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Georgia: Performing “Victim”

07.07.2008 02:43

Alexander Surdunov, political analyst

Every time when I am going to write a new article about the “frozen” conflicts in the South Caucasus, I cannot help feeling that this subject has been discussed, analyzed and jawed already thousand times. It seems that respectful politicians, scientists, military and independent experts have already explained on TV, in newspapers and Internet at molecular level what is a threat of further escalation of the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and who is liable for it.

But in spite of all intelligent talks the situation is till escalating to the war. And I do not care who and what event will provoke it, whose nerves are weaker and whose trembling finger will the first to press the trigger. For me it is important what party has created the conditions when a fragile peace is about to pass into a new large-scale bloody Caucasus war. When the provoker or aggressor is clear, there will be only one true model to neutralize it. Let me say from the very beginning that in our story “the subtle enemy and provoker” is not Russia. .

I am sure that at this phrase my Georgian opponents as usual will lose their temper and again start shouting about “the annexation and occupation”, “imperial ambitions and revanchism” , last battle of the “light democratic forces” with “Orcs and Goblins of the Northern Horde” , they will recollect Chechnya, Kazaks, cut heads, genocide and so on, so forth at appropriate and inappropriate times.

I may say that my personal experience of contacts with Georgian politicians and public figures at conference, roundtables and Internet-forums confirms that every time the talk with them begins and ends with such shouts to the camera. A quiet and businesslike discussion starts later already in the lobby without cameras. We may communicate without propaganda and notorious Caucasus emotions, without excessive and not always true historical excursuses, without deliberate distortions and polemic exaggerations so pleasant today to the Western ear.

In so doing, all arguments of my Georgian colleagues are reduced to two-three simple postulates. The first: You are such a big country, why do you need our lands? The second: Return Sukhumi and Tzhinvali to us, and we will be friends again. The third: If you fail to return Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the West will help us because both of us defend democracy. .

As a rule, we give straight answers. The first: We do need your land for we have enough our own. The second: We cannot return Abkhazia and South Ossetia because they do not belong to us. We welcome friendship with you but without NATO at our southern border. The third: It is high time to stop appealing to the West, it has enough own headache, sit at the negotiating table with Abkhazia and South Ossetia and discus problems directly with them, but for God’s sake, do not take the name of democracy in vein!

However it is very difficult for Georgians to sit at this table with their neighbors. And it is not because Russia allegedly throws sand in the wheels. During the last four years Tbilisi itself and with the foreign assistance has made a real mess of things: actively armed and rattled the saber, performed provocative aerial reconnaissance flights over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, made Blitzkrieg to capture the Kodori Gorge, gun-fired at Tzhinvali at night and sponsored puppet regimes in the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, operated subversive radio and TV stations to “ulcerate” the population of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, threatened from space to confiscate ownership of Abkhazians, brutally murdered unarmed border guards in its training camps, arranged provocations with Russian missiles and MiG aircraft, prosecuted and beat up Russian peacekeepers, who had an order to refrain from fire at the sides of conflict… These are just fresh recollections.

Agree that it is difficult to negotiate with such aggressive counterpart. . It is even more difficult to believe this counterpart.

In these conditions the concerns of Abkhazians and Ossetians are understandable. They do not threaten Georgia and are not going to attack it. Objectively, today their military muscles are weaker. We may recollect here several hundred tanks, ICVs, MLRS’, attack aircraft, warships, which the Georgian “hawks” brag about in appropriate and inappropriate times! Abkhazia and South Ossetia have nothing of the same in such quantities. They are just afraid of a new war, new victims, and seek firm guarantees of their security. As the first steps and goodwill gestures they request Tbilisi to withdraw its troops from the Kodori Gorge, and heavy military equipment and excessive police units from Georgian enclaves in South Ossetia, to terminate aerial reconnaissance and special operations and sign an armistice agreement.

Against the background of the unprecedented militarization in Georgia and increased military activities at the borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia the aforesaid conditions do not look excessive. However Tbilisi flatly refuses to meet the requests of Tzhinvali and Sukhumi. Naturally, in such situation, situation of fear and mistrust, our peacekeepers are an only guarantee of real security for the Abkhaz and South Ossetia peoples. Moreover, Georgian militaries themselves reputedly said to our peacekeepers “off-the-record” that only Russian troops prevent them from more active operations…

Sukhumi and Tzhinvali know about it very well! They also know that the Georgian establishment does not consider the Moscow Seize-Fire Agreements legally binding upon Georgia. They say that these agreements were signed by national-traitors of the Shevarnadze epoch at a moment difficult for the country, so the Georgian authorities are not obliged to fulfill them after “the orange revolution”. It is the reason why both Abkhazia and South Ossetia do want to have new legal guarantees of the peaceful process.

Tbilisi does not take these psychological and legal aspects into account. President M. Saakashvili and his retinue still struttingly believe that for Abkhazians and Ossertians it is enough to have only loud and empty promises of reconciliation without any guarantees and international agreements! And it takes place against the background of various plans of invasion either of South Ossetia or of Abkhazia, these notorious “Tiger Jumps” and “Double Shots” , which are by no means designed by the Russian propaganda.

For example, Irakli Okruashvili, a disgraced friend and former closest associate of the Georgian President, not only repeatedly recognized the existence of the “Tiger Jump” plan but also told about the intention of the Georgia’s Ministry of Defense to implement it as soon as the order comes! But Saakashvili allegedly made leeway at the last moment… Other Georgian politicians and MPs also spoke about an actual possibility of an attack on Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in so doing, they shamefacedly added that development of war plans and war itself is a work of any militaries… Or they rudely justified the Georgia’s aggressive activities with a need to conduct a psychological war against the separatists.

But do Ossetians and Abkhazians deserve this power game and psychological warfare? To what extent is such plan to return the rebel territories after 16 years of actual independence justified and well-judged? Will the promises of economic miracle, free economic zones, mythic wealth and prosperity in future outweigh the explicit and direct threats at present? What for is this super-patriotism and empty national bragging? It is impossible to make friends through the war or threat of war. Let me point out that the latest actions of Georgia with respect to Abkhazia and South Ossetia remind me phony attempts of President S. Milosevic to keep Kosovo within Yugoslavia by using the “carrot and stick” policy. The result is well-known.

Let us return to my thesis that Russia does not need the war in the Caucasus. It is an obvious fact, but it is so much speculated by Georgia. Moscow understands well probable consequences an armed confrontation at its borders , and a factor of the ethnic relationship between the Abkhazians and Adygeis not to mention the artificially divided Ossetians if combat activities start in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The entire North Caucasus will flame out, and we have already had this experience. We paid with a civil war Chechnya, refugees, attacks of international terrorists, and thousands of lives of Russian citizens. Russia will do its best to avoid recurrence of this scenario. When I hear leisured talks in Georgia that the entire controversy takes place because of several cottages of Russian officials on the seashore in Abkhazia, I am amazed with a political and military shortsightedness of my Georgian opponents.

I also have to tell a few words on NATO involvement. Evidently, the hasty aspiration of Tbilisi to the North Atlantic Alliance pouted oil on flames of the Russian-Georgian controversies. It is also explainable. Once Moscow withdrew its military bases from Georgia under certain legal guarantees, which presumed both conclusion of a Friendship Treaty, and absence of foreign military bases in the Georgian territory, and establishment of a joint Russian-Georgian Anti-Terrorist Center and many other things. Eventually, all these provisions remain only in paper, and the obligations under the Agreement have been fulfilled by Russia only.

Such neglect conduct of Georgia with respect to the international law gave solid grounds to Moscow to be doubtful of Tbilisi’s negotiability. By the way, the similar situation is observed with respect to the agreements on settlement of conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In other words, Georgia just has deceived Russia, and this deception surely does no credit to it.

Undoubtedly Georgia as any other sovereign state has a right to choose a vector of its political development, which meets its national interests. Today for the political establishment of this country the vector is to the Euro-Atlantic integration and strategic partnership with the USA. Russia does understand this opportunistic choice, therefore Moscow here has questions not to Tbilisi but to the NATO structures that accelerate Alliance expansion eastwards ignoring contemporary geopolitical realities.

Either Tbilisi likes it or dislikes it but Moscow also has its understanding of national interests. Inter alia Moscow is interested to have a military infrastructure of third countries as far from its borders as possible. It is quite reasonable in terms of geostrategy and defense policy. Therefore Russia frankly warned the USA, NATO and Georgia that it will take all measures of military and political nature to address the treats to its security. In so doing, we do not speak about declaration of war to Tbilisi, Washington or Brussels!

Moscow also understands well that the “frozen” conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia eventually will not prevent the USA from getting Georgia into NATO. The problem is that the Abkhazians and Ossetians should not be hostages in a dangerous political game of Washington and Tbilisi. And if the price of Georgian membership in the Alliance is the war with Abkhazia and South Ossetia for establishment of a unitary Georgian state, these plans actually have no chances. At the same time, neither Abkhazia nor South Ossetia aspires to NATO, they have their own vector of historical and political development to Russia. It should be taken into account too. I hope that this idea is well-understood also in Brussels.

In this connection we cannot avoid mentioning a favorite propaganda game of Tbilisi. M.Saakashvili and his retinue so much accustomed to a role of victim that they seem believe in it themselves. Performing a role of “a didactics fighter for democratic ideals”, “Lone Ranger” fighting against “the Russian bear” singly for the West, the Georgian political elite expects to receive not only moral support but also political, military and economic assistance of the West, which finally should result in accelerated admission of Georgia to NATO and speedy solution of the territorial problems. Unfortunately, against the background of prejudices and stereotypes of the Cold War, which are still alive in America and Europe, such dirty trick is still effective.

But in reality if we forget about the propaganda trumpery, it is Georgia that from 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union uses military force to unsuccessfully suppress the national liberation movement of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia peoples. 16 years ago Tbilisi abandoned autonomy of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and used regular troops against the civil population. Finally Georgia suffered a heavy defeat at all fronts. And only due to Russia, which in spite of its own internal problems introduced its peacekeepers to disengage the conflicting parties, Georgia to a large extent succeeded in surviving as a sovereign state.

From that time Tbilisi vainly tries to resolve the “frozen” conflicts by force increasing its military capabilities, closing an encirclement around the unrecognized republics, arranging economic blockade and provocations against civil people ignoring the fact that both Ossetians and Abkhazians voted for independence at the referendum. During all these years Russian peacekeepers in accordance with their Mandate disengaged the conflicting parties to provide for negotiations. Unfortunately, the parties at the negotiating table failed to elaborate significant solutions to a large extent due to unconstructive position of the Georgian side.

After M.Saakashvili came to power, the conflict escalated to a new stage of active confrontation. The Georgian side deliberately “unfroze” the conflict and made an effort to break the format of the negotiations and peacekeeping operation playing a dangerous game on contradictions between Moscow and Washington. Involvement of the USA and NATO resulted in grave destabilization of the region and new escalation of the situation in the zones of Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-South Ossetian conflicts. In 2008, the scale started inclining towards Georgia which in April-May began preparation for a military invasion of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In such situation Russia had to increase the strength of its peacekeeping contingent in Abkhazia and take certain political measures in support of the unrecognized republics that slightly poured cold water on both sides.

So, what is an actual victim in this story? Perhaps, it is Georgia. It seems that it is missing its chance to reconcile with Abkhazians and Ossetians forever. The more Tbilisi relies on force in resolution of the conflicts, the less it has chances to find a political solution. And the chances still exist. This very idea was aired by Prime Minister V.V. Putin, when he commended on the latest Georgian proposals, which unfortunately are not known to the public. We’d like to believe that the Georgian leaders have enough political wisdom to abandon unilateral actions, which may entail grave consequences for all nations of the Caucasus.