Rene — 2 articles on Georgia

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1. The brutal revival of realpolitik
2. Georgian leader chose his moment (some background)
1. The brutal revival of realpolitik
August 11, 2008
As billions watched China stake its claim to being the 21st century’s leading
power, with a stunning opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics, its former
Cold War partner was pursuing its ambitions in an altogether more traditional
way. Russia’s brutal demonstration of power in South Ossetia, a breakaway
region of its southern neighbour Georgia, marks the latest – and most alarming
– sign of the Kremlin’s determination to reclaim control over former Soviet
These former satellites have now been left in no doubt that Russia must be
regarded as “glavniy”, or No. 1, if they wish to avoid the fate of Georgia.
Central to Vladimir Putin’s nationalistic policy is a conviction that the power
of the West – seemingly unassailable at the end of the Cold War – is on the
wane. The current crisis demonstrates that the Cold War has not been replaced
by common values between East and West, but by the revival of hard
Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia’s President, might have been unwise to employ
force against the pro-Russian separatists in South Ossetia last week, but that
is not the point. The Russian forces and the Kremlin hoped he would behave as
he did. The episode is an application of “reflexive control”: the defeat of
an adversary through his own efforts. It is also an application of Carl von
Clausewitz’s maxim that war is a tool of policy.
The aim of Russia’s policy, expressed in 1992, is to “be leader of stability
and security on the entire territory of the former USSR”. What has changed is
not the aim but the “correlation of forces”. As Boris Yeltsin declared to
Russia’s intelligence services in 1994, “global ideological confrontation has
been replaced by a struggle for spheres of interest in geopolitics”. Back
then, Russia had little to struggle with. That is no longer the case.
If Western interests are not to be irreparably damaged, we will need to
understand that they are being tested on three levels: local, regional and
global. Georgia is not just a square on a chessboard, but an important country in
its own right. For two reasons, the West cannot be indifferent to what happens
there. First, Georgia’s political culture is democratic, its people
pro-Western, and its sense of national identity almost indestructible. Georgia can be
defeated by Russia, but it can no longer submit to it, and therefore war
between Georgia and Russia would be a frightening prospect even if no wider
interests existed. Second, the only energy pipeline in the former USSR
independent of Russian control passes through Georgia. There will be no meaningful
energy security, let alone diversification of energy supplies, if these pipelines
become vulnerable to sabotage, like those in Iraq, or to takeover by
businesses fronting for Russian interests.
But Georgia is equally important to Russia. Russia has only controlled the
nationalities of the north Caucasus when it has dominated the south Caucasus.
Despite the so-called “normalisation” in Chechnya, the north Caucasus remains,
to Russia’s leaders, the Achilles heel of the Russian Federation and, after
the slaughter of schoolchildren in Beslan in 2004, a subject of nightmares
for Russia’s people. Russia’s determination to hold sway in South Ossetia and
Abkhazia must be seen in this light. But it also serves another purpose: as a
means to deny Georgia admission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
These territories mean far less to Russia than they do to Georgia. So long as
this is the case, Georgia risks finding itself hostage to Russian intentions,
and so for that matter do NATO and the Organisation for Security and
Co-operation in Europe. And so Russia would like everyone to think.
“Everyone” includes Ukraine, whose Government, like Georgia’s, aspires to
NATO membership. Unlike Georgia, Ukraine has no territorial conflicts, but it
has a potential territorial dispute, Crimea. What is more, Russia’s Black Sea
Fleet is authorised to remain there until 2017.
Russia’s regional objectives are straightforward. It aims to show its
neighbours that Russia is “glavniy”: that its contentment is the key to “stability
and security”, and that if Russia expresses its discontent, NATO cannot help.
It aims to show NATO that its newest aspirant members are divided, divisible
and, in the case of Georgia, reckless. The broader implication is that the
era of Western dominance is over.
Far from rejecting globalisation, the Russian view, in the words of the
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, is that the West is “losing its monopoly over the
globalisation process”.
The West will not have adequate responses to these events until it draws
adequate conclusions. The first is that the era of democratic “coloured
revolutions” is over. A few years ago, the Kremlin rightly feared Georgia’s Rose
Revolution and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution might destabilise the political elite
in Russia. Today, the issue is whether these countries will be able to achieve
their minimal objectives. Given today’s harsh “correlation of forces”, the
issue for Tbilisi is not whether it is right to use force against separatists
but whether it is wise. The issue for Kiev is not whether its Prime Minister
threatens its President but whether their divisions threaten the independence
of the country. The issue for NATO and the European Union is whether their
“currency of influence” buys stability and security in this region and, if
not, whether it is time to change it.
The second conclusion is that NATO must revisit the assumptions upon which
its enlargement policy has been based. Contrary to the view that NATO remains a
Cold War institution, the fact is it has evolved too much. It assumed Russia
would adjust and gradually address “common” security problems rather than
pose a distinct set of security problems. Partner countries now find themselves
confronting realpolitik and some unnerving measures in new member states –
and virtually no one is prepared for it. Until recently, NATO was proud that
it had no policy for resolving the region’s conflicts beyond cliche:
“autonomy”, “respect for territorial integrity”, “negotiation”, “non-use of force”.
Until there is a policy, there cannot be a favourable outcome.
The third conclusion is Russia is contemptuous of the West. Russians have
shown a utilitarian asperity in connecting means and ends. In exchange, we
present an unfocused commitment to values and process. Our democracy agenda has
earned the resentment not only of Russia’s elite but of the ordinary people who
are delighted to see Georgia being taught a lesson. Russians have no worries
about the emergence of a unified EU energy policy, and they are losing their
worries about a unified commitment to NATO enlargement. The war in South
Ossetia should be a reminder that contempt has consequences.
Telegraph, London
James Sherr is the head of the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House,
This story was found at:
2. some background (Georgian leader chose his moment)
The Post, Ireland
Aug 10 2008
Georgian leader chose his moment
10 August 2008
Seamus Martin examines the background to the conflict between Russia
and Georgia.
The volatile Caucasus region is strategically important as a transit
route for oil from the east. Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili
is, without question, the region’s most volatile leader.
His decision to shell the South Ossetian city of Tshkinvali while most
world leaders were in Beijing for the opening of the Olympic Games has
threatened to cause the biggest crisis in Europe for almost two
decades. His action appears to have been a calculated gamble at a time
when world attention is focused elsewhere.
Saakashvili, who is ostensibly pro-western, gambled correctly that
Russia would respond in such away that it would leave itself open to
allegations of expansionism and invasion. In fact, Russia’s new
president, Dmitry Medvedev, had little option but to send in the
tanks. The bombing of the Georgian town of Gori, Stalin’s birthplace,
is less excusable.
Saakashvili has also gambled that the west will come to his aid
militarily in any conflict with Russia. He is likely to lose that
second bet. Concerted peace efforts by Europe, the US and the
international community, in general, appear to be the only hope of
avoiding catastrophic warfare in the area and the main catastrophe
could be on the Georgian side.
These efforts will, on the one hand, need to take the form of strong
pressure on Saakashvili, since he is the party in this conflict most
likely to be open to western influence. On the other hand, calm
requests to Russia to accept a negotiated ceasefire will need to be
Saakashvili’s continuous and consistent tweaking of the Bear’s tail
has finally brought a serious response with Russian tanks rolling into
South Ossetia. In a technical sense, Russia can be seen as invading
Georgian territory, but South Ossetia has been independent of Georgia
on a de facto basis since the early 1990s.
Another and perhaps more serious situation could now arise in
Abkhazia, a second area that broke away from Georgia in 1993.
Known throughout Georgia simply as `Misha’, Saakashvili came to power
in the name of democracy during the Rose Revolution of 2003 that
ousted former Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze from the
Georgian presidency.
His democratic credentials were damaged by ill-treatment of opposition
supporters, and media censorship then began to erode his support in
the west. His continuous and sometimes baseless allegations of Russian
aggression have not helped relations with Moscow, which has
traditionally been a major trading partner.
Georgia inherited two major ethnic problems from the dissolution of
the Soviet Union. To the north of the capital, Tbilisi, lay South
Ossetia an enclave of ethnic Ossetes, a group historically supportive
of Russia.
They wanted unity with their compatriots in the Russian area of North
Ossetia, the people whose children were later tome massacred by
Chechens in the school at Beslan.
To the west was the incredibly beautiful region of Abkhazia, where the
Caucasus Mountains reached the coast of the Black Sea. Early in the
Soviet era Abkhazia had become a Constituent Republic, a status that
would have automatically given it independence on the dissolution of
the USSR. But the area was later granted to Georgia by Stalin who was
a Georgian.
A fierce war raged in Abkhazia in 1993, during which the region’s
ethnic Georgians were driven off their land. Ethnic Greeks and
Armenians also fled the area leaving the Abkhaz people almost on their
Although technically part of Georgia, the two regions, with Russian
help, gained de facto independence. The original ethnic reasons for
separatism added to by the near collapse of Georgia’s economy. As the
years passed, they settled into what has become known in international
affairs as `frozen conflicts’.
The shelling of Tskhinvali has ensured that the conflict in South
Ossetia is no longer frozen. While many former Soviet states, notably
Russia itself, improved their economies and the living standards of
their various peoples, Georgia descended into a tumult of clan and
inter-ethnic hostilities upon the dissolution of the USSR.
These conflicts, allied to serious corruption, militated against
economic development. Infrastructure crumbled, unemployment soared,
and energy sources dried up and the political jokes so prominent in
the Soviet era began to resurface.
One told of a typical Georgian apartment in which the macho husband
sat on the balcony drinking wine while his wife prepared to burn the
furniture in a stove in order to cook dinner. Suddenly there was a
flicker and the electric light came on. Then a hiss and the gas
returned. The wife ran to the balcony shouting: “I have very bad
news. I think the communists are back.’
Under Shevardnadze’s rule there was little progress towards settlement
of the two separatist issues and on the economic front he failed to
improve matters. Saakashvili and his supporters took to the streets
successfully to force Shevardnadze from power.
The Rose Revolution and its supporters were, paradoxically, allowed
virtually free rein on the streets of the country’s ancient and
beautiful capital, Tbilisi. They triumphed in the name of democracy,
and Saakashvili was elected president by an overwhelming majority of
the voters.
When, four years later, those opposed to Saakashvili’s presidency took
to the same streets they were met with a brutal response from special
police forces armed not only with conventional weaponry but also with
modern sonic devices designed to disorient them.
Opposition protests continued and Saakashvili called an early
presidential election in January of this year at which he was
re-elected with a massively reduced majority.
Europe’s main election watchdog, the Office for Democratic
Institutions and Human Rights, a section of the Organisation for
Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), while noting that the vote
was the first genuinely contested election since Georgian
independence, also verified allegations of intimidation on public
sector employees and opposition activists.
Its report also noted that “the distinction between state
activities” and the campaign of Saakashvili was “blurred”,
shorthand for the use of the state’s resources by Saakashvili in his
election campaign.
These election tactics and the earlier brutal treatment of opposition
protesters by the US-educated Saakashvili caused some western
governments to question the almost unqualified support they had given
the Georgian president. His major aim – to succeed in gaining
membership of Nato for Georgia – was believed to have been badly
damaged in the process.
Even his blatant sycophancy in naming the main road from Tbilisi
Airport to the city centre as George W Bush Avenue had begun to wear
thin in Washington political circles. He may not be able to count any
support greater than strongly worded statements, such as that issued
by US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, who called on Russia to
respect Georgia’s territorial integrity.
Seamus Martin is a retired international editor and Moscow
correspondent of the Irish Times. His memoir, Good Times and Bad, was
published earlier this year