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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le Caucase a besoin de la paix

by Hassane Zerrouky


Translated Friday 29 August 2008, by Shelagh Rothero

Russia-Georgia. The EU has chosen the path of appeasement in an extreme and very dangerous situation against the background of an indirect confrontation between the United States and Russia.

When Nicolas Sarkozy arrived at Tlibisi, the Georgian president knew that he had no alternative other than to accept the EU peace plan to which Russia had given its support. The public meeting which had given Mikhaïl Saakachvili grounds for denouncing ‘Russian aggression’ should only have been a sort of last-ditch attempt to gloss over his disastrous adventure in South Ossetia. One thing is certain: after the agreement had been accepted by the two protagonists, the Georgian president found himself in an extremely delicate situation. The EU, in refusing to pour oil on troubled waters by aligning itself with the United States, has held the situation in balance. The mistake made by the Georgian head of state, who was supported by Washington (who had backed the wrong horse), has allowed Russia to take advantage of the opportunity to return to the Caucasus in force as an unyielding protagonist in a region she considers to represent her strategic depth.

Georgian Accountability

It is now accepted that Mikhaïl Saakachvili would not have sent his troops to South Ossetia without the backing of Washington. The Georgian offensive had been launched almost one month to the day after the visit of Condoleezza Rice to Tlibisi on 9th July. The least that could be said is that the Secretary of State knew that Georgia was preparing to regain control of South Ossetia. The United States, which supplies military aid to Georgia, notably the training and modernisation of the Georgian army, the deployment of special units provided with sophisticated equipment (anti-aircraft defense systems, night vision glasses, drones etc), has been present on Georgian territory since Saakachvili came to power. George W. Bush, who congratulated his ‘friend’ Saakachvili for sending a contingent to Iraq, had not discounted the idea of establishing a US military base on Georgian territory, before backing the proposal from Tlibisi for membership of NATO. The fact remains that Saakachvili underestimated the risk he took by involving Washington. The French Press Agency (AFP) reported that President Sarkozy’s staff considered it to be ‘utter madness for Saakachvili to go and bomb South Ossetia in the middle of the night’,with the result, according to the same source, that ‘Georgia was attacked and devastated as a consequence of its own mistake’. Former head of state, Edward Shevarnadze, gave the same account, referring to the operation in Ossetia as a ‘grave error’. Without doubt voices will now be raised in Georgia demanding an explanation from the Georgian President. Perhaps Moscow, gambling on a change of leadership in Tlibisi, expects that this will eventually take place.

Perhaps the EU has avoided the worst situation

Has the EU given in to Russian demands? In fact, Russia could not endorse the venture of a Georgian president who has shown total irresponsibility with the backing, implied or not, of Washington. One thing is certain: by refusing to align itself with the United States, who was asking for a re-examination of its co-operation with Russia, the EU has chosen to play the card of appeasement. As Pascal Aubert rightly observed in his editorial for the daily newspaper ‘La Tribune’ we should, with hindsight, congratulate France, Germany and other members of NATO for having had ‘the foresight last spring to extend the time spent by Georgia in the the antechambers of the Western military alliance. Without this foresight, NATO would today have found itself directly implicated – owing to the mutual assistance which must be given to its members at times of conflict - in a war which was not of its own making’. Nicolas Sarkozy spoke out for European interests in this matter, instead of taking a ‘tough’ stance which would have taken Europe straight back to the days of the cold war.

Russia in a position of strength

Russia has taken a firm hold on Georgian territory and is not yet ready to give it up. Dimitri Medvedev confirmed that Russian forces would remain in place until the situation became more stable. They would only leave, as proposed in the EU peace plan, once the question of the separatist provinces (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) was settled in their best interest, with the underlying supposition that any idea of Georgian membership of NATO would be abandoned. Moreover, by his provocative behaviour, the unpredictable Georgian head of state has provided Moscow (who had no control over the American influence in the Caucasus) with an excuse to flaunt its power and ambition and thereby send out an unmistakable signal to the United States. In the future, nothing can take place along its southern borders without Russia having its say. All things considered, the events which have taken place in this region could be seen as an indication of a shift in the balance of international power.

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