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Audi alteram partem

Reply to Hamilton's reply / From: "George Hewitt

Reply to Hamilton's reply / From: "George Hewitt

-Ossetian War Article
-RE: Ossetian War article/ JRL#159 item #24., from  Robert Hamilton
-Some Thoughts Arising From Lt-Col. Robert Hamilton's Paper, from George Hewitt
-A Response to Hewitt JRL#171 [re: Georgia, Russia], from Robert Hamilton

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Reply to Hamilton's reply

[George Hewitt is professor of Caucasian languages at London's School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS). Among his many works are "Peoples of the Caucasus" (in F. Fernández-Armesto, ed.), Guide to the Peoples of Europe (Times Books, 1994) and (as editor) The Abkhazians, a handbook (Curzon Press, 1999)]

More thoughts on the views of Lt-Col. Robert Hamilton and a comment on the testimony of Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns before the US Senate (17 Sept 2008)

I am grateful to Lt-Col. Hamilton for pointing out my egregious error in stating that of late 70% of Georgia’s GNP had been devoted to military spending. Whatever figure and source I had in mind when composing my original ‘Thoughts’, that figure was totally unrealistic, and I duly apologise for its inclusion. It seems from figures presented in London on Friday 19th Sept to a meeting of economists by the Georgian Prime Minister that the figure for the coming year will be 17%. I leave it to economists and ordinary residents of Georgia to decide to what extent even the figure of 17% reveals a proper sense of priorities on the part of the authorities in Tbilisi, given the other challenges facing the country.

For what it is worth, before moving on from the question of the proportion of the budget devoted to the military, I quote from a report for IWPR by Koba Liklikadze from 19 July 2007 on the rise in military spending in Georgia at that time (see http://www.iwpr.net/?p=crs&s=f&o=337250&apc_state=henpcrs):

Government says sharp rise in defence spending will professionalise army but questions are asked about why the money is being spent.

By Koba Liklikadze in Tbilisi (CRS No. 402 19-Jul-07)

Georgia, which has made breathtaking increases in its defence spending over the last two years, looks set to beat all records this year.

In late June, the Georgian government increased the defence ministry’s budget of 513 million laris (315 million US dollars) by 442 million laris (260 million dollars).

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI, Georgia currently has the highest average growth rate of military spending in the world. Some independent experts are worried that the spending is not fully accounted for, while others say that it could undermine the peace processes with the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia…..“People in South Ossetia feel that Georgians contradict themselves in what they say, and what they do," Bela Valieva, a resident of the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali, told IWPR. “On the one hand they speak about peaceful resolution to conflicts, and on the other they increase their military budget all the time.”

Boris Chochiev, deputy prime minister of the de facto government of South Ossetia and the main negotiator with Tbilisi, went further, blaming western countries for the situation. He told IWPR that his government constantly raised the issue of Tbilisi’s military build-up with the international community but did not get a “sensible answer”.

“We are astonished at the position of countries that are calling on us to disarm while at the same time they are arming the aggressor, Georgia,” he said. “It’s not Georgia that is increasing its budget. The money is being given them by the West.” [End of quote]

See also the following at http://www.geneva.mid.ru/disarm/21.html  

Statement by H.E. Ambassador V.V.Loschinin, Permanent representative of the Russian Federation at the plenary meeting of the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, 14 August, 2008 On the conflict in South Ossetia.

I pointed out to our colleagues that the data from UN Register of conventional weapons were clear evidence that Georgia has been continuously preparing for the start of hostilities. For instance during the period from 2003 to 2008  according to Register data  124 battle tanks, 83 large caliber artillery systems, 43 armored combat vehicles and 20 combat aircraft were supplied to Georgia. Even according to official data of SIPRI, during the period of the Saakashvili government the military expenditure has increased almost 10-fold. According to other data the military budget has increased more then 20-fold.

I am not so grateful to the Lt-Colonel for his other remarks.

However, let me readily acknowledge at the outset that I have no military experience and no interest in acquiring any. My attitude is crystalised in the view that I formed back in the 1960s when first viewing the BBC’s magnificent 26-part TV-documentary ‘The Great War’, namely that every professional member of the military and every leading politician in a position to declare war should be required to watch one episode of this series every single day of their working lives in order that they never forget the horrors that they have in their power to inflict on their fellow human beings.

The Lt-Colonel urges that, if I have details of the weaponry recoved from the Valley, I should give it. Here it is:

• Upto 10,000 rounds for hand-held anti-tank grenade-launchers of type RPG-7;
• Upto 600 individual rounds for anti-tank grenade-launchers of the type PG-9;
• Upto 1,500 rounds for under-barrel grenade-launchers;
• Upto 600 individual shells for 82mm mortars;
• Upto 350 unguided rocket-missiles (NURS) S-8;
• 124,000 5.45mm cartridges (one KAMaz truck-load);
• 43,200 cartridges with tracer-bullets TS;
• 8 individual 122mm howitzers D-30 plus 1,500 artillery-shells for them;
• 804 individual shells for 60mm mortars of American manufacture;
• four multi-purpose, light-armoured vehicles (MTLB);
• four anti-aircraft placements of the type ZU-23-2;
• one 57mm cannon;
• one rocket volley-firing system LAR.

Also removed was a large amount of military-technical material for military units (tents, magazines for weapons, oil-cans, cartridge-pouches, spare-parts for weapons, belts, cases, etc…).

The above-data come from issue 100 of the newspaper Respublika Abxazii of 9th-10th September 2008 (p.2). My translation of the full article from which these data were taken is appended to this piece[ DJ: Not here].

Now, the Svans are admittedly the only members of the Kartvelian family of peoples (Georgians, Mingrelians, Laz, Svans) for whose fighting qualities the Abkhazians have any respect. But does Hamilton expect those of us who live in blissful ignorance of military matters to conclude that the few hundred Svan villagers who inhabited the Upper K’odor Valley are such rascals to need this quantity and type of weaponry to be kept in order by the ‘policemen’ so generously provided by Tbilisi? I think not. And so, perhaps the Lt-Colonel would give us the benefit of his expert knowledge and enlighten us as to what purpose this arsenal could possibly have served.

On the question of where the responsibility lies for initiating the large-scale fighting that began on 7th August 2008 I know of no serious (I stress ‘serious’) commentator who does not lay the blame fairly and squarely on Saak’ashvili. I restrict myself to quoting one observer, chosen virtually at random from all those whose thoughts have been posted on the Internet, namely Steven Pifer:

Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who is currently a visiting fellow with the Brookings Institution in Washington, says neither side behaved admirably in the conflict. Russia may have been prepared to strike, but it was Saakashvili who triggered the fighting with what Pifer calls his "ill-advised" move into South Ossetia. (Little Country Caught In Big-Stakes Game, September 15, 2008, by Brian Whitmore)

Though I stated in my first ‘Thoughts’ that I would restrict my comments mainly to Abkhazia, as this is the area with which I have been intimately connected for the last 32 years, I’m charged with keeping silent about acts of vengeance committed in the wake of the fighting in S. Ossetia because this does not serve my argument. I have no problem condemning any acts of gratuitous violence taken against innocent civilians of any ethnic group by way of provocation or retribution in any part of the world. But, of course, this is the Caucasus with a very strong tradition of blood-feud. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reminded Saak’ashvili during his press-conference in Sukhum on Sunday 13th September, Saak’ashvili himself once stated that in the Caucasus the spilling of blood is remembered not for decades but for centuries. Given this context, the recklessness (if the Lt-Colonel will allow me this use of this abstract noun) of Saak’ashvili’s decision to launch his assault on the Ossetians is placed in an even sharper focus. And it can have come as no surprise to him to observe the painful consequences of his decision paid by his fellow Georgians. After all, was it not an Ossetian who, having lost his wife and children in the air-collision caused some years ago by the mistake of a Swiss air-traffic controller, eventually tracked down and murdered that controller?

Hamilton obects to my use of the term ‘reckless’ to describe the arming of the Saak’ashvili regime by his Western friends and observes that Georgia, as an independent state, has the right to be in a position to defend itself. I remain untroubled by my choice of the word ‘reckless’. As for Georgia’s right to be able to defend itself, well from whom? Was it ever likely that Georgia’s neighbours (Armenia, Turkey, Azerbaijan) would attack it? That leaves Russia. Georgia was/is never going to be in a position to defend itself against Russia (which makes Saak’ashvili’s fateful decision of 7th August even more perplexing), and so one cannot speak of arming it in order to achieve that unrealisable goal. Therefore, the only explanation for Tbilisi arming itself to the extent it did is that it needed the weaponry for attacks on S. Ossetia and Abkhazia; and, since Russia is now protecting these two allied states, there can be no justification for Georgia being rearmed. To rearm it will be further to increase instability in an already unstable region. To whose advantage is that? Hamilton is at pains to lessen the blame for the introduction of riot-police on the streets of Tbilisi in November 2007 to quash an opposition-demonstration against the government. I note that he has nothing to stay about the staging of the shooting-incident in the Mingrelian village of Q’urcha on the day of the May parliamentary elections, which I mentioned in my earlier contribution. If Hamilton’s duties allow him the time to find a justification for all infringements of human rights by the Georgian authorities, he will find a pretty long list of them on the site http://www.humanrights.ge, where brave Georgians themselves have been cataloguing them for years.

Let me explain in simple terms why I have been of the opinion for 19 years that the Georgians are alone responsible for the woes that have afflicted their republic, which could so easily have become a REAL beacon of multi-ethnic democracy with a successful economy, had wiser policies been followed. Instead of banging the drum of nationalism, leaders with the best interests of the country at heart should have proposed and seriously considered federalisation with real decentralisation to the federal units; the Abkhazians were actually calling for this, but the only Georgian response was war.

Having spent two academic years learning/researching Georgian at Tbilisi University (1975-76; 1979-80) along with several summer-visits to Abkhazia, I spent the final 5 months of 1987 in Georgia, combining a family-holiday in Abkhazia with an autumn-term sabbatical from my then-university (Hull), when I was based in the Iveria Hotel in the centre of Tbilisi. Apart from working on Mingrelian with the late K’orneli Danelia, Merab Chukhua and Revaz Sherozia, I had to investigate the history of language-planning in Soviet Georgia for a seminar-series in which I was a speaker in London at the start of 1988. During those enquiries what I discovered about not merely the treatment of the Abkhaz language but also the Abkhazian people during the mid-20th century threw immediate light on the tensions in the relations between the two peoples of which I’d been aware for some years. Talking about the events of the 1930s-40s to Georgians who were old enough to remember them, I was surprised to find that what happened in Abkhazia during those days of the dominance in Moscow, Tbilisi and Sukhum of Stalin-Beria-Chark’viani-Mgeladze were not in fact widely known; and so, it was understandable that Georgians of younger generations should be ignorant of those events, amongst which were: mass-importation of Mingrelians to alter the balance of the local demography; changing of the Abkhaz script from a Roman-base to a Georgian-base; closure of Abkhaz-language schools to be replaced by Georgian-language schools; banning of publishing in the language; falsification of Abkhazian history with the pseudo-scholarly theory propounded by P’avle Ingoroq’va in the late 1940s (republished in 1954 in his book ‘Giorgi Merchule’) as a ‘justification’ for the planned deportation of the Abkhazian nation, something the Abkhazians escaped by a whisker in 1948. I feared that what I had learnt about mid-20th-century history would eventually cause problems in my relations with Georgians, but I remained essentially sympathetic with Georgians’ well-known anti-Russian sentiments, viewing their openly paraded national pride as a mark of defiance against the various injustices suffered at the hand of their northern neighbour (even if it had been the Georgians themselves who gave Tsarist Russia its toehold in Transcaucasia when Erek’le 2nd, King (at various times) of Kartli and/or K’akheti, signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with Catherine the Great in 1783).

The reforms introduced in the Soviet Union by Mikheil Gorbachev facilitated discussion/publication of peoples and events long unmentionable. Receiving on a weekly basis the once-weekly /lit’erat’uruli sakartvelo/ ‘Literary Georgia’, the organ of the writers’ union and thus the vehicle for the expression of the views of Georgian intellectuals, I found a number of articles published there from the middle of 1988 fascinating for the sudden appearance of articles on Stalin and Beria. But things soon began to change for the worse.

Instead of revealing items about Georgia’s forbidden history, utterly distasteful pieces aimed at the Abkhazians, the Azerbaijani population based in Marneuli-Dmanisi, and the South Ossetians, all slighted as ‘guests on GEORGIAN soil’, began to appear. Coupling these with the now well-known slogan from the anti-communist opposition-movement ‘Georgia for the Georgians’ and attempts to rehabilitate the long-disgraced Ingoroq’va and his blatant distortion of Abkhazia’s history raised alarm-bells not only in my mind but, more naturally, amongst the Abkhazians and S. Ossetians themselves, who formed their national forums (Aydgylara under Sergei Shamba and Adamon Nykhas under Alan Chochiev, respectively) largely as a reaction in defence of the rights of their respective peoples and to combat the distinct threat emanating from Tbilisi. Whilst the Georgian jingoistic rhetoric was dangerously exclusionist (given that, even if one accepts, as I and the Abkhazians do not, that Mingrelians and Svans are correctly classifiable as ‘Georgians’, ‘Georgians’ formed only 70.1% of Georgia’s 1989 population), what came out of Aydgylara and other Abkhazian sources (I refrain from commenting on S. Ossetian publications, as I was not monitoring them as closely as I was the Abkhazian output) was reactive to outrageous Georgian claims and never exclusionist or threatening to ANY members of Abkhazia’s own complex patchwork of ethnic groups. This is why, when Georgia proper (i.e. minus Abkhazia and S. Ossetia) refused to participate in Gorbachev’s referendum on a restructuring of the Soviet Union, an absolute majority of the whole of Abkhazia’s eligible electorate voted to remain within the Union and not to follow Georgia in its bid for independence. The coup against Gorbachev scuppered any such remodelling project.

Georgia duly gained its independence, but the country remained unrecognised longer than other former union-republic because of the unstable character at its head, the late Zviad Gamsakhurdia, one of those who led the country down the disastrous path of nationalism. If Hamilton thinks the Russians can be blamed for what was purely a Georgian phenomenon (in fact the phrase ‘Georgian phenomenon’ was common in the nationalist outpourings singing the praises of the Georgian race and setting it above others), given the widespread nature of such writings and claims across the whole Georgian media, let him explain how. The Russians needed to do nothing to stir the Abkhazians and S. Ossetians (and let us not forget the fatal clashes between Georgians and Azerbaijanis in southern Georgia in July 1989), when the Georgians had stirred them so successfully all by themselves.

I tried to alert the Georgians to the clouds gathering over their republic (with particular reference to Abkhazia) with my ‘Open Letter’, written before the fighting in Sukhum and Ochamchira on 15th-16th July 1989 but published in ‘Literary Georgia’ on 22nd July, the Friday after those fatal clashes, but, as I learnt on the day of its publication (specifically from the fact that it was felt necessary to print attacks on me in the three articles that immediately followed my Open Letter  a similar disinclination to let the Georgian public make up its own mind on the basis of what they read or see was seen in the Georgian government’s recent jamming of Russian TV and internet-sites in the wake of the S. Ossetian fiasco) that, if one does not wholeheartedly support the Georgian position, one is considered a foe  indeed, Gamsakhurdia later styled me ‘kartveli eris mt’eri’ (Enemy of the Georgian People) for my pains. Anyone interested can read for themselves my views of 1989, as the ‘Open Letter’ (in the English translation I eventually made of my Georgian original) is available on www.apsny.ru  on the specific page: http://www.apsny.ru/special/special.php?page=content/hewitt.htm . After the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict had descended into all-out war, I was asked to write an article setting out the arguments of the two sides. This I did, and it was duly published in Central Asian Survey in 1993. I examined the claims of both sides and found the Georgian case to be utterly baseless, a view I hold to this day  this article too is available on the aforementioned web-page. I have, thus, attempted over the years to present to an ignorant and uncaring world the Abkhazian position. A selection of my writings is also posted on that web-page, and so readers can draw their own conclusions. How many of the now legion of ‘experts’ on Georgia speak with a knowledge of Georgian than enables them to read what the Georgians write about these matters for the benefit of their own population? It should be noted that what is said/written in Georgia for foreign consumption often does not coincide with what appears when the authors produce a Georgian version. And, even if those whose jobs require them to spend time or even live in Georgia have picked up such a knowledge, how many of them will have read the materials from late 1988 that caused me (not to mention the relevant minorities themselves) such worries at the time and led me to the conclusion that Hamilton finds so distorting of historical reality? I await the appearance of such an individual to put the counter-case.

And one rider on Ingoroq’va: the street in Tbilisi on which the Institute of Linguistics fo the Georgian Academy Sciences stands has been renamed ‘ingoroq’vas kucha’ (Ingoroq’va Street), a sad illustration of what pseudo-scholarship can achieve in independent Georgia. And in case anyone should think that in other respects Ingoroq’va and his theory might be a think of the pre-Saak’ashvili past, let me draw attention to the existence of a large-format book, published in Tbilisi in 2007, in Georgian entitled ‘Essays from the History of Georgia: Abkhazia’. It consists of 377 pages and is written by a variety of authors. As one example I would mention chapter XI (pp. 178-196), the contribution from Georgia’s main specialist on the Abkhaz language, Teimuraz Gvantseladze. His piece is called ‘The linguistic foundations for the ethnographic history of Abkhazia’, and his conclusion reads as follows: ‘Thus, the linguistic material examined above proves quite conclusively that the original domicile of the ancestors of the Abkhazians was not the territory of modern-day Abkhazia and that they [the Abkhazians] did not reside here before the XVIth century.’ All of this, like the rest of the book, is pure fantasy, and dangerous fantasy for the way it poisons the minds of its Georgian readers against the rightful history of a people whose best interests according to Georgian propaganda can only be served within a unitary state that is Georgia. If Hamilton is really interested in distortions of history, this 2007 publication should provide him with some interesting reading.

Hamilton speaks of Russian assistance to the Abkhazian side in the 1992-93 war. In fact, there is compelling evidence that President Boris Yeltsin actually gave Shevardnadze the green light to attack Abkhazia on 14th August 1992. I am not going to rehearse yet again the arguments against Hamilton’s assertion (which is, of course, one that has wide currency). When I was asked to edit a book on the Abkhazians for Curzon Press, I knew that there were two exceptionally sensitive topics that needed to be discussed by authors against whom no possible charge of bias could be laid. These topics were (i) the question of Russian assistance to the Abkhazians, and (ii) the debate about Abkhazia’s demographic makeup since the start of data-collection in the second half of the 19th century. I, therefore, asked German Daniel Müller to put into article-format all the data I knew he had been gathering and analysing on this latter topic. As for the postulated military assistance, I specifically requested American film-journalist Dodge Billingsley to address this question in his article on the battle for the northern town of Gagra, which he had already researched. Again, interested parties can make their own judgments by reading the relevant chapters of ‘The Abkhazians: a handbook’ (Curzon Press, 1998). I have nothing further to say on these issues.

The world-community was absolutely right not to recognise Georgia under the unstable Gamsakhurdia but horribly wrong to recognise it under Shevardnadze in the spring of 1992 (a movement led, in Europe at least, by the UK government, I am ashamed to say). Of course, the reason for the change of attitude was the simple presence of Eduard Shevardnadze at the head of the illegitimate junta ruling Georgia at the time. I can imagine what the sort of people then advising their political masters will have been advocating, because I have heard from the mouth of one in a prime position to offer it: ‘Shevardnadze did the world a favour in his role as Soviet Foreign Minister, overseeing the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the USSR; let’s repay the debt, and, by giving him Western backing, help him bring some sort of order to the failed state that Georgia is threatening to become.’ It must have sounded plausible to the politicians listening to such diplomats and advisers, especially when their attention was really concentrated on the mess that had been created in the Balkans by earlier ill-thought-through and over hasty recognition, but the advice took no account of the internal complexities of the polity that was Soviet Georgia, where Gamsakhurdia’s war in S. Ossetia was ongoing along with another bitter civil war in Mingrelia between the Zviadists and the Shevardnistas, and where tensions were rising in Abkhazia; moreover, the state was totally devoid of any legitimate government. Recognition led thereafter to dismissal of any demands for self-determination coming from Abkhazians and S. Ossetians because of the perceived overriding need to preserve SOVIET Georgia’s territorial integrity. This global error has led directly to recent events, for, with all the gains on the international front that he needed, Shevardnadze was emboldened to attack Abkhazia a matter of weeks after Georgia was admitted to the United Nations! With Gamsakhurdia’s Ossetian war, Shevardnadze’s Abkhazian war, the attempt to retake Abkhazia by force in May 1998, and Saak’ashvili’s crazed move against S. Ossetia on 7th August, no sensible observer can possibly still harbour the remotest hope that Abkhazia or S. Ossetia will ever again be part of any Georgian political structure, especially after the recognition now awarded to these republics by Russia. Even if the West persists in its self-defeating policy and withholds recognition, I would imagine that the peoples who live in Abkhazia (and S. Ossetia) would be satisfied if their standard of living could be raised through purely Russian investment to that existing just over the border in such cities as Sochi, which is an entirely realistic prospect for Abkhazia at least, even if this Sochi-standard is below what most Westerners expect from a holiday-resort. And so, the suggestion from Hamilton that the two entities are doomed to remain back-waters has to be put in the balance, remembering that freedom to control their affairs and security-guarantees from Russia will sit in the pan alongside the prospect of Sochi-style living standards  I would imagine that the Abkhazians plus local Armenians, Russians, and, yes, even Mingrelians might settle for this (as not all citizens of the world aspire to mimic the consumer-orientated lifestyle of the USA). It is the height of arrogance to assume that one knows better than the Abkhazians and S. Ossetians themselves where they would be best off (as, for example, with John McCain’s staggeringly uninformed remarks in Tbilisi in 2006, namely that he wished that the peoples of Georgia’s two breakaway-regions would soon learn what it means to live in freedom!).

I was reminded recently that it was in 1008 that the king of the Abkhazian Kingdom, which included what today lies within western Georgia, inherited the other statelets in the region (including those in today’s Turkey) where Kartvelian languages were spoken, thereby creating the united Kingdom of the Abkhazians and the Kartvelians. Saak’ashvili has earned for himself a unique place in history: exactly a millennium after that union, he can claim to have become, not the second ‘davit aghmashenebeli’ (David the Builder, the king who defeated the Seljuk Turks and expelled the Arabs from their centuries-long occupation of T’pilisi in the early 12th century), but rather ‘misha damangreveli’  do I need to translate?

And so to a few words in response to William J. Burns. In his address on 17th September to the US Senate, Burns stated: ‘Russia’s actions in Georgia, particularly its reckless decisions to invade Georgia and recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, are deplorable.’ The label ‘deplorable’ more properly belongs elsewhere. As I pointed out in my earlier response to Hamilton, what Russia did was not invade Georgia, as the events have been mislabelled, but rather take effective measures to ensure both that the assault on S. Ossetia was stopped and that Georgia’s military was deprived of its capability of restarting hostilities either in S. Ossetia or Abkhazia, where the purging of the Upper K’odor Valley by Russian air-power and Abkhazian ground-forces was a necessary step after two years of illegal occupation and concerns about Georgia’s ultimate intentions there; given Abkhazia’s exposed coastline, the sinking of the vessels in Poti and the disabling of the arsenal in Senak’i were also essential. The EU has now given guarantees that it will prevent Georgia resuming its armed threat out of Gori on S. Ossetia and out of Senak’i on Abkhazia, though both regions will now be protected by fully armed Russian forces in addition to the local troops of the newly recognised states. Again, I was reminded the other day that this is not the first time during Georgia’s years of fragile independence that Russian forces have operated in Senak’i, Poti or even Georgia’s second city of Kutaisi  they were there in 1993, and yet the USA and the West raised not a squeak of protest. Why was this? At that time, Russia’s ‘humanitarian’ assistance was being used to put down the march out of Mingrelia towards Kutaisi of forces loyal to the deposed first post-communist president of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, and the West raised no objections, Shevardnadze being simultaneously both Moscow’s and Washington’s man. But now that the West’s attentions are no longer concentrated on the Balkans and that America has its pipeline-interests in Georgia to protect, Russia has to be challenged, no matter how alarmingly similar to the unpredictable Gamsakhurdia Saak’ashvili has demonstrated himself to be.

A number of commentators have stated the view that Russia would have commanded the moral high ground, had it removed the Georgian tanks from S. Ossetia, driven them back to the border with Georgia, stopped there, refrained from action in Abkhazia’s Upper K’odor Valley, and taken the case to the UN Security Council. But, even if the Council had been able to reach agreement on a resolution that would have been seen as anti-Georgian and would thus have raised the hackles of the pro-Georgian permanent members with their powers of veto, would Georgia have paid any notice? Even if it had, most of its weaponry and military infrastructure would have been in place, allowing for a renewal of action at some stage deemed advantageous to it, and the threat under which Abkhazia has lived for years would have continued. The moral high ground is, no doubt, a fine place to sit, but, if it does not solve the problem and allows for more deaths down in the (?immoral) valley, why bother seeking lodgement there?

As stated above, the West’s huge mistake has been to recognise Georgia in the borders set for it by Stalin and ever since blindly to follow whatever the government in Tbilisi has requested of it in terms of relations with Abkhazia and S. Ossetia. That policy has been wholly counter-productive, driving these republics ever more firmly into Moscow’s embrace. One would have thought that, when after almost two decades one has achieved precisely the opposite of what one hoped, any rational person would change that policy. What does it say of the US, UK and NATO leaderships in particular that all they can collectively devise are more variations on the theme of the self-same failed policies? But where’s the surprise in this? On Tuesday 23rd September George W. Bush ‘informed’ the General Assembly of the UN that Georgia’s Rose Revolution (November 2003) had been to win freedom and democracy  from whom? Actually from the failed leadership of American-supported Eduard Shevardnadze, whose ousting by his former protégé Mikhail Saak’ashvili promptly saw the Bush administration disown him and switch allegiance to the new, still illegitimate leader (just as Shevardnadze himself had won international support for Georgia in the spring of 1992, as explained above, while heading a still illegitimate regime).

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