Russia Overreaches Itself in Struggle to Control the Caucasus – Transitions Online

Russia Overreaches Itself in Struggle to Control the Caucasus – Transitions Online.

Moscow’s inability to rein in its South Caucasian satellites may affect Russia’s posture across the volatile Caucasus region.
by Valery Dzutsev
16 September 2011


Some coherent approach emerging in the U.S. about the situation in Georgia

I especially liked this simple idea:

Recommendations for the United States:  Commit to developing a strategy towards
Abkhazia and South Ossetia that is based on U.S. interests and capacity, and is not driven exclusively by Tbilisi.

Recent history of Georgian-Abkhaz and Georgian-South Ossetian relations, I Part

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Europe must stand up for Georgia

Open letter: Twenty years after half of Europe was freed, a new wall is being built – across Georgia, say Vaclav Havel and others

Open letter, Tuesday 22 September 2009 00.05 BST

Number of good points, but I’m afraid, the authors miss the fact, that the situation in Georgia has a matreshka-like structure. Yes, Russian government has tried to undermine Georgia’s independence, but Georgian government persistently mistreated Ossetian people. Besides, however, the authors think that only democratic countries have the right to unilaterally redraw borders of smaller countries (see Kosovo), then they could as well say, that all countries are equal, but some, i.e. democratic ones are more equal, that the others.

Not only the authors demonstrate a perverted understanding of democracy, but also deep impracticality, they seem to believe in “territories” and “territorial integrity”, rather than in people, that actually live on those territories.

Continue reading

Truthful western voices about South Ossetia and Abkhazia

I’m glad there are quite a few much more realistic voices appearing in western alternative media, like open democracy. It’s good to see, there are alternatives to the much promoted old-fashioned realpolitik, that leads us all back to XIX century.


On the second full day of the Georgia-Russia war of 8-12 August 2008, Russian patrol-boats operating off the Black Sea shore of Abkhazia sank four Georgian vessels apparently intent on landing in the territory. The identity of these vessels is not yet clear, but it is interesting to note that a published list of military equipment in the possession of the Georgian government – equipment largely supplied over many years by Tbilisi’s western friends – includes a ship called the General Mazniashvili.

Why interesting? Because General Mazniashvili (aka Mazniev) is best known for his role in spreading “fire and sword” through Abkhazia and South Ossetia on behalf of Georgia’s Menshevik government of 1918-21. The naming of the ship is a revealing indicator of current official Georgian sentiment about a figure central to the pitiless effort ninety years ago to establish control over these two areas. It is also a reminder to Abkhazians and South Ossetians that their hard-won freedom from Georgian rule in the brutal wars of the early 1990s is part of a longer history of defence of their integrity that deserves the world’s attention, understanding and respect.

These peoples, and not just the Georgians – or Russians, or Americans, or anyone else involved in the latest war in the region – have their own history, many of whose artefacts have been deliberately pulverised in this generation (see Thomas de Waal, “Abkhazia’s archive: fire of war, ashes of history” [20 October 2006]). The lesson of the short war of August 2008 is that their Abkhazian and South Ossetian voices must be heard and their own choices must be included in any decisions about their future if the cycle of conflict – of which 1918-21 and 1991-93 are but two episodes – is going to be broken rather than repeated.



or this one

The embers of the five-day war between Georgia and Russia of 8-12 August 2008 are not quite extinguished, but the ceasefire agreement skilfully negotiated by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and agreed with his counterparts Dmitri Medvedev (Russia) and Mikheil Saakashvili (Georgia) gives hope for an end to this intense, destructive and tragic conflict.

Donald Rayfield is emeritus professor of the school of modern languages, Queen Mary University of London. Among his books is Stalin and his Hangmen (Random House, 2005), which has appeared in five other languages. He is editor-in-chief of the Comprehensive Georgian-English Dictionary (Garnett Press, 2006), a work of 1,440,000 entries and nearly 1,800 pages in two volumes

Also by Donald Rayfield in openDemocracy:

“Georgia and Russia: with you, without you” (3 October 2006)

“Russia vs Georgia: a war of perceptions” (24 August 2007)

More broadly, when the citizens displaced and wounded by the war have been able to regain a modicum of security and humanitarian relief in rebuilding their shattered lives, the space must be made for a thoroughgoing investigation into its background, causes and lessons. It may be appropriate at this early stage to offer some preliminary notes to this larger project.

Much of the media reporting of the “short and nasty war” has been strong and detailed, with a good dose of scepticism in questioning the tendentious (and often downright mendacious) versions of events relayed by Russian and Georgians spokespersons alike. This is in contrast to the lack of attention among commentators to the essential task of exploring the roots of the conflict; indeed, a lot of the opinion-flood persists in ignoring completely the local and regional factors in favour of an instant resort to high geopolitics, as if South Ossetia and Abkhazia – which lie at the heart of what has happened – do not in themselves even exist.


Policy memo on US reaction to Russian-Georgian troubles

At the end of the academic year I continue publication of series of my academic papers that might be interesting to read later. End of March 2008 about a week before NATO summit in Bukharest took place I wrote a sumulation memo. Most talked about topic of the NATO summit was the issue of granting Georgia and Ukraine NATO membership accession plans (MAPs). Even though the US was urging the allies to grant Ukraine and Georgia MAP, key Eropean countries like Germany and France opposed this move, because they were evidently afraid to stir Russian resentment.

I my memo, written a week before the NATO summit I made two suppositions: 1) NATO grants Ukraine and Georgia MAP, 2) Russia recognises Georgian breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Based on these two assumptions I wrote a class memo on a possible US’s course of actions.

The United States must produce the proper and balanced reaction to the hostile appropriation of the territory of the American ally in the Caucasus, Republic of Georgia by Russian Federation. The challenge is to provide unequivocal support for the US ally Georgia, but at the same time avoid the danger of military confrontation with Russia and work out a long term strategy in order to deal with the problem, providing a face-saving alternative for the opposite party.

Most immediate threat for the US’s interests in the region is military defeat of Georgia inflicted by Abkhaz and South Ossetian forces, backed by Russia or with direct involvement of the Russian military. This could jeopardize US’s international standing as its ally is attacked, while at the same time US cannot afford full-scale hostilities with such nuclear power as Russia. Another important consideration should be that if we allow Russia go with this move, it might feel potent to undertake similar moves in Ukraine and elsewhere, that would cause major destabilization in Europe. Oil supplies from the Caspian region, most notably Baku-Ceynan pipeline that goes via Georgia to the West may be in jeopardy.

10 April 2008 Russian parliament officially recognized independence of Georgian breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia cited recognition of Kosovo by the US and its allies in February 2008 and NATO enlargement as key factors allowing it to do this.

Georgia has long been a devote ally of the United States and the only country in the volatile Caucasus region that has made significant progress toward democratic development. Georgian military detachment in Iraq is the third largest after the US’s and Britain’s.

Georgian allegiances with the US and the West in general have hardly been accepted by Russian leadership and contributed to the decline of Russian-Georgian relations. There have been numerous border incidents in recent years, Georgian authorities provided evidence that they were carried out by Russian side, while Russians denied their involvement. Russia has tried to use its energy supplies to Georgia as a means of political pressure, during winter 2006 cutting the gas supplies pipeline and announcing about sharp gas prices increase days before 2007 year start. In autumn 2006 following detention of the alleged Russian spies from Russian military bases in Georgia, Russia barred Georgian nationals from receiving Russian visas until March 2008 and on a made up pretext refused to import Georgian products, imposing an unannounced economic embargo that had severe economic consequences for Georgia.

The main threat to the Georgian statehood, however, came from the leverage Russia acquired on Georgia using its breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These are two tiny regions (population of Abkhazia is ca. 250,000, population of South Ossetia is ca. 70,000) adjacent to Russia. Russia has been fueling separatist sentiments in these regions by supporting them economically, militarily and most notably by granting their citizens Russian citizenship in the past three years. At the same time Georgian nationalist government in the beginning of 1990s bears large part of the blame for the eruption of violence in these regions and its consequences.

Russian policy in these regions was to use Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a means of interference with Georgian internal politics, but at the same time to avoid their recognition in practice. Following Kosovo recognition in February 2008 and granting Ukraine and Georgia Membership Accession Plan to NATO in April 2008 to both of which Russia was fiercely opposed Russian leadership was induced to act resolutely in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in order to retain regional power status among CIS countries and for internal political reasons.

US Department of State must clearly condemn Russia’s move to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia and urge Russia to engage in talks with Georgia in order to retract this move and reach a peace agreement. The US must call for UN Security Council meeting and offer corresponding resolution. The US should offer mediation in the talks between Russia and Georgia and send strong signal by diplomatic channels to Russians, that the US is considering serious measures to isolate Russia on international stage, unless it immediately engages in talks. The US must confer with its key allies in EU to work out a concerted set of efforts to resolve the crisis diplomatically, but also show the firmness to defend our interests and those of our allies. Neither Kosovo recognition, nor NATO enlargement can be allowed to be subjects of talks between the US and Russia.

At the same time the US must urge Georgia to refrain from undertaking military campaign unless there is well-founded evidence that it could be short and successful. It must be noted that as there is a number of other dormant conflicts in the Caucasus region, the way how this crisis is resolved is going to affect other places as well. It is not in the interests of the United States to engage directly in any of the possible military conflicts in the region. We must avoid military confrontation with Russia in this conflict or in other possible conflicts in the region in near future, so it is better to discourage Georgia from openly attacking Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The US should press ahead with establishing itself and/or EU as a mediating side in the talks between Russia and Georgia. Ultimate aim should be retracting Russian recognition and gradual weakening of Russian influence in the breakaway regions. The framework for the talks should be founded on mutual concessions: the US does not allow Georgia to gain control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia while Russia withdraws its military forces from them. This would appeal to the populations of these regions, undermine Russia’s grip on them and at the same time be regarded as a completely neutral approach. While dealing with this crisis, we should remember about other conflicts in the region and take into account broader agenda in the Caucasus.

If warning about possible international isolation does not work, the US should consider measures of curbing Russian influence on international stage and providing political support for separatist movements in Russian North Caucasus and elsewhere. The US should not allow reincarnation of some type of a USSR and incorporation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia could be seen as one of such moves.

Provided no leverage works as we expect, the US should minimize the damage that Russia’s move did by stepping up efforts to stop similar type of events in Ukraine and elsewhere. Also the US must provide generous economic support for Georgia. Major overhaul of the American foreign policy approach to Russia will have to be made that will envisage the recent changes and provide long term containment strategy toward Russia.

To my surprise, this memo of mine was graded between C+ and B-, I was really hoping for a better grade, even though realized, that it was far from ideal. Besides being not ideal it probably also didn’t make much sense:)

Video footage of Russian airplane shooting down Georgian UAV

Russian State’s Duma recommends to expand Russian sphere of influence

13 March Russian State’s Duma (lower house of the Russian parliament) came up with the range of recommendations for the Russian government in connection with the status of unrecognized territories Abkhazia, South Ossetia (both breakaway regions of Georgia) and Transdnestria (breakaway region of Moldova). Recommendations include retention of the existing negotiation formats with Russia being the mediator (that have not led anywhere in the past 15 years or so in all three regions). More importantly it was recommended to simplify passing the border between Russia and these territories to the maximum possible extent, open Russian savings bank branches in these territories, lift custom taxes for the goods produced in these territorie.

Even though reportedly a few members of the Russian parliament were saying that Russia has to recognise these territories in response to Kosovo’s recognition by the western countries, finally they decided not to. For those who do not know what current Russian State’s Duma is, I must say that it is anything but separate branch of power. In reality it does what it is told to do by the presidential administration. So essentially these recommendations (that are yet to be implemented or waived by the government) is another way of indecisive flexing of muscles to appease allies and to scare off the West.

There has recently been what seems to be a breakthrough in Transdnestrian dialogue, it appeared that Moscow would be willing to let Moldova to unify with its breakaway region in return for guarantees that unified Moldova is not going to join NATO any time soon. I must note here that in Transdnestrian case Russia has the capacity to do that almost instantaneously, because Russians absolutely artificially sparked the conflict there.

Russia has the same concern for Georgia, trying to prevent it from joining NATO by holding the strings in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, its breakaway territories. Obviously Russia would not like see Abkhazia and South Ossetia to become either completely independent or be incorporated into Georgia, because then Russians would lose the leverage in Georgia. Abkhazia and South Ossetia rely on Russian help, while Georgia is positioned as the western ally in the region. So the region has the potential of becoming a region where Russians and the West would be at loggerheads once again (they already are of course, but still in an unutterable mode). It may become especially relevant if Georgia (along with Ukraine) get NATO map of accession at NATO summit in Bukharest in April. I imagine, as Putin is travelling there supposedly in order to scare off NATO enlargement by his presence (the guy really thinks, he owns special skills needed to deal with the Russian adversaries, it’s an interesting phenomenon, that requires a separate talk, how authoritarian rulers finally fall victim to their own propaganda and start beleiving in it) – there may be a desire on the West’s side to “punish the bastard”.

However, it is not clear whether the West really need countries like Ukraine and Georgia in NATO. I mean, whether it is a rational choice for some serious purposes or just a symbolic grin for Russia. It is also unclear whether the West can afford now to engage in a confrontation with Russia over things like these.

On the other hand, it is clear that Russia currently prefers adversarial relations with the West, using NATO enlargement objections as a pretext for actually showing off its neighbors (Ukraine, Georgia, etc.) it has the capacity to influence their progress toward certain goals. So the issue at stake might eventually be that if Russia succeeds in convincing both NATO and these countries to back off, it will think of some kind of reincarnation of the Soviet Union, perhaps not in the form as it was, but in the form of acquiring Russian own circle of client states. It would be nightmare for everybody (including Russian people themselves) to see reincarnation of the USSR under auspices of authoritarian Russia. So the West has little choice but to advance into the post-soviet territory maybe not NATO-wise or maybe exactly in this way.

In this particular case with Georgian breakaway regions, it is clear the situation is deadlocked for foreseeable future with constant threat of large scale violence eruption (that fits Russians best). I think, it would be a good idea to pave way for a high profile international conference on the contentious issues in the region that would aim to redefine negotiations’ format. In the current negotiations’ format (that is practically not-working) there is Georgian side, South Ossetian or Abkhaz side and supposedly impartial mediator Russia, Russian peacekeepers are also engaged in peacekeeping operations in both areas. Obviously an attempt should be made to make the format more multilateral, i.e. to balance Russia in these negotiations. However, if the format becomes multilateral it will not necessarily solve the problem, unless Russian peacekeepers are replaced with other peacekeeper mission. To me all this looks next to impossible in current circumstances because the issue is obviously not on the top of the agenda of the West’s (and Russia is happy to see the situation to drag on as it is almost indefinetely). Still, the unstable situation in the region will have to be dealt with in a decisive, rationale and peaceful manner and my feeling is that it will be rather soon, than later.

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