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August 18, 2004 by AK

Notes on the Ossetian crisis

An esoteric subject indeed. The Argus team have been watching the developments. Mark Almond, a British historian, has published an illuminating piece on the conflict. As for me, I can’t resist quoting myself–not literally but with a few changes.

As a Russian citizen, I would be happy if Russia could extricate itself from all its Caucasian entanglements, including Chechnya, and leave them all to their own means. Ideally, build a wall, Israel-style. It’s not going to happen, of course.

For centuries, Russia was cursed with long and indefensible southern and eastern borders; is history repeating itself? I suppose it must, but I prefer isolationism, both instinctively and rationally.

I hate the thought of a military conflict with Georgia, one of Russia’s very few brotherly nations. I hope it never comes to that. But suppose Russia withdraws from Abkhazia and S. Ossetia and leaves them with no means to confront the Georgian army. Within days or weeks, the Georgians will start massacring Abkhazians and Ossetians — I can almost guarantee it. It happened in 1992; the people involved haven’t changed. And it’s Russia who’s going to be responsible for that, having betrayed its clients.

Make no mistake, Saakashvili is just another charismatic Georgian prince, his US law degree and Euro-wife notwithstanding. He just happens to have been quite popular for a while, hence the Rose Revolution and an illusion of democracy. In fact, Georgia is even more socially backward than Russia, that is, even less prepared for liberal democracy. Which means, among other things, that nothing will stop Georgian troops from repeating their bloody feats of the early 1990s.

Yes indeed, I am certain the rulers of Abkhazia and S. Ossetia are corrupt. Corruption is the way of life throughout the Caucasus. Most people there won’t even denounce it (unlike Russians or Ukrainians)–that’s how generations have lived. For now, though, there is peace there, thanks to the Russian bayonets. It is inconceivable that most ethnic Abkhazians and Ossetians will ever agree to rejoin Georgia unless given firm guarantees against Georgian aggression. Those would have to include a defense force of their own.

Saakashvili is not going to allow that unless he sees no other way out. It’s he who insists on changing the status quo and acting aggressively. Why? I guess because he relies on the US for support. Perhaps Russia should talk directly to the US if it is indeed Saakashvili’s patron?

Not only it should, but it’s most likely been doing that from the start. Georgia’s ties with Russia are strong and numerous; therefore, Russia has a powerful pressure tool, a threat to cut off some of them. Deny visas to Georgian nationals, annul those issued and deport Georgian citizens from Russia, freeze Georgians’ accounts in Russian banks, cut off gas supplies and triple electricity tariffs–within weeks, Georgians would be asking Saakashvili to soften on the ethnic provinces. Since that is not being done, I have one more reason to assume it’s not Georgia that Russia is facing in this standoff.


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