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Peacekeepers Prevent Georgia from Unleashing War Against South Ossetia

13.02.2006 17:02

F.Andreev

The latest pronouncements of Georgian high officials show that the period of a relative stability in the Georgian ? South-Ossetian conflict zone seems to have come to an end.

Like the apparition of his dead father visiting Hamlet, the political ghost of Zviad Gamsakhurdia is coming to Saakashvili from the beyond and repeating his threat: "I will bring an army of two hundred thousand. Not one single Ossetian will remain on the land of Samachablo". The threat seems to have inspired Gamsakhurdia's heir to the presidential chair to declare war on "separatists" and "occupants".

The recent attempt to provoke an armed incident against the peacekeepers, when 500 Georgian troops in full battle dress turned up at the scene of an ordinary road traffic accident, shows that the Georgian leadership has taken the path of escalating the conflict and aggravating relations with Russia.

In connection with the road traffic accident, chairman of the Committee for defense and national security of Georgian parliament, Givi Targamadze, said in a TV interview that Tbilisi might qualify the Russian peacekeeping contingent deployed in the Georgian ? South-Ossetian conflict zone as "an occupation force" and take action, including the use of force, to have it expelled from the country. This statement is not just a specimen of the traditionally florid and somewhat hysterical style of the Georgian leadership's rhetoric leveled against Russia. It is also a provocation aimed at further aggravating the already explosive situation in the conflict zone.

From the viewpoint of military theory, the possibility of Georgia unleashing an armed conflict against Russia presents a purely cognitive interest, its outcome being quite evident even to G. Targamadze. But the military-political consequences of the Georgian leadership's escapades may be very unpleasant, first of all for Georgia itself.

The Georgian insistence on having the Russian contingent replaced by troops from other states or expelling it by force may be interpreted in South Ossetia as a desire to create a pretext for excluding Russia from the settlement process in the event of a new turn in the escalation of the armed confrontation. But in fact the presence of Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zone has been until now the only containing factor.

Having received such an unequivocal warning, Tskhinvali would surely want to get prepared to repulse any possible Georgian attack. But then these military preparations in South Ossetia would not pass unnoticed in Tbilisi and would naturally, under the circumstances, lead to further buildup of military forces in the troops contact area.

In this way, the traditionally bold and loud pronouncements of Georgian high officials may lead to a situation when both sides would keep a finger on the trigger, and another shelling of South-Ossetian villages, like the one that took place last fall, would signal the beginning of a new war.

However, the process is admittedly not irreversible. It all depends on whether Tbilisi has considered such a variant ? which is a quite realistic one - of future developments. And, if it has, has it thought of the possible consequences of the aggravation of the situation?

Unlike Gamsakhurdia and his entourage, the present Georgian leadership realizes that, given the lack of any visible economic successes and the further downfall in the living standards of most of the Georgian people, attempting to settle the conflict by force is far from what official Tbilisi would need now. The main question now seems to be whether the "rose euphoria" will be able to live through a winter without electric light and heat.

Under the prevailing social and economic circumstances, the inevitable human losses, with a highly uncertain outcome of the hostilities, would greatly damage Saakashvili's rating. Furthermore, the threat of the neighboring states getting drawn into the conflict, which would then develop from an ethno-territorial into a regional one, is quite real. In that case the world community would surely put the blame on Georgia as an aggressor.

Worried by such a prospect, the European Union called on both sides in the Georgian ? South-Ossetian conflict to abide by the accords on the demilitarization of the conflict zone. The EU appeal to show restraint and release tensions in the conflict zone was addressed, first of all, to Georgia.

Tbilisi's reckoning on US support may misfire, as, judging by the recent interview of US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to the German newspaper "Handelsblatt", the Pentagon may resort to the use of armed force against Iran. In that case the US would most probably use Georgian and Azeri territory for creating its temporary military bases there. Hence, the US would be interested in preserving stability in the Transcaucasia.

Hopefully, common sense and sober political judgment will prevail in the Georgian administration over excessive temperament, which would make it possible to avoid loss of life and preserve the possibility of keeping up political dialog and working out a peaceful, mutually acceptable settlement of the protracted conflicts.