The West must not Abandon Georgia Again

Ronald Asmus, executive director of the Brussels-based Transatlantic Center of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and author of The Little War that Shook the World: Georgia, Russia and the Future of the West, to be published by Palgrave Macmillan, writing in the Financial Times:

A year ago this Friday Russia and Georgia went to war. By the standards of modern warfare it was a little war. It lasted five days. Casualties were modest. It nevertheless sparked the greatest European security crisis since Slobodan Milosevic unleashed the dogs of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans in the 1990s. Moscow invaded a neighbour for the first time since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It broke the cardinal rule of post-cold war European security that borders in Europe should never be changed by force of arms. It showed an ugly neo-imperial side of its policy that many in the west had hoped was part of the past.

The origins of this war were not rooted in competition over territory or the status of the separatist provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This war was fought to prevent Georgia from going west; and these conflicts were hijacked as part of a broader strategy to undercut Tbilisi’s western aspirations. Moscow feared the impact that Georgia’s pro-western democratic experiment could, if successful, have in the southern Caucasus and potentially across the border in Russia.

Pointing to the Kremlin’s motives does not absolve Georgia of responsibility for its mistakes.

President Mikheil Saakashvilli’s decision to fight last August 7 was a desperate response to the imminent threat of the ethnic cleansing of tens of thousands of Georgian citizens in South Ossetia, the loss once and for all of the separatist province as well as a possible assault on Tbilisi – along with his fear that he would not survive politically if he did nothing. He began a war his key allies had repeatedly warned him not to start and that he could not win [LR:  The U.S. war for independence in 1776 was also one which, any rational observer at the time would have said, could not be won.]. It is easier to start than to stop a war – as Tbilisi discovered when it was forced to accept an unjust peace to survive.

The west, too, should look in the mirror. Its disunity and policy mistakes accelerated the path to war. For years it supported a flawed peacekeeping arrangement that Moscow manipulated to go to war. Kosovo’s independence enhanced Georgia’s vulnerability without a plan for mitigating such fallout. And Nato’s handling of the Ukraine and Georgia issues at the spring 2008 Bucharest summit provided Moscow with the trigger for its campaign of escalation. The real mistake was not getting more involved on the ground in Georgia and with Moscow at a time when conflict could still have been prevented. We failed to back the core principles and norms of a European security order ostensibly designed to protect small states from the predatory behaviour of large ones. That system, too, failed last August.

The war may have been small in a technical sense but it raises big political questions. Do we still believe in the core principles laid out in the 1990 Charter of Paris and are we willing to defend them? Or do we now acquiesce to President Dmitry Medvedev’s desire to rewrite the rules of European security to grant Moscow its special sphere of influence? And how do we “reset” relations with Russia while remaining true to our values and the goal of a democratic peace in Europe? The conflict that led to the war is not over. The core issue has not been resolved. Georgia still wants to go west and Moscow wants to stop it. That is why we again hear rumbles of possible military action from Moscow.

But two lessons should be clear. First, the west needs to unite behind the position that breaking the rules of the game in Europe carries real costs and that further aggression against Georgia will lead to the kind of rethink of its relationship with Russia that did not happen last year. One can favour or oppose eventual Georgian membership of Nato but we should agree that resetting relations with Moscow must include its return to the principles of the Charter of Paris.

The second lesson concerns Georgia. Tbilisi must cease focusing on its conflict with Russia, set aside the future status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia for the time being and regain its passion for democracy and reform at home. It is the only way to regain the political and moral high ground, attract foreign capital, convince the west to embrace it more firmly and keep open the hope of one day convincing the Abkhaz and South Ossetians to come back peacefully to a unified Georgia.

6 responses to “The West must not Abandon Georgia Again

  1. Well, well, well……: Though I do like a number of points that Ronald Asmus makes, I am totally FED UP! with ANY blame for last year’s Putler’s invasion of Georgia….being put on Georgia (read, M. Saakashvili): “Pointing to the Kremlin’s motives, does not absolve Georgia (read, M. Saakashvili!) of responsibility for it’s mistakes “….and ‘He (M. Saakashvili!) began a war……….’.
    When will these scatter-brain European & American MUSH-BRAIN Putler-appeasers, ever get the facts straight? And when will they ever get enough back-bone to stand up against Moscow? And, these….are Georgia’s ‘friends’? An UNBELIEVABLE!!!….twisting of the facts, in order to please and placate the murderous gangsters that rule Russia, and who CONTINOUSLY -Non stop, threaten the peace of the whole world, in the name of: recovering the former ‘glory’ and power of the Russian Empire, etc. (an empire which the communists ended, destroying what was good in old Russia, in their rivers of blood and misery).
    The old saying: “With friends like this, who needs enemies!?”
    Reader Daniel

  2. > Kosovo’s independence enhanced Georgia’s vulnerability

    Absolutely. NATO’s 1999 aggression against Yugoslavia and agaisnt the UN and the international laws coupled with the West’s recognition of Kosovo have unnulled all international laws on the sanctity of territorial inegrity. What’s good for the goose – is good for the gander.

    Now it is high time for the international community to recognise the rights of Native Americans to independence from USA, along with the lands that belonged to them prior to the British-American expropriation of these lands:

    The Lakota Sioux Indians have withdrawn from all treaties their forefathers signed with the U.S. government and have declared their independence.

    The Lakota say the United States has never honored the pacts, signed with the Great Sioux Nation in 1851 and 1868 at Fort Laramie, Wyo.

    “We have 33 treaties with the United States that they have not lived by. They continue to take our land, our water, our children,” said Phyllis Young, who helped organize the first international conference on indigenous rights in Geneva in 1977.

    In 1974, the Lakota drafted a declaration of continuing independence. Their cause got a boost in September, when the United Nations adopted a non-binding declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. The Bush administration opposed the measure.

    “We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us,” said Russell Means, a longtime Indian rights activist. “This is according to the laws of the United States, specifically Article 6 of the Constitution,” which states that treaties are the supreme law of the land.

    “It is also within the laws on treaties passed at the Vienna Convention and put into effect by the U.S. and the rest of the international community in 1980. We are legally within our rights to be free and independent,” he added during a press conference yesterday in Washington.

    The new country would issue its own passports and driver licenses, and living there would be tax-free, provided residents renounce their U.S. citizenship

    “We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us,”

    “We are no longer citizens of the United States of America and all those who live in the five-state area that encompasses our country are free to join us,”

    Oppression at the hands of the US government has taken its toll on the Lakota, whose men have one of the shortest life expectancies — less than 44 years — in the world.

  3. Incidents in Georgian Conflict Zone Ahead of War’s First Anniversary

    By: Vladimir Socor

    Ahead of the first anniversary of the Russia-Georgia war (August 7), Russian and South Ossetian forces are creating small-scale incidents with a potential for escalation on both sides of the demarcation line (Interfax, international news agencies, July 27 – August 5). These incidents, ongoing since late July, are of far lower intensity, compared with the shelling of Georgian positions and administrative offices in South Ossetia during the first days of August 2008 (preceding the Russian forces’ August 7 move through the Roki Tunnel). The pattern, however, seems similar, designed to draw a Georgian response to be followed by Russian counter-retaliation, triggering an escalation process that the Russians would control at every stage.

    In essence, that is what developed in early August 2008 in Georgia’s South Ossetia region. The Russians had already demonstrated a textbook-case application of that scenario in July 1992 in the Transnistria conflict, but few remembered or cared to study it afterward. Attacking and seizing Moldovan positions and offices in relatively low-intensity clashes (ignored by the outside world), the Russians forced Moldova’s then-president Mircea Snegur to choose between abandoning the territory or responding with overt military force (which Russia then publicized for the world, portraying Moldova as the aggressor). When the Moldovan president launched a full-scale conventional defensive operation, the Russians counter-escalated with overwhelming force which the Moldovans could not remotely match. It was the first demonstration of Russia’s “peacekeeping” version, known as “coercion to peace” (prinuzhdeniye k miru) as officially designated in 2008 against Georgia.

    One year later, many in the West continue debating whether Russia merely “responded disproportionately” to Georgia’s defensive move (albeit in internationally recognized Georgian territory) or whether President Mikheil Saakashvili allowed himself to be provoked into responding to those Russian moves in South Ossetia in August 2008. Both sides to this debate seem to overlook the Russian escalation-counter-escalation scenario, which worked as pre-planned against an isolated country in a one-on-one situation.

    A new ingredient at the moment is the Russian and South Ossetian authorities’ attempts to push the demarcation line (or administrative boundary) farther inside Georgia. At several locations around South Ossetia’s perimeter, Russian troops or their Ossetian protégés are moving checkpoints and “border” posts, nibbling at Georgian-administered territory; or are publicly laying claim to additional bits of such territory. The locations include the village of Kveshi (Gori district) and the Mamisoni, Kobi, and Truso gorges (in the Tusheti and Kazbegi districts and Racha region, respectively). The land areas involved are tiny and the current situation on the ground uncertain, but the potential for tensions and incidents cannot be discounted. When the Mamisoni border checkpoint was reported to be relocated deeper inside Georgia, radical oppositionists in Tbilisi promptly accused the government of yielding Georgian territory (Civil Georgia, Rustavi-2 and Imedi TV, July 29 – August 4).

    In late July, the Russian interior ministry claimed without citing any facts that hundreds of armed rebels were planning to enter Russia’s North Caucasus territory from Georgia (Rezonansi, July 30). On August 1 and 3, Russia’s foreign and defense ministries accused Georgia of shelling Tskhinvali and nearby villages; and threatened that Russia would respond with full military force (Interfax, August 1, 3). The Georgian government has repeatedly called international attention to these threats, ahead of the August 7 war anniversary (Ministry of Foreign Affairs press releases, August 1 – 4). Saakashvili takes the position that “We ourselves would never start a conflict with the Russians, although we would resist in the case of aggression.” The August 2008 war, he suggested, was facilitated by “world neglect” of the situation on the ground (Reuters and RTL, August 4).

    By increasing stale accusations, tinkering with demarcation lines, and creating small-scale shooting or mine-blasting incidents, Russian authorities are apparently testing the international response. They may grow bolder if that response, or sheer attention to the situation on the ground, slackens as it usually does during the August vacation period. Given that pattern, Russia’s offensive operation launched on August 7, 2008 could be and was anticipated, albeit not in the form it ultimately took (EDM, July 11, August 4, 2008).

    The European Union’s Monitoring Mission (EUMM), deployed in Georgia since September 2008, is the sole remaining international presence in the conflict theater. Russia terminated the U.N. and OSCE presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, respectively, as of June this year by vetoing the prolongation of those missions’ mandates. On July 27 in Brussels, the Council of the European Union prolonged the EUMM’s mandate until September 2010. As this decision indicates, Russia remains in violation of the August 12 and September 8, 2008 armistice agreements, which require the withdrawal of troops to the positions held prior to the outbreak of hostilities (Council Conclusions, July 27).

  4. Phobophobe

    La Russophobe gentlemen are defenetely deaf in one ear. What you say is against their rules. This blog is anti-Russian, kinda the USA is above the law, Russia is under the law. You are not allowed to make comparative analysis and contrast research of world events here. The only thing you are allowed to do is making clumsy excuses for Russia on different occasions. Not so long ago they banned the most intellegent La Russophobe antagonist – Eugene. Note one simple thing, they never come up with fresh and original ideas of their own on Russia, Georgia, US or whatever. They are prone to negative rubberstamping, thinking how smart they are knowing what to say at this and that.
    This way La Russophobe “experts” have failed to answer my both pertinent and progmatic question – “What the bad Russians should do with 1.000.000 good illegal aliens from Georgia in major Russian cities?” Despite all my efforts I’ve contrived to hear just sort of conventional blah blah blah on how Russia is bad framework. There are lots of conservative blogs on the Stateside where there are interesting discussions on world events being held. Don’t waste your time with the La Russophobe “analytics”. My best advice.

    And the worst of all I don’t feel “the spirit of American pride” on the blog as I do in American bars during my frequent visits to the US. I have got the impression that they are but a bunch of freelancers with post-Soviet/East European traumatic nasty scent seeking to compensate their inferiority complex this way or another + a couple of pre-paid mentally lazy educators.
    What they deserve is making a mocery of them in English (and on my part in Spanish).
    Here in Russia they seem to be doing it very nicely in Russian without our assistance.

  5. To Stalinist FSB propagandist mouthpieces, ‘Phobophobe’, ‘rts’, and the others, either direct agents of Moscow or useful idiots of theirs, or just plain IDIOTS (?):
    So, you get your insider info on what the average American thinks, from either your frequent visits to your favorite American bars, or statements from the Lakota Indians, or….where? Perhaps, from some Theater of the Absurd-‘Think Tank’-?
    (Please! finally look at an English dictionary and spell MOCKERY! correctly. It does have a k after the c.) We all make mistakes in spelling English words, so I am not complaining about that general problem, of which I also make mistakes, but you two seem to be reading/typing it out here, from the same wacky mispelled propaganda script, and you continue to mispell your favorite word, …mockery…wrong. But then, you two do make a mockery of yourselves and your-FSB-version of Russia, because you do not care about the truth, do you? Your endless/pointless/illogical comparisons of the enormous/never ending/murderous/repressive gross evils of your Putler gangster system, WHICH CONTINUES TODAY!….with…. various internal historical problems in America, of which every country on earth has a lot of also, or of America’s mercifully coming to the aid of various oppressed people, as the Kosovars, etc, are……absurd. No one! in America, has ever! (either in our past history or now today) thought that our country was or is ‘perfect’, not from any political persuasion. But we do have liberties and rights, and we can SPEAK our mind, (as the Lakota do), and we can work to correct what is wrong. Can the average RUSSIAN do that? Would the Lakota people be allowed their protests, IN your Russian Federation?….ha! ha! ha!
    Your KGB-scripted propaganda-line of bull, of your idiotic defensive/diversional tactic of ‘tit-for-tat’, of trying to say that Russia is no worse than America, ETC. (so, how dare! we Americans/or anyone around the world for that matter, criticize ANYTHING that the gangster government of Putler-Russia commits!) ad nauseum, is like: ‘I have berries in my garden and an uncle in Kiev’, or….’comparing apples to oranges’. There is NO real comparison, not at all.
    America needs to, today, begin a massive national transformation and become a unified military-machine, that will crush and liquidate your Putler government, once and for all. Just GIVE US A GOOD PROVOCATION! ….Go Ahead! Make Our Day! Either you criminals are on top, or….we will be. There can no longer be any middle ground. Either you die, or we do. If you Putler criminals do invade our friend, Georgia, then….I favor nuking Russian cities, and sinking Russian ships world-wide, in responce…..before you do it to us. We can bomb your gas pipelines, no sweat.
    Your two subs threatening our east coast. would be very very easy to sink.
    But you neo-soviet warmongering morons DO have one major ‘secret’ underlying belief right (which most appeasing/peaceniks in the west do not get),….it is either you or us!….our two countries cannot continue to exist together, on this earth much longer. UNLESS you overthrow Putler and his whole KGB/FSB government. It is time to….get it on!
    War is the only possible solution, as nothing else seems to work, to FORCE you to behave as a decent/peaceful nation. Your country needs to be leveled, and re-populated by……maybe disgruntled Lakota?….(oops! sorry Lakota!….I would not wish you or anyone, not even my worst enemies, to live in Putlerville’s Neo-Soviet/Stalinist Russian Paradise).
    Reader Daniel

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