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Georgia, 2008

New translation, the Magna Carta


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growing problems in georgia
gerorgia - some context
update 1 - as robert hunter said, this is becoming a considerable blunder by russia - georgia
update 2 - the 2006 referendum in ossetia by dr. quite
update 3 - russia’s secret policeman / is putin running a criminal regime?
miltary comparisons

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growing problems in georgia

Putin uses the Olympics as cover for the Russian attack.

“[...] Moscow responded to a Georgian offensive in the breakaway republic of South Ossetia by sending tanks, troops and war-planes across the border.”

“The United States, the European Union and Nato appealed for an immediate end to the fighting and for the crisis to be resolved through direct talks. President Bush pledged US support for Georgia’s territorial integrity after holding talks with Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister, in Beijing where both men were attending the opening of the Olympic Games.”

Map of Georgia. Image:
Map of Georgia. Image:

and the reverberations and repercussions continue

There are substantial claims that local insurrections in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in recent decades, backed by the Russian state, have been working towards driving out Georgians from these areas (“ethnic cleansing”). At the same time, Georgia has ambitions to recapture these areas.

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georgia - some context

From a translation by Linards Ticmanis of an unattributed German article.

Whatever was spread in the past few days in the matter of theses and views - most of it is propaganda and has little to do with the complicated situation on the ground. For instance, the Russian president conspicuously received the two political leaders of the South Ossetians and the Abchasians and declared that after this war nobody could demand of them to live under Georgian domination ever again. Still, Russia will be extremely wary of recognizing the two territories as independent states.

The reason for that is not only the fact that Russia would hardly be able to find enough relevant countries worldwide that would do the same and thus give political weight to such a step; independence of these provinces is not in the Russian interest at all. If you ask yourself the plain question "Who benefits?", you will have to assert soberly: Russia [...] has not benefited from this war. Why not? Because the former status quo served Russia's interest best. To determine this, there is no need to follow the complicated history of the Caucasus region back into antiquity, as some now do. It is enough to look at the situation that has held since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Since the early 1990s there are four so called unresolved territorial conflicts in the area of the former Soviet Union. These are Abchasia and South Ossetia in the former soviet republic of Georgia, Nagorno-Karabakh in the former soviet republic of Azerbaijan, and Transnistria in Moldova. Because of these unsolved conflicts, those countries cannot stabilize; their development is hindered, thus their emancipation from Russia is only partially possible.

From the point of view of power politics, Moldova is least interesting. The destitute country between Romania and Ukraine is not particularly interesting for the West; and in Moscow as well, the support for the Stalinists of Transnistria has probably more to do with old boys' networks than with geostrategic interests. The matter is very different with Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia: This land-bridge between the Black and the Caspian Sea is the road that leads from Europe, between Russia and Iran, all the way to China. On this route not only Oil and Gas from the Caspian Basin get to Europe - Gas and Oil from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are planned to take the same route as well.

Russia could not prevent Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia from declaring their independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but the territorial conflicts allowed Russia to keep weighty influence. The status quo thus was and is the best imaginable situation for Russia. The question is therefore, retroactively, whether Russia can manage to restore the situation in Georgia, or continue stirring in Karabakh.

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update 1 - as robert hunter said, this is becoming a considerable blunder by russia

“President Bush dispatched US military hardware to the heart of the Caucasus yesterday and warned Russia that it could be frozen out of international bodies as punishment for its aggression in Georgia.

“In his toughest criticism of Russia since becoming President, Mr Bush accused it of breaching the provisional ceasefire agreed with Georgia only 24 hours earlier.

“He cited intelligence showing that Russian troops had again taken the town of Gori and could threaten the capital, Tbilisi. He insisted that Moscow respect the former Soviet republic’s territorial integrity. There were also reports of Russian-backed militia in South Ossetia looting ethnic Georgian villages and killing inhabitants.

“ "To begin to repair the damage to its relations with the United States, Europe and other nations, and to begin restoring its place in the world, Russia must keep its word and act to end this crisis," Mr Bush said.

“The US is in talks with allies about whether to suspend Russia’s membership of the G8 club of industrialised nations. There is a growing clamour to block Russia’s membership of the World Trade Organisation and to rescind an invitation for it to join the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.”

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Keep an eye on commentary by Hunter, as he seems to be keeping up better than most:

“Robert Hunter, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO who worked to expand the alliance's relationship with Russia in the 1990s, said that while Moscow may have provoked Georgia into a fight, the fact that Saakashvili took the bait by moving his forces into South Ossetia was a clear sign he believed he would have Washington's backing.

“ "Saakashvili thought he had room to play," Hunter said. "He did it in the mistaken belief, I believe, that he had "friends" in the Bush administration." ”[Quoted from]

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“[...] Poland's President Lech Kaczynski had blasted a six-point peace plan negotiated with Russia by Sarkozy, whose country is at the helm of the 27-nation EU, saying it failed to mention the need to respect Georgia's frontiers, which have been a source of conflict ever since the country broke from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991.

“In what appeared to be a further swipe at Sarkozy, the statement issued by the five leaders [of Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia] also comprised six points.” [Quoted from]

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update 2 - the 2006 referendum in ossetia by dr. quite

Ossetia is an “ethno-linguistic” entity - i.e. to a reasonable extent, it is a region whose inhabitants share ancestry and language. Theory suggests that matching geographical space with ethnolinguisticity is the best way to ensure a happy time for people and harmonious relations with your neighbours. It was the justification for turning a blind eye while the Czechs expelled Germans from the Sudetenland, and it’s even claimed to have “saved” the European nation-state after WWII.

I’m not much concerned with accusations of hypocrisy. Consistency is a hobgoblin. As far as I'm concerned, the West can support the autonomy of one region (such as Taiwan or Kosovo), while respecting the “territorial integrity” of another country where secessionists are causing trouble.

However, self-determination still seems like a good solution for lots of territorial problems. In 2006, Ossetia held a referendum on independence. Should it retain its status as an independent state?

The answer was Yes.

“On Sunday 12 November 2006, South Ossetians went to the polls to vote in a referendum confirming the region's independence from Georgia. The result was an overwhelming "yes" to independence, with a turnout above 95% from those among the territory's 70,000 people who were eligible to vote.” [1]

Those figures look dodgy. And they probably are. Firstly, the BBC counts the population of Ossetia at around 70,000, so it’s unclear how many Ossetians living outside Ossetia were bussed in to vote. Secondly, OECD election observers suggested that ethnic Georgians (who are around 40% of the population) weren't allowed to vote - participation was conditional on holding an Ossetian passport, which most Georgians don’t.

But the referendum was observed by 34 foreign delegates, and there don’t appear to have been significant irregularities.[2]

This is on top of the fact that Ossetia won its autonomy from Tbilisi in warfare in 1992 (albeit with considerable help from Russia).

I’m not blind to the massive problems a nominally independent Ossetia would entail - the constant interference by Moscow and Georgia, the presence of a large Georgian minority, the issue of oil pipelines, and so on.

But a solution seems to me to involve choosing the lesser of two evils - permitting the self-determination of a corrupt and Moscow-backed region that has shown some desire for independence. It would be, after all, progress. I’m not interested in the West being able to exercise sheer influence in Ossetia for the sake of a bulwark against Russia. I’m interested in Ossetia being free to exercise its will. In such a condition of relative freedom, people open shops, lay telephone lines, get educated and generally refrain from shooting their neighbours. These are features of a peaceful society and a peaceful society doesn’t constantly have to appeal to the world for support.

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update 3 - russia’s secret policeman / is putin running a criminal regime?

russia’s secret policeman

Recommended reading.

“This was a direct warning to Russia's few remaining human rights and trade union activists, as they well understood. He continues to believe instead, as Soviet secret policemen did before him, that all important decisions should be made in Moscow by a small, unelected group of people who know how to resist these foreign conspiracies.

“Given his world view, it's not very surprising that Putin and his entourage have been so openly hostile, not only towards Georgia, but also towards Ukraine and Estonia, the post-Soviet countries that present the greatest contrast to his vision of Russia.

“These, after all, are countries in which genuine elections have taken place - sometimes with the help of street demonstrations - and in which people who have not been picked by the ruling oligarchy can rise to power.

“In some cases, they have also moved much farther along the path of genuine economic reform, and at least intend to create real market economies, in which people who have not been picked by the ruling oligarchy can set up businesses and make money.”

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is putin running a criminal regime?

“One of the curious trends of recent years has been the Western business community’s enduring love affair with the unlovely Russia. With every passing week, it becomes clearer that this is a country run by and for people little different from gangsters. The tanks rolling into Georgia have reminded us that they are gangsters with keys to a big arsenal.

“The largest Western companies, Shell and BP included, have been bullied, intimidated and forced into concessions by the Kremlin and its cronies. This week a Moscow court joined in the harassment, targeting the head of BP’s troubled joint venture in Russia.

“This is a country that defaulted on its overseas debts less than ten years ago; a country that, after its journey from feudalism to kleptocracy via totalitarian communism, has little truck with Western-style capitalism; a country alive with corruption and not averse, it has been suggested, to the occasional state-sponsored murder. Hardly the ideal recipient of Western capital, you might think.”

I have some discomfort over Ossetia, but much more with a Russian ‘general’ threatening to nuke Poland. What is central is whether ‘Russia’ keeps its agreements. It is clearly failing in that over oil contracts and property rights, and appears to be involved in political assassinations. Will Russia get out of main Georgia, as it claims?

Putin has also been frigging ‘elections’. The list of dubiety is growing longer.

We should do what is in our interests. The map of the area suggests to me that there are more vital interests than Georgia. Saakashvili gives every appearance of being a first class idiot, but eighty years of socialism doesn’t exactly prepare a citizenry for self determination.

The West seems to have been surprised in Georgia, which is close to ridiculous.


Comparison of miltary strengths

Georgia :
Total armed Forces Personnel: 26,900
82 - Main Battle Tanks (T-72)
139 - Armoured Personnel Carriers (BMP and BTR variants)
7 - Combat aircraft (Su-25 ground attack)
95 - Heavy artillery pieces (including Grad BM-21 122mm multiple rocket launchers)
Russia :
Total armed forces personnel: 641,000
6,717 - Main Battle Tanks (T-55, T-62, T-72, T-80, T-90)
6,388 - Armoured Personnel Carriers (BMP and BTR variants)
1,206 - Combat aircraft (Including: MiG-29 'Fulcrum', MiG-31 'Foxhound', Su-27 'Flanker', Su-30 'Flanker', Su-35 'Flanker', Su-24 'Fencer', Su-25 'Frogfoot', Su-34 'Fullback')
7,550 - Heavy artillery pieces (multiple types)

[Data from Jane's Sentinel Country Risk Assessments]

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end notes




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