Thursday, April 17, 2008


From frozen to boiling

Apr 17th 2008

Georgia in the firing line: who’s watching?

DON’T give Georgia a firm promise of NATO membership, the argument went at the alliance’s recent summit in Bucharest, because it will provoke the Kremlin. If that was a calculated risk, it now appears mistaken. Russia is stepping up its political representation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway enclaves in Georgia that it has supported for the past 15 years, as well as its recognition of their legal system.

Just before the NATO summit, Georgia came out with a peace plan which—had it been offered a few years ago—would have counted as a magnanimous attempt to restart the blocked negotiations. It offered Abkhazia wide-ranging autonomy in return for talks on other contested issues. But the timing made it look like a gimmick, and it fell flat.

Now the Kremlin has taken the initiative, with a neat double-edged argument. The first is aimed at Georgia: by moving towards NATO, you are provoking us, so take the consequences. The second is aimed at NATO: if you really want to take Georgia under your wing, you will have to worry about direct military conflicts with us. So beware.

The argument is proving effective, though Russia’s support for Abkhazia and South Ossetia is really nothing new. Their economies are already propped up by Russian subsidies and their borders defended by Russian soldiers (labelled as peace-keepers). Most of the population has Russian passports. That gives the Kremlin a perfect excuse to increase its formal presence and involvement: after all, it is merely looking after its own citizens.

Diplomatic recognition is a slippery concept. Thanks to pressure from “Red China” (as it used to be called) most countries do not formally recognise the Republic of China (as Taiwan calls itself). But trade, tourism and political ties continue quite smoothly. Contrast that with countries such as Somalia that have diplomatic recognition—but not much else.

Abkhazia could end up as Russia’s Taiwan. That gives the Kremlin plenty of room to create more practical links (including military ones), without creating big diplomatic problems with the outside world, or setting dangerous precedents in its own restive regions.

Russia may hope to provoke the Georgian authorities into adventurism abroad or a crackdown at home. The parliamentary elections due on May 21st already look troublingly flawed—though blame for that rests at least partly with the hotheaded and shambolic opposition, as well as with the authorities’ heavy-handed approach to media freedom and judicial independence. The Council of Europe this week noted with dismay, for example, the failure to introduce promised electoral reform measures, or to allow the opposition unrestricted access to CCTV footage of polling stations.

It is hard to overstate Georgia’s importance for the West. This week’s news that the European Union had reached an initial gas deal with Turkmenistan, for example, highlights yet again Georgia’s role as an energy corridor linking Europe with Central Asia.

In that calculus, morals usually go out of the window. Iran is a pariah, but Turkmenistan (a far worse dictatorship) is a potential strategic partner. Flaws that would prompt hysterics if they happened in Russia are overlooked in Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan.

In one sense, that gives Georgia carte blanche to behave badly. Even friends of Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s president, admit he can be impetuous, secretive, and hostile towards independent advice, but they seem unlikely to kick up a fuss.

That would be a sad outcome—not least for Georgia. The best way to defeat the Kremlin’s real and proxy attacks is not to create a Georgian version of Putinism, but to escape from it. In other words, to be a political success story and not just an economic one.


George Nikoladze said...

Indeed Mr Lucas, well written. And they wounder why 77% of Georgians want their country to join NATO. The bid for NATO membership did not commence because of Saakashvili (I would like to remind that Shevardnadze started this process) or recent Bucharest summit. It started in 1992-93 when Russian air forces were mercilessly bombing Sukhumi (capital of the autonomous republic) and "cleaning" out every remaining ethnic Georgian in villages and cities across Abkhazia (and not only Georgians, but Estonians and Greeks went forced out from their homes). This Abkhaz Apartheid financed and backed by Kremlin, is indeed boiling and will end up blowing up not only in South Caucasus but in the North as well. Russians fail to understand that their dirty business in Chechnya is not over and as saying goes, "those who live in glass houses should not throw stones."
However, there are great differences between Taiwan and Abkhazia and i don't believe that formula will work. This euphoria will cost them dearly, and the talk of precedents (Abkhazia offers a lucrative precedent for the North Caucasus) will come up sooner or later. It is hard to understand why would Putin and his puppets undermine Russia's interests and future. Indeed it should be puzzling for us and disturbing for Russians.
One thing is certain; judging from the tumultuous and desperate Georgian history, the ripping off territories from its land mass did not deter the strength of Georgian statehood and determination to unity. So far (and this is a perfect example) Russia has done the best or every possible initiative to push our country towards NATO and convince our nation that there is no other choice (and at the same time convincing the Western countries that keeping Georgia out of NATO while its northern neighbor tries to swallow its territories, is a mistake).
Well, many of us were already convinced when Russian bombs fell on our houses in Sukhumi and when drunker marauders standing on the Inguri river (dividing Abkhazia from Georgia proper) with blue helmets kept us out from our homes. Mr Lucas has correctly pointed out, Europe should give an appropriate reaction to this creeping and in its true sense-- annexation of the Georgian territories. Otherwise, this Russian 1930s Sudetenland-symptom will spread further...

Grigol said...
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Grigol said...

Unlike the New Cold War, even a hint of Putinisation of Georgian politics is a gross exaggeration. Self-victimisation is one of the prime tactics used by the immature opposition and advised to them by some of their friends from the north. Such exaggerations weaken western support to Georgian democracy, give more excuses to Germany and undermine its statehood. Of course, democracy in Georgia has a long way to go, but twisting things in that way is not helpful certainly. The best thing the west could do perhaps is to coach and mentor the opposition, for example, not to blame failure to get MAP on government and exploit this issue, which they do all the time.

akarlin said...

Well done for taking note of Western Hypocrisy, Mr. Lucas (since that is the meta-narrative of world history since at least the 1970's). One can only hope that you will focus more on it in the months and years to come.

Btw, as for the "energy corridor" from central Asia to Western Europe, the beauty of it is that to win at any time t, Russia need only win in one key region (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Balkans). To not lose, the West has to win everywhere. :)

Anton said...

I always thought that thinking in absolutes is either a sign of ignorance or lack of knowledge. It is unfair to say that the so called "drunk russian maradeurs" carried out attrocities, etc...because just like in any civil or conventional warfare, attrocities are carried out by both sides. Georgians cleansed local population when they took control of "unarmed" Abkhazia, thats a fact. While the Feds did support Abkhazia, don´t forget many volounteers from North Caucaus took part in the conflict, Shamil Basaev for example was one of the leaders on Abkhazian side.

However, no matter what the history, Georgians are a minority in Abkhazia, and if the majority want to bee free, why can´t they??
Afterall every nation has a right for self-determination, the Kosovars got it, why can´t Abkhazia and South Ossetia??

Giustino said...

Afterall every nation has a right for self-determination, the Kosovars got it, why can´t Abkhazia and South Ossetia??

Good to see that Woodrow Wilson is still kicking around. To answer the question, hypocrisy is neither a Western nor Russian fault, but a human one. We appeal to logic, but there is so little of it to be found.

Grigol said...
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Grigol said...

Anton, it is simple. Out of the app 570,000 pre-war population of Abkhazia, this paradise region, up to 500,000 including Georgians (around 300,000) Russians, Ukrainians, Greeks, Estonians and even Abkhaz themselves (yes, many Abkhaz do live in Tbilisi and Batumi) were driven out of their homes. In Kosovo, (allegedly at least) west prevented ethnic cleansing while in Abkhazia this very cleansing was carried out with direct Russian involvement and any recognition of this would be legitimation of Europe's most forgotten ethnic cleansing. It is 2008, not 1808. It is simply insane to cleanse majority on ethnic basis by minority and then claim self-determination...

But more importantly it is not even about Abkhazia, loss of Georgia will be disaster to the west.

Anton said...

Once again, both are responsible for ethnic cleansing. Abkhazia chose to remain part of the Soviet Union, while Georgia went to become independet. It then occupied Abkhazia, which didn´t want to be part of Georgia in the first place...then the cleansing began, carried out by both sides.
I am not justifying ethnic extermination, I find it really disguisting...but Abkhazia never wanted to be part of Georgia, prior to or post the cleansing.
There was even an Abkhaz SSR.

Grigol said...

Anton. Abkhazia could not possibly choose to remain part of the Soviet Union for the simple reason that the Abkhaz constituted 17% of its population. KGB stirred tensions at the time because Georgia chose to leave early, declaring independence second in the whole Soviet Union after Lithuania. You lack knowledge of the issue and lie to the readers of this blog. If you go deep into history even Sochi was in Georgia and vision-less British forced Georgia to give it to Denikin...
And when did Georgia commit cleansing? Ethnic Abkhaz lived freely on the territory controled by Georgia during the war, while after breaking the ceasefire (after Russia forced Georgia to withdraw all heavy armamements) Abkhaz and RUssians expelled 4/5ths of the whole population.

Anton said...

Abkhazians constituted 17% of the population,that is correct. However if you take the Russians, Armenians and even Greeks into consideration, then Georgians made up just under half of the population. My knowledge on this is limited but I do know for fact that, the minorities of Abkhazia chose to remain in the USSR, and that was just over half of the population of Abkhazia. Before calling me liar, please get your facts right. You seem to make all of your statements and accusations in a rageous otburst of emotion and hatred of Russia, I, on the other hand check the facts before making a point

That´s from wikipedia:

After taking Sukhumi the Georgian forces (including Mkhedrioni) engaged in "vicious, ethnically based pillage, looting, assault, and murder".[7] In addition to the looting, Abkhaz cultural monuments were destroyed in a manner that, according to some reports, suggests deliberate targeting. University buildings were sacked, and museum and other cultural collections broken up. The irreplaceable Abkhaz national archives were set upon and burned by Georgian forces; reportedly, local firefighters did not attempt to douse the blaze.[7

Put your ignorance and patriotism aside, and face it, that both carried out ethnic cleansing. It is the nature of civil, ethnic wars, come on how ignorant are you.

Anton said...

and I don´t know where you got the figure of 4/5 of the whole population expeled but the population of Abkhazia now is half of what it used to be in 1989, the only ethnic group population that has remained the same is Abkhaz, all the rest declined, even Russian.

throw another accusation buddy!

Grigol said...

thats not from Wikipedia. Abkhaz were 17% of population of Abkhazia and how on earth could they overrule the rest of the population? whats from tons of people who were there. Georgian "army" of that time consisted from mix of criminals and patriots. Some of those things did happen, but there is no evidence of that being state-sanctioned (or what was there trying to be a state).

In any case to put that on par with expelling 4/5th of the entire population of Ankhazia is simple nonsense. Today no more than 90-100,000 people live in Abkhazia (including 60,000 Georgians in Gali under terror all the time). Now tell me how much of 500,000 is 400,000. Go learn some maths.
And what do you tell to mothers of more than 1,000 Russian soldiers who died in Abkhazia--what did they die there for?

Anton said...

God, did you even read what I said?

Firstly here is the link to that extract about Georgian atrocities.

You will find some examples of both Georgian and Abkhazian cleansing in the first half of the article. I could lift several paragraphs from there, instead but why won´t you have a look for yourself. I never said that cleansing was state sanctioned, either by Georgia or Russia... those atrocities were carried out by individuals, not as an order of the Government.

Secondly, please read what I write.
Abkhazians, Russian, Armenians and other minorities made up just over half of total population of Abkhazia, and neither of them wanted to be a part of Georgia, as it proclaimed its independence.
(If you still don´´t understand, it wasn´t just Abkhazians who wanted to remain part of the USSR)

I don´t know where the hell you get your data from.

Once again according to Wikipedia, the 2003 census showed that the total population of Abkhazia was 215,972 residents ,of whom 45,953 Georgian and 94,606 Abkhazian. Therefore according to this official data your 4/5 population expulsion is absolute crap. Unless you can provide me some official, correct numbers, I am frankly not convinced with anything you have said.

If you still don´t understand what I wrote, take a look at the wikipedia link, there is a nice table with population numbers over the years.

I have learned plenty of maths, thank you, I have also learned, how to base my arguments on real facts and figures, something you should try doing sometime.

So who´s the lier now?

I don´t have to tell them anything, not my duty. I do believe they died protecting the interests of thousands of other Russians living in Abkhazia. A lot of the Russian soldiers were volunteers.

Grigol said...

If you consider the 2003 Abkhaz census as credible, I have nothing to discuss with you. Better switch to propaganda against Estonia, they miss guys like you there.

Grigol said...

Let's allow all the 400,000 people who were expelled, including Georgians, Greeks, Ukrainians or Estonians, conduct referendum and then let's see how Abkhazia becomes "independent" or gets finally absorbed by Russia. Do you even know what portion of Abkhaz speak their language? They're on irreversible course of Russification and assimilation...

Anton said...

You still haven´t provided me the legitimacy of your numbers, what is the source?? Where did you get this number from?

To be honest I dont think 2003 census is credible, either is the stuff you are saying. As far as I am concerned, you plucked it from nowhere.

I love it how you switch the topic when you get stuck)) did you know... that Sochi was actually Georgian etc. It is amusing.

Good for them, if most of them have Russian passports, why should Abkhazia even be part of Georgia?
Latest polls suggest that more of Abhkazians would rather become part of Russia, than Georgia. Do be honest with all the oil gas dollars in the Russian economy, they´d be better of as part of Russia, rather than Georgia.

Yeh lets do that!! Why not lets carry out the referendum for the supposedly 400.000 victims of expulsion, and while we´re at it lets also allow the minorities in the Baltics participate in some national referendums or perhaps for once consider the opinion of Serbs living in Kosova, and once we do that, lets meet up half way the impossible. Grow up.

As for propoganda against Estonia, that is a waste of time , Ansip has already done a lot of anti-estonian propoganda.

Anton said...

and what is this with Estonians in Abkhazia? surely overemphasising, could not have been more than a couple hundred.

Grigol said...

Number of Estonians in Abkhazia was around 3,000-3,500. I can find out exactly if you so wish. By the way they do want to return and you can guess whom they will support.

Grigol said...

Sorry I didnt notice your earlier post. The referendum should be carried out once the 400,000 return. In normal mathematics they generally are likely to overrule the existing 100,000. Even if only Georgians return this is inavitable--for what other reason is their return objected.

By revealing your stance on Estonia you lustrated yourself. Estonia and Georgia is litmus test that drives even most reserved Russians nuts. By the way KGB attempted to stage conflict similar to Abkhazia in NArva in early 1990s but failed as yes, Estonians were smarter than Georgians at that time.

I mentioned Sochi to illustrate irrelevance of digging to deep into history. It indeed was in internationally recognised borders of Georgia, but who cares now.

On Kosovo I agree it was mistake and a big one, but the author of this blog is very right to point out that it is not because of Serbia that Russians made trouble but to legitimate their annexation in Georgia. After all, as RUssian state TV put it, PM Zoran Jinjic "got the bullet he deserved."

Luis Dingley said...

It does not matter that there was “Abkhaz SSR” (which in fact was ripped out of the Menshevik Georgia by the invading Bolsheviks) or that some Abkhaz separatist circles in the 1970s or 80s wanted to separate from Georgian SSR. This is a historic bullshit which nobody cares to take into consideration or can play a decisive role in the conflict settlement. Reminds me of the desperate Serb arguments about how Kosovo was their historical part and how its monasteries played an important role in their cultural heritage. This argument did not help Serbs from halting the process of Kosovos independence. More convincingly was the Milosevic onslaught and gross ethnic cleansing campaign which was waged on its ethnic Albanian population. Same goes for Abkhazia. Your “historical arguments” are all invalid (in fact the Georgian side can overwhelm us with the same kind of historical arguments and existence of ancient Georgian monasteries all over Abkhazia) when compared with the OSCE Budapest and Lisbon declarations concerning wide spread ethnic cleansing campaign which was waged against ethnic Georgian population. None of the declarations include the Abkhaz side as victims of the ethnic cleansing. When you closely examine the conflict, the ethnic cleansing can only apply to the Georgians side, whose population was completely rooted out from Abkhazia and if somebody refused to leave were executed on spot. As for the population numbers, you need to consult primary or secondary sources. All of them point to the number of 350,000 ethnic Georgians living in Abkhazia before the war. The Georgian side did make the majority and every single ethnic Georgian IDP has an unquestionable rights to that region as Abkhaz side does. And none of those IDPs want Russian occupation and those facto separatist cronies (most of them FSB operatives) as their administration or authority. Nobody is willing to divide Abkhazia on the ethnic lines or give the Abkhaz the upper hand for the land which also belongs to 350,000 Georgians, Estonians, Ukrainians, Greeks, etc. As the case of South Africa has show, the apartheid will not work in the long run. However, those Dutch and English colonialists who implemented the harsh apartheid did not have powerful Russian close by to keep them from being obliterated. The fact remains no matter how long or how harsh we argue here. Abkhazia will always remain within the internationally recognized borders of Georgia and that all of the IDPs will eventually return to their homes. This Russian euphoria of Taiwanization of Abkhazia is a pitiful attempt to undermine the sovereignty of Georgia rather than aid the Abkhaz separatists. In fact, the Russian statehood itself is under the threat from such a precedent in its volatile Caucasus region (where it became a daily practice to shoot MVD or OMON personnel). When will North Caucasus explode is a matter of time. As the Andrey Ilarionov remarked yesterday in his interesting interview ( the Russian “acquisition” of Chechnya is more volatile than it had been during President Dudaev. Therefore, this pseudo-chauvinist games with Georgia’s territorial integrity will shatter the Russian borders rather than Georgian ones. Another example of this new Russian demagoguery in Abkhazia was yesterday when Moscow claimed that the Georgian unmanned plane which was shut down by the well recognizable MIG 29 was actually downed by the “Abhaz” 1970 Albatros made in the communist Czechoslovakia (reminds me of 1993 Grachovs idiotic statements when he claimed that Georgians were painting their war plans as Russian and were bombing their own cities and civilians in Abkhazia, blaming poor Russia).
This comical example can describe overall role of Russia in the Abkhaz conflict. Nobody has any doubts that Russia is not neutral but directly involved in the conflict.
What Anton thinks or desires in Russia or his fellow Duma deputies are one thing and what reality dictates is another.

Grigol said...

Thanks Luis. Great points. It is good to see that people in the west are finally grasping intricacies of this complicated conflict. But the implications of this are far more great that policy-makers in the west possibly imagine (stubbornnes of politicians in Germany to be blind is sometimes triking though). This is about preventing Georgia from emerging into a consolidated and successful democracy. With the danger of full-scale war hanging over head how can the Georgian democracy consolidate? Even critics of Mr Saakashvili regognise that this situation is only dragging political stability issues in Georgia. For example, most of the opposition does not hesitate to exploit Georgia's failure to get MAP in most unethical way. In short, leaving aside sarcasm of viewing democratic success as threat aside, most likely messup in Georgia will have dire consequences for Europe in several ways: first, the "bottleneck" of all alternative energy supply projects to Europe will be locked and Russia will gain unbreakable monopoly, second Russia will embolden like never and create unheard trouble in Baltics and all over Europe. It is already buying politicians in Germany. Second, prospects for democracy in the wider region will be buried for very long (Russians will pint out: look what games with western values got Georgia to); and finally this will be biggest failure of Europe and NATO since the WWII.

Everyone knew Russia would be emboldened after Bucharest. Everyone. But they blocked MAP anyway. It seems Europe only learns harder way but why we have to get our state ruined all the time???

Grigol said...

but even after this incontrovertible evidence or direct Russian aggression, there is not a single condemnation from not a single western head of state. I sometimes wonder if Russians bomb Tbilisi be enough. I suppose again they will say "we urge Georgia to exercise restraint" I already have allergy for this wording.

George Nikoladze said...

well unfortunately the "West" has not progressed in its loyalties to the freedoms and democracies in other countries since Chamberlain's pitiful chessboard play with Hitler, which has resulted in you know what. If Georgia is allowed to be dismembered, divided, harassed, and finally strangled (so far, the country endures remarkably) than what can stop Russia from similar deeds in Baltic states (give those Russians in Estonia the Russian citizenship and threaten their host country with military intervention if government in Talin will misbehave with their co-ethnic brethren) Poland and so on. Reminds of of the comments by one of the UN observers in Abkhazia who witnessed vacuum bombing of Georgian targets by Russian MIG 29. Well, he said, we need hard evidence of that plane taking of from Russia, receiving direct orders from Moscow on bombing, and returning back to Russia with mission accomplished, however, how on earth are you going to obtain this information--he noted to the US journalist Thomas Goltz :) The west probably will react if as you said Russians will hit couple of bombs on Tbilisi and again hope for the argument that either Georgians themselves did it or their Abkhaz nemesis was responsible. However, there is a positive signs of diplomatic victories for Georgia. This unmanned plane attack fiasco (which Russians comically blamed Abkhaz "Air Forces") turned against Moscow and many western government expressed their concern and condemned Putins latest annexation decree. Lets wait and see, hoping that Czechoslovakia or Sudetenland land tragedy will not be echoed in Georgia and West will not display same kind of fatalism as Chamberlain did in late 1930s.

Anton said...

If you are suggesting that history is irrelevat, then looking at the picture we have at the moment, makes it hardly promising for Georgian claims of Abkhazia.

What Putin did, is simply ended the "political blockade" of Abkhazia and ordered to install facilities and institues for representation of Russian citizens in Abkhazia, which constitutes for the majority of the population. What is wrong with doing that?

It is not an attempt to annex the region, Russia won´t risk it.

Europe would rather have a good relationship with Russia, rather than risk for the sake of Georgia.

Grigol said...

Anton, you might be successful at lieing to westerners in general, but dont think that you can shoot such utter nonsense at readers of this blog and especially its author.

First of all, those people who currently live in Abkhazia were given passports illegally. Second they only have internal passports and are not registered anywhere--provided the perennial necessity of such registration on the Russian territory.
Thirdly, in that logic, if Russia was successful at stirring unrest and bloodshed in Narva and Estonia in general in 1991 and later, achieved that, temporarily annexed Estonian territory and managed to impose peacekeeping format, it could well "distribute" passports after expelling bunch of Estonians from whatever province (good analogy with Mr Lucas' Voldimir Puchnik paralell) and claim same nonsense as you do now.

And had all the people driven out from Abkhazia returned we would see in what majority Russian "citizens" would have in Abkhazia.

But I am very disappointed in British fence-sitting. Mr Lucas, please check this out. It is due to British miscalculations that Sochi is in Russia today. Sochi city asked Georgia for protection against communists in 1919 and British forced Georgia to give it back to Denikin.

Anton said...

Not lieing, simply expressing my opinion and point of view, don't generally give a crap what the west think in general. It is good to see that you have started placing wikipedia links too.

It is a bad idea to shoot such ideas at the members of this blog, because it is mostly full of representatives of small ex-soviet nations and haters of Russia in general, especially its author.

Nevertheless, tell me this.
Do abkhazians want to be part of Georgia? Don't start drawing historical parallels and analogies, simply tell me what you think. DO they want to become citizens of Georgia?

Anton said...

part of this region was detached by the Tsar’s decree of December 25 1904, from the Sukhumi district (Kutaisi guberniya) to become part of the Black Sea guberniya.

From Wikipedia, I believe that explains how Sochi is still in Russia today.