7 August, 2009 — Strategic Culture Foundation
The anniversary of the Georgian aggression against South Ossetia is the time to assess how the situation in Eurasia has changed since Russia and Georgia passed the point of no return on August 8, 2008.
Clearly, the relations between the two countries will never revert to their previous state. Currently Russia and Georgia are locked in a conflict tantamount to an unannounced war, and even a regime change in Tbilisi would not do for a recovery. The current political landscape has been created by serious mistakes made both by Tbilisi and by Russia, but the share of responsibility of the former is much greater than that of the latter.
Contrary to the mounting empirical evidence, the Russian leadership used to believe that the politics of appeasement in dealing with the chronically aggressive Georgia would eventually help to stabilize the situation around the then-unrecognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Moscow carelessly betrayed Ajaria when Georgia regained control over it by force. Furthermore, Russia, largely under the influence of the untamed Georgian lobby in Moscow, did not react last September when the Tbilisi regime routed the opposition including its more or less pro-Russian fractions. As a result, the part of the political spectrum in Georgia oriented towards Moscow was totally erased and currently Russia is left without potential political partners in the country.
The lives of the Ossetians, both civilians and volunteers, as well Russian peacekeepers were the cost of Russia’s sluggish reaction to the challenges serially posed by Tbilisi and the groundless expectations that “things would get better automatically”. Yet, last year’s tragedy paved the way for the recognition of the two new independent states – South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Probably, this was the only way possible. Poet A. Galich wrote that “blood is the most reliable currency in the world”, and much earlier N. Nekrasov said that “a cause is sustainable only if blood reinforces it”. The bloodshed turned into an accomplished fact what years of talks failed to produce.
Georgia’s domestic situation is best described in psychiatric rather than political terms. Over the past 15 years Georgia’s administrations obsessed with the lures of the West staunchly ignored Russia’s interests and position, literally showered it with insults, and seemed hopelessly deluded by a strange sense of superiority. The Georgian regime and expert community underestimated Russia’s role in the post-Cold War world order, and Tbilisi’s decision to launch a military offensive against South Ossetia was explained by the gross miscalculation. What ensued was the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by Russia and by a number of other countries plus a de facto collapse of the Georgian statehood.
It must be admitted that the developments are explained not so much by the Georgian leadership’s distorted political vision as by certain traits of the Georgian national character. The negative traits – especially nationalistic arrogance – were reported by practically all the nations which came in touch with Georgians historically. There is a growing conviction among Orthodox Christian commentators that Georgian President M. Saakashvili is possessed by the devil. Unscholarly as the view may appear, it explains remarkably well the suicidal logic behind Saakashvili’s decision-making.
The events of last August (as well as the preceding evolution of Georgia’s conflicts with South Ossetia and Abkhazia) demonstrated that there was full consensus among Georgia’s political circles on denying Ossetians and Abkhazians the right to existence, and, moreover, that this consensus mirrored a broader one among the majority of Georgia’s population. The dissenting minority in the Georgian society was too small to mount considerable opposition to the militaristic regime in Tbilisi. Tbilisi’s short-sighted belief that the leaderships in South Ossetia and Abkhazia were wholly dependent on Moscow further contributed to Georgia’s progressing inability to chart a realistic course while talking to its two former autonomies.
Sadly, neither the Tbilisi officialdom nor the Georgian society as a whole learned the lessons of last year’s tragedy. Instead, a tide of anti-Russian hysteria swept over Georgia, and even the parts of its society which normally would not be suspected of being uninform or overly open to the official propaganda are readily shifting the blame for all of the country’s problems onto Russia. Currently Georgia’s continued existence as a sovereign state may be possible only with serious limitations as what its future seems to hold is the loss of several territories (Javakhk, Megrelia, Ajaria, Borchali with its predominantly Azerbaijani population, Trialeti Ossetia, etc.) and – in the process of denazification – a loss of sovereignty by what remains.
Tentatively, Georgia’s neighbors (mainly Russia, but also Turkey and Iran) will attempt to induce a regime change in Tbilisi and to turn Georgia as the country which in its present condition poses a threat to the entire Caucasus into a protectorate. The Vorontsov Palace which used to be the residence of the Russian general-governors in the epoch of the Russian Empire remains one of Tbilisi’s architectural landmarks. Currently it serves as children’ arts studio, but can revert to its former status as necessary. For the Caucasus, the task of ousting the inadequate Saakashvili certainly tops the agenda. One can only regret that on August 12, 2008 the Russian army was ordered to stop when Tbilisi was already within easy reach, as at that time the mission could be accomplished with few casualties and without much effort. The fighters from the Vostok battalion were clearly disappointed.
The Georgian aggression against South Ossetia had several aspects in the sphere of international politics. As a number of experts, the author among them, predicted, contrary to the forecasts of the choir of liberal commentators Russia’s forceful response has not caused a major chill in its relations with the West. When Russia acts firmly, empty threats are all the Western patrons of Mr. Saakashvili have to confront it. The experts in Russia who churned out alarmist scenarios of something close to “a war with the entire civilized world” commencing immediately upon any indications that the Kremlin would promote Russia’s national interests obviously had the interests of countries other than Russia in mind. Moscow should draw from the experience of last August when formulating its strategy, for example in what concerns Russia’s return to the Crimea, which is the dream of the population of the peninsula. It is an important result of the August war that the peoples on the periphery of the former Empire started to believe that Russia would not betray its friends.