Books on Georgia
Update No: 330 - (30/06/08)
Running feud with Russia
The Caucasus is a volatile, unruly place right now. The Russians have quelled
the secessionist rebels in Chechnya by the oldest imperial strategy in history,
'divide and rule,' having a cooperative partner in Chechen President Kadyrov.
But this tactic is having dangerous consequences in Georgia. War is a distinct
It is locked in a dispute with Russia over its NATO ambitions and Moscow's
support for the Georgian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Tbilisi's Western allies have taken its side in the row.
Strategic Caucasus state
Abkhazia is recognized as part of Georgia, but it is run by separatists with
support from Moscow. Friction between the ex-Soviet neighbours over the region
has alarmed Western states worried about a conflagration near a vital oil export
For Georgia's $10 billion economy lies at the heart of the Caucasus, where the
United States and Russia are jostling for influence over the oil and gas transit
routes from the Caspian Sea. Georgia is the natural choice here. The key is that
a BP-led pipeline pumps about 1 million barrels a day of Caspian Sea crude
through Georgia to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.
Partition solution denied, but could be extant
Russia and Georgia on June 27 denied a newspaper report that they were
discussing a plan to resolve their conflict over the breakaway Abkhazia region
by splitting it into two spheres of influence. Nevertheless, there is something
circumstantially persuasive about the rumoured plan. It could be the one thing
to avoid war. It would be utterly appropriate for those involved in very
delicate negotiations to deny their existence, while in progress.
Russia's Kommersant newspaper said on June 27 that Georgia was offering to
accept the separatists' de facto control and the presence of Russian
peacekeepers in the northern part of Abkhazia, including the capital, Sukhumi.
In exchange, Tbilisi wanted Russian peacekeepers to withdraw from the Gali and
Ochamchira districts in the south of Abkhazia and for ethnic Georgians -- who
used to be in a majority in the two districts -- to be allowed to return, the
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later said it was "absolutely
untrue" that discussions on such a proposal were underway, Russian news
In Tbilisi, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said the newspaper report was
untrue. "We are not going to give up anything to anyone," he said at a
news briefing. "We have peaceful plans which envisage creating a free
economic zone in Gali and Ochamchira and are at the initial stage."
Saakashvili has proposed a peace deal under which Tbilisi would retain
sovereignty over the region, but the Abkhaz would enjoy a large degree of
Saakashvili to the fore
Saakashvili, a U.S.-educated lawyer, swept to power in the peaceful 2003
"Rose" revolution. He promised market reforms and to re-orient his
country towards Europe and the United States.
But the democratic credentials of the 40-year-old leader were tarnished when he
sent riot troops to crush protests last November. He won a snap January
presidential election which critics said was rigged. His party, United National
movement has just won parliamentary elections, held on May 21, but with the same
accusations of rigging being made.
This time they may be false. As the nation is under threat from Russia, it is a
natural time to rally behind the government of the day.
The alarums of war
The Caucasus is a turbulent place, with a simmering potential for conflict that
could become explosive at any moment. One just has to think of Chechnya, the
Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan (legally so) and Abkhazia and
South Ossetia in Georgia (again legally so).
In the latter case the boiling point is almost at hand, so it would seem.
Russia`s deployment of extra troops in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia
has brought the prospect of war "very close", a Georgian minister said
on May 6.
Separately, in comments certain to fan rising tension between Moscow and Tbilisi,
the "foreign minister" of the breakaway Black Sea region was quoted as
saying it was ready to hand over military control to Russia.
"We literally have to avert war," Temur Iakobashvili, a Georgian State
Minister, told reporters in Brussels. Asked how close to such a war the
situation was, he replied: "Very close, because we know the Russians very
"We know what the signals are when you see propaganda waged against
Georgia. We see Russian troops entering our territories on the basis of false
information," he said.
Georgia pulls out of missile defense treaty with Russia
Tbilisi is not exactly helping matters by withdrawing from the Missile Defense
Treaty of Russia and Georgia, which it did on May 6.
"The unilateral decision of Georgia to pull out of the missile defense
treaty with Russia manifests its lack of will to peacefully settle the conflicts
with unrecognized republics," said the RF Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
"I cannot comment on actions of Georgia on each occasion. I think these
actions show a line and, unfortunately, the line is undermining all previous
agreements on the settlement of South Ossetia's and Abkhazia's conflicts,"
Lavrov said. "It will be very bad for the region," Lavrov pointed out.
Russia and Georgia sealed the Missile Defense Treaty on April 19, 1995. So far,
the members of the united missile-defense system of the CIS have been Armenia,
Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tadjikistan, Turkmenistan,
Uzbekistan and Ukraine.
For once it is possible to see the Russian point of view. As Churchill said:
" ' Jaw-jaw' is always better than 'war-war'. " Curiously enough it
was he himself who pointed out that this is not always true; he was opposed to
the Munich Pact of 1938 and thought war at that juncture superior to war a year
later. There are exceptions to all rules.
But in the Georgian-Russian case, war would be a re-run of the tragic conflicts
of the early 1990s. EU diplomacy is urgently needed to avoid it.