Andrei ARESHEV: First Anniversary of 'Five Day War' in South Ossetia

7 August, 2009 — Strategic Culture Foundation

Tensions were running high in the regions bordering Georgia’s breakaway republic of South Ossetia ahead of the first anniversary of the last year’s ‘five day war’. Soon after the checkpoints near the capital of Tskhinval were caught under fire, Russia’s Defence Ministry promised to take adequate measures to protect the citizens of the de facto republic of South Ossetia. According to Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, ‘the Georgian authorities plotted various provocations ahead of the first anniversary of the war conflict in the Caucasus’. And those could be not just armed attacks on checkpoints but also ‘peaceful marches on the occupied territories’ (like it was in the beginning of the first war with South Ossetia under Gamsakhurdia).

The way Georgia reacted to the announcements made by the Russian Defence Ministry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs proves that Tbilisi aims to continue its active cooperation with the US and the EU on the issues of its domestic policy, although this approach led to hundreds of victims and large-scale destructions in Tskhinval last year. That bloody conflict also had a negative impact on what is called ‘Georgia’s territorial integrity’ (within the borders of the former Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic). Members of the EU mission confirmed that the truth was on the Georgian side, adding that the tone of statements made by the Russian side reminded them of the atmosphere just a few days before the last year’s war. In such a way the mission, headed by Ambassador Hansjoerg Haber, demonstrated its solidarity with Georgia…

Now that a year has passed since the five day war and official recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, we can recollect what forecasts had been made a year ago. In early August 2008 some liberal experts called on the Russian army not to mix up with the ‘powerful’ Georgian army in order not to suffer a defeat. Days before the Russian President delivered his speech on 26 August, some experts used to say that the recognition of independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia would do no good to Russia or either would spoil its relations with the West and undermine domestic unity. But those experts did not take into consideration that after August 8, 2008 the Caucasus region faced non-reversible changes, which immediately required new status-quo. Otherwise the achievements of the Russian army in the region would have turned into a defeat.

The conflict of August 2008 proved a failure of international law and a tendency toward the use of force in politics. It was clear from the very beginning that Russia’s criticism of the Saakashvili regime and plans to impose an arms embargo against Georgia won’t find support in the UN. That is why Russia nailed down its achievements in the Caucasus through the de jure recognition of the two republics.

However, Moscow yet has to do much to improve its economic and political cooperation with Sukhum and Tskhinval. The Medvedev-Sarkozy plan signed in Moscow on 12 August, 2008, has de facto become inoperative due to its violation by the Georgian side.

Up to 2000 troops of the Georgian special operations forces and those of the Interior Ministry are currently staying along the Ingur river. There are 10 stationary and 17 remote checkpoints with Grad rocket launchers and 120 mm mortars. Georgia carries out a 24-hour monitoring from the nearby territories. Some 2,500 Georgian troops have been deployed on the South Ossetian border. More than 50 stationary and remote checkpoints were opened in the area close to the Georgian border with South Ossetia, with large-scale protective works being underway and military hardware and artillery entering the region. All this is watched by a group of international observers who in public use to talk about security and stability in the Caucasus. Georgia focused on the modernization of its army in the beginning of this year, soon after having recovered from the defeat in August, 2008. Recently Georgia has held frequent military exercises in different regions of the country, and the port of Batumi shipped military cargo for several times. There is every reason to believe that in a personal conversation with Saakashvili, Joe Biden promised him that the US would continue its military support to Georgia. At the same time the international ‘human rights activists’ carried on with their propaganda aimed at blaming Russia for all the sufferings of the Georgian, Abkhazian and Ossetian peoples.

Just imagine what could have happened to the Caucasus if experts from the International Crisis Group and their supporters abroad had managed to help Tbilisi restore its jurisdiction over the territories of its former autonomies. In this case, the refugees would have been in such despair that it would certainly caused numerous ethnic clashes and acts of terror.

Now the EU thinks about sending some US troops to join the international mission patrolling the Georgian lands bordering the two breakaway republics. The history of the Balkan conflict shows us what could have possibly happened to the Caucasus. We also should not forget that Mikhail Saakashvili outplayed his opponents (all of whom had used to be his allies) only thanks to an overall support from the US. All these speculations that for the US Ukraine and Georgia are a ‘suitcase without a handle’ mean nothing but intellectual laziness. The same can be said about the attempts to promote the image of Joe Biden, a very experienced expert in international affairs, as a ‘dissident’ who allegedly is trying to disobey Barack Obama.

The tragedy in the Caucasus resulted from direct Western expansion into the geopolitical area of the former Soviet Union, which in its turn caused new conflicts on the Russian borders. It is high time for the political elite in Russia, Georgia and US to become aware of this.

Although the relations between Russia and Georgia are still can be described as ‘chilly’, however, some steps have been made to improve the situation. But no success will be possible unless the sides forget about demands which are knowingly hard to fulfill. Though Moscow is no longer asked to renounce its recognition of independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgia still hopes that its allies in Washington and Brussels will help its to settle its differences with the breakaway regions.

But what kind of dialog is possible when Georgia is thinking about remilitarization? Georgia needs powerful army. What for? Even those Georgian politicians, who have a neutral attitude towards Russia, pay no attention to the Abkhaz and South Ossetian people as if nothing special had happened in Georgia in 1980-1990ss.

However, dialog is what we all need now. We should shake off stereotypes we have about each other. Unfortunately, these stereotypes are rooted even in the educational system which is being reformed in all post-Soviet republics and in Russia in accordance with the western traditions.

The situation in the Caucasus requires that Russia revised its policies in the Caucasus. There should be approved a series of measures referring to the country’s both domestic and foreign policies. Mr. Biden used to say that because of its economic problems Russia will sooner or later make concessions to the west. And Moscow cannot ignore his words.

The recent ‘Caucasus-2009’ military exercises, Mr. Medvedev`s visit to Tskhinval, the development of political, economical and humanitarian cooperation with Sukhum and the position of the Russian Foreign Ministry during the consultations in Geneva-this all brings hope to the war-torn Caucasus.”

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