Tensions are high following a mutiny in the mountainous Caucasian nation of Georgia. Elements of the Mukhrovani tank battalion mutinied this week near the capital, Tbilisi, in circumstances that remain unclear.
The small pro-Western nation, which is hosting NATO exercises, is under severe pressure from neighbouring Russia, which disapproves of what it sees as NATO encroachment in its backyard and relations have been tense since last year’s war which saw Russia removing two provinces from the country.
The Associated Press (AP) says Russian officials believe the NATO alliance is intervening in Georgia’s internal politics by holding the war games in the country, while Georgia initially claimed the mutiny was backed by Russia. The government of President Mikhail Saakashvili now says the mutiny was aimed at disrupting the exercises. A Georgian Defence Ministry spokesman said no actual battlefield manoeuvres would take place until Monday.
Besides NATO countries, other countries near Russia were to take part, but Armeina, Kazakstan, Moldova and Serbia have indicated they would not participate.
The strategy analysis website, Stratfor, says in the current weak economic climate these countries are wary of angering a resurgent Russia. Most significant, it says, is the withdrawal of two actual NATO members, Estonia and Latvia. The two tiny nations of less than three million each have sizeable Russian minorities.
Russia says they are legitimate minorities, but the Baltic nations feel they are simple colonizers. In 2007 Russia attacked the two Baltic countries using cyberwarfare, damaging their government computer infrastructure over an imagined insult. Estonia and Latvia are quite fearful of their large neighbour having experienced a century of brutal occupation. Stratfor says:
Tallinn and Riga are extremely sensitive to Russian maneuvers, a fact the Kremlin is eager to exploit. Moscow also has started to deploy a force of 8,000 troops along the borders of the two countries as part of its Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) force, specifically meant to counter NATO’s expansion plans.
Other former East Bloc nations have also expressed deep concern over whether the West would really come to their aid if Russia got serious about an invasion and fear that the new American President, Barack Obama, is not taking what they see as a Russian threat seriously.