Books on Georgia
Update No: 332 - (29/08/08)
Whither, or rather wither, Georgia?
Everybody always blames someone else for their plight, never themselves. If
Georgia is now in a frightful fix, it is Russia's fault in Georgian eyes. It is
now likely to be considerably shrunk, or as the cliché goes, downsized.
In a sense it is true that it is all Russia's fault. Georgia never wanted this
giant neighbour on its back. Who would? But you have to live somewhere.
Georgia is in fact an excellent place. It is the prize possession of the
Caucasus, betwixt two splendid seas, those of the Caspian and the Black, astride
the integument between Russia and the Moslem world of the Middle East, and, with
its adjoining seas, almost as full of oil.
The long roll call of former communist leaders demonstrates that the Russian
elite, with their summer villas in Abkhazia and the Georgian Black Sea coast,
have always preferred it to their own territory. Who would not?
Nevertheless, the President has invited inhabitants of South Ossetia and
Abkhazia, the two breakaway provinces, to become Russian. They would almost
certainly agree in an overwhelming majority, if it were put to the vote. Russia
is about the richest of the post-Soviet states, Georgia about the poorest.
A poisoned chalice
This is not the viewpoint from Tbilisi, however. The aggressor was Russia.
“Blame for the South Ossetian crisis rests squarely with Russia,” said
Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia's president, accusing the Russians of having
deployed tanks into the disputed region before Georgian forces attacked earlier
on August 7th. "The first thing that happened was that the Russian tanks
came in," Mr Saakashvili told the Financial Times during a late night
interview in his office. He added: "From our point of view the Georgian
military was responding to a Russian invasion."
On the night of August 7, when Georgian forces began their rocket and artillery
barrage of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, Brigadier General Mamuka
Kurashvili, the chief of Georgian peacekeepers in South Ossetia, went on
Georgian television to say Georgia's "power-wielding bodies" had
"decided to restore constitutional order" in the breakaway region.
Mr Saakashvili, however, denies ever using those words. He said his forces moved
to slow a Russian advance into Georgia in order to "confront them for three
days and to wake up the world". General Kurashvili also did not me ntion
The dispute is about more than words. Many leaders, including those who strongly
back Georgia in its fight with Russia, accuse Mr Saakashvili of having responded
to the shelling of Georgian villages by South Ossetian separatists by
undertaking a risky attempt to seize control of the region. That led to Russia's
well-planned counter-attack and the invasion of Georgia.
In Mr Saakashvili's version, he is blameless for the resulting crisis that has
destroyed much of the Georgian military, seen the Russians damage bridges, roads
and other infrastructure inside Georgia proper, shaken investor confidence, and
left Russia in even firmer control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgia's
other separatist enclave.
"We didn't expect this kind of escalation and invasion," said Mr
Saakashvili, who has taken to going to sleep at 6am as he deals with the crisis.
Once the Russians moved, it was impossible for the Georgians to stop them, he
said. "No European country, including the big ones, would have been able to
confront that number of Russian tanks in such a small theatre, and the entire
Russian air force," he said.
The Russians have since pulled most of their troops out of Georgia, but a
dispute remains over whether they are allowed to remain in a buffer zone
abutting Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Mr Saakashvili says they are not. He put
the blame on the "vague" ceasefire agreement, negotiated as Russian
troops approached Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.
Now that the fighting is finished Mr Saakashvili is trying to clean up the
political and economic mess left behind.
Politically, he said he had no intention of leaving his post, as the Russians
have demanded. For now opposition leaders in Georgia have rallied to him, but
have vowed to examine recent events closely once the situation calms down.
"In terms of trying to remove me, the Russians have grossly miscalculated.
If you attack a democratic country and say that your main target is the
president, it doesn't make the president weaker," said Mr Saakashvili.
Economically, the president's main goal is to rebuild infrastructure, something
he said would take only a few months, and to reassure investors. He estimated
that Georgia's economy had suffered about $2bn (€1.4bn, £1.1bn) in damage.
"We need cash but in the long run we need some kind of insurance for the
companies coming here," he said, suggesting that the US and the EU combine
to create a fund that would compensate investors in the event of another Russian
"We were the fastest growing non-oil economy in the world," he said.
"The last thing Georgia needed was this kind of military