So what about the booty?

Pavel Felgengauer
Novaya Gazeta, 25 August

The West proposed a way out of the crisis, but Russia chose an occupation zone.The invasion of Georgia and the destruction and occupation of a significant part of its territory did not bring down the pro-Western regime of Mikheil Saakashvili, as many people in Moscow had hoped. Our guys control fragmented parts of foreign territory in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and "security zones" along their perimeter. These gains will have to be paid for. Expenditures to rehabilitate the poor of the self-proclaimed republics will cost many billions, and this apparently will fall to our budget. The West, of course, is willing to offer generous help, but on the condition that international peacekeepers together with a very limited Russian contingent are deployed in George and all the Georgian refugees are returned to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. If Russia refuses to pull back, it will end up in international isolation.Actually a confrontation with Russia was by no means part of the long-term plans of the leading Western European countries – France, Germany, and Italy. Realizing that the matter was moving towards war, a month before it started, Germany offered a three-stage settlement plan for Abkhazia and Ossetia, proposing the European Union’s help to rebuild the land ruined by war and prolonged rule by corrupt separatists, and the return of refugees, and in addition proposing talks during which the general improvement of life and economic development was supposed to become the basis of reconciliation. But in July when Minister of Foreign Affairs and Vice Chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier set off for the region, it was already too late. In Moscow they had firmly decided to destroy Saakashvili and the military-technical preparations for conflict were already coming to an end. The Germans were politely but firmly refused.Even during the combat operations, traditionally friendly France as the country that is president of the European Union (with the support of Germany and Italy) proposed a way out of the crisis. The crux of the plan signed by Presidents Medvedev, Sarkozy, and Saakashvili is an immediate truce and withdrawal of Georgian and Russian forces to their initial positions. After the separation of the troops and the demilitarization of the conflict zone, it was proposed to start searching for a political solution under international control. The Russian leadership’s demand to remove Saakashvili as a war criminal was rejected.It is obvious to the West today that statements about the "genocide of the Ossetian people" are more like propaganda. As early as 9 August, Russia’s Ambassador to Georgia Vyacheslav Kovalenko, who was in Tbilisi 100 kilometres from the conflict zone, stated that "at least 2,000 residents" had been killed in Tskhinvali. These altogether unconfirmed words, whose documentation was refuted through a human rights investigation and in fact by the preliminary conclusions of the Investigations Committee, were used by the Ossetian leadership as the justification for organizing pogroms, destroying villages, and driving the peaceful Georgian population out of South Ossetia.In Soviet times roughly 30 per cent of the residents in South Ossetia were Georgians. Passports in recent years were issued to all permanent residents, so the local Georgian population consists almost completely of Russian citizens. But after taking Tskhinvali supposedly to protect the citizens, our troops did not protect the Georgians from a pogrom.The current political leaders of contemporary Europe during Cold War times lived in constant expectation of war and the invasion of Soviet tanks. Today the question of the possible return of the previous threat is the most important one to them. Last week President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote in the newspaper Le Figaro: "We must determine whether Russia’s intervention against its Georgian neighbours is an exceptionally brutal and extreme response or it is Moscow’s new tougher attitude towards its neighbours and the entire world community." The consequences of the conflict in Georgia "may become catastrophic if it is the start of another cold war," Sarkozy claims.Our "friends" in Western Europe can be forgiven and in some way pardoned for their excessive ardor. At the same time, the attempt to bring down the pro-Western regime in Georgia by force as the start of the process of the resumption of Moscow’s domination by force of the territory of the former USSR would inevitably unite NATO. The Germans, French, and Italians may express themselves more mildly than the American politicians do, but they would be in full agreement in opposing Moscow.To the West the swift and unconditional withdrawal of all Russian troops from Georgia, including the territories of Abkhazia and Ossetia, is now the criterion for choosing between the two scenarios. Maintaining partial occupation in itself destroys Georgia’s unity and preserves a jumping off point for further actions using force. Sarkozy claims that Moscow signed off on the complete withdrawal of troops and that this point "is not being discussed." Literally for a couple of weeks, while the international peacekeeping system is being formed, Russia has been permitted "additional security steps only in direct proximity to South Ossetia, but not in any other part of Georgia," Sarkozy claims in a letter to Saakashvili. In the security zone, according to Sarkozy, Russian peacekeepers have the right only to patrol the territory without going into populated points, without creating permanent posts, and without closing off roads.It soon became clear that Moscow interprets the signed document differently. Instead of the complete accelerated withdrawal of troops, our guys carried out a partial withdrawal of forces by 22 August while preserving on their own an expanded security zone around Ossetia and Abkhazia, without reconciliation with Georgia or with France. Permanent "peacekeeping" posts and checkpoints are being created on foreign territory. Our military is declaring the right to regulate access of international observers to "its own" zones and prohibits any aircraft from flying over them.There were no battles in western Georgia, but more forces and military hardware were transferred there with the help of a railroad specially renovated in Abkhazia at the start of the invasion than to Ossetia itself. In western Georgia Russian troops have penetrated much more deeply into Georgian territory, and now the General Staff is announcing that the strategically important air base, a Soviet one besides, in Senaki (more than 40 kilometres from the border with Abkhazia) is also part of our "zone." A railroad and a highway go through Senaki to Poti, which links not only Georgia but also Armenia and Azerbaijan to the outside world. It is a point of strategic control.After the truce was signed, Russian soldiers, in violation of the generally accepted customs and rules for waging war, continued to move troops in order to seize "booty" and destroy Georgian installations. There are many reports of unpunished robberies and looting. In Poti our guys seized four American army Hummers that were waiting to be loaded at the port to be sent home after participating in Georgian-American antiterrorist exercises in July. The Georgian guards in the port were arrested as a "commando group" while the vehicles were confiscated, and all this happened 200 kilometres from the combat operations zone. General Anatoliy Nogovitsyn, the deputy chief of the General Staff, said that the vehicles would not be given back. Apparently our guys do not understand how important the principle of the inviolability of property is to Western society and how people who steal other people’s cars are hated there. Now in the English-speaking media, the stolen Hummers serve as a constant reminder of the particular features of Russian politics and behaviour.Having rejected the plan in essence reconciled with France, Russia perhaps let slip its last chance to avoid a confrontation with the West, where the invasion of Georgia has already led to serious changes in publicopinion. In Poland support of the plans for locating an American antimissile base there rose from slightly over 30 per cent to almost 60 per cent in a week. Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs promised a "new arms race in Europe" and the military promised to aim nuclear missiles at Poland, but in response anti-Russian sentiments are merely becoming stronger.On a reciprocal basis, Russia and the West have rejected military cooperation within the framework of NATO. Just as occurred after the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, a ring of hostile isolation is taking shape around Moscow now. Less than 10 years of such isolation and the accelerated arms race was enough for the USSR in the 1980s to begin to fall apart politically and economically. The present Russian Federation is smaller and weaker than the USSR. Our economy and finances and our super-rich ruling class depend on the West. Our industry, communications, and trade will stall without Western credits, deliveries, and technologies. Russia may collapse much more rapidly than the USSR. But then we managed to humiliate Georgia and ride around in Hummers for a while.


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