How the Russian-Georgian War Has Changed the World - Interview with Paul Goble

VOA News

On the second anniversary of the Russian-Georgian war Yulia Savchenko talked about the consequences of confrontation and conflict lessons with Paul Goble - political scientist, a former specialist on ethnic minorities the U.S. State Department, and now a researcher with the Diplomatic Academy of Azerbaijan.

Yulia Savchenko: This is the second anniversary of the Georgian-Russian conflict of 2008. Different people have taken different things from this conflict. What do you think Georgia has learned from the conflict?

Paul Goble: Different people in Georgia have learned different lessons. Many, except perhaps the president, understand why the conflict happened. On the eve of the fighting, he clearly showed that he had misinterpreted the rules of the game in the international arena as well as misinterpreted remarks of the US President and Secretary of State. He interpreted their statements that the US always supports its friends as meaning he could do whatever he pleased.  Since that time, he has used the threatening posture of Russia to distract attention and silence his opponents. Whatever else, Georgia in the future needs to show more creativity in dealing with the new environment than it did earlier.

Others have learned from the conflict.  Russia’s neighbors now can see that Moscow is not constrained in showing who is the boss in the region even to the point of using force. No one thought that was the case, but now these countries have no guarantee that it won’thappen again. This has changed their perception of their own defensive needs and of Russia more generally.

That is only one of the ways Russia suffered as a result of the war.  While Vladimir Putin and his team have proclaimed their victory, many Russians recognize that his decision was ill-conceived as well The Russian army did not do well, with poorly trained soldiers shooting at each other. As a result, Russia does not look as strong as it did. Instead, it looks like a weak bully. That is a very dangerous situation for any country to be in.

JS: And what this conflict has taught the United States?

PG: The US certainly has learned a few things.  Perhaps first of all, we have had the lesson driven home that when we deal with other countries, we must always be sure that our statements are not misinterpreted. Clearly Saakashvili heard things from Washington that Washington did not in the end intend.  U.S. policymakers need to be clear about what the US will and won’t do, regardless of a desire to show oneself supportive and friendly. Another lesson I hope we have learned is that Moscow today is not prepared to live by the rules. To go forward, Russia will have to work hard to reassure the US and others that it will behave as countries are supposed to.

JS: Two years ago, after the clash between Russia and Georgia, you testified that you support the principle of national self-determination. Do you think the Obama administration will follow this advice, especially in the wake of the International Court’s decision on Kosovo?

PG: I believe in the right of nations to self-determination. I believe that Abkhazia has demonstrated its ability to translate this right into reality. The situation regarding South Ossetia is much more problematic both because of the existence of North Ossetia, its own relations with the Russian Federation, and its geographic position as a kind of dagger aimed at Tbilisi.

In many respects, the step that would most disturb Moscow would be if the West and the US in particular were to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Imagine what it would mean if 27 NATO members had embassies in Sukhum. That would open the question of the recognition of republics now north of the Russian Federation border.

I do not exclude such a development. It would be more interesting if Georgia has recognized Abkhazia. Abkhazians, of course, would likely seek to find a way to prevent that if only because of the obvious undesirable consequences for Moscow. Consequently, it won’t happen soon. But if these states remain recognized only by a few states, this will be the beginning of an era in which there may be many partially recognized states.

Thinking ahead to the tenth anniversary of the conflict, I hope that at that time we will be able to discuss this crisis more soberly with fewer comments about Russian aggression, more foreign embassies in Abkhazia.  I don’t know whether an American one will be among them, but some kind of reconciliation of all parties is likely, if only because living in a world where all past crimes are constantly at the center of attention is so very difficult.

This interview was published by VOA News on August 10th, 2010 and is translated from Russian.




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