(This article was published on Moskovskiy Komsomolets in Russian on August 25, 2010)
"Abkhazia is less dependent on Russia than Russia is on Abkhazia," one of the popular Abkhaz newspapers wrote recently. And the impression sometimes forms that the author was right on target. In any case, the elites of both the republics recognized by Russia often behave as if these words were inscribed on their family seal. Abkhazia and South Ossetia increasingly recall the willful beauty who condescendingly receives gifts from her long-standing, loyal suitor at the same time as her eyes are darting around looking for other interesting partners. And as always happens in such cases, the alternative is quickly found.
The Quiet American
"I think that he (Mikheil Saakashvili -- author) used the confrontation with Russia for personal goals: to muffle the voices of the discontented people in his own country. I hope that Saakashvili realized what harm he did to his own country, losing Abkhazia and South Ossetia in this way. After all, in this situation there will no longer be a road back."
"Kremlin propaganda again," some progressive reader will say involuntarily. And he will almost be right: such thoughts were heard on the official level in Russia so often that they became a kind of cliche that already seems almost improper somehow.
Nonetheless, these words, spoken just before the second anniversary of the August war, were a real sensation. After all, the person acting as the mouthpiece for Kremlin propaganda on this occasion is called the "shadow architect of American foreign policy" by well-informed people. And some consider him one of the most authoritative representatives of the American intelligence community. And not without grounds: Paul Goble (the quotation cited above belongs to him) in fact worked for a long time in the CIA, then served as an associate of the US State Department's Bureau of Research and Intelligence and as deputy director of broadcasting for Radio Liberty/Free Europe. He is considered one of the best experts on the Caucasus and inter-ethnic conflicts in post-Soviet space. In short, the classic "quiet American." Very quiet and very influential.
The significance of a person is best illustrated by the legends that surround him. There is a story that circulates about Goble, that supposedly the speaker and the prime minister of Armenia, who died at the hands of terrorists in October 1999, were paid back for rejecting the so-called Goble plan to settle the Karabakh conflict. We are sure that this is malicious slander.
And if such a complex person says publicly, "I think that on the threshold of the conflict Saakashvili misinterpreted statements by the US president and secretary of state... He did not hear at all what we had in mind. I hope that the American authorities are aware of the harm Saakashvili caused by his actions. We did not need that war," this certainly bodes no good for Saakashvili. It may already be time for him to look for a job in a quiet provincial American university. Just in case.
But here is the most interesting thing: "I believe in the right of nations to self-determination," Mr. Goble says. "And I am sure that Abkhazia has demonstrated its possibility of realizing this right in practice."
But what will happen with the territorial integrity of Georgia, for which official Washington is constantly affirming its support? The events of recent years have shown that for the Americans the integrity of other countries is always a relative value. When a probable enemy or its ally loses integrity it is welcomed. The examples of the USSR and Yugoslavia are known to all. But while the USSR collapsed relatively peacefully ("just" a few tens of thousands killed in Tajikistan, Abkhazia, the Dniester region, and South Ossetia), everything was much worse in Yugoslavia. At first glance US policy toward Slobodan Milosevic looked somewhat schizophrenic: after all, in its time Yugoslavia was the most pro-Western country in the socialist camp and had difficult relations with Moscow while Milosevic himself up to a certain time seemed to be a completely loyal client of Washington. He made concessions easily, in fact surrendered Serbian Krajna, and declared an economic blockade of the Bosnian Serbs (how can we help recalling here the multi-year blockade of Abkhazia by the Russian Federation?). But here is the paradox: the more Milosevic gave away, the less the West liked him. Ultimately the Serbs even gave up Milosevic himself, but they still took Kosovo away from them. The poor devils simply did not understand that it was not a matter of Milosevic, but of themselves -- the West does not need a strong, unified Serbia, which sooner or later will return to its traditional role as Russia's outpost in the Balkans.
But whereas everything is clear with Serbia, Turkey is, after all, a reliable ally and strategic partner of the Americans. And therefore the Americans' support of Kurdish separatism in Iraq is, from the Turkish point of view, completely beyond good and evil. I took a look at the Kurdish website yesterday, and saw there threats to secede from Iraq with highly promising commentary: "And if the Kurds slam the door, glass will fly across the whole region." In connection with which very alluring prospects could open up for Turkish Kurdistan. And how is Georgia better than Turkey?
Normal Heroes Always Take the Bypass
It is not only no better, but even in some respects worse: Georgia, an Orthodox country like Serbia, was a reliable supporter of the Russians during the Caucasus war and together they wiped out the mountain rebels, who are brothers in spirit and faith with the Kosovo terrorists, the United States' current strategic partners. So who will sort them out, the Georgians? Where will their sun rise tomorrow? Half of the North Caucasus is related by kin to the Abkhazians.
Of course, from the standpoint of America's strategic interests it would be best if a united Georgia including Abkhazia and South Ossetia joined NATO. But the West is starting to understand that it is probably impossible for Abkhazians and Georgians to live in one state. That means it is necessary to "enter" already independent Abkhazia maybe as a carcass, maybe as a scarecrow, maybe as an embassy if nothing else works.
"For Moscow the worst development of the situation in the Caucasus is if the West, and the United States in particular, decides to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia," Mr. Goble says. "Picture 27 embassies of the NATO members in Sukhum. No doubt the Russian authorities would be horrified at that. Then after all, there are others in Russia who would like self-determination -- Dagestan, for example. I do not rule out such a development of events. I hope that we greet the 10th anniversary of the conflict between Russia and Georgia in a significantly calmer state. There will be fewer comments on Russian aggression, and more embassies of foreign states in Sukhum. I do not know if there will be an American Embassy among them. That, of course, is a very bold dream."
Paul Goble is undoubtedly a brilliant analyst and a master strategist. He set forth a perfectly realistic plan to "nullify" Russia's August victory: reorient Abkhazia to the West and turn it into a Mecca for North Caucasian separatists. This is not fantasy. Suffice it to recall the Gorskaya (Mountain) Republic that was declared after the fall of the Russian Empire. It included Abkhazia, Ossetia, and five other republics of the North Caucasus. The ideas of the Gorskaya Republic were reborn after the fall of the Union. In November 1991 Sukhum was declared the capital of the Confederation of Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus. During the war with Georgia representatives of all the national movements of the North Caucasus fought on the Abkhaz side. The minister of defense of war-time Abkhazia was Sultan Sosnaliyev, a Kabardin, and Shamil Basayev was his deputy. Kabardin and Chechen battalions played a decisive part in the war. Afterward those same Chechens, having become battle hardened on the fronts of Abkhazia, fought against Russian troops.
Highly-placed people I spoke with in Sukhum told me that even before the August events representatives of Western countries in private conversation hinted on occasion that Abkhazia's main problem was its pro-Russian orientation. "If the Abkhazians turn their faces to the West, anything is possible, including international recognition" -- according to my interlocutors that is how these emissaries talked.
"If the 'restoration' of Georgian rule is a fantasy, accordingly it is essential to prevent Abkhazia from finally falling under Russia's power," the journalist Neal Ascherson writes in his article entitled "Abkhazia and the Caucasus: the West's Choice," which was posted on the Open Democracy website. "The West is facing an urgent need to arrange direct contacts with Abkhazia -- economic, social, and cultural contacts -- and to get access to Abkhaz ports. That will help Abkhazia emerge from isolation."
News from the Field
As for South Ossetia, in the opinion of Western analysts it has fewer grounds for independence. Small territory, small population. And geographic position: South Ossetia is a "dagger aimed at Tbilisi," an ideal launching point for an invasion of Georgia. But the main thing is that North Ossetia is located in the Russian Federation. In this connection (I am again speaking on the basis of the words of participants in events who hold high positions in the Ossetian elite) on numerous occasions the Ossetians have been told unofficially that if North Ossetia unites with South Ossetia and withdraws from Russia, such a united Ossetia could well expect international recognition.
This idea is not at all as utopian as it seems.
In Tskhinval today we observe a paradoxical situation. While South Ossetia, its people, and the whole elite are entirely dependent on our maintenance -- in the war-ravaged republic nothing is working, there are no domestic sources of income at all, and even its security depends entirely on Russia -- Moscow cannot resolve a single significant problem there. Not even monitor the expenditure of its own money or protect its own people. Moscow (and according to my information the Russian premier personally) was even unable to get Mr. Kokoyty to dismiss South Ossetian officials who were caught stealing and whose names were known. The story of former health minister Nuzgar Gabarayev, who distributed Russian financial aid, is illustrative. His name has already become part of the language in the republic. After Moscow protege Vadim Brovtsev sent Gabarayev into retirement, President Kokoyty appointed him his own state counselor. Evidently an indispensable personage. Even more illustrative is the story of General Barankevich, who Moscow wanted very much to appoint to be head of the MVK (interdepartmental commission on the restoration of South Ossetia), but COULD NOT. In other words, in this case terribly dependent and very proud Tskhinval, living entirely on our money, was actually able to influence our internal personnel policy. At the same time we cannot influence Tskhinval's. I would say that this is the apotheosis of impudence.
There is an analogous situation in Abkhazia, where Moscow is unsuccessfully trying to get the property rights of Russian citizens who were illegally deprived of their housing restored. In order to avoid misunderstanding, I will emphasize that we are not talking here about the property of Georgian refugees. Their problems should be the subject of bilateral talks between Georgia and Abkhazia. It is those for whom the Russian government is fighting, principally Russians, Armenians, Greeks, and the like. Many of them never left Abkhazia at all.
In these very days another scandal has flared up. Sukhum rejected a document sent to it by the MID RF (Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs) entitled "Concept of the Work of the Joint Russian-Abkhaz Commission on Questions of Restorin g the Property Rights of Citizens of the Russian Federation in the Republic of Abkhazia." We will recall that the decision to form such a commission was reached in Moscow after an article published in MK (Moskovskiy Komsomolets) made the problem a matter of public record. Before this, according to our information, the MID RF and the Russian Embassy in Sukhum had sent several diplomatic notes to the Abkhaz side (dated 25 November 2008, 19 March 2009, 22 April 2009, and 31 July 2009). President Medvedev and foreign minister Lavrov discussed the problem with the president of Abkhazia. Sergey Baghapsh pointed out to the chiefs of local administrations the necessity of "taking a hard line with seizures of property." However, nothing happened. Not one of the protagonists of our article has gotten his apartment back at this point.
At the same time strange articles are appearing in the Abkhaz press in which the plans to form the commission are called "anti-state and anti-Abkhaz," while giving people back property that was fraudulently taken from them is considered a threat to the Abkhaz people. The Abkhazians never tire of repeating that their foreign policy must be multi-vectored, that they are not some pathetic outpost of Russia, but a sovereign state with its own interests. Thus if there is a change in the West's position on the issue of Abkhaz independence, Moscow stands a good chance of being left empty-handed.
And if we close our eyes to the problems that already exist in relations with our Abkhaz and Ossetian partners, it is not impossible that some day museums "of the Russian occupation" will open on the central squares of Sukhum and Tskhinval.
God forbid, of course.
Source: Moskovskiy Komsomolets (Russian)