Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Saakashvili stirs hornets nests in Georgia's regions.

On Friday (Aug 8 08), Georgia tried to assert control over the separatist region of South Ossetia with tanks and rockets.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson, who was in China for the opening of the Olympic Games, said Canada is "gravely concerned" about the violence in South Ossetia "and we deplore the casualties that have resulted."

Emerson said, "We call for an immediate halt to the hostilities and strongly urge all parties involved to display restraint in words and deeds, and to respect national boundaries."

The UN and NATO also condemned the violence and called for peaceful resolution to the conflict. (CBC Aug 8 08)

This is not a new conflict.

Justin Raimondo at the conservative non-interventionist antiwar dot com reminds us that the Caucasus ranks alongside the Middle East as a volatile region, rife with ethnic and religious fissures among Ossetians, Ajarians, and Abkhazians. These ethnic groups share cultural and political ties to Russia. As Russian-speakers and primarily Orthodox Christians,

"these peoples see their history as inextricably bound up with the fountainhead of Slavic civilization represented by the Kremlin."

"Russia, in turn, has given them limited diplomatic, political, and military support in their respective struggles for self-determination and kept the Georgian wolf at the door. However, Saakashvili, in his bid to create a Greater Georgia and prove his usefulness to the anti-Russian alliance of NATO nations, is taking the offensive. Even as he jails the opposition, cracks down on the media, and seeks to label anyone who fails to march in lockstep to his authoritarianism a 'Russian spy,' Georgia creeps closer to full NATO membership. First Ukraine, then Georgia – the creation of a cordon sanitaire around the former Soviet Union requires just a few more links."

As Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov told a news briefing outside a joint meeting with NATO defense ministers in Slovenia in 2006,

"We should not forget that 90% of the population of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are Russian citizens. They were never citizens of Georgia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the local population in the region, which was then holding Soviet passports individually, sought formal Russian citizenship. And we issued passports and granted citizenship rights not only to the citizens of the former Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic but also to the residents in all other former Soviet republics.

"Millions of people opted for Russian citizenship. That was their right and prerogative."

Like Abkhazia, South Ossetia won effective independence from Georgia in a 1992-1993 war and declared its independence as the Republic of South Ossetia. Moscow pays pensions in the province, issues Russian passports, stations peacekeepers there, and monitors the peace process between the rebels and the new Georgian state. One of central Europe's frozen wars, made up of circumstances nearly incomprehensible to North Americans who have no long-term relation to the lands they occupy.

Taki's Spencer finds Washington's talk of Georgian sovereignty "ironic" that the US is opposing the separatists in Georgia when they supported separatists in Serbia.
"Washington’s policy over the past 15 years has been to support ethno-separatist movements much like the one in South Ossetia—the best example being our military campaign on behalf of the KLA, culminating in George Bush’s official recognition of the Islamo-Mafia cesspool known as 'Kosovo.' Spain notably didn’t follow Bush in legitimizing 'Kosovo,' as it worried that this might encourage Basque separatists within its own borders. I wonder if President Saakashvili is wondering whether the incoherent foreign policy of his American patron might have done much to inspire the South Ossetia rebels who are now such a pain in his side."

Former Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar further unpacks the irony (aka double standard):
"Moscow has argued that what the West considers acceptable in Kosovo (or Montenegro), namely, the right of self-determination, should be equally acceptable to Trans-Dneister, Abkhazia or South Ossetia (the breakaway regions of Moldova and Georgia)."

Indeed, back in 2006, the EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana admitted that independence for Kosovo could have a negative effect on Georgia's territorial integrity and acknowledged it would set a "precedent." (ISN Oct 5 06)

"...all of us are trapped," he says in what he calls "a double mechanism." Getting what the EU and US want in Kosovo may mean not getting what they want in Abkhazia and South Ossetia--if the outcome has anything to do with principle.

But the irony is explained if we recall that Saakashvili replaced the old Gorbochev-era communist, Eduard Shevardnadze in a series of events known as the Rose Revolution which pretty much repeated a pattern that the Americans fostered in Serbia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. It featured a disputed election, massive youth-oriented street protests, and plenty of subsidies from US government agencies masquerading as NGOs.

After the Bulldozer Revolution of 2000 overthrew Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, some members of the Serbian youth movement Otpor (Resistance!) went on to Georgia where they trained activists in non-violent resistance.

According to an article in the journal Problems of Post-Communism, the Georgian student movement Kmara was funded in part by the American NGO Freedom House, the American pseudo-NGOs National Democratic Institute, National Endowment for Democracy, International Republican Institute, as well as by the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, USAID, and the Council of Europe.

It was a novel idea, but the political landscape turned out to be more complex than the outsiders knew how to handle.

Raimondo says that in Georgia the effect had been to replace one oppressive autocrat with another.

Russian commentators believe that Saakashvili acts with Washington's prior knowledge and approval.

Georgia is a key energy transit point for Europe which needs oil and gas from (mostly Central) Asia--Turkmenistan, thru Chechnya, Kazakhstan, Iran.

Raimondo again: "The construction of an oil pipeline that somehow avoids traversing Russian territory is the dearest dream of the Chevron wing of the Republican party, and would please to no end the Clintonian Democrats, who, you'll remember, set up a special office of the US government devoted to making that pipeline a reality.

Last week (Aug 9 08) Georgia accused Russia of trying to blow up the strategic Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, but the Kurdish PKK claimed responsibility for an attack near Refahiye on August 5.

A future trans-Caspian pipeline was supposed to bring Turkmen or Kazakh gas into Azerbaijan and from there on into Turkey.

But wait! Russia has just signed a major gas deal with Turkmenistan. (Asia Times Jul 30 08) The Chevron Clinton Republicans are still smarting from that one.

In uncharacteristically dramatic language, Bhadrakumar says "In the geopolitics of energy security, nothing like this has happened before. The United States has suffered a huge defeat in the race for Caspian gas. The question now is how much longer Washington could afford to keep Iran out of the energy market."

Bhadrakumar believes that Russia will offer similar terms to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in a major shift of marketing strategy away from the Europeans and in favour of China and Asia-Pacific. Gazprom, the Russian gas giant, recently offered to buy all of Azerbaijan's gas at European prices. Construction has already begun on a gas pipeline leading from Turkmenistan to China's Xinjiang, a region less stable than Tibet.

Back in Europe (2006), Saakashvili has let Solana know that he would prefer the to negotiate with the rebels under the format used in Moldova for talks with Transdniester, where the European Union and the United States participate as observers, and Ukraine is also a participant. His assault on the South Ossetian capital may have been a provocative way of trying to initiate that change. Or not.

Solana said back in 2006, "for the moment it is difficult to do that," adding that the talks framework for Moldova "is not working very well either."

The situation in South Ossetia is made more difficult for Georgia by the presence of North Ossetia on the Russian side of the border. The Independent reports that North Ossetians have promised help to their South Ossetian brethren, and the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia has sworn to help the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia against.

Mound of Sound thinks direct confrontation (meaning I assume between the US and Russia) is unlikely. However, Saakashvili's behaviour is provocative and he is known for a tendency to overreact when provoked as shown last year when he used force to suppress anti-government protesters.

He has long shown a preference for a "military solution" to the separatist problem.

On the other side, John Pike, director of believes Russia wants a more direct confrontation with the West to justify an overhaul of its outdated military.

Strategic Forecasting Inc., based in the United States, said, "What is being decided here is whether bordering Russia and simultaneously being a US ally is a suicidal combination. Whichever way this works out, the dynamics of the entire region are about to be turned on their head."

Fraser Cameron of the EU-Russia centre in Brussels says he doesn't think Saakashvili can "can count on the cavalry riding in." But he is thinking about the EU. What about NATO?

There are rumours that the US would rather take command of the Afghanistan mission away from its unreliable NATO allies and turn it over to the Marines.
And Saakashvili is pulling Georgia's 2000 troops out of Iraq. That is the largest troop commitment by any country other than the US and UK. The pretense that the surge was successful may be the last chance the coalition of the willing will have to pretend victory and a timely exit. Maybe in the scramble for cover, NATO will find a role more to its liking in the Caucasus where the present governments of Georgia and Ukraine yearn to be members of the alliance.

Canada has no national interest in any of this, except for whatever it takes to keep the Americans happy.

See also Mound of Sound has a map and more details here => and here => and here =>Recommend this Post

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