Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The West Distances Itself from Saakashvili

by Venik (check out Venik's blog)

The visit of Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (from here forward known as Hoop for the sake of brevity) and twenty six NATO representatives to Georgia was largely uneventful. As before, NATO gave Saakashvili no plans, schedules, or guarantees. Georgian president’s appeals to accelerate NATO membership program for his country fell largely on deaf ears. However, some of NATO chief’s remarks are worth consideration.

NATO officials couldn’t just visit Georgia - a perspective member of the Alliance - at this time of great distress for Tbilisi and offer absolutely nothing. NATO needed to explain why it was offering nothing to Saakashvili. Hoop decided to bring everyone’s attention to the OSCE May 2008 report on Georgia’s parliamentary elections. In this final report, OSCE observers concluded that the elections had “significant shortcomings”. This is diplomatic speak for “rigged”.

Hoop suggested that this blemish on Georgia’s democratic record (as opposed to bombarding Tskhinvali and killing hundreds of civilians) could delay and even derail the country’s efforts to join NATO. And so Hoop tells the Georgians:

“You are a democracy, act like a democracy, strengthen your democracy, strengthen the rule of law”

The implication of this statement being that Georgia is not acting as a democracy and does not follow the law. Naturally and as usual, Georgian media reported none of this criticism, airing Saakashvili’s delusional speeches instead. In fact, the vast majority of Georgians don’t even know what’s happening outside their country. All TV and radio stations in the country are controlled by the government. Newspapers are not published regularly and also controlled by the government. Internet access is very limited and is heavily censored by the authorities (move over China). Even international phone service is down most of the time. This information vacuum is filled with government propaganda, allowing Saakashvili to hold on to power. In the eyes of some Georgians, Misha is still the great military commander betrayed by the cowardly Americans.

And so NATO explained itself. Indeed, even an old Dutch hardliner like Hoop had a problem promising NATO membership to a country that has Russian troops stationed on its territory, as far as the West is concerned. Hoop’s decision to bring up OSCE’s May 2008 report is also interesting because, but extension, this points to the OSCE’s January 2008 report on Georgia’s presidential election. That report cited a number of “pervasive” violations that were “not conducive to a constructive, issue-based election campaign.” The detailed list followed: the use of government offices to support Saakashvili, “substantiated” instances of government officials harassing opposition campaigners, situations where state employees were forced to vote for Saakashvili, the use of social services in support for Saakashvili, and bias of the official election committee in Saakashvili’s favor. A substantial number of OSCE observers rated the election as “bad” or “very bad”.

Slowly but surely the West is pushing Saakashvili onto the train tracks. Georgia’s president is grasping for straws. Today Georgian Interior Ministry contacted Reuters with what they say are transcripts of phone conversations between South Ossetian security officials. Georgia claims that these alleged phone conversations confirm that Russia sent troops to South Ossetia hours before Georgia started to bombard Tskhinvali. Saakashvili pulled this rabbit out of his hat just two days after his former pal and Georgia’s Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili told reporters that Georgia’s attack against Tskhinvali was planned for years. Furthermore, Okruashvili said that Abkhazia was actually a strategic priority for Georgia, while South Ossetia was more of a sideshow, but had to be taken first to cut off the tunnel leading to Russia:

Abkhazia was our strategic priority, but we drew up military plans in 2005 for taking both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well… The original plans called for a two-pronged operation entering South Ossetia, taking Tskhinvali, the Roki Tunnel and Java. Saakashvili’s offensive only aimed at taking Tskhinvali, because he thought the U.S. would block a Russian reaction through diplomatic channels. But when the U.S. reaction turned out to be non-existent, Saakashvili then moved troops toward the Roki tunnel, only to be outmaneuvered by the Russians.

The vultures are circling over what Medvedev designated Saakashvili’s “political corpse”. The official fight for the throne will resume in a few months. For now, the contenders are positioning themselves around the embattled president and are shuttling among Tbilisi, Washington and Brussels in search of support. Initially hailed as a great success, Georgia’s wartime PR campaign in international media is now bogged down in its own lies and contradictions. Saakashvili’s future was not in question since the memorable meeting with Condi Rice in Tbilisi on August 15 to sign the French-brokered ceasefire agreement. Standing on the podium next to the US Secretary of State during the press conference that capped the grueling five-hour marathon meeting, Saakashvili was near tears when he cried out:

Who invited the trouble here? Who invited this arrogance here? Who invited these innocent deaths here? Not only those people who perpetrate them are responsible, but also those people who failed to stop it.

This was a cheap potshot aimed primarily at the White House. However, more than any pre-written “We are all Georgians” speeches and various proclamations of support, this single outburst by Georgia’s president presented the best summary of Georgia’s relations with the West. Contrary to some opinions in Western press, Russia received strong support from its friends and allies where it mattered most. This was underscored by Cheney’s disastrous trip to Georgia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine. In Georgia, Dick made no promises, in Azerbaijan Cheney was snubbed by the country’s president, and in Ukraine he walked into the middle of a kitchen fight between the president and his prime minister and had to meet the two separately - a far cry from the planned show of unity. Upon his return to Washington, Cheney declared that no unilateral actions will be taken by the US against Russia and that the White House will be satisfied to let the EU drive the resolution of this conflict. This is diplomatic speak for “fuck this shit”.

Saakashvili prepared excellent stage decorations, complete with EU flags and a rich wardrobe full of red silk ties, but now Georgia’s president is being warned to stand clear of the falling curtain as the comedy nears the big finale. At least for Saakashvili. On the bright side, Saakashvili’s future looks a bit brighter than what awaited his predecessor. A nice house in Virginia, a wife with wealthy parents, and probably a cozy job in some political “think tank”, chewing a hole through the taxpayers’ wallet. All in all, this would not be a bad end to Saakashvili’s illustrious career.