"Are those the American fighters finally here to protect us?"
Georgian President Saakashvili takes cover in Gori
Georgian President Saakashvili takes cover in Gori
Can you name the capital city with an avenue named after George W. Bush, and where they still gather in their Freedom Square to cheer his name although his and his country's policies led directly to their recent humiliation? Of course we can only be talking about Tblisi, the Georgian capital, a city I visited a few years back and swore to one day return. While they have beautiful mountains, girls and great wine, they have been the victim of the one of the greatest political miscalculations since Neville Chamberlain's back in 1938 (OK, maybe more like Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait).
So why did Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili decide to attack (not the right word when it is your territory) South Ossetia last week? Surely they knew the Russians far out-gunned them and wouldn't stand idly by as Georgian tanks rolled into Tskhinvali. Some say timing, with the world's focus on Beijing, maybe the Russians wouldn't notice. Some say they were provoked, the stakes were being upped by the Russians and they had tanks rolling south, it was now or never. More likely was the thought that statements such as these would lead to an actual American response:
Dubya - The Russian invasion of Georgia is "disproportionate and unacceptable"
Cheney - The Russian invasion "will not go unanswered"
Many observers have been trying to draw a parallel between the Nazi invasion of the Sudetenland in 1938 and the current crisis. Sure there are similarities, but the fact is that we now live in 2008, a completely different world where just recently it was an accepted fact that the great powers should show restraint in dealing with other nations. Where the strong don't impose their will on the weak and where it was the world's responsibility to protect those weaker nations. And finally, as Dubya said, great powers don't go about "toppling governments in the 21st century". Alas, this is 2008, not 2003 and countries such as Georgia who have chosen to throw their lot in with the US (see NATO aspirations, 2000 troops in Iraq), must now pay part of the price for being part of the "New World Order". Condoleezza Rice visited Georgia just last month and although she claims to have privately warned Georgia not to use force against Russia in a war they couldn't win, the outward signs from the States cried out for war. Advisers sent to build up the Georgian military; excercises last month with 1,000 US troops; pushing hard for NATO ascension; loudly supporting Georgia's territorial dispute over Russian claims of the separatist enclaves.
The result of the Georgian gamble in South Ossetia is becoming clear. Russia is in a position to dictate the terms of peace, and they don't look good for Georgia (or the EU and the west for that matter). Outlining his terms, Putvedev referred to the Georgian president as a lunatic: "The difference between lunatics and other people is that when they smell blood it is very difficult to stop them," Medvedev said. "So you have to use surgery." The Russians are demanding a legally binding agreement in which the Georgians renounce the use of force in dealing with the two breakaway pro-Russian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and that Georgian forces withdraw entirely from the regions and no longer form part of the joint "peacekeeping" contingents there. In addition, they are insisting that the two regions be allowed to vote on whether they want to join Russia, a poll that would definitely result in a yes, prefiguring a possible annexation. Georgia has been part of the peacekeeping force in South Ossetia for 15 years, but the Russians are adamant that they not return. "They shot their brother Russian peacekeepers, then they finished them off with bayonets, so we are not going to see them there any more," said Dmitri Rogozin, ambassador to NATO in Brussels.
So, the end result of the Georgian foray will be the loss of 20% of their land as both Abhkazia and South Ossetia fall deeper into the control of Russian forces and eventually have the added credibility of a referendum. Maybe the west will begin to realize that they have poked the Russian bear one too many times with a stick, (Kosovo, Ukraine, missiles in Poland...). Maybe the world will recognize that the past 5 years has seen the complete neutering of any authority the UN had (ie. the Iraq invasion sin security council consent, Kosovo declaring independence sin UN blessing), and will try to rebuild its legitimacy. As usual, the results will probably less obvious. In retaliation for Israel selling arms to Georgia (yes, $300 million worth), the Russians will sell more to Syria and Iran. The US presidential race is slightly influenced as both candidates spew rhetoric about what should be done. Remember McBush's top foreign policy advisor Randall Scheunemann lobbied for Georgia for four years, earning his firm $900,000 in payments from that nation. Or maybe the Russians will take advantage of this and move into Georgia for real, as it is reported they may be doing now. Stalin's statue in the centre of Gori could be under Russian control again sooner than we think.