KAVKAZ CRISIS: A QUICK UPDATE
Since the flaring up of the Russo-Georgian Crisis in late September of this year, the Kavkaz region, and Russo-Georgian relations, have dropped out of the sight of world attention. We thought that we would provide our readers with a quick update on the latest goings on in this important area of the world. First, and perhaps the most important event were the elections held in South Ossetia on the 12th November, in which 75% of South Ossetia's voters went to the polls, and, 90% of them voted in favor of declaring 'Independence', from Georgia. This vote had been preceeded three weeks earlier by a vote in the Abkhaz Parliament, asking that the Russian Duma, 'legitimise the de facto independence of Abkhazia', which had a similar vote back in 1999 (see:www.eurasianet.org;www.russianprofile.org;www.en.rian.ru).
As was to be expected, Georgia's government declared the vote to be null and void:
"Georgia will not recognize the legitimacy of such undertakings"
(see: the 11 November statement in: www.en.rian.ru).
A statement which was adhered to, although much more quietly by both Brussels [European Union], Western European powers and of course Washington (see: www.ft.com; www.LeFigaro.fr; www.state.gov). And, there for all intents and purposes the matters rest, as per the Western media. However, beneath the surfaces, there has been, in a sotto voce fashion, moves which signal that some, admittedly not definitive, but, some movement on the ground in the Kavkaz. First, and perhaps the most important event, was a non-one: to wit, while protesting the vote, Georgia did not attempt to either interfer with the voting, nor did it, make any moves which could be interpreted as being a military response to the vote, and what it may imply, id est, independence for South Ossetia. In line with this non-response by Tbilisi, and, indeed a preliminary to it, was the dismissal by Georgian President Saakashvili, on the 10th of November of his hardline Defence Minister, Irakli Okruashvili, who had previously declared that he would spend New Year's 2007 in a 'liberated' South Ossetia (see: www.en.rian.ru). While first just demoted, subsequently, the previously domineering Okrashvili resigned from the government entirely, within a mere ten days (see: Molly Corso's articles on this in: www.eurasianet.org). Others moves by Tbilisi indicating that perhaps, just perhaps Saakasvili, is starting to re-think his, so far failed policies vis`a-a-vis Moskva, are: one, dropping talk of having Georgia withdraw from the Commonwealth of Independent States, it being dominated by Russian notwithstanding; two, Georgia's statement that it will allow its own gas suppliers to the Russian energy combine, Gazprom, about its stated increases in prices to 'full market value'. Notwithstanding Saakashvili's prior statement that Georgia found such price increaes to be unacceptable (see: Molly Corso's 24 November article in www.eurasianet.org & www.en.rian.ru for Saakashvili's 14 November statement); three, Saakashvili's own statement before the European Parliament, on the 14th of November, in which he publicly held out his hand to Moskva in the hopes of resuming dialogue between the two countries, stating:
"I have no intention of using the European Parliament's podium to escalate tensions with Russia, and I am calling on the Russian leadership to get back on the path of dialogue with Georgia" (see: www.en.rian.ru)
What may one ask has prompted this change of heart by the once ardent and indeed almost hyper-aggressive Georgian leader? If one had to guess it was a combination of two elements: first, his evident recognition that in the current International climate, neither the European powers or the USA, are prepared to back Tbilisi in a full-fledged conflict with Moskva (see: Nina Backkatov's illuminating report in "Inside Russia and Eurasia", in www.russia-eurasia.net); second, that his earlier hopes of having NATO vote at its upcoming summit meeting in Riga, to invite Georgia to join the military alliance is simply not in the cards. Despite his earlier high hopes of obtaining such an invitation, there appears to be no hope. As the American, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Daniel Fried admitted in on the 21st of this month: Georgia 'had a further way to go', prior to receiving an invitation to join the alliance (see: www.state.gov for the statement). This being merely a reiteration of an earlier remark by his deputy Mr. Matthew Bryza, who previously had given the appearence of being entirely in Tbilisi's corner in its dispute with Moskva. Speaking in Wien on the 16th of November, he noted that its conflict with Russia, as well as its struggle to re-absorb both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it was Tbilisi's responsibility to:
"It's Georgia's responsibility to chart a coursethat restores its territorial integrity, allows its democratic and market reforms to proceed (it has a lot of work to do) and coexist peacefully with Russia" (www.state.gov).
Under the circumstances, Saaskashvili has made a virtue of necessity and tactfully and intelligently made changes to his prior policy. Hopefully, this will not be merely be a tactical maneuver, but a strategic shift, in which he recognizes that the only means to reunite Georgia with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, is to come to some type of modus vivendi with Moskva. That and nothing else it would appear will result in the reunification of Georgia with its two dissident regions. To maintain an anti-Russian course, is one that will guarantee that Saakashvili will be forever remembered as the Georgian leader who ensured that his beloved homeland was partition into three parts. Something that one hopes Saakashvili recognizes and wishes to avoid at any cost.