Saturday, 30 August 2008

UNPO General Secretary congratulates Abkhazia

UNPO General Secretary Mr. Marino Busdachin statement on UNPO Member Abkhazia for their call to self-determination.

Statement by UNPO General Secretary Mr. Marino Busdachin

Every challenge to the international community brings with it new obligations and conditions which make peaceful existence possible between the people of this world. International cooperation and integration is one of the major ways in which to ensure stability and prosperity for all.

The Georgian-South Ossetian-Russian conflict has put a hold on the encouraging dialogue that started sixteen years ago between Abkhazia and Georgia which has strived for a peaceful resolution of their differences. This disaster put an end to any form of such constructive dialogue and eventually led to the adoption of a resolution by the Russian Parliament and President which confirmed the right to self-determination of the people of Abkhazia.

UNPO strongly condemns the outbreak of violence and the deliberate violation of existing agreements and International Humanitarian Law as well as the violence against civilians.

UNPO congratulates Abkhazia, for her calls for self-determination have been formally taken into consideration. With Abkhazia’s right to self-determination acknowledged starts a long and slow process which can eventually lead to the admittance of Abkhazia to the United Nations. Such an inclusive process provides safety and is a mechanism for those territories in their development to full-fledged democracies. UNPO therefore calls upon the international community to seriously take into consideration the acknowledgement of Abkhazia’s right to self-determination.

In an effort to enhance Abkhazia’s presence on the international stage, UNPO calls for an international conference for peace in the Caucasus, to engage all parties on an equal base, also given a voice to those that still remain unrepresented.

UNPO consider such an event the beginning of a mutually beneficial process for those that are not yet fully integrated into the international community and those who are. To be incorporated within a supranational framework enhances cooperation, with the goal of maintaining a community in which integration means liberation from uncertainty, persecution, war and instability.

The constructive and proactive use of the concept of the right to self-determination must be seen as an integral part of conflict prevention by the international community and as an effective means to achieve peace, stability and the advancement of International Law.

To download the above statement as a pdf file please click
here .

No comment

Eduard Kokoity - President of South Ossetia - (Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP)

Mikheil Saakashvili - President of Georgia - (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

News & Analysis, August 30 - Abkhazia - S. Ossetia - Georgia - Russia

"Saakashvili Pulled the Trigger: Turkey between Russia and Georgia"
by Hasan Ali KARASAR, PhD International Relations, Bilkent University, Ankara

Turkey has been involved, historically and demographically, with many of the regions of "frozen conflict" in post-Soviet space. At thispoint, one might consider the position of Turkey as being at the epicenter of Euro-Atlantic and Russian extremes concerning the frozenconflicts. Georgia, since 1991, has been considered a valuable "strategic partner" by Turkey for several reasons. Turkish PrimeMinister Tayyip Erdogan's Caucasus Pact idea is a good opportunity to create an inclusive (Russia, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan)new foreign policy approach at this stage. This approach should be merged with the representation of all the frozen or unfrozen conflictareas, peoples, ethnic groups and regions included under the roof of such an alliance.



At UN, Georgian Theater Continues, Without Abkhaz and Ossetians for Now
But the point for now is moot: as Western diplomats emphasized after Thursday morning's meeting, there was no majority for South Ossetian and Abkhaz participation. They emphasized, apparently with glee, that the Chinese delegation had not said anything in the consultations.


Venezuelan president says Russia was rights to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia

Chavez said he fully supported Russia's position and that Venezuela "would do the same if someone dared to attack it." Chavez has criticized Georgian leadership over the conflict and has spoken in offensive language about President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Chavez backs Russian recognition of Georgia regions"
Russia has recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We support Russia. Russia is right and is defending its interests," Chavez said during a televised speech from an oil field along the Orinoco Oil Belt.


UNPO General Secretary congratulates Abkhazia
UNPO General Secretary Mr. Marino Busdachin statement on UNPO Member Abkhazia for their call to self-determination.


Photos from the War


Alex Jones on Russia Today TV
Western media mislead public on Georgia-Russia conflict watch!
Investigative journalist Alex Jones speaks to "Russia Today", to talk about the Western mainstream media bias of the Georgia-Russia conflict. Remember, it was GEORGIA who attacked first, not Russia. Georgia's military was also trained and funded by the US and Israel.


Saakashvili's "democracy" in Georgia, by Wayne Madsen - Online Journal
Natelashvili has called Soros the "real president of Georgia," suggesting that Saakashvili is merely Soros' puppet. Natelashvili has also called Matthew Bryza, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs and her special envoy to Georgia, a tool of the Soros-backed Georgian government. Natelashvili has called for Bryza's resignation.


Khrushchev calls conflict a matter of protecting Russians
The son of former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev — best known for his standoff with John F. Kennedy during the Cuba Missile Crisis — says that despite the clamor about geo-political interests and pipelines, it's a case of Russia coming to the aid of its citizens.


U.S. citizen among Georgian commandos
A U.S. passport was found in a building in South Ossetia occupied by Georgian troops, a Russian military spokesperson revealed on Thursday. After Russian peacekeepers cleared the heavily defended building, a passport belonging to a Texan named Michael Lee White was discovered inside.


Eduard Kokoity - In an exclusive interview with RT
Interview Video:


Ossetian War article


Abkhazia's parliament convenes on Republic's sovereignty - Regnum
Speaking of the history of his nation, Nugzar Ashuba pointed out that joint living of Abkhazians and Georgians that led to the ethnic catasprophe of the Abkhaz people, proved to be impossible already in Soviet times. ''The climax of the national-liberation struggle was the Patriotic War of the people of Abkhazia of 1992-1993. On Aug 14, 1992, Georgia traded political dialog with Abkhazia for the use of force, by launching an armed aggression agaisnt Abkhazia. The purpose of the Georgia's war against Abkhazia was suppression of the national-liberation movement, annihilation of Abkhazia statehood, and ultimate inclusion of Abkhazian territories into the Georgian unitary state — by way of mass slaughter and deportation of the greater part of the Abkhazians.''


U.S.-Russian Relations: Current Tensions Reflect Past Foreign Policy Failures
By Mark Weisbrot, August 29, 2008, PostGlobal at


"I would like to ask the distinguished representative of the United States about....Weapons of Mass Destruction. Have you found them in Iraq yet or are you still looking for them"? Churkin said.


A City of Desolate Mothers - Documentary Film
RT correspondent Oksana Boyko investigates the aftermath of the conflict in South Ossetia. She produced an indepth report into the mothers who are grieving the loss of their children during the war.
Pool: Do you think the separation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia is now inevitable?

61% of Irish People in an poll, voted that it was indeed inevitable.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Do you think the separation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia is now inevitable?

Pool: Do you think the separation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia is now inevitable?

61% of Irish People in an poll, voted that it was indeed inevitable.

UN does have double standards

The UN Security Council has double standards over Abkhazia and South Ossetia's independence, according to Russia's Ambassador to the UN. Vitaly Churkin said members of the Council don't understand the essence of the conflicts in the Caucasus.

A City of Desolate Mothers - Documentary

RT correspondent Oksana Boyko investigates the aftermath of the conflict in South Ossetia. She produced this in-depth report into the mothers who are grieving the loss of their children during the war.

Lesson to the West: Abkhazian independence is a fact

by Inal Khashig, 28 - 08 - 2008 - Open Democracy

The editor of an Abkhaz newspaper, Chegemskaya Pravda, argues the West's mistaken adherence to Georgia's claim of ‘territorial integrity' has achieved what it feared. It is time for Washington and Brussels to accept the reality of Abkhazian independence.

Before 8 August most of the Russian elite believed that although Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be given all possible help, there was no need to hurry to recognise them as independent states. But the mass bombings of the South Ossetian capital by Georgian troops has fundamentally changed the situation. Moscow has finally made its position clear: President Dmitry Medvedev, despite serious pressure from the USA and a number of European Union countries, has recognised the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In the light of the South Ossetian tragedy, Georgian aggression can hardly be said to have come as a big surprise. For the last two years at least, since Georgian troops entered the upper reaches of Abkhazia's Kodor gorge, the shadow of a new war has been hanging over the region like the sword of Damocles. Experts tried to guess who Georgia would attack first - South Ossetia or Abkhazia? In April of this year, only prompt action by Russia, which moved quickly to increase its peace-keeping contingent in the zone of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, saved Abkhazia from an attempt at military revenge from Georgia.

This was followed by an unprecedented burst of activity from the leading powers of the European Union. They tried to revive negotiations that had reached a dead end. But this was dictated not so much by a desire to de-escalate tensions in the region, as by hostility towards Russia's steadily increasing influence in the Caucasus. In the end, the activities of the European Union achieved nothing, although now and then high-ranking European politicians did seem to have realised that the optimal and least painful option for regulating the conflict would be to legalise the status quo, that is to say recognise the statehood of Abkhazia.

For Abkhazia had no intention of joining Georgia under any circumstances. Restoring the ‘territorial integrity' of Georgia, a phrase that became a kind of dogma in the mouths of western politicians, could only be achieved by a war, and only if the Georgians won. On the whole, European politicians did understand the situation, though their actions suggested otherwise.

The Steinmeier Plan

In the end, the Steinmeier Plan proposed by a group of friends of the UN General Secretary, as well as the earlier ‘Dieter Boden Plan', reflected no more than Georgian desires. These had nothing to do with reality. And it was quite logical that the Abkhazians rejected the Steinmeier Plan, which involved regulating the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict only in the context of restoring the territorial integrity of Georgia.

The German Foreign Minister was quite wrong to think that the solid economic aid promised under one article of the plan would motivate the Abkhazians to renounce their independence. The West, in the person of Steinmeier, also did not want to understand that Abkhazians were not prepared to bargain with their independence under any circumstances, as this was the only status capable of guaranteeing the self-preservation and the further development of the small Abkhazian ethnic group. Unlike South Ossetia, which sees independence as a transitional phase towards the republic joining Russia, Abkhazia never had such plans.

Most Western analysts still believe that Abkhazia is a republic that is completely under the control of the Kremlin, and that if Russia would agree to let Abkhazia join Georgia, then Sukhumi would have no choice but to obey this decision. But if one examines the situation of Russian-Abkhazian relations over the last 15 years in detail, it is clear how wrong they are. Relations between Moscow and Sukhumi were not always as good as they are now. The West, primarily focused on the policies of Putin, somehow forgets that there was also President Yeltsin.

The blockade

Under Yeltsin, in 1994, (immediately after the end of the Georgian-Abkhazian war), Abkhazia was subjected to a severe economic and political blockade. According to these sanctions, no Abkhazian man aged from 16 to 65 could legally cross the Russian-Abkhazian border along the River Psou. The list of what could be taken in and out of the blockaded republic could be written on a scrap of paper. Even ordinary antibiotics, without which no medical institution could function, were prohibited.

Yeltsin's Russia seemed to be carrying out an experiment on a country that had suffered enormous loss of life, one whose economy and infrastructure had been completely destroyed. The Russian Foreign Minster at the time, Andrei Kozyrev, tried to do all he could to force President Vladislav Ardzinba to become part of Georgia again. But the severe blockade, which lasted until Vladimir Putin came to power, did not break the will of the Abkhazian people to build their own independent nation. It was under President Putin that relations with Abkhazia began to improve gradually.

However, while Russian-Abkhazian relations over the last 15 years have changed drastically, the West's position has not changed during this period. Nor has its view on a solution to the conflict. This in no way differs from Tbilisi's position. This approach did not prove very productive, however. Every time the West refused to help Sukhumi with issues that were very important for Abkhazia, it pushed the country further into the zone of Russian influence.

Passports & sanctions

This happened with the problem of passports. From the mid-1990s onwards, Sukhumi has made regular appeals to the UN and to western intermediaries to provide residents of Abkhazia with a ‘Nansen passport', or some other kind of internationally recognised documents of identity. Abkhazians were refused this. ‘Take a Georgian passport,' they were told repeatedly, as though there were no such thing as a Georgian-Abkhazian conflict. But when Abkhazians were given the chance to legalize their status with Russian passports, after Putin came to power, the ‘civilised' world became alarmed.

The same thing happened with sanctions. Sukhumi requested at least for the economic blockade to be lifted. But the USA and European countries insisted that first the territorial integrity of Georgia should be restored. Only then would sanctions be lifted, and investment would follow. When Moscow officially removed the embargo at the beginning of this year (although in reality the sanctions had not been applied for several years), this step was harshly condemned in Washington and Brussels.

Furthermore, when it came to recognising Kosovan independence, the Western powers insisted on the ‘uniqueness' of the situation, as if emphasise that Abkhazia should not hope to follow this example. Once again, Russia was the only defender of the Abkhazian right to independence.

Overall, the consistent denial of Abkhazian interests has proved counterproductive for the West. For the result of this policy has been the social, economic, political, and now military integration of Abkhazia into the Russian sphere. Given that the majority of politicians who determine the position of the USA and the European Union still look at Russia through the prism of the ‘cold war', it can be said that by categorically denying the right of Abkhazians to their own nation in every respect, in order to please Georgia, Washington and Brussels have ended up achieving exactly the opposite of what they were fighting for in the first place: Abkhazia is now a kind of continuation of Russian territory up to the Ingur river. And this situation will continue until the USA and the West realise that recognition of independence is something that cannot be taken back, and the only acceptable way forward is to stop temporising and endorse what Moscow did on 26 August. This option will at least make it possible for them to declare their interests or negotiate them beforehand.

Washington and Brussels are now at a crossroads. The time has come for them to make their choice.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Origins and Evolution of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict

by Stephen D. Shenfield

In this paper* I trace the emergence and evolution of the Georgian—Abkhaz conflict up to the invasion of Abkhazia by Georgian forces on August 14, 1992. I try to pinpoint the most crucial events and causative factors, and to infer the likely motives and calculations of the parties to the conflict. Section I is an analytical narrative, subdivided into the following seven periods:

1) The period before the Russian occupation of Abkhazia (up to 1810);
2) The tsarist period (1810—1917);
3) The period of independent Georgia (1917—1921);
4) The early Soviet period (1921—1936);
5) The period of the Stalin--Beria terror (December 1936—1953);
6) The post-Stalin period (1953—1985);
7) The period of perestroika and post-Soviet transition (1986—August 1992).

Section II is devoted to the decision taken in summer 1992 by the State Council of Georgia, headed by Shevardnadze, to intervene militarily in Abkhazia: the likely motives and goals of the Georgian leadership, the direct trigger of the decision (if any), and whether and how the decision might have been averted by preventive diplomacy. Also considered is the related question of why the intervention occurred during the presidency of Shevardnadze rather than during that of Gamsakhurdia.

In Section III I share some general reflections concerning the failures of perception and calculation on both sides that contributed to the escalation of the conflict to large-scale violence. Read more...

Foreign Lobbyists and the Making of US Policy

American politicians are for sale – and so is our foreign policy

by Justin Raimondo - Anti War

Politics stops at the water's edge" is an old aphorism that aptly describes the history and current trend of American politics. The period marking the run-up to World War II was the last time we saw any meaningful discussion of America's role in the world. Ever since that famous victory, the interventionist consensus has been bipartisan and broad, at least in elite circles. All the newspaper editors, the TV anchors, the policy wonks, and the bloggers-of-note agree: we must go global. The only other choice is a debilitating "isolationism," economic as well as diplomatic-military, that would consign us to an autarkic well of loneliness.

This narrative has dominated the foreign policy discourse lo these many years and given rise to what other writers have referred to as "the imperial presidency," the extra-constitutional bloating of the executive authority. This tendency has been taken to its ultimate extreme by the Bush administration, whose legal theorists impart to the president near-dictatorial powers in wartime. Given what ought to be the GOP's signature slogan – wartime all the time – the implications for the survival of the republic are ominous. However, it was a Democrat – Harry Truman – who set the fatal precedent when he called American troops to defend South Korea without bothering to go to Congress for permission. Ever since then the precedent has not only held, it has gone largely unchallenged. Politics may indeed stop at the water's edge, but a president's authority really begins there: he is the supreme arbiter of our foreign policy, a virtual dictator in that vital realm, whereas his authority over domestic policy is not even remotely comparable.

This brazen Bonapartism is merely the logical outgrowth of a foreign policy initially taken up with alacrity by the Democrats: first, with Woodrow Wilson at their head, and later on with FDR leading the charge. Both dragged us into easily avoidable foreign wars. Both cracked down on internal opposition, jailing antiwar protesters, instituting censorship via U.S. government control of the mails, and utilizing British and other undercover agents to neutralize the opposition.

This latter factor – the role of foreign agents – played a much greater part than is usually credited to the Brits, whose underground operation in the U.S. was detailed in Thomas E. Mahl's classic study, Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the U.S., 1939-44. (Gore Vidal wrote a wonderful novel with this subject as background). Setting up an extensive network among the Anglophile elites who dominated the U.S. ruling class, especially in the Northeast, British agents organized a broad array of pro-interventionist front groups, infiltrated and disrupted antiwar organizations, and were instrumental in launching a smear campaign against prominent war opponents.

Today, the Anglophiles who once governed us have given way to new elites, who are even less constrained by the traditional limits imposed on foreign lobbyists by law, custom, and propriety. In the old days, all of this was done covertly, as the subtitle of Mahl's book puts it, while today American politicians think nothing of taking foreign money and becoming militant advocates of their paymasters' cause. Look at John McCain's relationship with Randy Scheunemann, the paid lobbyist for Georgia, who has so many intimate connections to the military-industrial complex and its various front groups that he is a kind of one-man War Party all by himself. Scheunemann is McCain's chief foreign policy adviser, and, given the candidate's full-throated fulminations against the allegedly revived Russian "threat," the Georgia lobby is certainly getting its money's worth.

This lobby's power and influence is not limited to the GOP. Although the Republicans have certainly taken up their cause with inordinate vehemence, the Democrats are far from immune. Joe Biden, before being elevated to co-Messiah status alongside Barack Obama, had just returned from a quick trip to Tbilisi, where, with other Democratic leaders, including Rep. Howard Berman of California, he pledged "solidarity" with the Georgian invaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, egging Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili on to further provocations. Both Biden and Berman support Georgia's proposed membership in NATO, a move that would pledge us – and the Europeans – to ensuring and maintaining Georgia's "territorial integrity."

What this means, in reality, is that we are going to go to war with the nuclear-armed Russkies over the issue of maintaining national boundaries set by Joseph Stalin, Georgia's own homeboy – with us defending Stalin's legacy and the Russians eager to break with it. It was Stalin, after all, who embedded Ossetia and Abkhazia in what he called "Georgia" – all the better to keep them from getting too uppity for their own (and the Kremlin's) good.

The Georgia lobby and the Israel lobby have much in common, including key supporters and personnel, as well as geopolitical and economic links. Israeli defense companies, which are virtually part of the Israeli state, armed the Georgians, and the IDF trained Georgian troops in preparation for the day they would – as the mainstream media puts it –"retake" (i.e., invade and crush) the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Aside from the close relationship between these two U.S. puppets, both Georgia and Israel have an interest in stoking the fires of militant interventionism in American politics, as the crusading impulse helps their respective causes. Once the Americans begin to wonder where all this military and diplomatic support to troublesome and quarrelsome allies is getting them, the jig is up – which is why, for example, the Georgians are hard at work in Denver, as the New York Times reports, meeting with Democratic Party honchos and making their case with a fair amount of success.

The Russians are in Denver, too, but have limited their goals to damage control, and they aren't likely to make much progress. In one of the most successful inversions of reality ever attempted, the Western media has convinced its audience – and even itself – that Russia invaded Georgia, instead of Georgia invading South Ossetia. The bombing and devastation of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, never happened, according to our media. The dead are denied or disdained by Western "observers." In any case, the Georgia lobby and its allies don't want us to watch what is going on in the region very closely. They'd rather we stuck to the simplistic narrative of Big Bad Russia versus Poor Little Democratic Georgia.

That is how the War Party operates, and they are quite good at it. Their success is due, in large part, to the ignorance of the American public when it comes to complex issues centered on the internal struggles of obscure overseas nations, which naturally very few of us understand. So we invent a convenient narrative, one that rationalizes a policy decided in advance, which is then sold to the American people under false pretenses.

The pygmies who rule us would have us forget or discount George Washington's famous warning, in his "Farewell Address" – which they deride as archaic – that "nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence, frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests."

By encouraging Saakashvili in his invasion of South Ossetia, and now indulging in the spectacle of no less than three major American political figures traveling to Tbilisi to pledge their "solidarity" – Cindy McCain and Dick Cheney, as well as Biden – this rule against "passionate attachments" is being thrown by the wayside. Our politicians are utterly heedless that this "gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens (who devote themselves to the favorite nation), facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation."

Washington towers so far above the likes of Biden, Cheney, and their colleagues in both parties that the distance can only be measured in light years. As America stumbles into the next Cold War, waxing rhapsodic about the alleged virtues of Georgian "democracy" and provoking the Russians needlessly, the words of the Founding Father have special relevance for today.
The problem with our foreign policy and the making of it is that the most vocal, the most motivated, and the most well-funded groups make a lot of noise – and provoking a war requires maximum noise-making, 24/7. That's what the War Party is up to these days, and that's why is around, standing guard on the battlements of truth. Too many Americans get their "news" filtered through the distorting lens of a bipartisan "consensus" that rationalizes a foreign policy of perpetual war and enables an endlessly preachy arrogance. reports the real news, and does so without fear or favor. We are the necessary antidote to a media concoction of half war propaganda, half unverified rumor – but our continued existence is by no means guaranteed.

You must have noticed that we've been conducting our summer fundraising drive for the past two weeks – and that we have yet to make our goal of $70,000. Now, that figure is not some arbitrary number, arrived at by consulting the stars. We're consulting with our accountant, and, given the parlous state of our finances, the outlook doesn't look all that bright. $70,000 is just what we require to make it through the next few months or so, with not much to spare. So, unless you come through and give us the support we need, you'll begin to see cutbacks – big cutbacks – in our coverage. This is something we can ill afford to do at this juncture – not with fresh war clouds darkening the horizon and a crucial presidential election this November.
Yes, we've been around since 1995, but that's no guarantee we'll continue to be around for much longer – because, unlike the War Party, we don't have the big foundations supporting us with grants, nor do we have any corporate sponsors. We just have you: your tax-deductible donations are all that stand between and oblivion.

I appeal to our readers and supporters: the need is urgent. So give today, as much as you can, as soon as you can – because you know that a world without would be a strange, confusing, and doubly dangerous place.

Hummers for Peace?

by Peter Lavelle

Well it happened and there is no turning back – Russia has recognised the independence and sovereignty of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. For the people of both, the human rights tragedy they have long experienced is coming to an end. The international community needs to understand their plight and update international law to protect us all.

Moments after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the degrees recognising the sovereignty of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, I found myself sitting in RT’s news studio. I would sit there for the next six hours non-stop. During that time I read out every condemnation of Russia’s decision reported by the wire services. Of course these condemnations came from the usual suspects. The US State Department, NATO, the EU, Council of Europe, pesky eastern European governments, and others of the same stripe singing the same tune. And it was expected: “Russia’s decision was not in line with international norms and law.”

In a strictly and outdated way they may be right, but for the wrong reasons. Russia’s decision to move forward with recognising the sovereignty of South Ossetia and Abkhazia signals what is wrong with the international system that has spent itself and how that same system needs to be righted in the present when looking to the future.

Why did Russia recognise the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia so quickly? Wasn’t such recognition a valuable bargaining chip to be kept up Russia’s sleeve to thwart off intended NATO expansion into the South Caucuses? To be honest, that was my initial take on the situation after Tbilisi de facto admitted defeat in the wake of its aggressive war against South Ossetia. My mistake had everything to do with not understanding how Russia is disappointed with and is no longer willing to abide by the current dysfunctional international order.

Russia has signaled that the post-Cold War period is over – all former bets are off. And that its former weakness in light of the West’s presumed strategic and moral hegemony since the end of the Cold War no longer applies. I agree with this, but not for the reasons the commentariat claim.

I refuse to accept the following explanation for all of this: if Washington and its coalition of the willing can put aside international law to recognise Kosovo, why can’t Russia do the same to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia?

I wish all of this was so simple. The above explanation is really nothing more that “tit-for-tat” (with a bit of revenge added). There is much more than this in play. The ideas that we take for granted today about a state’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and universal human rights come from a time that long ended. That time, the Cold War, can no longer be our guide. All these ideas need to be re-examined. The lesson of Saakashvili’s Georgia is a case in point.

Saakashvili counted on the West’s support of his country “sovereignty” and “territorial integrity” when he attacked South Ossetia and Russian peacekeepers. He felt he was on solid ground irrespective of the outcome – victory or defeat. But he miscalculated. There is another important variable that he forgot or hoped the international community would overlook - the respect of human rights. Saakashvili refused to sign an agreement that denied him the right to use force against his own people. This was his biggest single mistake. This opened the door for Russia to do the right thing.

During the 1970s, the West hoped to counter the Soviet Union’s appalling human rights record to challenge and defeat it in the Cold War. This strategy culminated in the Helsinki Accords (“basket number 3” to be exact). This was a wise decision. The Soviet Union could never win the Cold War based on its human rights record. The Soviet Union signed-up to the Helsinki accords, but could never live up to them. Saakashvili made the same mistake. He thought he could con the world with his fine Western-intended words. But his actions inform us of a completely different reality – no different from the Soviet Union tried to do.

Finally, this brings me to America’s lost or kept hostage Hummers in Georgia. This subject is pathetic. The Pentagon wants the return and immediate release of these classy vehicles. The Pentagon is in no position to say anything about their beloveds’ fate! They were transporting who and what kind of armaments!?

For me, America’s high priority concern puts everything into perspective.

Saakashvili’s Georgia is part of NATO’s “Partnership of Peace” program for only one reason – to finally become a member of NATO itself. This is all nice and fine. But I have to question this military alliance and Saakashvili’s Georgia: why do both focus international media attention on military vehicles over the plight of South Ossetians? Are vehicles more important than people?

My, how the world has changed! But not in the right way. American Hummers for Georgia were for one reason – war and aggression. Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is in the name of peace. Think about it - there is a big difference separating both approaches. Let’s put human rights back on the agenda. Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia does this.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

End Double Standards over Kosovo and Abkhazia

27 August 2008 If the West took the same rational approach to the Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts as it did to Kosovo, the Caucasus might escape more rounds of bloodshed and discover its potential.

By Maxim Gvindzhia (Deputy Foreign Minister of Abkhazia) in Sukhum

Many arguments can be drawn about whether the case of Kosovo's independence differs from that of Abkhazia, or of any of the other "de facto" countries existing today. Certainly, from our point of view, Kosovo is not Abkhazia in the sense that Abkhazia has developed its statehood over a long period of history.

There is another important point, too. Unlike the Kosovo Albanians, the Abkhaz have no other motherland than Abkhazia, the land where they have been the indigenous people for centuries.

But one factor that does unite the cases of Kosovo and Abkhazia is that both these two countries and conflicts are the outcomes of the collapse of the communist empire. And although we should not regret the breakdown of this totalitarian system, the consequences of that collapse are certainly a cause for sorrow.

The rise of newly independent nations has seen severe violations of human rights and of legal treaties, which, had they been observed, could have preserved the Caucasus and Balkans from the tragedies and scars they have experienced.

From Kosovo's experience, we can see that the international community came close to making an objective approach to conflicts that only can be solved by recognising de-facto states. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the international community decided to limit this approach to Kosovo alone. If the same decision were taken as regards Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the South Ossetiaans could have avoided this tragic summer that has cost more 2,000 civilians their lives.

The resemblance between Kosovo and South Ossetia is indeed marked; like Kosovo, in the Soviet era this was an autonomous region of Georgia. Abkhazia on the other hand was at one time a republic of the Soviet Union, before its incorporation into Georgia.

Although the west condemned the consequences of the communist totalitarian regimes, that same international community has continued to support Stalin's pet project, which was to create a so-called "united Georgia" with Abkhazia and South Ossetia as its provinces.

By recognising the territorial integrity of Georgia, the international community has prolonged the suffering of peoples who have fought for their independence from their former oppressors for decades and who were discriminated and in many cases the victims of ethnic cleansing.

When it accepted Georgia as a member, the United Nations neglected the appeals of Abkhazia, which repeatedly drew attention to the lack of legal grounds by which Abkhazia could be considered part of Georgia. Indeed, under Soviet Law, Abkhazia had the right of secession, which it had fully implemented before Georgia's own recognition.

Abkhazia warned the world about the rise of nationalism in Georgia and of the danger of keeping the people of Abkhazia within Georgia. Meanwhile, the government in Tbilisi, only two months after Georgia joined the United Nations, launched a full-scale war against Abkhazia.

Recent developments in South Ossetia and revelations of Georgia's plans to take Abkhazia by force before Georgia joined NATO clearly show the intention of Georgia's leaders to conquer Abkhazia and South Ossetia and annihilate their peoples.

Needless to say, when Georgian policy is so clearly aggressive, no room remains for possible talks about the reincorporation of Abkhazia into Georgia.

Here is one very significant resemblance to the Kosovo situation, for the West said clearly that Kosovo should be recognised once all other options to unite the Kosovars and Serbs had been exhausted. In case of Abkhazia those who support a rational approach the conflict resolution could use same argument.

Even if most Western supporters of the recognition of Kosovo may say they still support the territorial integrity of Georgia, what remedy to the conflict can they produce? Is it still the unrealistic idea of incorporating Abkhazia into Georgia? We know the Georgian army would show no mercy to a single Abkhaz citizen if they restored control over Abkhazia.

Here the policy of double standards is revealed as truly cynical, because it seems as if the supporters of the territorial integrity of Georgia are openly pushing Abkhazia under the machete of the Georgian army. In the space of only one decade Georgia launched no less than six aggressive assaults on its two "breakaway provinces" in 1991, 2004 and 2008 in South Ossetia and in 1992, 1998 and 2001 in Abkhazia.

What is the lesson of the most recent developments, and what tools can foster long-term stability in these vital energy corridors? For a start, we need more profound analysis of the roots of these conflicts as well as identification of past mistakes. We need to review the decision to recognise the territorial integrity of Georgia and accept it as false. In its place, we need to accept that modern Georgia never had a legal claim to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, even if a large number of Georgians settled in Abkhazia under Stalin.

There needs to be a clear understanding, especially in the European Union, that stability in Georgia will not be achieved with Abkhazia and South Ossetia as its parts.

As for the final remedy, it is clear now not only to the Abkhaz or South Ossetians who have repeatedly stated it, but to many rational thinkers, that there is no way Abkhazia or South Ossetia will ever be part of Georgia following the tragic events of summer 2008. A clear message needs to be sent to Georgia to start developing without a huge military burden and concentrate instead on internal social and economic problems.

When it lets go of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia will gain new friendly neighbours instead of constant enemies. The alternative is the Caucasus region remaining a constant matter of security concern, and never discovering its magnificent economic potential.

Maxim Gvindzhia is Deputy Foreign Minister of Abkhazia. Balkan Insight is BIRN`s online

Joy in South Ossetia and Abkhazia

Huge celebrations are continuing in Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the recognition of their independent status by Russia. The euphoria remains in spite of the prospect of a long struggle to be recognised as sovereign states by the international community.

Even women have taken their firearms to celebrate and others went to show off their driving skills. People seem united as never before.“Thank the Lord that we are finally recognised after all this bloodshed and genocide,” a local priest said.The celebrations in both capitals are expected to last for at least a few more days.“All Champaign and vodka is sold out. Today is a great holiday. Only one bottle remains – it’s for us to celebrate!” a saleswoman in a local shop said.Traditional horns of wine were also dried out at the central square of Tskhinval.The republics are now looking to an independent future following Russia's recognition of their status and are calling on the international community to recognise them as well.

Why I had to recognise Georgia's breakaway regions - Medvedev

By Dmitry Medvedev - Financial Times

Published: August 26 2008 18:48 Last updated: August 26 2008

On Tuesday Russia recognised the independence of the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It was not a step taken lightly, or without full consideration of the consequences. But all possible outcomes had to be weighed against a sober understanding of the situation – the histories of the Abkhaz and Ossetian peoples, their freely expressed desire for independence, the tragic events of the past weeks and inter­national precedents for such a move.

Not all of the world's nations have their own statehood. Many exist happily within boundaries shared with other nations. The Russian Federation is an example of largely harmonious coexistence by many dozens of nations and nationalities. But some nations find it impossible to live under the tutelage of another. Relations between nations living "under one roof" need to be handled with the utmost sensitivity.

After the collapse of communism, Russia reconciled itself to the "loss" of 14 former Soviet republics, which became states in their own right, even though some 25m Russians were left stranded in countries no longer their own. Some of those nations were un­able to treat their own minorities with the respect they deserved. Georgia immediately stripped its "autonomous regions" of Abkhazia and South Ossetia of their autonomy.

Can you imagine what it was like for the Abkhaz people to have their university in Sukhumi closed down by the Tbilisi government on the grounds that they allegedly had no proper language or history or culture and so did not need a university? The newly independent Georgia inflicted a vicious war on its minority nations, displacing thousands of people and sowing seeds of discontent that could only grow. These were tinderboxes, right on Russia's doorstep, which Russian peacekeepers strove to keep from igniting.

But the west, ignoring the delicacy of the situation, unwittingly (or wittingly) fed the hopes of the South Ossetians and Abkhazians for freedom. They clasped to their bosom a Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, whose first move was to crush the autonomy of another region, Adjaria, and made no secret of his intention to squash the Ossetians and Abkhazians.

Meanwhile, ignoring Russia's warnings, western countries rushed to recognise Kosovo's illegal declaration of independence from Serbia. We argued consistently that it would be impossible, after that, to tell the Abkhazians and Ossetians (and dozens of other groups around the world) that what was good for the Kosovo Albanians was not good for them. In international relations, you cannot have one rule for some and another rule for others.

Seeing the warning signs, we persistently tried to persuade the Georgians to sign an agreement on the non-use of force with the Ossetians and Abkhazians. Mr Saakashvili refused. On the night of August 7-8 we found out why.

Only a madman could have taken such a gamble. Did he believe Russia would stand idly by as he launched an all-out assault on the sleeping city of Tskhinvali, murdering hundreds of peaceful civilians, most of them Russian citizens? Did he believe Russia would stand by as his "peacekeeping" troops fired on Russian comrades with whom they were supposed to be preventing trouble in South Ossetia?

Russia had no option but to crush the attack to save lives. This was not a war of our choice. We have no designs on Georgian territory. Our troops entered Georgia to destroy bases from which the attack was launched and then left. We restored the peace but could not calm the fears and aspirations of the South Ossetian and Abkhazian peoples – not when Mr Saakashvili continued (with the complicity and encouragement of the US and some other Nato members) to talk of rearming his forces and reclaiming "Georgian territory". The presidents of the two republics appealed to Russia to recognise their independence.

A heavy decision weighed on my shoulders. Taking into account the freely expressed views of the Ossetian and Abkhazian peoples, and based on the principles of the United Nations charter and other documents of international law, I signed a decree on the Russian Federation's recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I sincerely hope that the Georgian people, to whom we feel historic friendship and sympathy, will one day have leaders they deserve, who care about their country and who develop mutually respectful relations with all the peoples in the Caucasus. Russia is ready to support the achievement of such a goal.

The writer is president of the Russian Federation.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Medvedev backs independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has declared that Russia will recognise the independence of Georgia’s breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He made the announcement in Sochi following a unanimous vote for the republics’ independence by both houses of the Russian Parliament in Moscow on Monday.


Medvedev`s exclusive interview with RT
With the Russian parliament backing the independence of the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, President Dmitry Medvedev gives his views on the issue in an exclusive interview with RT.


The leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Sergey Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoity, have reiterated that “they will never agree to remain within Georgia” at an emergency session of the Federation Council.

Meanwhile, Georgia has repeatedly said it will never surrender its territories.

Hard road to independence

South Ossetia, which borders Russia in the south Caucasus, and Abkhazia on the Black Sea, had previously attempted to break away from Georgia following referendums which were overwhelmingly in favour of independence. The results were ignored by Tbilisi, which claimed the ethnic Georgians forced to flee the regions were not consulted. The recent conflict in South Ossetia has added further urgency to the demands for self-determination.

The roots of the current discord can be traced back to the divide and conquer policies of Joseph Stalin - himself half Georgian, half Ossetian. Before the 1917 revolution, the ethnic groups of the Caucasus all lived as separate subjects of the Russian empire. However, with the Bolsheviks came the redrawing of the map, with both South Ossetia and Abkhazia becoming parts of Georgia.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, the then Georgian leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia advocated a nationalist "Georgia for the Georgians" policy, re-opening old wounds. Two military conflicts followed, leaving thousands dead and forcing many more to flee the conflict zones.

The ceasefire in the early 1990s brought de-facto independence to both regions with the shaky truce maintained by peacekeeping forces of mainly Russian troops.

Since becoming president in 2004, Mikhail Saakashvili has pledged to bring his country closer to the West, which has also motivated his drive to end the territorial disputes.

Ossetians and Georgians have lived side by side for centuries. The two groups share Soviet history and the Orthodox Christian religion and intermarriage is common. But the ties that once bound their cultures have been severely damaged in the trauma of the recent fighting. Kosovo's self-declared independence in February, too, has boosted these regions' ambitions.

Most Abkhazians and South Ossetians carry Russian passports and the only valid currency is the Russian rouble. In addition, both self-declared republics have presidents, flags, national anthems, armies and Moscow’s support.

The wounds of Tskhinval - Documentary Film

Georgia’s Trilogy of Tragedies Or A Reply to David L. Phillips

Hubris, Ate:, Nemesis (Arrogance, Madness, Nemesis)
Georgia’s Trilogy of Tragedies (1. Zviad Gamsakhurdia, 2. Eduard Shevardnadze, 3. Mikheil Saak’ashvili)
Or A Reply to David L. Phillips (pt. 2)

by George Hewitt, Akw'a, Apsny - 25 August 2008

‘In [19]92, the Russian invasion bombed Sukhumi and other cities.’ Thus theGeorgian president, Mikheil Saak’ashvili, in his attempt on 19th March 2008 toprovide ‘information’ (recte misinformation) to The Atlantic Council of the UnitedStates about the Georgian-Abkhazian war (14th August 1992 to 30th September 1993),which began with Eduard Shevardnadze’s GEORGIAN troops killing those manningthe border-post at the R. Ingur crossing and pouring into Abkhazia from the provinceof Mingrelia in Georgia proper. There are grounds for believing that Russianpresident Boris Yeltsin had actually given Shevardnadze the green light to take thisstep in the (mis)calculation that it would be a ‘short, victorious war’ (therebyuncannily anticipating his own parallel miscalculation in starting the first Chechenwar in 1994). In fact, the Abkhazians along with their allies from their Near Easterndiaspora and North Caucasian volunteers organised by the Confederation of MountainPeoples’ of the Caucasus under Yuri Shanibov fought determinedly to defend theirancestral homeland, and, despite losing 4% of their entire population resident inAbkhazia, ejected in ignominy those who had inflicted so much unnecessary sufferingon their small republic.

On 29th July 2008 David L. Phillips produced a 76-page treatise under the rubricof the same Atlantic Council of the United States in which he twice states: ‘Theauthor strongly believes that aggression must not be rewarded.’ Reading thisstatement, those familiar with the facts of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict would beforgiven for expecting to find Phillips advocating suitable measures to be takenagainst the Saak’ashvili regime, which (i) had introduced military forces into Abkhazia’s Upper K’odor Valley in the spring of 2006 in flagrant contravention ofthe peace-accords signed in Moscow in 1994 and (ii) had for some time been makingbellicose noises about taking back the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, anattempt which many anticipated after NATO’s questionable April-decision atBucharest not to admit Georgia as long as it was still in dispute with Sukhum and Tskhinval – the proposal to admit Georgian should have been unceremoniouslybinned. But, no, the title of Phillips’ piece ‘Restoring Georgia’s Sovereignty in Abkhazia’ gives the game away – it is not Georgia but Russia that is judged to be the aggressor by the American commentator, and it is essentially measures against Russia that are advocated in the article. Whilst the Phillips’ document, aiming as it does to‘to prevent an escalation of violence’, would appear to have been overtaken by eventsin the wake of Georgia’s assault on Tskhinval while its residents slept on the night ofthe 7th August, it is nevertheless useful to examine the remarks and recommendations contained within it for the light it sheds on how certain observers view the problemthat ‘democratic’ Georgia poses to the world-community and on the nature of the ill-conceived advice that has been fed to Saak’ashvili and his western-orientatedministers, advice which (coupled with the utterly irresponsible decision to arm Georgia to the teeth) cannot but have helped stoke the latest round of conflict, causingyet more bloodshed and disruption to the lives of perfectly innocent citizens on bothsides of the Georgian/South Ossetian divide. They deserve better, and it is how tosecure that better future that should be the focus of the world’s attention henceforth. Read more... (PDF Format)

Monday, 25 August 2008

Abkhazia's Liberation and International Law

by E.K. Adzhindzhal, Akua (Sukhum), 2007


The essay “Abkhazia’s Liberation and International Law” is devoted to the part of International Law that focuses on the right of nations to self-determination. In line with basic documents of international law, the essay discusses the struggle of the nation of Abkhazia against colonial dependence on Georgia – for the right of its people to political self-determination and the creation of an independent state, following its liberation as the result of the Abkhazians' victory in the war imposed from Tbilisi.

V.Mikadze, Candidate of Law


E. Adzhindzhal’s work “Abkhazia's Liberation and International Law’’ discusses questions which are not limited to Abkhazia. Discussion of the contradictions between the basic principles of the modern international law: the “right of nations to self-determination” and “territorial integrity of a state”, attracts great attention at the beginning of XXI century. Undoubtedly, E. Adzhindzhal’s work will appeal to international lawyers, political researchers, practitioners in the field of international relations and policy studies as well as specialists in conflict resolution. It will give an opportunity to understand the essence of different processes connected with the problems of conflict settlement, especially in regard to the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict and possible paths to its resolution.

Sergey Shamba, Ph.D. in History
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Abkhazia

The essay is dedicated to the memory of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.

Read all: Abkhazia's Liberation and International Law

Related issues

News & Analysis - 25 August - S. Ossetia - Abkhazia - Georgia - Russia

Are we all Georgians? Not so fast - The Washington Times (ANALYSIS/OPINION)


Abkhazia's future pending key decision - Press TV


Lawmakers to Hold Emergency Talks, By Nabi Abdullaev / The Moscow Times


Russian parliament debate calls for recognition - Russia Today (VIDEO)


Georgia praises Iran's stance on Caucasus conflict: ambassador - Tehran Times Political Desk – The Georgian Ambassador to Iran, Levan Asatiani, has praised Iran's position which had called on Georgia and Russia to stop war and settle the conflict over South Ossetia peacefully.


The war of miscalculations, by Peter Lavelle


Envoy sees bitter legacy of war in Ossetian village,
By Dmitry Solovyov - KHETAGUROVO, South Ossetia (Reuters)


Satellite Damage Assessment for Tskhinvali, South Ossetia
UNOSAT Tskhinvali 20 August (1.4 MB) (3.3 MB)

This map illustrates satellite-detected active fire locations near the town of Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, Georgia during the armed conflict between Georgian and Russian military forces. These fire locations were detected by the MODIS Aqua and Terra satellites covering the time period from 7 to 20 August 2008, and are sorted by date of detection.


Russian security source says Georgia planned attack year ahead - RIA Novosti


BBC reports Georgia to blame for conflict
This report from TWO days before the Russian intervention clearly shows that GEORGIA is the aggressor and that Russia had to intervene.


Can Putin Save America From Itself? by Richard Rhames

Are we all Georgians? Not so fast

Analysis / Opinion - by Lanny Davis - The Washington Times

As the Democrats open their convention today, it might not be politically correct to ask the question - were the Russians entirely wrong and Georgia entirely right in their conflict over South Ossetia?

In this context, it is also fair to ask whether the putative Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, was exercising good judgment when he immediately called Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to express his support for Georgia and to declare, apparently referring to all Americans, "We are all Georgians."

Maybe it's the contrarian in me: When virtually every Democratic and Republican leader from left to right and the entire Mainstream Media so quickly reach consensus on the same one-sided narrative - the "good little democracy Georgia" vs. the "bad Russian evil-empire invaders" - I instinctively say to myself, "Not so fast. What are the facts?"

Or as Paul Harvey famously put it, what about "the rest of the story?"

It wasn't easy to find such contrarian facts. It took some effort - at least several days into the crisis and usually buried on the inside page far down in the stories. Here are a few facts I discovered that I hadn't known from most of the early media coverage and political comments:

• Georgia, not Russia, initiated the first military actions on Aug. 7 by sending (according to the Wall Street Journal ) "much of its army up to the area of Tskhinvali, the capital of its pro-Russian South Ossetian province," including tanks, armored personnel carriers, howitzers and other equipment.

• The State Department's specialist on Georgia, Matthew J. Bryza (again according to the Journal) and many other officials warned Mr. Saakashvili many times over a period of months against military action that might provoke the Russians. But Mr. Saakashvili ignored the advice and "undeterred ... ordered troops to take Tskhinvali, the Ossetian capital, and to knock out the bridge."

• South Ossetians speak a different language from Georgians, have a different culture, have a government headed by a Russian, historically have been close to Russia and have sought separation from Georgia - similar to another "separatist" region of Georgia, Abkhazia.

• When the U.S. last spring recognized Kosovo's secession from Serbia, despite Kosovo having been long recognized as part of Serbia and over the strong objections of Serbia and Russia, Serbia's historic ally - Russian President Vladimir Putin - warned way back then that "Russia will feel entitled to do the same with South Ossetia and Georgia's other breakaway enclave, Abkhazia," according to the New York Times.

To my relief, people a lot more informed than I have begun to express doubts about the one-sided political-media narrative of the first few days. Noted author and columnist Thomas L. Friedman, with an analogy to the Olympics, awarded a "silver medal for recklessness" to Mr. Saakashvili for his unilateral decision to push his troops into South Ossetia.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the Nobel Prize-winning former Soviet leader most responsible for the unraveling of the Soviet Union and a hero of most Americans, went on U.S. national TV to warn against U.S. one-sidedness and anti-Russia bias in this Georgian crisis.

Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy at the Cato Institute in Washington, worried about the overly quick U.S. pro-Georgia/anti-Russia response that could "jeopardize ... Russian cooperation on a number of issues" - such as efforts to deter Iran from developing a nuclear bomb - "over a dispute that at most involves limited American interests."

And James F. Collins, the last U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union and now a director at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the New York Times: "It's clear the policies we have pursued regarding missile defense and installations in Europe [and] regarding further expansion of NATO have created difficulties with Russia. It takes two to tango."

I write this knowing that some will accuse me of being "soft on Russia," even though I tend to agree with Mr. Friedman's award of the "gold medal for stupidity" to Mr. Putin for his brutal use of military force rather than diplomacy.

But as the Democratic National Convention assembles to nominate Sen. Barack Obama for president, I hope its speakers - and Mr. Obama too - would not yield to the temptation to prove that Democrats can be more unconditionally pro-Georgia and anti-Russia and bellicose than Mr. McCain.

Not only would this simply compound the inaccurate and oversimplistic portrayal of the facts of a complex and dangerous situation, but, I submit, it would be wrong politically.

It is my strong hunch that the majority of the American people - including a lot of undecided voters in the presidential election - don't like saber rattling that could bring us back to the scary days of the Cold War. They want their next president to be firm but fair in dealing with the Russians.

It can be argued that it was a similar "rush to judgment" on the existence of weapons of mass destruction that led us to a "rush to war" in Iraq. It would be poor politics - and even more dangerous policy - to repeat that mistake when it comes to the formidable nuclear power of Russia.

Lanny Davis is a prominent Washington lawyer and a political analyst for Fox News. From 1996 to 1998, he served as special counsel to President Clinton. From 2005 to 2006, he served on President Bush's five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Nationalism, revolution and war in the Caucasus

by Tony Iltis, August 23

Since the European Union-brokered ceasefire brought the shooting war between Georgia and Russia to an end on August 12, there has been a war of words between Russia and the West.

One point of contention is the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia-proper (that is, Georgia excluding the de facto independent territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia), in particular the towns of Gori, Zugdidi and Senaki and the port of Poti.

The war began with Georgia’s August 7 attack on the territory of South Ossetia. Russia responded with a military assault that first drove Georgian troops out of South Ossetia, then continued to advance within Georgia-proper.

Russia agreed to withdraw when it signed the ceasefire and has since indicated that it is doing so — but slowly, and not before systematically destroying Georgia’s military capacity.

A bigger difference, based on competing interpretations of what is and isn’t Georgian territory, is Russia’s stated intention to maintain a beefed-up peacekeeping presence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Western leaders have stressed recognition of Georgia’s official borders, which includes the breakaway territories. US President George Bush stated on August 16 that “Georgia’s borders should command the same respect as every other nation’s. There’s no room for debate on this matter.”

Not Georgian

What this ignores is not only that most of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have been outside Georgia’s control since the early 1990s, but that the Abkhazians and Ossetians (who are both distinct non-Georgian nationalities) have shown in repeated referendums, as well as in the wars that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, that they have no desire to be under Georgian rule.

While the Western media and politicians have portrayed the current war as Russian “great power” aggression against its much smaller neighbour, this ignores the fact that war was started by Georgia’s August 7 blitzkrieg that levelled South Ossetia’s capital Tskhinvali.

Anywhere between “dozens” and 1500 civilians were killed, depending on the source, and 30-40,000 refugees (half the population) fled across the border to North Ossetia-Alania, a republic within the Russian Federation.

Since coming to power with Western support in 2003, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvilli has allied his country closely to the West.

However, since Georgia provoked the current war with Russia, it became clear that the West was not keen to get involved in a war with nuclear-armed Russia in support of its ally’s territorial ambitions.

Despite military assistance from the US and Israel, the Georgian army collapsed in disarray before the Russian advance. Russian and South Ossetian forces have been able to seize significant quantities of abandoned US and Israeli military hardware.

On August 21, there were thousands-strong protests in Tskhinvali and the Abkhazian capital Sukhumi demanding Russian recognition of independence of the territories.

The recognition of Kosova’s independence from Serbia (under Western supervision) has created a precedent in international law. Russia has refused to recognise Kosovan independence but has indicated that it could change this position in exchange for Western recognition of independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia (under Russian supervision).


The conflicting nationalisms in the Caucasus is a result of the colonisation of the highly diverse region by the Russian empire, beginning in the 18th century.

This was followed by the promise of national liberation and equality between peoples by the 1917 Russian Revolution. This promise was betrayed when the revolution degenerated into bureaucratic dictatorship under Joseph Stalin.

National movements subsequently played an important role in the restoration of capitalism in the former Soviet Union in the 1990s.

Full control by the Russian empire of the Caucasus by 1864 was accompanied by ethnic cleansing of Muslims, which included about half the Abkhaz population.

After the 1917 revolution, the Bolsheviks recognised the rights of all peoples to self-determination. While the various nationalities of the North Caucasus (including Ossetians, Chechens, Ingushetians and the myriad of Dagestani ethnicities) formed the pro-Bolshevik Mountain Soviet Republic (MSR), Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan became anti-Bolshevik independent states propped up by British troops.

Between 1918 and 1921, what started as tax revolts by South Ossetians against the Georgian regime developed into full scale warfare, with the South Ossetians seeking to be united with their North Ossetian compatriots in the MSR, which from 1919 was an autonomous part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR).

Georgian reprisals against the revolt took 18,000 lives. Keen to dislodge the British, the Red Army came to the aid of the Ossetians, the Abkhaz and a revolt by Georgian Bolsheviks. A Georgian Soviet Republic was established.

Similar processes established Soviet rule in Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Painfully aware of the resentment towards Russians in the nations colonised by the Tsarist empire, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin stressed equality between nations.

In 1922, he clashed with Stalin, then commissar of nationalities, who despite being Georgian displayed, in Lenin’s words, “all the characteristics of a Great Russian bully” in his attempts to pressure the Georgian Bolsheviks into accepting absorption of their country into the RSFSR.

Stalin lost that fight and in 1922 Georgia, Abkhazia, Armenia and Azerbaijan became equal members of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

North Ossetia became an autonomous republic within the RSFSR while South Ossetia became an autonomous district of Georgia.


However, following Lenin’s death in 1924, Stalin led a counter-revolution whereby a bureaucratic caste took power and undid many of the progressive gains of the revolution.

While national equality remained in form, its content was gutted. In 1931, Abkhazia was made an autonomous republic within Georgia and Georgian replaced Abkhaz as the official language.

The transmigration of Russians, Armenians and Georgians into Abkhazia was accelerated under Stalin. In the 1940s, having officially revived Russian nationalism in response to Nazi invasion, Stalin increased arbitrary acts of national oppression.

In the Caucasus this included deporting the entire Chechen and Ingushetian population to Central Asia.

Following Stalin’s death in 1953, the extremes of Stalin’s dictatorship were tempered, including the nationalities policy. Deported nationalities were allowed to return to their homelands and the suppression of Abkhaz culture ended.

However, while repression decreased, the main lines of bureaucratic dictatorship remained.

For Ossetians in the post-Stalin Soviet Union, the boundary between North Ossetia (part of the RSFSR) and South Ossetia (part of Georgia) became purely administrative, of no more significance than that between two Australian states.

On the one hand, in both territories the Ossetian language was used in government, education and the media. On the other hand, as with the rest of the USSR, in neither territory did people actually have a say in choosing their government, or the right to oppose it.

As the Soviet Union began to unravel in the 1980s, nationalism came to the fore as local bureaucratic elites sought to ensure their power in the post-Soviet order.

By 1988 war had broken out between Armenia and Azerbaijan, despite both being constituent republics of the USSR. The restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union in 1991 was accompanied by its dissolution into constituent republics.

In Georgia, following unsuccessful attempts by Moscow to repress the nationalist tide, dissident and former political prisoner Zviad Gamsakhurdia was elected president in 1990.

While to Georgians, Gamsakhurdia’s slogan of “Georgia for the Georgians” and his appeals to historical mythology of ancient Georgian kings, represented freedom from Russia, to the Abkhaz and Ossetians it represented a threat to their national rights.

For the Ossetians, the dissolution of the USSR also meant the border between North and South Ossetia became an international frontier.

War and ‘autonomy’

In November 1989, South Ossetia voted to be merged with North Ossetia within the RSFSR, although this was vetoed by the Georgian Soviet government.

A march on Tskhinvali by Gamsakhurdia’s nationalists led to clashes and the intervention of Soviet troops. In 1990, South Ossetia tried to declare itself a constituent republic of the USSR.

Georgia, now under Gamsakhurdia’s presidency, responded by abolishing South Ossetia’s autonomy. By January 1991, before the USSR had dissolved, the dispute escalated into warfare between Georgian and Ossetian militias.

This war, which ended in 1992, cost hundreds of lives and created tens of thousands of refugees.

By this time Gamsakhurdia had been overthrown in a military coup and newly independent Georgia was degenerating into civil war. The peace agreement allowed for de facto independence and a peace keeping force involving Georgian, North and South Ossetian and Russian troops.

Gamsakhurdia’s successor, Eduard Shevardnadze, who had been the Stalinist head of Soviet Georgia in the 1970s, had reinvented himself as a democratic reformer and then again as a moderate nationalist when the military junta that overthrew Gamsakhurdia offered him the presidency.

While Shevardnadze ended the war in South Ossetia, he started another by invading Abkhazia, which had declared its independence to pre-empt abolition of its autonomous status.

This war ended in Georgian defeat, after the Abkhazians received help from a multi-ethnic North Caucasian volunteer force, the Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus, who were accused of ethnic cleansing.

Hundreds of thousands of Georgians fled Abkhazia, leaving the Abkhaz as a demographic majority for the first time since the 19th century.

The 1993 peace agreement left it, like South Ossetia, legally part of Georgia but with a de facto independence guaranteed by Russia.

The US helped bring the ultra-nationalist Saakashvilli to power in 2003 with the aim of using him to pressure Russia.

However, Saakashvilli’s nationalist adventurism, backed by US and Israeli military aid, has resulted in handing Russia an opportunity to militarily crush Georgia and humiliate its Western allies.

In the brutal history of colonialism, competing nationalism, war and ethnic cleansing that has marked the Caucasus, the example of the early stages of the Russian Revolution stands out as offering a way forward.

The Bolshevik policy of granting national self-determination and seeking to ensure equality between peoples’, in contrast to the manipulation and violence used by various powerful interests that have dominated the region, is the only way of ensuring lasting peace.

From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #
764 27 August 2008.