Intrusion on Georgia, destruction and occupation of her significant part has not overthrown the pro-western regime of Mikhail Saakashvili, as it was counted on by many in Moscow. Our troops control single parts of the territory in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and in the “security zones” on the republics’ perimeter. Those achievements are to be paid dear. The expenses for rehabilitation of the self-proclaimed republics are going to take billions of our budget money. Of course, the West is ready to give a generous help, but only on a condition that international peacemakers and a very restricted Russian contingent should stay in the zone, and all the Georgian refugees should come back to the South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In case Russia refuses to give in, she may find herself internationally isolated.
In fact, confrontation with Russia was not a long-term plan for the leading European powers – France, Germany and Italy. Having realized the whole matter was going to war, Germany had suggested a three-stage plan of settlement in Abkhazia and Ossetia, offering a help from the EU in restoring the region - devastated by the war and long rule of the corrupted separatists - and in returning the refugees. It also suggested holding talks in the course of which general raising life standards and economic development were supposed to be the basis for reconciliation. But in July, when the German foreign minister and vice-chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeyer came to the region, it was too late. Moscow had determined to defeat Saakashvili and the military-technical preparations had been almost finished. So Germans were turned down in a polite, though firm, manner.
It’s over the course of military operations that the traditionally friendly France (supported by Germany and Italy) suggested her way out of the crisis, in her capacity of the chair of the EU. The core of the plan, signed by Presidents Medvedev, Sarkosy and Saakashvili is in immediate cease-fire and withdrawal of Georgian and Russia forces to the initial positions. After pulling the troops apart and demilitarization of the conflict zone it is intended to start searching for political decision, under the international control. The requirement by the Russian leadership about removal of Saakashvili as a war criminal has been rejected.
It’s obvious today for the West that statements about “genocide of the Ossetian people” look rather like propaganda. Already on 9 August the Russian Ambassador in Georgia Vyacheslav Kovalenko, being staying in Tbilisi which was hundreds kilometers from the events, stated that at least 2,000 inhabitants had been killed in Tskhinvali. Those words, disproved in a documented way with investigation by the human rights activists and with the investigators from the Investigative Committee, have been used by the South Ossetian leadership as justification for organizing pogroms, destroying villages and banishment of Georgian peaceful population from the South Ossetia.
In soviet time, about 30% of dwellers in the South Ossetia were Georgians. With the practice of giving Russian passports to all permanent residents, the local Georgian population are all Russian citizens. However, the Russian troops taking the Tskhinvali region allegedly for protection of the Russian citizens did not protect those Georgians from pogroms.
The standing political leaders of the modern Europe used to live in constant expecting of war and intrusion of the soviet tanks. The question of possible return of the previous threat is most actual for them. Last week President Nicolas Sarkosy wrote in Figaro that it is important to define whether the intervention by Russia against her Georgian neighbours is just a cruel and excessive reaction or this is toughening of the Moscow’s attitude towards the neighbours and the entire world community. The consequences of the conflict in Georgia might be disastrous, if that means the beginning of another cold war, affirms Mr. Sarkosy.
Unnecessary hotheadedness can be forgiven and excused somehow by our “friends” in the Western Europe. However, an attempt of overthrowing the pro-western regime in Georgia, which might mean the beginning of the process of restoring the dominating by Moscow on the territory of the former USSR, would inevitably get the NATO united. Germans, French and Italians may speak softer than the American politicians, but their opposing to Moscow would be done jointly.
At the time being, fast and unconditioned withdrawal of all the Russian troops from Georgia, including Abkhazia and Ossetia, is a criterion of making a choice between the two options, for the West. Keeping on partial occupation itself destroys the Georgian territorial integrity and leaves an opportunity for further enforcing actions. Sarkosy affirms that Moscow has signed the complete withdrawal of the troops and that this point is not to be discussed. Just for a couple of weeks, while international peacemaking order is being formed, Russia is allowed additional security measures in the immediate vicinity to the South Ossetia. This is what Sarkosy wrote to Saakashvili. According to Sarkosy, Russian peacemakers only have the right to patrol the territory without entering locations and without making permanent posts, and without blocking the roads.
Soon it became clear that Moscow interprets the signed document in a bit different way. Instead of complete and accelerated withdrawal, our troops were partially drawn back on 22 August, keeping intentionally the enlarged security zone around Ossetia and Abkhazia, which was done without arrangement with Georgia or France. New “peacemaking” posts and block posts are being constantly created on the intruded territory. Our militaries claim for the right to regulating the access of the international observers to “our” zones and prohibit fights of any aircraft over those zones.
With no military actions having occurred in the western Georgia, even more forces and heavy materiel than in the South Ossetia had been brought there by the beginning of the intrusion, with the use of specially repaired railroad in Abkhazia. In the western Georgia Russian troops have penetrated much deeper into the Georgian territory and now the General Staff states that a strategically important soviet-made aviation base in Senaki (over 40 km from the border with Abkhazia) is also part of “our” zone. The railroad and car road leading to Poti, that connects not only Georgia, but also Armenia and Azerbaijan with the outer world, also go through Senaki, making it the point of strategic control.
After the armistice was signed, the Russian militaries continued moving the troops with the purpose of getting trophy and destruction of the Georgian facilities, which was a violation of the common rules of war conduct. There have been many reports about unpunished robbery and pillage. In Poti our soldiers seized 4 American Hammers that had been prepared for shipment to home after having taken part in July’s Georgia-Armenia-US counter-terrorist exercise. The Georgian guards were arrested at the port being taken for a subversive group while the cars were confiscated. All that happened 200 km away from the war zone. The deputy head of the General Staff Anatoly Nogovitsyn stated that the cars would not be returned. It seems our militaries do not understand how important is for the western society the principle of security of property and how much people taking away someone else’s cars are disliked there. Now the stolen Hammers serve as a constant occasion for reminding about particularities of the Russian politics and behavior.
Refusing actually to follow up with the arranged with France plan Russia has lost probably the last chance of avoiding getting in confrontation with the west, where the intrusion on Georgia has already led to changes in the public feeling. In Poland, supporting the plans of putting an American anti-aircraft defense base has increased from 30% to 60%. Our foreign ministry has promised another race of weapons in Europe and militaries stated that our nuclear missiles would be pointed at Poland, but anti-Russian feeling going up is the only response to that.
Russia and NATO have given up mutually military cooperation within the NATO framework. Like it was after intrusion on Afghanistan in 1979, a circle of enmity inimical isolation is getting shaped around Moscow. It took less than ten years of such isolation that Soviet Union got ruined politically and economically. Today’s Russian Federation is smaller and weaker than the USSR was. Our economy and finance, our super-rich ruling class depends on the West. Our industry, communications and trade would decline without western credits, supplies and technologies. Russia might get collapsed much faster than the USSR did. But then we have managed to humiliate Georgia and had a ride on Hammers.