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VLADIMIR SOCOR of the Jamestown Foundation has astutely pinpointed Russia’s four strategic goals for the mounting war: (1) “to force Tbilisi to acknowledge a leading Russian role as ‘guarantor’ of an eventual political settlement,” (2) “to capture Georgian-controlled villages in South Ossetia” (thereby reducing “the Sanakoyev administration’s territory to insignificance or even remove it from South Ossetia altogether”), (3) “to dissuade NATO from approving a membership action plan (MAP) for Georgia at the alliance’s December 2008 or April 2009 meetings,” and (4) “to bleed Georgia economically through protracted military operations.”
If anything, the situation is more dire now that Georgia has challenged the Kremlin’s traditional foreign policy naglost’. Russia, given its vast advantages in size and resources, could replicate a similar strategy in nearby Abkhazia (as seems to be happening with the widening of the conflict), the better to secure its Georgian footholds. However this situation plays out in the coming days, it is clear that Russian actions have put paid the hopeful assessments of analysts like Dmitri Trenin, who had previously stated that a Russian “enlightened self-interest approach would call for further steps towards conflict-resolution in Abkhazia [and] South Ossetia,” since “it is in Russia’s interest to continue to support the domestic stability and territorial integrity of its neighbors.” Trenin, it turns out, had it precisely backwards. “Enlightened self-interest” carries little value in an increasingly sultanistic nation whose security is traditionally defined by the insecurity of its neighbors.
International reaction to the outbreak of war in the Caucasus has been entirely predictable. International organizations have called for a ceasefire while sympathetic nations like Poland, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan have insisted on Georgia’s right to territorial integrity, declaring the anti-separatist campaign to be in compliance with international law; US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice likewise called on Russia “to cease attacks on Georgia by aircraft and missiles, respect Georgia’s territorial integrity, and withdraw its ground combat forces from Georgian soil.”
Yet it already may be too late for Georgia. If Tbilisi loses control of the South Ossetian territory held by its interim administration, Russia will indeed have imposed itself as the guarantor of a political settlement over the region (the fight over the now obliterated regional capital of Tskhinvali now has immense symbolic importance). If Georgia’s allies do not offer civil and military aid, it will perforce be bled dry by the ongoing conflict, and it is unlikely that the U.S. and its NATO allies would wish to in effect engage in a proxy war with Russia over an obscure province in the Caucasus.
Moves towards Georgian accession to NATO would heretofore have had a prophylactic effect against Russian revanchism, but a membership action plan now seems more than unlikely, as NATO constituent states would never offer an Article 5 collective security guarantee to a nation recently locked in combat with the Russian Federation (and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s statement that “Georgia’s aspiration to join NATO…is driven by its attempt to drag other nations and peoples into its bloody adventures” indicates that such reluctance on NATO’s part is a hoped-for result). Ultimately, though the developing situation on the ground remains tenebrous at best, it may be that all Georgia can hope for is the status quo ante bellum.
IT IS A STATE of affairs worthy of a threnody that the territorial integrity of Georgia, a sovereign nation and a burgeoning capitalist democracy to boot, has been so imperiled. It is equally troubling that many observers have viewed Saakashvili’s Georgia with such derision. Anne Applebaum, for instance, writing in the Washington Post about the public unrest that followed the machinations of the pro-Kremlin media mogul Badri Patarkatsishvili back in November 2007, referred to Saakashvili as having done “more damage to American ‘democracy promotion’ than a dozen Pervez Musharrafs ever could have done,” this after comparing an understandable Georgian response to civil disturbances to the French Revolutionary Jacobins and the Soviet Red Terror. It is unclear what Saakashvili, who brought necessary democratic reforms to a foundering nation and whose 2005 joint Borjomi Declaration with Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko (an attempt to create a “Community of Democratic Choice” in the Baltic-Black-Caspian Sea region, wherein a “sea of democracy, stability, and security” could exist in Europe and the “Democratic and Atlantic community”) was an innovative but overlooked attempt to bring peace to a troubled region, did to deserve such calumny. It is likewise unjust that Georgia, a key contributor of by all accounts heroic peacekeepers in the reconstruction of Iraq (currently being withdrawn to defend their own country), should be hung out to dry, but such is the “return of history.”
There may be some consolation for Georgians in the fact that, as Dio Chrysostom quoted Phocylides in Borysthenitica (an ancient description of the Black Sea region) as saying, “The law-abiding town, though small and set/On a lofty rock, outranks mad Nineveh.” Yet as Russia, in gross contravention of the law of nations, invades sovereign Georgia, the international community will likely stand by idly as previous assurances of Georgian western integration serve only to give rise to another “recurrence of sterile hopes” like the ones CzesÅ’aw Milosz observed in those threatened by Russian aggression so many decades ago. It should not be so.
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