Professor Lincoln Mitchell on the Georgia-Russia Conflict

Aug. 15, 2008Bookmark and Share

As a scholar on the Eastern Europe country of Georgia, Lincoln Mitchell, Arnold A. Saltzman Assistant Professor in the Practice of International Politics with Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs was not surprised by Russia's military invasion of South Ossetia, a breakaway province within the country. He was surprised, however, by Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili's decision to send in the Georgian Army to reclaim South Ossetia, a main goal of his re-election platform earlier this year, on August 7.

Saakashvili's gamble prompted a massive retaliation by the Russian Army and Air Forces, not only in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway region northwest of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, but also beyond these disputed territories 30 miles of the capital, in Gori, according to media reports.

Mitchell asserts that Georgia has very few options in this conflict, particularly in regard to its relationship with the United States. He says a resurgent Russia sends two messages. The first one to Georgia is: "We do not want a border country joining NATO or embracing the West and the European Union." Russia's second message is to other countries in the region such as Estonia and Ukraine, who also have been tilting West: "You are on our border and we are watching you can see, the U.S. and other Western allies have not come running to your defense." Europe is increasingly dependent on Russian oil and gas, and its countries are split in their views of Russia. Russia's ubiquitous control of oil and gas is perhaps its greatest lever of power today.

Mitchell is also a member of the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies and a faculty member of the Harriman Institute, named for W. Averell Harriman, a former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union. From 2002 to 2004, he served as chief of party for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs in Georgia, witnessing the Rose Revolution and Saakashvili's rise to power.

—Story by Tanya Domi