USA Today reports that once again Russia is crazily cutting off its nose to spite its face. Not only is it conducting official pogroms against Georgians inside Russia, the very Georgians who would be most supportive of Russia’s position in the spy scandal, but it is claiming to be “shocked, shocked” by Georgia’s confrontational position even while Russia adopts exactly the same position in regard to the United States, sending all manner of military support to America’s deadliest foes. This is Neo-Soviet foreign policy at its most ham-handed; Russia is literally forcing Georgia in to the waiting arms of NATO, terrifying all its East European allies, confirming the worst predictions about its intentions made here on La Russophobe and galvanizing the world against Russian imperialism, undoing years of Putin’s KGB stealth propaganda campaign all while picking a fight it can’t possibly win (if Russia couln’t handle Chechnya, imagine what will happen if it tries to use military force against relatively gigantic and heavily allied Georgia). When Iran is the topic, Russia calls for diplomacy. When it’s Georgia, only confrontation will do.
President Vladimir Putin warned Georgia on Wednesday that no country should get away with threatening Russia, setting the stage for passage of a parliamentary motion fiercely condemning Tbilisi’s pro-Western leadership.
“I would not counsel anyone to talk to Russia in the language of provocations and blackmail,” Putin told the heads of the parliamentary factions, adding that he was speaking specifically about Georgia.
Russia slapped a transport and postal blockade on Tbilisi on Tuesday as retaliation for Georgia’s arrest of four Russian military officers accused of espionage. Police, meanwhile, were targeting the large Georgian Diaspora in Moscow with raids of businesses and restaurants.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday the blockade would stand despite Georgia’s release of the officers Monday.
Lavrov said the measures were aimed at cutting off criminal flows of money he claimed was being used by the Georgian leadership to increase its military might in preparation for the “forceful seizure” of two pro-Russian breakaway regions.
But the real aim appears to be to punish Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili for his defiance of Russia through the detention of its officers on spying charges. The dispute more widely reflects Kremlin alarm at Tbilisi’s goal of NATO membership and the growing U.S. influence in its former Soviet backyard.
Putin said Russia was intent on “guaranteeing the rights of our citizens in the near and far abroad,” the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
Earlier Wednesday, a Kremlin official was quoted as saying that the sanctions — a suspension of air, road, maritime, rail and postal links — would not be lifted until Georgia ended its “hostile rhetoric” toward Russia.
“The range of measures are a response to the situation and consequently their duration will depend on how long the hostile rhetoric (of the Georgian leadership) continues,” the Gazeta.ru news website quoted Modest Kolerov, the Russian presidential administration’s official in charge of regional relations, as saying.
Later this week, the Russian parliament is set to consider a bill that would allow the government to bar Georgians living in Russia from sending money home — which would deal a huge blow to Georgia’s struggling economy.
According to some estimates, about 1 million of Georgia’s 4.4 million population work in Russia, and their families rely on the hundreds of millions of dollars (euros) in annual remittances.
Piling on the pressure, authorities Tuesday closed a popular casino run by Georgians in the Russian capital, saying it did not have authorization for its casino tables and slot machines. They also raided a hotel and two restaurants run by Georgians, saying they could be closed for legal violations.
The Kommersant daily quoted police officials as saying that 40 Georgian restaurants and shops in downtown Moscow would be raided in the next few days.
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, meanwhile, said Wednesday that the pullout of Russian troops in Georgia could be accelerated because of the tensions there.
He told reporters on a visit to the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, that Russia would “be withdrawing the Russian bases there according to the schedule, and maybe in an accelerated order. Because everybody understands the state of our soldiers and officers give the conditions that they are in there.”
Russia has 3,000-4,000 troops at two military bases in Georgia, and pledged in a deal signed last year to withdraw its troops by the end of 2008.
Russia’s chilly relations with Georgia have worsened steadily since Saakashvili came to power following the 2003 Rose Revolution, vowing to take the country out of Russia’s orbit, reign in the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and join NATO in 2008. Georgia accuses Russia of backing the separatists, which Russia denies.
At the United Nations in New York, Russia ratcheted up diplomatic pressure on Georgia by circulating a draft U.N. Security Council resolution Tuesday that would link the future of a U.N. observer mission with demands that the government stop “provocative actions” over Abkhazia.
The United States urged Moscow to end the punitive measures, echoing a similar call from the European Union.