Friday, August 15, 2008


Saakashvili Rescue

August 15 2008 Opinion piece from Russian News & Information Agency, Novostia by its political commentator Andrei Fedyashin

It took the United States a week to understand the damage Mikheil Saakashvili's "Ossetian blitzkrieg" has caused him, and its fosterling, the Rose Democracy.

Now Washington has launched an operation to rescue Saakasvili in real earnest. At the same time, a diplomatic battle is unfolding around the Caucasian knot. Regrettably, this struggle will be harder for Russia to win than any armed conflict. On August 14, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Paris to meet President Nicolas Sarkozy, and immediately left for Tbilisi to talk with Saakashvili. At the same time, President George W. Bush sanctioned humanitarian relief to Georgia. The first S-17 cargo planes have already delivered medicines and food there. Several U.S. warships are moving to Georgian shores from the Persian Gulf to prevent Russia from blocking relief aid.

The Pentagon's humanitarian relief effort has little to do with Georgia's real requirements. But this is the first action in support of Saakashvili. He did not receive such support in the first days after the attack, and even began to complain that Washington's initial criticisms of Moscow's role in the conflict were too mild. This was not what he expected from those who had pushed him to attack South Ossetia.

Now Bush has accused Russia of "not behaving like the kind of international partner that it has said it wants to be." The fact that Washington has only lashed out at Moscow a week after the event is telling. Usually, the Americans provide thorough propaganda support for their political or military actions in any part of the globe (the invasions of Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq are all good examples), and do this preemptively. The flow of inspired leaks and revelations from anonymous high-rankers usually mounts for weeks before the decisive blow.

But it did not happen with Georgia. In fact, the U.S. press carried post factum "confidential" reports that during her visit to Tbilisi over a month ago Rice warned Saakashvili against military action. But he either did not get it, or lost his temper, and decided to act at his own risk. Sometimes pocket rulers get out of hand.

Yet it is hard to believe that a stateswoman as formidable as "Teflon Condi" could not make it clear to Saakashvili what the White House wants or does not want him to do. And he is not an Angela Merkel or Silvio Berlusconi, who can easily afford not to listen to the U.S. secretary of state.

The White House's recent moves suggest it has overcome the initial shock and has embarked on what it calls "damage control" by using the only remaining option - aggressive diplomacy. These moves also point to its blunder in anticipating Moscow's reaction to Saakashvili's action. Washington clearly did not expect such a prompt and forceful response from Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, still less so on the first day of the Olympics.

The Olympics are also a key to understanding what happened. After the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics (after the introduction of Soviet troops into Afghanistan), U.S. leaders became confident that all Soviet leaders were obsessed with the Olympic Games (which was true), and that it was easier for them to arrest several hundred dissidents than be subjected to a denigrating boycott. It is no accident that one of the possible responses being floated by Western diplomats is a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, a measure designed to cut "the aggressive Russia" down to size.

That would certainly be unpleasant, but it is not very likely. Too much may change in the next six years. The Bush administration will be gone, for one thing. Incidentally, despite all his outspoken criticism of Russia's "invasion of Georgia," Republican presidential nominee John McCain said on August 14 that as president he "would not send American military forces into a conflict in Georgia."

Like Washington, London never misses a chance to step on the Kremlin's toes. Together they want to give a tough response to Moscow, and choose those sanctions that would "hit hardest at its prestige," as The Times put it. Apart from the Olympic boycott, Washington has suggested a whole package of measures against Russia, including blocking its entry to the WTO, denying it admission to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), excluding it from the G8, stopping the talks on a new strategic partnership agreement with the EU, and curtailing its Partnership for Peace with NATO.

NATO is to adopt a common position next week, when its foreign ministers will gather for an urgent meeting in Brussels at Bush's request. The meeting will take place on Monday or Tuesday (August 18 or August 19). The worst-case scenario for Russia is that Washington may persuade the Europeans to welcome Tbilisi and Kiev to the Membership Action Plan without delay, a proposal France, Italy and Germany rejected at NATO's April summit in Bucharest. The Kremlin will be hoping they will choose to disagree again.

As for the new partnership agreement with the EU, Moscow has no reason to rush it. Russia is quite content with its current status, and Europe needs the agreement more than we do. Western business is much more interested in Russia's WTO entry, because it wants to establish itself firmly here. The OECD is more of a club of economic projects of its 30 members, and we are not rushing there, either. NATO-Russia partnership has long become a fiction.

Ousting Russia from the G8 looks like a tough measure, but it is not really. The G8 long ago lost its original essence, and has turned into little more than an expensive talking shop. If it is to regain its relevance its format must be changed. It is strange that Canada is a member of this club, but such huge economies as China, India, or Brazil are not. Nor does it include a single African nation. It has been clear since the end of the past century that this is inadequate. If Russia leaves this club, it will simply cease to exist.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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