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A Very Small Pond For Superpower Games Part Two

Russian military questions NATO naval presence in Black Sea
A top Russian general Tuesday questioned the "extreme level" of activity of NATO naval forces in the Black Sea, saying it could not be needed for the delivery of aid to Georgia or for routine naval exercises. "We're bewildered at the extreme level of activity of NATO naval forces in the Black Sea, which continue to increase their numbers," General Anatoly Nogovitsyn told reporters at a briefing on the conflict. "Only yesterday I said there were nine NATO ships in the sea and by evening another frigate of the US navy passed through the Bosphorus Straits. "We have also learnt that another eight warships from NATO states are expected shortly. "They talk about planned exercises and you can probably find some legitimacy in that but... it's very hard to believe that all the visits so far have been bringing only humanitarian aid," said Nogovitsyn. "Nappies can be bought in any market in Georgia," he said. Nogovitsyn went on to insist that Russia was complying with a French-brokered peace plan while Georgia's military was rearming. "While Russia shows adherence to the achieved international agreement, Tbilisi continues to revive its armed forces," he said. The comments came as the US navy destroyer USS McFaul carrying humanitarian aid was heading to the Georgian port city of Poti, where Russian forces have been deployed. The United States has led Western calls for Russia to withdraw its forces from such advanced positions as the Poti port.

US says Russian pullout from Georgia 'significant' but not enough
The Pentagon on Tuesday said Russia had made "significant" moves to withdraw troops from Georgia but noted a "sizeable" military presence remained in its smaller neighbor, a spokesman said. "While there have been some significant Russian movements they are not yet living up to the terms of the cease fire agreement," Bryan Whitman told reporters. "There is still sizeable Russian presence in Georgia." Whitman, who spoke hours after Moscow formally recognized the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia thereby raising hackles in the West, echoed the state Department's assertion that Russia was not complying with a ceasefire accord. "They've established some self-declared security zones, observation posts, check points and things of that nature," Whitman said. All of these, he said "would be a reflection of them not living up to the terms of the ceasefire agreement." Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said earlier in a televised address he had signed a decree recognizing South Ossetia -- the catalyst for this month's five-day military conflict with Georgia -- and Abkhazia. Medvedev has said Russia complied with the ceasefire and withdrew its forces from Georgia with the exception of "security zones." Tensions have mounted since Russian forces entered Georgia on August 8 to thwart a Georgian attempt to retake South Ossetia. France brokered a ceasefire but the United States and other Western nations have accused Russia of breaching the accord by keeping tanks and troops in Georgia.
by Alexander Khramchikhin
Moscow (UPI) Aug 26, 2008
The issue of maintaining the historic port city of Sevastopol on the Ukrainian-controlled Crimean Peninsula as an operational base for the Russian Black Sea Fleet is largely an illusory one for Russia: It does not match with present-day realities.

However, there are also strong emotional factors involved in the current controversy between Russia and Ukraine over the future of the Sevastopol base. Sevastopol is called "a city of Russian military glory" and is known for its defenders' heroism during the Crimean War of 1854-55 and the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany form 1941 to 1945.

These emotions are backed with politics. Before 1954 the Crimean Peninsula was part of the Russian Federation, and its handover to Ukraine was legally dubious, even by the standards of Soviet law. Most of the Slav population of the Crimean Peninsula and Sevastopol has a Russian -- even a Soviet -- identity, rather than a Ukrainian one, while the Crimea's Tatars look mostly to Turkey.

In general, the Soviet-era borders of Ukraine do not meet the historical, ethnic and political realities of today. Russians maintain that the Ukrainian state is largely an artificial product. Since 1992 it has been denying any fraternal feelings for Russia, and a political, especially a military, union with Russia is out of the question for the foreseeable future. By hanging on to the Sevastopol base, Moscow has made itself hostage to Kiev.

On the other hand, the presence of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol is a strong political and emotional irritant to the Ukrainian authorities and a bolster to the Russian-Soviet identity of most of the Crimea's population. Moscow also believes its fleet in Sevastopol is preventing Ukraine from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This strategy seems to be a Russian reincarnation of the Anglo-Saxon naval doctrine of a "fleet in being."

A host of factors will determine the future of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Sevastopol and the Crimea. It is unlikely that the Black Sea Fleet will stay in Sevastopol after the lease expires in 2017. Logic suggests that either it will move base to Russia before the final date or the Crimea and Ukraine will see major political changes.

Owing to its origins, Ukraine is at constant risk of splitting up into western-central and southern-eastern parts. Any swing by Ukraine's central authorities toward either Russia or the West only makes this risk more likely. Kiev's stirrings about the Black Sea Fleet could deal no less devastating a blow to its domestic stability than to Russia's defense capabilities in the south.

(Alexander Khramchikhin is head of the analytical department at the Institute of Political and Military Analysis in Moscow. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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Analysis: Shifting Middle East alliances
Washington (UPI) Aug 25, 2008
Alliances in the Greater Middle East are written in sand, not stone, and as the winds blow and the sands shift, so do alliances. Today the prevailing wind appears to be blowing from Moscow.

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