A Georgian gambling in Caucasus, by Fehim Tastekin
As nationalist President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia nowadays dares to attempt his madcap escapade that he has dreamt of ever since he came to power in 2004 in the American-backed Revolution of Roses, a further notch has just been scored out on the history of Caucasian wars...
He was, so to say, going to retake Abkhazia, followed by South Ossetia, which has been 'de facto' independent since 1991. After all, he vowed while he ran for presidency to bring the two republics to heel, because he was firmly confident that he would be able to do away with the Ossetian as well as with the Abkhaz people in solid four months. In fact, this is the most imminent war that has ever happened in the region. The American armed forces have trained the Georgian troops since 2002, giving them the final instructions on what to do before they were given exercises to do and tests to take at the Vaziyani base. Well-trained American troops were deployed in Georgian troops that are not under the control of South Ossetia. The first flash of lightning stroke last Friday when cannon balls were fired at Tskhinval, capital of South Ossetia, and at the neighbouring villages to see how the Ossetians and also, of course, Russia--the big brother of the region--would react. What South Ossetia could do was only to fire mortar shells at Georgian villages, which it actually did. And it had to order South Ossetian children and women to be moved at once to North Ossetia before the imminent war erupted. Russia could not, however, be provoked into acting with a sudden burst of anger; it only waited. Saakashvili must have been encouraged by the view of the situation as he sounded as if he were a militant when he ordered Georgian troops to move to the heart of Ossetia. Before that, it was like a scene from a Hollywood movie where missiles created a rift up in the dark sky as they kept being fired at the Ossetians. It was an act of betrayal, a horrible act of destruction that the Caucasus would never be able to forgive even after one hundred years... As soon as the sun rose, the 'commander in chief' ordered the entire armed forces of Georgia to join the battle. Given our impression of him, he was confident that he could really retake South Ossetia. He was even careful to make his words look impressive when he set the goal of the total incursion of Georgia: "South Ossetia will be set free and its constitutional order will be restored." But it did not happen the way it was planned, because Russia stepped in just in time.
What kind of a calculation was it? Who drew it out? Whose plan was it to target openly the Russian peace-keeping forces while they were deployed in the region in accordance with the 1992 truce that Georgia signed?
It did not take days to see Russian planes fly; only within a few hours they were able to strike Kareli, Gori, the Vaziyani base that borders Tbilisi, and the Marneuli airport. Only a few hours were enough for Russian tanks to arrive in Tskhinval as they stood in alert one month after they were drilled in and around North Ossetia.
It is obvious that Saakashvili did not learn anything from Georgia's war with Ossetia in 1991-1992 and with Abkhazia in 1992-1993. Georgian troops had at the time entered Abkhazia with a maxim that said 100 000 Georgians could readily die to kill 100 000 Abkhazians. However, North Caucasian volunteers were there to thwart the plans. Volunteers from Chechnya, Adygea, Karachay, Kazakhstan and even from Russia changed the course of the war. Now Georgia faces thousands of volunteers once again. They were never taken into account. Among them are even some Chechens who Tbilisi accommodated for years in Panki Gorge in a possible move against Russia. So far as we can say, it can only be explained by the expression 'the Caucasian brotherhood!'
In the end it all came out to be a senseless gambling that Saakashvili did; everybody except him knew that he would not be able to make it!
Although it is difficult to know for now with certainty what today and tomorrow will bring, it is not much difficult to foresee what will happen whether or not the war ends at this point.
Russia will abandon neither South Ossetia nor Abkhazia to Georgia, because it had already refused to concede the control of the two countries to Georgia even when it had imposed heavy embargoes on them in a way that pleased Georgia. There is now no likelihood of Russia allowing Georgia to reclaim its control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, because Russia as a country under the rule of Vladimir Putin has already regained with proud its place in the world of imperialists. There are reasons why Russia will never leave South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Georgian rule: Abkhazia was the place where the elite Russian administration officials used to enjoy their holidays during the Soviet era; the region still hosts holiday resorts that are most easily accessible to Russians. The Sochi coasts do not suffice for Russia, whilst they gain Abkhazia growing significance. If Georgia becomes a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, these two republics will also gain further strategic significance as buffer zones for Russia. South Ossetia is a natural part of North Ossetia, which is one of the republics that make up the Russian Federation. It is well known that during the rule of Joseph Stalin, former Russian leader of Georgian origin whose words used to be taken as orders, Ossetia was divided into two and the southern part of it was given over as a gift to Georgia. Abkhazia, a country where the past generations even ruled over Georgia, among many others, was the greatest favour that Stalin did to his home country. Apart from all this, Sochi will host the 2014 Winter Olympics. If it wants to host the guests, Russia has to reach out to Abkhazia, where it needs to have aggregate in huge amounts in order to build hotels, sanatoriums and other kinds of buildings. That is why Russia has recently modernized the railroads of Abkhazia gratis. What is more important is that Russia should try to distance itself from a war because the Olympic Games are disallowed to take place if fighting breaks out within a distance of 200 kilometers. And if one travels 200 kilometers eastward from Sochi, one gets to the eastern border of Abkhazia.
Georgia did not hesitate to attack South Ossetia because Georgia knew where the weak spot of Russia lay.
Why doesn't Russia appropriate the two regions and settle the dispute forever? When Kosovo set itself unilaterally independent without seeking approval from the United Nations, and when this was granted the Western approval, it set an unprecedented example for the 'de facto' independent countries. Both South Ossetia and Abkhazia afterwards tried harder to earn recognition. It was assumed that Russia would act in retaliation for what was done to its Slav brothers in the Balkans and recognize both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a slap in the face of the West. But Russia did not recognize them; it rather chose to do as what the United States did to Taiwan: it normalized its relations with South Ossetia and Abkhazia by acting as if it had recognized them. Economic, social, political and cultural relations were set up between the three countries. Most importantly, Russia lifted the embargo that the Commonwealth of Independent States had imposed on the two countries. After all, what would have happened if Russia had recognized them? Probably the West would have recognized Chechnya. It would then possibly have led to the separation of such other Caucasian republics as Dagestan, Ingushetiya, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay-Cherkessia from the Russian Federation. Although any governing Russian party is certain to win over 95 percent of the vote each time elections are held in those republics, the Kremlin keeps in mind the fact that anything unexpected may happen at any time in those places. And also Russia wants to make it as clear as possible to the West that if Georgia is granted membership to the NATO, then it will play its South Ossetia and Abkhazia card.
The heart of the matter is that the United States could only enter the Caucasus through Georgia after it used the post September-11 circumstances as an excuse to move military vehicles to Afghanistan. It was the opportunity that the United States had awaited for decades. Nowadays, it uses Saakashvili as a tool to threaten the security across the Caucasus and cause trouble, if not huge, to Russia.
The Caucasus has recently become a place to host many Western envoys. They were apparently there to provoke the Caucasian leaders to get separated from Russia so that they would gain the Western recognition. But just because such promises were never kept, Imam Shamil met with a complete failure in 1864 and the North Caucasian Republic established in 1918 could only live for two years. Nobody in the Caucasian world believes the Western words any more.
As a result, the first serious price of the United States involvement, if not directly, in the Caucasus began to be paid on Friday night when the war broke out. However, it may not work the way that Tbilisi thought it would. It may even cause the Western world to score out a notch on Saakashvili in order not to draw Russia mad because it has to rely on Russia for its supply of energy. It is no longer a secret that the roses of the 'public coup' or of the revolution have already grown pale...