia’s territorial integrity might constitute a dangerous precedent that could threaten the peace and political stability of the Black Sea region.”

The Georgian-Russian conflict may have been a small and short war in the whole scheme of small and short wars, but it asks us all-important questions about where we as a human civilization are heading. Are we still moving towards an enlightened era of peace and cooperation or are we backsliding into the suspicion and hegemonic power plays of the Cold War? Whatever the case may be, we all need to realize that the bear is back in town.

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