Beyond South Ossetia – the new world order, by Peter Lavelle

Georgia’s (still) President Mikhail Saakashvili threw the dice and lost everything. His blind ambition to return South Ossetia to Tbilisi’s control through force has resulted in an unmitigated defeat for Georgia’s sovereignty. The world needs to take note and it signals things to come.

South Ossetia is a small and poor place. Who would have thought that it would herald the start of a new world order? But it has in ways almost no one could have imagined.

Saakashvili’s crazed mission to capture South Ossetia through war ends a paradigm – what is called the post-Cold era. Russia, for the first time as a new and very different state, used force beyond its borders since 1991. It did it in the name of protecting Russian citizens and defending internationally recognised peacekeepers. And both are justified - the West does the same. The world would be advised to get used to this as other ethnic Russians appeal for help beyond Russia’s borders.

Today we are all faced with the prickly debate defining the difference between state sovereignty and territorial integrity. Politicians and lawyers continue to talk about this. In the mean time, facts on the ground are proceeding forward with the most unpredictable consequences.

The catalyst for all this was Kosovo. The major Western powers decided Kosovo should be independent above the heads of the people on the ground. Today Russia listens to the people on the ground. And this is the important difference. Washington and Brussels have unwittingly admitted that self-determination is more important than a state’s sovereignty. Russia and Russians are following this lead. The post-Soviet space is poised for more change (of borders) and the West and its double-standards are the cause of this.

There is much criticism of Russia’s actions. It is said that Russia is backing international actors - South Ossetia and Abkhazia - not recognised by international law. But the fact of the matter is Moscow has forcibly demonstrated that the post-Cold War order supports only Western interests and that this approach needs to change. In the wake of South Ossetia’s invasion, Moscow is in touch with this new sentiment.

According to the West’s democracy theology, South Ossetia and Abkhazia cannot be recognised as independent. Why is this? Is it because independence for both would derail Saakashvili’s bid to join NATO? Of course it is! The West doesn’t know much about Georgia, South Ossetia, or Abkhazia. Nor does it really care. And Saakashvili has shown he can’t cross the divide between being a Georgian nationalist and a Western stooge.

I have no idea; maybe Saakashvili truly has acted in good faith, but what we all can see looks different. He failed to see that what is most important is the projection of Western security interests. And this has always been at the expense of Russia’s security concerns.

Saakashvili claims all his actions were in the name of the Georgian people. He doesn’t appear to understand he changed the world order. All people who wish to be free and have their own state have Saakashvili to thank.

I doubt that this is the legacy Saakashvili had hoped for. Saakashvili’s backers in Washington are surely cursing him for not doing what he was told. He was, after all, only a hired employee to take orders.





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