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Posts Tagged ‘Georgia’

August 14  (Originally posted by Mischa)

“In the 21st century, nations don’t invade other nations.”
-Senator John McCain, Fox News, August 13.

“For anyone who thought that stark international aggression was a thing of the past, the last week must have come as a startling wake-up call.”
-Senator John McCain, Wall Street Journal, August 14.

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August 10 (Originally posted by Mischa)

The Russian effort in Georgia has a powerful ally: hackers. (You were expecting maybe bear cavalry?) Several Georgian state servers, as well as the websites of the Office of the President, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Defense have been hijacked, starting weeks in advance of the outbreak of war. The main government website is still down as of 10 AM today.

The specifics of the cyber-arms race are over my head, but Defensetech has a useful blurb on Russian capacity. It is difficult to fit these developments into conventional frameworks, as the lines between the state and private citizens are extremely blurry. Sixty percent of Russian cyber-crime, from porno to politics, runs through the shadowy Russian Business Network. RBN is essentially a hosting service for criminals. Moscow’s line on RBN has not been reassuring: “RBN doesn’t exist; well it does, but in England.” At one point, it disappeared outright. While formally a non-state organization, many tech and defense bloggers believe RBN is at the very least protected by political allies. Obviously it is near-impossible to conclusively prove such cloak-and-dagger allegations. That said, FSB ties would hardly be surprising.

The best-known cyber-attacks before this came in 2007, when Russian hackers hit Estonian websites to protest the removal of a Soviet-era statue. The Kremlin denied responsibility, and the attacks were eventually attributed to an “online flash mob.” The ringleader was caught, and fined $1,600. While the attacks were disruptive, they were small potatoes compared to the political chaos that could result from hacked elections. (Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon.)

This strategypage.com piece delineates three types of cyber-warfare: limited stealth operations (LSO); cyberwar only (CO); and cyberwar in support of conventional war. It isn’t clear whether LSOs are “limited” by intent or simply capacity. CO is what happened in Estonia, and is likely to be carried out by non-state actors regarding single issues or targets. The final category, support cyberwar, includes traditional battlefield operations such as disrupting communications. The problem is the expanding definition of “targets” in the modern era, with the actual military increasingly relying on all manner of economic and political support structures. Cyber-warfare doesn’t just mean jamming the enemy’s radars; it means shutting down their stock exchange.

What we’re currently seeing in Georgia is the disruption of state websites by (possibly) private-sector hackers, simultaneous with old-fashioned Russian military operations. Such para-state hackery has the potential to screw up track-1 negotiations. What happens if two heads of state sign a cease-fire, but private citizens in each country continue trashing each other’s banks and government websites? What happens if an entity like the RBN ponies up to pay a hacker’s fines for working against foreign governments? Who faces charges, and in what jurisdiction?

All that said, time for a caveat: Much of the PANIC PANIC PANIC about the future of cyber-warfare is coming from individuals with a vested professional and financial interest in it. One commenter on Defensetech makes the point: Be wary of “threat” claims from people who make their living defending against those threats. A piece from the Council on Foreign Relations notes disagreements on the threat level from cyber-attacks.

Even if this trend is less dangerous than some claim, there is still reason to be wary. One of the major problems with the fight against terrorism is the lack of clear legal frameworks for it. Who are combatants? How do their rights compare to traditional, uniformed soldiers? When is the state a terrorist actor? Can it be one? Laws on terrorism are being written as we go along, often with horrible outcomes. Cyber-warfare lends itself to similar shell games with its intangible, asymmetrical nature, and the international community would be well advised to get on the question sooner rather than later.

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And it’s war

August 8  (Originally posted by Mischa)

Russian armored units have the crossed the border into Georgia amidst escalating fears of humanitarian disaster. There’s a handful of required sources for anyone trying to track this as it develops: Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty ; Eurasianet ; and the Eurasia Daily Monitor. (EDM’s parent, the Jamestown Foundation, has a strong Western slant. Socor and Felgenhaur do know their stuff though.)

The BBC has a useful, brief background Q&A here.

So a few disconnected thoughts to keep in mind:

The NATO problem: Georgia has been pushing hard for NATO membership. President Bush has made some positive gestures towards both Saakashvili’s government and pro-western parties in Ukraine. On the other hand Germany, France and other Western European allies were hesitant, not in small part because of European reliance on Russian oil. The intractability of Georgia’s frozen conflicts stood as a major block to NATO talks, and open warfare on this scale effectively kills any possibility of meaningful discussions in the short to medium term. Socor argues that this was a Russian goal in the escalation, while the Russian counterposition claims that Saakashvili is himself trying to drag NATO into the situation.

What role for America?: The Department of State today released a statement urging a cease-fire and withdrawal of Russian combat forces. Going back a ways, remember that the U.S. rejected South Ossetia’s independence referendum in the Winter of 2006. (Kosovo, of course, had better luck.) The possibility of frozen conflicts erupting on John McCain’s watch is troubling. McCain made, then backed away from, belligerent but completely untenable calls to expel Russia from the G8. ThinkProgress has a good summary here, and it’s especially worth noting that McCain adviser Randy Scheunemann used to lobby for Georgia. (This included covering for some pretty nasty business, as Ken Silverstein reported at the time.)

American media coverage has been and will be pro-Georgian on balance, not in small part because of Saakashvili. He’s American-educated, speaks solid English, and gives decent interview. While the Russian President’s office released a 45-second statement, Saakashvili appeared on CNN’s American Morning. The World Bank hearts his business policy, and in 2006 he appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Georgian civil society activists present a much more complex picture of a country with a spotty human rights record and troubling political tendencies. Last Winter I met a former political prisoner who had been active against Schevardnadze and initially extremely supportive of Saakashvili, but found himself back out in the streets leading demonstrations against rising state militarism in both style (the return of televised military parades) and substance (budget priorities.) None of this is to suggest that you get your news from Pravda (yikes!). Just be sure to take everyone with your usual level of skepticism.

Russian internal politics: For what it’s worth, Putin was away in China when this all went down. While Medvedev was tending the garden at home, the ex-KGB man was face to face with Bush. Read into that what you will. One Radio Liberty analyst argued that Russian policy here is the doing of the siloviki, essentially the military and KGB-state. Drawing Moscow into a deep commitment to the Ossetian cause is thus a political powerplay, a show of internal political strength vis-a-vis reformers, new-money oligarchs, or other domestic rivals. The author suggests that it doesn’t matter to the siloviki whether Russia wins or gets bogged down badly, as the latter would lead to “shouts, recriminations, hysterics, and — in the end — more money.” I would suggest that the latter is unsustainable, as the misadventures in Chechnya have already badly damaged the morale and capabilities of the Russian military. Visible failures of military action do the siloviki no good, and they may have opened a can of worms for themselves if this stalls.

It’s too early for predictions of how this ends. But one thing to remember above all: This is a humanitarian crisis. So here’s hoping that cooler heads prevail, and soon.

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