It’s been three years since the Russians cut the country in half, fire bombed the Borjomi National Park to be spiteful and allowed South Ossetian militia to loot and raze Georgian villages to the ground. Russian president Dmitri Medvedev signed a peace agreement with French president Nicolas Sarkozy, promising to pull back his troops to prewar positions. Instead of doing that, Medvedev recognized the separatist territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and signed agreements with them that allowed Russia to keep its troops on their controlled territory.
If there is one thing I have learned from all this it’s that you better check to see if the Russian president isn’t crossing his fingers behind his back when he signs a treaty.
3 Years On…
Three years after Russia debased Georgia in the war over South Ossetia and Dmitri Medvedev is still trying to sell the idea that Mikheil Saakashvili is a war criminal. In an August 4th interview with Ekho Moskvy, Russia Today and Georgia’s channel PIK, Medvedev stated Saakashvili “should be tried in an international tribune for unleashing the war in Tskhinvali.”
This kind of rhetoric is an example of why the Russian-Georgian peace process remains deadlocked. If Medvedev really wanted justice, he’d have plenty to answer to. Russia violated international law by recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and using indiscriminate force against Georgia. Additionally, Russia’s repeated accusations that Georgia committed genocide proved false, while the fact they allowed the ethnic cleansing of Georgian villages proved to be true.
Yet Russia can afford to play the rhetoric game because they have nothing to lose. Western analysts estimate there are 4,000-5,000 in Abkhazia and 3,000-4,500 Russian troops in South Ossetia (according to International Crisis Group), giving them a strong foothold in the Caucasus while keeping the pressure on Georgia as Russian missiles and tanks are a mere 40 kilometers away from Tbilisi.
Saakashvili has responded by traveling the world to say Georgia’s legally recognized borders are occupied by Russian troops. The problem is the world can do nothing about it. The US Senate’s resolution of occupation reaffirmed its unilateral support for Georgia’s territorial integrity but in reality it changes nothing except to antagonize Russia more. With Georgia’s NATO prospects nil and Russian troops entrenched 40 km from Tbilisi, Georgia has never been so vulnerable.
The situation doesn’t leave Georgia with many options. Russia won’t bend and the west is not going to solve the impasse. The WTO veto is Georgia’s only leverage to achieve any sort of breakthrough in relations, yet it’s not a trump card, just a possibility.
Georgia needs to start thinking out of the bubble and reconsider how it deals with the separatists if it is earnest about changing the status quo. The Abkhaz are still under demographic threat, only now it’s by the Russians. Georgia could take more active steps to normalize relations by helping to facilitate Abkhazian links with the west and open trade links across the border. The current environment is not sustainable and demands a more creative policy than playing the victim and waiting for something in Russia to change.