Take Your Pick or "None of the Above"
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (left) and Russian President Dimitri Medvedev
Russians and Georgians fight it out--in print. The Financial Times has scored by publishing articles by both Dimitri Medvedev and Mikheil Saakashvili. (P.R. firms representing both sides must be working overtime.) Obviously, both presidents are biased, but their points of view could have not been presented more clearly. Medvedev's "Why I had to Recognise Georgia's Breakaway Regions" and Saakashvili's "Moscow's Plan Is to Redraw the Map of Europe" in the order of their appearance in the FT:
Why I had to Recognise Georgia's Breakaway Regions
By Dmitry Medvedev
August 26, 2008
On Tuesday Russia recognised the independence of the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It was not a step taken lightly, or without full consideration of the consequences. But all possible outcomes had to be weighed against a sober understanding of the situation -- the histories of the Abkhaz and Ossetian peoples, their freely expressed desire for independence, the tragic events of the past weeks and interÂnational precedents for such a move.
President Medvedev laying flowers at a memorial for fallen Russian soldiers
Not all of the world's nations have their own statehood. Many exist happily within boundaries shared with other nations. The Russian Federation is an example of largely harmonious coexistence by many dozens of nations and nationalities. But some nations find it impossible to live under the tutelage of another. Relations between nations living "under one roof" need to be handled with the utmost sensitivity.
After the collapse of communism, Russia reconciled itself to the "loss" of 14 former Soviet republics, which became states in their own right, even though some 25 million Russians were left stranded in countries no longer their own. Some of those nations were unÂable to treat their own minorities with the respect they deserved. Georgia immediately stripped its "autonomous regions" of Abkhazia and South Ossetia of their autonomy.
Can you imagine what it was like for the Abkhaz people to have their university in Sukhumi closed down by the Tbilisi government on the grounds that they allegedly had no proper language or history or culture and so did not need a university? The newly independent Georgia inflicted a vicious war on its minority nations, displacing thousands of people and sowing seeds of discontent that could only grow. These were tinderboxes, right on Russia's doorstep, which Russian peacekeepers strove to keep from igniting.
But the West, ignoring the delicacy of the situation, unwittingly (or wittingly) fed the hopes of the South Ossetians and Abkhazians for freedom. They clasped to their bosom a Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, whose first move was to crush the autonomy of another region, Adjaria, and made no secret of his intention to squash the Ossetians and Abkhazians.
Meanwhile, ignoring Russia's warnings, Western countries rushed to recognise Kosovo's illegal declaration of independence from Serbia. We argued consistently that it would be impossible, after that, to tell the Abkhazians and Ossetians (and dozens of other groups around the world) that what was good for the Kosovo Albanians was not good for them. In international relations, you cannot have one rule for some and another rule for others.
Seeing the warning signs, we persistently tried to persuade the Georgians to sign an agreement on the non-use of force with the Ossetians and Abkhazians. Mr Saakashvili refused. On the night of August 7-8 we found out why.
Only a madman could have taken such a gamble. Did he believe Russia would stand idly by as he launched an all-out assault on the sleeping city of Tskhinvali, murdering hundreds of peaceful civilians, most of them Russian citizens? Did he believe Russia would stand by as his "peacekeeping" troops fired on Russian comrades with whom they were supposed to be preventing trouble in South Ossetia?
Russia had no option but to crush the attack to save lives. This was not a war of our choice. We have no designs on Georgian territory. Our troops entered Georgia to destroy bases from which the attack was launched and then left. We restored the peace but could not calm the fears and aspirations of the South Ossetian and Abkhazian peoples -- not when Mr. Saakashvili continued (with the complicity and encouragement of the US and some other NATO members) to talk of rearming his forces and reclaiming "Georgian territory". The presidents of the two republics appealed to Russia to recognise their independence.
A heavy decision weighed on my shoulders. Taking into account the freely expressed views of the Ossetian and Abkhazian peoples, and based on the principles of the United Nations charter and other documents of international law, I signed a decree on the Russian Federation's recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I sincerely hope that the Georgian people, to whom we feel historic friendship and sympathy, will one day have leaders they deserve, who care about their country and who develop mutually respectful relations with all the peoples in the Caucasus. Russia is ready to support the achievement of such a goal.
The writer is president of the Russian Federation
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008
Mikheil Saakashvili became President of Georgia after the "Rose Revolution" in 2003
Moscow's Plan Is to Redraw the Map of Europe
By Mikheil Saakashvili
August 27, 2008
Any doubts about why Russia invaded Georgia have now been erased. By illegally recogÂnising the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's president, made clear that Moscow's goal is to redraw the map of Europe using force.
This war was never about South Ossetia or Georgia. Moscow is using its invasion, prepared over years, to rebuild its empire, seize greater control of Europe's energy supplies and punish those who believed democracy could flourish on its borders. Europe has reason to worry. Thankfully, most of the international community has condemned the invasion and confirmed their unwavering support for Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Our first duty is to highlight Russia's Orwellian tactics. Moscow says it invaded Georgia to protect its citizens in South Ossetia. Over the past five years it cynically laid the groundwork for this pretence, by illegally distributing passports in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, "manufacturing" Russian citizens to protect. The cynicism of Russia's concern for ethnic minorities can be expressed in one word: Chechnya.
This cynicism has become hypocritical and criminal. Since Russia's invasion, its forces have been "cleansing" Georgian villages in both regions -- including outside the conflict zone -- using arson, rape and execution. Human rights groups have documented these actions. Moscow has flipped the Kosovo precedent on its head: where the West acted to prevent ethnic cleansing, in Georgia ethnic cleansing is being used by Russia to consolidate its military annexation.
Other Russian lies have also been debunked. The most egregious was Moscow's absurd claim on the eve of the invasion that Georgia was committing genocide in South Ossetia, with 2,000 civilian deaths. A week later, Moscow admitted that only 133 people had died. These were overwhelmingly military casualties and came after the Russian invasion. But the genocide claim served its goal. In a media era hungry for content, the Big Lie still works.
Russia's campaign to redraw the map of Europe is based on the propagation of misinformation. On Wednesday on this page, Mr Medvedev asserted that Georgia attacked South Ossetia. In fact, our forces entered the conflict zone after Russia rolled its tanks on to our soil, passing through the Roki tunnel into South Ossetia, Georgia. Mr. Medvedev also claimed Russia had no designs on our territory. Why then did it bomb and occupy Georgian cities such as Gori? Why does it continue to occupy our strategic port of Poti?
Moscow also counts on historical amnesia. It hopes the West will forget ethnic cleansing in Abkhazia drove out more than three-quarters of the local population -- ethnic Georgians, Greeks, Jews and others -- leaving the minority Abkhaz in control. Russia also wants us to forget that South Ossetia was run not by its residents (almost half were Georgian before this month's ethnic cleansing) but by Russian officials. When the war started, South Ossetia's de facto prime minister, defence minister and security minister were ethnic Russians with no ties to the region.
The next step in Russia's invasion script, of disinformation and annexation, is regime change. If Moscow can oust Georgia's democratically elected government, it can then intimidate other democratic European governments. Where will this end? What we know about Russia, and especially the current regime, is not encouraging.
Last week Vaclav Havel, the former Czech President, put us on alert: "Russia does not really know where it begins and where it ends." He noted that the Moscow regime is "a lot more sophisticated" than the Soviets under Leonid Brezhnev. He should know -- he was on the front line the last time Russia invaded a European country.
Mr. Medvedev is now making menacing statements about Ukraine and Moldova and is replicating its Georgia strategy in the Crimea by distributing Russian passports. The message is clear. Russia will do as it pleases.
I believe the most potent Western response to Russia is to stay united and firm by providing immediate material and political support. If Moscow is trying to overthrow our government using its lethal tools, let us resist with democratic tools that have sustained more than 60 years of Euro-Atlantic peace. Backing Georgia with Europe's political and financial institutions is a powerful response. Regrettably, this story is no longer about my small country, but the West's ability to stand its ground to defend a principled approach to international security and keep the map of Europe intact.
The writer is president of Georgia
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008