Tuesday, August 12, 2008


If the pundits are to be believed, Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili is a champion of democracy, liberal humanism, free enterprise, and the American Way.
And Russia is an evil tyranny trying to bully smaller countries.

That trope certainly is familiar.
But skepticism is justified.

The main reason why mr. Saakashvili is the darling of the west is because he wants his country to join NATO, and we happen to disagree with Russia over several things - not least of which is a pipe-line to Europe that bypasses regions that the Iranians or Muslim central-Asians might impact.
Oh, and he speaks English.

To an impartial observer, however, it might look like mr. Saakashvili decided that now was the time to repress the South Ossetians, before his friend George Bush left office, and while the world was distracted by the Olympics. The BBC reported that the move into South Ossetia was already planned years ago. Two weeks ago the Georgian army started moving into position. Last week they rolled in, and within one day had pretty much destroyed the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali, leaving well over two thousand civilians dead (nearly three percent of the South Ossetian population).

Russia reacted within hours, sending in columns of tanks - many South Ossetians long since opted for Russian citizenship, motivated both by a pro-Russian attitude and a need for the security that citizenship gave them in the face of Georgian repression of the civilian population and actions against the South Ossetian separatist movement - which had resisted the Georgians since the early nineties, when they declared their independence and fought against Gamsakhurdia's army.

Given the Georgian bombing of hospitals and churches, and the Georgian army's clear disregard for the safety of Ossetian civilians, it is refreshing to see the Russians as defenders of the civilian population. Refreshing, although distinctly odd. Best not think about this too much..... Head hurts.

It should also be mentioned that the Ossetians are not Georgians, and that the greater Ossetian area was already part of Russia when Georgia was annexed by the Czars - the reasons why South Ossetia is now part of Georgia are all spelled S-T-A-L-I-N.

Human rights in Georgia remain a problem - both for dissenters and the religiously 'other'. There is still a measure of meddling in the media. Judicial procedures are loose, and torture of suspects, although declining, is still reported. The Georgian Orthodox Church is a virtual state church, enjoying a tax-free status (as well as government funding) and a protected status - other religions are marginalized and discouraged. Much in Georgia resembles Russia - six of one, half a dozen.....

Mr. Saakashvili's reckless adventurism and rank opportunism do not serve the interests of either the Georgian people, or the Ossetians. Rather, one gets the impression of a gambler who thought he had a winning hand, and counting on his ties to the west, decided to poke the Russians. He miscalculated. And he may not have decided to miscalculate on his own - there are other interests involved in this region (two words: Oil, CIA), and after four years of his kleptocracy, he may have decided that he needed a great national cause to stay in power.
A heroic war and a resolute leader of his nation - this too is a familiar trope.
If in this case one can be cynical about Russia's motivations, and one should perhaps be cynical about US motivations, one absolutely must be cynical about Saakishvili's motivations.
Either that, or think Saakishvili a dunce.


Anonymous said...

Four pipe lines.
And the Georgians veered into ethnic cleansing territory.
Good students.
Of the Russian.

---Grant Patel

Sófisti said...


Tzipporah said...

Hmm, thanks for this, BoTH. I haven't been paying much attention to the news around this, but I suspect yours is a more credible reading of the events than most of what I've skimmed in the local paper lately.

The Big Little Tommy said...

Indeed, I was getting the News Hour's version of this on KQED, I will have to show this to my spouse and get his comments.

Anonymous said...

Pertinent details:
"The crisis erupted late on 7 August when Georgian forces bombarded South Ossetia to restore Tbilisi's control over the region, where the majority of people hold Russian passports. "


Anonymous said...

"President Saakashvili of Georgia: He has been championed by the Bush administration but he failed in his attempt to impose Georgian control over South Ossetia and has to pay a price. Harsh words are being said about him by some European governments, where there has been private criticism of what one close observer called his "sudden and emotional" decision. "

"The US and UK at least have chosen to represent this as Russian aggression. Yet it was Georgia that attacked with a rocket barrage which by its nature was indiscriminate. "

"And perhaps the West needs to acknowledge that the Russians did have a case. It needs to explain why it helped Kosovo but questioned Russia's right to help South Ossetia. "


Spiros said...

"It [the West] needs to explain why it helped Kosovo but questioned Russia's right to help South Ossetia".
Could it perhaps have anything to do with Georgia being past of the Coalition of the Willing in our glorious crusade to free Iraq?

Anonymous said...

So, when are we going to free Iraq?

---Grant Patel

Anonymous said...

When the price is right.

The back of the hill said...

Might not be a bargain at any price. Iraq is devaluing by the minute.

Anonymous said...

And when it has completely devalued, that's when we give it back.

Anonymous said...

Trade it for a goat.

---Grant Patel

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