Paul Goble , who has been blogging at the New York Times since late August, reports on proof that Russia lied brazenly about the extent of destruction it inflicted in the Georgia war, and the destuction allegedly inflicted by Georgia:
Satellite photographs analyzed by United Nations experts show that only five percent of Tskhinvali was destroyed during the fighting there but that 50 percent of ethnic Georgian villages were destroyed in that region by Ossetian marauders behind Russian lines, a pattern that undercuts Moscow’s claims about what took place. The UN satellite research program UNOSAT has released photographs showing the destruction in South Ossetia. Some of these were published in Novaya gazeta on Monday, but a more comprehensive sample is now available on the UNOSAT portal.
These pictures and the analysis conducted by the independent experts at UNOSAT show, Human Rights Watch told “Novaya gazeta,” that Ossetian units “burned and robbed Georgian villages,” as HRW people on the ground had reported in the face of Ossetian and Russian claims to the contrary.
But these photographs taken over the course of August also call into question repeated Russian claims that the Georgian army had destroyed much of the South Ossetian capital – the satellite photographs show only five percent of its buildings having been damaged — and that Georgian forces had carried out a systematic genocide there.
The photographs are extremely disturbing because, in the words of HRW experts, they demonstrate that “Georgian villages have in fact ceased to exist on the territory of South Ossetia.” But the human rights group’s own observers point out that now there is evidence that similar “marauder activities are continuing in Georgian villages in the buffer zone.”
“It is possible,” “Novaya gazeta” concludes, “that the materials collected by Human Rights Watch [and the UNOSAT photographs] will become part of the case about military crimes at the time of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict, which will be considered by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.” Such use of satellite photography to document the actions of various participants in conflicts is spreading: A year ago, for example, Azerbaijan used satellite photography to show the destruction of certain cultural monuments that has taken place in portions of that country now under Armenian occupation.
One reason for this is the dramatic improvement in satellite photography technology in recent years, but another and more important factor is that such photographs not only provide the kind of objective proof that observer reports sometimes lack but also have a far greater impact on those who see them. And because this technology will make it more difficult for officials to lie about what is happening or to cover up their own crimes, one can hope that the very possibility that satellite photographs will be taken and shared will over time act to restrain those who might otherwise engage in crimes of war and crimes against humanity.
Unfortunately, as these UNOSAT photographs show, neither Russian forces nor the irregular Ossetian units behind their lines included that possibility in their calculations. And as a result, an enormous humanitarian disaster ensued, one that is not only not over but not yet being blamed on its real authors.
Goble also reports on the Kremlin’s total fallacy that the Georgian opposition movement is pro-Russian.
Official Moscow has made it clear that it would like to see Mikheil Saakashvili replaced as president of Georgia, but it has failed to recognize that the opposition to him both among the Georgian political elite and the Georgian people is not now and will not be pro-Russian, thanks in large part to the actions of Moscow itself.
Following the defeat of the Georgian army and Moscow’s moves to detach Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, various Georgian politicians, including David Gamkrelidze of the New Right Party, Shalva Natelashvili of the Labor Party, and Nino Burjanadze, the former speaker of the parliament, have said the Saakashvili should resign. As Sobkorr.ru’s Sergei Petrunin observes, the laws of politics are everywhere the same and harsh: winners are not judged, but losers – or at least those perceived to be losers – are judged harshly and in many cases are forced to leave the political stage far sooner than anyone expected.
When the military conflict between Russia and Georgia was in its more active phase, most Georgians rallied around their president as a symbol of their country’s resistance, all the more so because Moscow so clearly and frequently asserted that the Russian government wanted him out. Even members of the opposition who blame Saakashvili for the war and for what they see as the increasingly authoritarian aspects of his rule kept quiet lest anything they said against him might be interpreted as supporting the Russian position or undermining the unity of the nation in time of war.
But now in the last week, things have begun to change. Not only have Georgian opposition leaders spoken out more clearly about the need for Saakashvili to leave office before the end of his term, but criticism of Saakashvili’s failure to heed Western advice to move and hence of his reliability as an ally has increased in the United States and Europe.
All this has led some Russian commentators to predict that if the Georgian opposition is able to force Saakashvili from office, Moscow will have not only won a major victory but have ensured that any new Georgian president will be more tractable in its dealings with the Russian Federation and less close to the West. That reading of Georgian politics, Petrunin says in an analysis posted online yesterday, is simply wrong – and it is wrong not because of what the Georgians are like as a people or have done in recent days or because of the Western allies they have acquired but because of what Moscow has done and continues to assume is its right to do. The prime source of this Russian error, he continues, is that Moscow has reduced “the problems of Russian-Georgian relations to the problem of Saakashvili” and that Russian leaders have assumed that almost any other Georgian leader will press less hard for the restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity de fact and for membership in NATO. In fact, he points out, “the roots of [Moscow’s] Georgian problem” are both deeper and older than the current Georgian president.
Historically, Georgians were among the most tolerant of peoples, welcoming into their midst not only Russians but Abkhazians, Ossetians and other nations as well. But that is no longer so.
Some analysts, Petrunin notes, place the blame on Soviet nationality policy which drew the borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in such a way as to guarantee conflicts. Others are inclined to blame Zviyad Gamsakhurdia, the first Georgian president, with his call for “A Georgia for the Georgians.”
And still a third group blames post-1991 Moscow for failing to resolve the tensions between Abkhazia and South Ossetia, on the one hand, and Tbilisi, on the other, or even seeking to play up those tensions in order to put pressure on or even control the actions of the Georgian government.
But whatever the relative role of these factors, Petrunin argues, Georgia was not “pro-Russian” when Vladimir Putin became Russian President, it did not change its commitment to the restoration of the territorial integrity of the country as a result of the “rose revolution,” and it won’t do so in the future.
The early departure of Saakashvili, if it happens, will result in “the coming to power in Georgia of a new generation of politics who will speak more cautiously” about the restoration of control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia and perhaps about entering the Western alliance. But neither they nor the Georgian people are likely to give them up.
For that, Moscow has only itself to blame. The leaders of the Georgian opposition and the overwhelming majority of the Georgian people are furious at the Russian Federation for what it has done, even if they are increasingly inclined to criticize the incautious or even reckless behavior of Saakashvili himself.
Petrunin’s analysis has three likely implications: First, it may cause Moscow to reduce its calls for Saakashvili’s departure, fearful that his replacement might garner even more support in the West because he or she would not be loaded down with some of the baggage that the current Georgian leader has placed on his own shoulders. Second, it may mean that Moscow will suffer an even larger political defeat as a result of its military victory: It will have solidified anti-Russian views in Georgia and thus make it less rather than more likely that Moscow will be able to get what it wants there either in the near term or even longer. And third, Petrunin’s argument may lead others to look beyond Saakashvili rather than keep him at the center of their calculations, a shift that in Russia’s case may prove chastening to policy makers and in the West’s liberating as some conclude that Saakashvili’s departure would not change Tbilisi’s underlying policies but make their implementation more plausible.