Sunday, August 24, 2008
[Antoun] Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating has criticised the West for failing to take the opportunity to build a peaceful global environment following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Most left-wing commentators (myself included) have maintained the line that the West mistakenly and aggressively pursued a policy of Russian containment following 1991, when they should have offered an olive branch to Moscow and found a place for a new Russia in the "New World Order".
Washington's insistence of kicking the bully when he's down has resulted in an explosive and dangerous fever of Russian nationalism. The Cold War should have most certainly ended in 1991, and Russia should have been embraced into the fold, but as Keating contends, the West - much to their own misfortune - continue to treat the world in a post-World War II environment.
The US continued to treat the Russia as a Cold War enemy post-1991, which has now resulted in a Russia that is economically strong, nuclear-powered, independent of Western values and incredibly hostile.
Keating offers a similar point of view:
" ... the US failed to learn one of the lessons of history - that the victor should be magnanimous with the vanquished,"
Tom Hyland, The Age
PAUL Keating has accused Tony Blair, Bill Clinton and George Bush of squandering the chance for peace and co-operation created by the Soviet Union's collapse.
Instead, he said the West had "ring-fenced" Russia, treating it as a virtual enemy at a time when the risk of Moscow launching nuclear war by mistake was greater than during the Cold War.
In a speech at the Melbourne Writers Festival yesterday, the former Labor prime minister criticised Western leaders for seeking to impose democracy on other countries at a time when American power was in decline.
World leaders needed a strategy based on "the progress of human existence and not simply the propagation of democracy", he said.
Western leaders had failed to grasp a potential "new era of peace and co-operation" created by the end of the Soviet Union in 1990, and failed to find a place for Russia in the global "strategic fabric".
"(Former US president) George H. Bush talked about a New World Order, then lost to Bill Clinton. And what happened then? Well, nothing happened then! The Americans cried victory and walked off the field."
The Clinton administration "rashly decided to ring-fence Russia" by inviting former Soviet-dominated states to join NATO. "By doing so, the US failed to learn one of the lessons of history - that the victor should be magnanimous with the vanquished," he said.
As a result, NATO states now were on the borders of Russia, which kept its nuclear arsenal on full alert. "This posture automatically carries with it the possibility of a Russian nuclear attack by mistake," Mr Keating said.
Russia had allowed its nuclear surveillance and early warning systems to "ossify". To compensate, it kept its nuclear arsenal on full alert.
"This means that while the Cold War is over, the risk of a mistaken pre-emptory (nuclear) response has increased," he said.
Mr Keating said the alienation of Russia played into the hands of Russian nationalists while weakening the hand of liberal democrats.
"The old West then complains about Vladimir Putin being a poorly disguised Russian autocrat and nationalist when the West has played a large role in creating him," he said.
If nuclear weapons were the world's most pressing problem, its greatest challenge was building "a truly representative structure of world governance which reflects global realities but which is also equitable and fair", he said.
"For two Clinton presidential terms and two George W. Bush terms, the world has been left without such a structure - certainly one able to accommodate Russia and the great states like China and India."
Instead, they had left the world with a template forged at the end of World War II, "where Germany and Japan were left on the outside, and still are 60 years later, and in which China and India are tolerated and palely humoured".
He said the world was witnessing the eclipse of American power but recent US presidents had done nothing "to better shape the institutions of world governance". Nor did "old powers" like Britain or France offer any help. Former British Labour prime minister Tony Blair had offered nothing new or free-thinking - "he thought being an American acolyte was all that was required".
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Assad is on a visit to Russia at a crucial time considering Moscow's resumed status as an assertive power. It appears Assad may lay the missile proposal on the table to the Kremlin, in light of the US-Poland accord signed yesterday that would see the US install interceptor missiles on Polish territory.
The Russians have long been hostile to US plans for missile bases in former Soviet satellite idle and permit itself to be encircled.
At a time when tensions between Russia and the US are at their highest level since the Cold War, Assad is hoping Moscow will tighten its alliance with Syria by rewarding Damascus with missile bases akin to the US' planned bases in Poland.
Assad's keenness to expand his country's military involvement with Russia highlights the deep insecurity felt in Damascus in the event of a possible war with Israel, or between Israel and Iran.
Syria's military capabilities would be rapidly crushed in a conventional war with Israel. Syria's insecurity mimics Poland's precarious and unfortunate situation as the weak meat in a juggernaut sandwich between Germany and Russia. Indeed, Poland's history gives Warsaw reason to be weary of Russia and distrust Western Europe. It sees its alliance with the US as a life saving anchor. The US sees Poland as another base to encircle Moscow.
That is how Syria wants to translate its relationship with Russia. One of mutual needs and benefits. Syria has waited 18 years for a resurgent Russia, and will propose to be Moscow's premier client in the Middle East.
The following articles discuss the impact Russia's Georgian standoff with the West is having on the Middle East. Russia's resurgence has sparked fear in Israel and joy in Syria, as both see a Cold War-like stage being played out in the Middle East.
Fear of new Mid East 'Cold War' as Syria strengthens military alliance with RussiaKevin O'Flynn and James Hider, The Times UK
Syria raised the prospect yesterday of having Russian missiles on its soil, sparking fears of a new Cold War in the Middle East. President Assad said as he arrived in Moscow to clinch a series of military agreements: “We are ready to co-operate with Russia in any project that can strengthen its security.”
The Syrian leader told Russian newspapers: “I think Russia really has to think of the response it will make when it finds itself closed in a circle.”
Mr Assad said that he would be discussing the deployment of Russian missiles on his territory. The Syrians are also interested in buying Russian weapons.
In return Moscow is expected to propose a revival of its Cold War era naval base at the Syrian port of Tartus, which would give the Russian Navy its first foothold in the Mediterranean for two decades. Damascus and Moscow were close allies during the Cold War but the Kremlin’s influence in the region waned after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Yesterday’s rapprochement raised the possibility that Moscow intends to re-create a global anti-Western alliance with former Soviet bloc allies.
Many in Israel fear that the Middle East could once again become a theatre for the two great powers to exert their spheres of influence, militarily and politically. And with Israel and the US providing military backing to Georgia, Russia appears set to respond in kind by supporting Syria.
Already, Israeli observers worry that the chaos in the Caucasus may disrupt gas supplies to Europe and Turkey from the Caspian Sea region, creating a greater energy reliance on Iran and its vast reserves. The crisis could in turn allow Tehran to exploit splits in the international community and use Russia as a backer to advance its nuclear programme. Russia has wooed Syria in recent years, as it has tried to increase its influence in the Middle East and increase arms sales.
Syria and Israel recently confirmed they had been holding indirect talks to reach a peace deal after decades of hostility. Part of Syria’s motivation was to break the international isolation it has suffered for its strategic alliance with Tehran. A closer alliance with a resurgent Russia could afford Mr Assad a way out of any binding commitment. Some Israeli analysts even fear that it could encourage Syria to try to take back the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in 1967, by force.
The Georgia conflict sparked a mocking speech with Cold War rhetoric by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, over the performance of Israeli-trained Georgian troops. One of the Israeli military advisers there was reserve Brigadier-General Gal Hirsch, who commanded a division in Israel’s inconclusive war with Hezbollah in 2006, and who resigned his commission afterwards.
“Gal Hirsch, who was defeated in Lebanon, went to Georgia and they too lost because of him,” the Shia leader taunted. “Relying on Israeli experts and weapons, Georgia learnt why the Israeli generals failed.
“What happened in Georgia is a message to all those the Americans are seeking to entangle in dangerous adventures.”
Cold War fears in the Middle East
Aaron Klein, World Net Daily
JERUSALEM – Israeli security officials have confirmed fears in Jerusalem that Russia may spark a Cold War-like military buildup in the Middle East by sending warships and advanced weaponry to foe Syria.
Syrian President Bashar Assad arrived today on a two-day visit to Moscow, where he reportedly will discuss with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ways to expand military ties with Moscow, whose arms sales to Mideast countries, including Syria and Iran, have angered Israel and the United States.
In a widely circulated article, the London Times reported today Russia is expected to propose a revival of its Cold War-era naval bases at the Syrian ports of Tartus and Latakia on the Mediterranean. Moscow maintained bases in Damascus during the Cold War but Russia's influence in the region weakened after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The London Times information is not new, though. Indeed, the deal was already sealed five months ago.
WND reported on March 9 Syria quietly struck a deal with Russia that allows Moscow to station submarines and war boats off Tartus and Latakia. In exchange, Russia is supplying Syria with weaponry at lower costs, with some of the missiles and rockets being financed by Iran.
"Russia's involvement and strategic positioning is almost like a return to its Cold War stance," a Jordanian security official said at the time.
According to informed security sources there are already Russian naval troops and missile crews operating in Syria. The officials told WND that Russia began installing in Syria its S-300 surface-to-air missile defense shield, which is similar to the U.S.-funded, Israeli-engineered Arrow anti-missile system currently deployed in Israel. The S-300 system is being run not by Syria but by Russian naval technicians who work from Syria's ports, security officials said.
Israeli security officials believe Assad's trip to Moscow was not to ink any deals but to make public already existing arrangements for military cooperation between the two countries in an effort by Russia to publicly enhance its militant posture.
Still, the security officials said that in Moscow Assad likely will grant Russia permission to deepen its military buildup on its territory with additional naval fleets and more troops at Russian naval bases already in existence in exchange for the sale to Syria of aircraft, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. The officials said they did not expect more Russian submarines off the coast of Syria.
Syria is particularly interested in Russia's BUK-M1 surface-to-air medium-range missile system, military aircraft and other advanced weaponry.
Already Russia provided Syria with new ballistic missiles and rockets including Alexander rockets and a massive quantity of various Scud surface-to-surface missiles, including Scud B and Scud D missiles.
Israeli security officials noted Syria test-fired two Scud D surface-to-surface missiles, which have a range of about 250 miles, covering most Israeli territory. The officials said the Syrian missile test was coordinated with Iran and Russia and is believed to have been successful. It is not known what type of warhead the missiles had.
Israeli security officials are concerned that as in the Cold War days, the Middle East could serve as a theater of conflict, or at least military buildup, between Russia and the U.S.
Assad today told Russia's Kommersant newspaper that Russia's conflict with Georgia, in which Moscow says Georgia was trained by Israelis and utilized Israeli weapons and technology, underscored the importance for Russia and Syria to tighten their defense cooperation.
"I think that in Russia and in the world everyone is now aware of Israel’s role and its military consultants in the Georgian crisis. And if before in Russia there were people who thought these forces can be friendly then now I think no one thinks that way,” he said.
"Of course military and technical cooperation is the main issue. Weapons purchases are very important," said Assad. "I think we should speed it up. Moreover, the West and Israel continue to put pressure on Russia."
A spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said Israel does not supply arms to other countries but that private Israeli firms conduct equipment sales and training with the Israeli Defense Ministry's approval.
Assad went on to compare his isolated country to Russia, stating, "Georgia began the crisis and the West accuses Russia. Syria suffered the same thing; attempts to destabilize the country, distortion of the facts and double standards."
Israel and Syria last May announced they were holding indirect talks aimed in part at an Israeli evacuation of most of the Golan Heights, which looks down on Israeli population centers and was twice used by Damascus to mount ground invasions into the Jewish state. But those talks have been progressing at a very slow pace.
Israel repeatedly has warned Russia against supplying Syria and Iran with military equipment. Israeli officials accuse Damascus of passing on missiles and rockets to the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist organization.
The seemingly closer ties between Syria and Russia comes as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Polish counterpart today inked a deal to build a U.S. missile defense base in Poland, prompting Russia to warn of a possible attack against the former Soviet ally.
Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on its website that Moscow would react to the U.S.-Polish anti-missile deal "not only through diplomatic protests."
A Russian general even warned in an interview Moscow could target Poland.
Rice said the Russian response to the deal with Poland "borders on the bizarre" but she denied Washington wanted a confrontation with Moscow.
"I hope that there are not people in Russia who are hankering for the days of U.S.-Soviet confrontation because they are over," Rice told journalists in Warsaw.
Still, in an interview with CNN she did issue an unusually harsh warning against Soviet designs for Poland:
"They (Russia) must know that the United States would never permit an attack on the territory of an ally under Article 5. When you threaten Poland, you perhaps forget that it is not 1988. It's 2008 and the United States has a ... firm treaty guarantee to defend Poland's territory as if it was the territory of the United States. So it's probably not wise to throw these threats around."
Assad visit shows Russia resurgent in Middle East
Phil Sands, The National
DAMASCUS // In a visit laden with echoes of the Cold War, Bashar al Assad, the Syrian president, arrived in Russia yesterday for a state visit that offered a further signal of the Kremlin’s efforts to revive its ties in the Middle East and defy the United States.
The talks between Russia and Syria, old Cold War allies, come as Moscow continues to shrug off growing international pressure over the presence of its troops in Georgia. The conflict there has developed into a standoff between the Kremlin and the White House.
Although scheduled before the war in the Caucasus, the two-day visit by Mr Assad to Russia is unlikely to help defuse tensions between Washington and Moscow. Exacerbating the situation is the fact that the United States and Poland signed a deal yesterday on missile defence. News of the impending agreement had prompted ominous Russian warnings that Warsaw was exposing itself to a military strike.
The talks between Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, and Mr Assad in Sochi on the Black Sea coast, are one more sign of deteriorating US-Russian relations.
With the war in Georgia, these geopolitical fault lines have become cemented. The United States backed Georgia, politically and with materiel. Israel is also accused by Russia of arming Georgian troops, which the Jewish state denies. Angry at their interference in what it sees as its own backyard, Russia is using this summit to reaffirm its embrace of Syria, a country that remains officially at war with Israel.
In an interview with the Russian press yesterday, Mr Assad said he “fully supported” Moscow in the Caucasus war. “Georgia started this crisis, but the West is blaming Russia,” he said.
The day before, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, insisted Russia was “the outlaw in this conflict” after refusing to pull out its troops.
As for Syria, Washington considers it a state sponsor of terrorism. And while the Bush administration has long sought to weaken Damascus, Russia has been doing the opposite, increasing its support.
Mr Assad made it clear that weapons sales would top the agenda when he met his Russian counterpart. “Of course military and technical co-operation is the main issue,” he said. “Weapons purchases are very important. I think we should speed it up. Moreover, the West and Israel continue to put pressure on Russia.”
Syria is dependent on Russia for military equipment, and in recent years transfers of modern weapons to bolster Syria’s ageing hardware have been renewed.
Israel has consistently lobbied the Russians not to sell weapons to Syria.
Claims – always denied by Damascus and never properly sourced – are frequently made by Syria’s enemies that it channels advanced Russian hardware to Iran and Hizbollah, for use in any conflict against the United States or Israel.
Syria remains highly secretive about all matters relating to its military capabilities and national security. What is clear, however, is that billions of dollars in Cold War debts owed by Syria to Russia were cancelled in June, an economic reprieve much needed by cash-strapped Damascus. Pravda, a Russian daily newspaper, reported this month of plans by the Russian navy to upgrade facilities in Tartuz, a Syrian port on the Mediterranean Sea used to support the Russian fleet.
“The Russians are back heavily in the region, and they are looking to Syria because the other Arab states are following the American line,” said Attallah Rumheen, a professor in Damascus University’s media faculty. Like tens of thousands of Syrians, he graduated from a Russian university. Books on Marxism and Leninism, mainly in Russian, line his library wall.
“For the last decade, the Russians were squeezed in the Middle East; they saw their influence falling and being replaced by the Americans. That is now coming to an end.
“The Russians have money, their economy is strong, and they are united domestically. That is the opposite of the situation in the US.”
Mr Rumheen said he expected to see a new Cold War spreading across the Middle East as the two powers vie for supremacy.
“The situation is heading towards a new Cold War, with a new polarisation of areas under Russian and US influence,” he said. “The Americans and the Russians must start talking properly again, otherwise a return to the Cold War is inevitable. I think the Cold War will return. It will be slightly different from before, but the essence will be the same.”
The contrast between US and Russian influence on Syria could not be more stark. While the US Embassy in Damascus is without an ambassador, the Russians have a sprawling, heavily fortified complex. While the United States has unilaterally imposed economic and trade sanctions on Syria in an attempt to undermine the regime, state-owned Russian firms do business, particularly in the energy sector, building new oil refineries and pipelines and updating power stations.
Even during the spring of 2005, when Syria was ostracised over the death of Rafiq Hariri in Beirut and forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, the Russians maintained their close relationship with Damascus and signed a major weapons deal. The next year, with Syria still under intense international pressure over the assassination – in which it insists it played no part – Mr Assad flew to Moscow for a meeting with Vladimir Putin, who was president at the time.
Since then Syria’s international presence has been on the rise, and US attempts to isolate Syria were undermined last month when France invited Mr Assad to Paris for an EU Mediterranean summit. The days of Damascus’s isolation over the Hariri killing appear over.
Syria is adamant it is not just a Russian client state but is involved in a relationship of equality, based on converging mutual interests.
“Like all countries, Syria is trying to advance and develop and for that it needs to be open to the world,” said Umran Zaubie, a political analyst and member of Syria’s ruling Baath Party.
“Syria wants to co-operate with the EU and has good relations with America, but the Americans have had sanctions against Syria and have tried to block our development. The Russians have not. For that reason, it is obvious which direction Syria must look.”
Russian official reveals Israeli military assistance to Georgia
Ynet News, 19/08/08
General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of staff of the Russian Military revealed Tuesday the extent of the military assistance Moscow claimed Jerusalem had given Georgia.
"Israel armed the Georgian army," he told reported at a press conference held in the Russian capital.
According to Nogovitsyn, Israel provided Georgia with "eight types of military vehicles, explosives, landmines and special explosives for the clearing minefields."Since 2007, he continued, Israeli experts have been training Georgian commando troops; and Israel had planned to supply Georgia with heavy firearms, electronic weapons and tanks, but that plan was eventually scrapped.
The Indonesian government threw out a request by the US to stop Al-Manar from broadcasting into Asia and the Pacific from its Indonesian hub.
Australia listed Hezbollah's military wing on its terrorist list following intense pressure by Australia's pro-Israel lobby, despite there being a 500,000 strong Arab presence in the country.
The pro-Israel lobby were quick on their heels when they found out Al Manar had seeped through Australia's airwaves with the Australia-Israel Review throwing the same old "anti-Semitic" slogan.
The Australian Arabic Council hit back, labelling Canberra's ban on Al Manar as "hypocritical".
But perhaps the most surprising was the extremely pro-Israeli reporting on the situation in Australia's generally impartial newspaper, The Age.
Barney Zwartz, The Age's Religion Editor who apparently has great respect for Islam, wrote a scathing article about Al Manar and Hezbollah, referring to it as "anti-Semitic TV". Zwartz' column was so anti-Hezbollah it made the Australia-Israel Review seem pale.
The following are some excerpts from Zwartz' extremely poor reporting, particularly for someone of his stature:
'Al-Manar promotes and raises money for terrorism, particularly against Israel.'
'The station is viciously anti-Semitic - perpetuating the medieval "blood libel" that Jews use the blood of Christian children in their Passover meals - as well as anti-Israel and anti-US. Hezbollah triggered a war with Israel in 2006 after kidnapping two Israeli soldiers.'
'Al-Manar's political talk shows feature guests from terrorist organisations. It has shown the decomposing bodies of Israeli soldiers. It also screens mundane programming, such as educational children's shows.'
'The station regularly broadcasts speeches by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and fatwas (Muslim legal rulings) endorsing suicide bombing as legitimate.'
A Religion Editor who has apparent experience with various faiths, particularly the three monotheistic religions, should certainly have a much broader approach to the Middle East. Zwartz, brought up Jewish and later a Christian convert, has worked with Muslims and claims to have a great knowledge and insight into the religion. His article on Al-Manar is deeply flawed and a shocking right-wing blitz on a topic he should be familiar with.
His comments may have appeased his Jewish backers, but it is an insult to the Lebanese and Arabic speaking people of Australia who are denied this channel because it does not fit well with the pro-Israeli hawks of this country.
Al Manar does not promote and raise money for "terrorism". That remark in itself demonstrates a great ignorance and blind approach to the Middle East. Hezbollah has confined its attacks to Israeli military targets, unlike the Israelis who often launch indiscriminate attacks against Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. Al Manar promotes and raises money to help fund Hezbollah's vast network of responsibilities, ranging from its social welfare services, to indeed, its military services, which has succeeded in protecting South Lebanon against Israeli aggression.
Why doesn't Zwartz write an article calling for the halt of the millions of dollars sent by wealthy Australian Jews to build illegal settlements on the West Bank, and to assist Israel's military in its continued Apartheid occupation of Palestinian Territories and its illegal, disproportionate use of force against Lebanon?
Hezbollah is a fundamentalist religious organisation, there is no doubt about that. It regularly airs programs on Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Certain people would consider Al Manar's programming of Islam un-Islamic - as Hezbollah is a Shia organisation. Programs are regularly aired in the West questioning and attacking the fundamentals of Christianity, but we dub that free speech.
Instead of shunning an (and it is only one of many) Arab and Islamic perpective of Israel, Judaism and the world around them, perhaps it would be better to understand why ... why is there such tension today between Islam and Judaism that would lead to such perceptions? And that's not excusing the ultra-Orthodox right-wing Jews who hold fascist, anti-Arab views. But, we won't be seeing a Zwartz article on anti-Arab racism existing among Jewish ranks anytime soon.
Al Manar is one of Lebanon's and the Arab world's most popular TV networks. By referring to Al Manar as a terrorist, anti-Semitic network,Zwartz is knowingly implying that those who are entertained by this network are also terrorists and anti-Semites (despite the fact that Arabs are Semites).
Hats off to The Age's Religion Editor. It appears that tolerance was not a prerequisite for this job. Instead of promoting understanding and awareness in a climate where fear and conflict is abound, Barney Zwartz has simply added fuel to the fire. He has destroyed any credibility he may have had among Australia's Arab and Islamic communities, only deepening the wide between Muslim and Jew, Arab and Israeli.
Australia's ban on Al Manar is politically motivated by the pro-Israel lobby and totally contradicts the notion of freedom of speech. It is a grave insult to the large Lebanese community, but indeed a key demonstration of the ineffectiveness of Lebanese-Australians to defend their rights.
By the way, to watch Al Manar, you can simply stream live from their website.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Israel fears Russian response to Tel Aviv's military support for Georgia ... media news wrap on conflict
Has Israel overstepped its line in its dealings in external conflicts? Reports that have emerged suggest that Israel not only supplied advanced military hardware, but also sent experts to train Georgia's inexperienced army.
Why would Israel get itself tangled so deep in Georgia's military development, knowing full well that it needs Russian influence on Iran? Why would Israel want to take on the Russian bear?
NATO appears split between the hawks led by Washington and the Eastern European states demanding harsh retribution to Moscow, and the rational heads in Paris, Berlin and Rome who don't want to anger the bear any further. If there is any wisdom left in Tel Aviv, it would be restraining their American colleagues from taking a tough stance on Russia. If Washington is keen to slap Russia over Georgia, Moscow will bite back where it will hurt the West and Israel the most ... Iran.
This is not justice
Gideon Boas, The Age
The international community, which is dominated by the West, does not demand accountability impartially.
IT HAS been a busy time for international politics and criminal justice. The arrest of Radovan Karadzic and his transfer to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague was important, not just because one of the most notorious modern-day war criminals had been removed from circulation, but because it signalled a courageous shift in Serbia away from bitter nationalist politics towards a future in Europe.
Just days later, the Rwandan Government released a 500-page report in which it accused the then French president, prime minister and senior government officials of complicity in the genocide of up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994. The report also alleges that French soldiers and peacekeeping troops operating under a UN mandate assisted in the genocidal purges and committed other crimes, including rape.
It is not the first time peacekeeping forces have been accused of committing crimes against those they were deployed to protect. A recent report by Save the Children accused aid workers and peacekeepers of abusing children in conflict zones. Such abuses of power against the vulnerable are not uncommon in societies with a strong social cohesion; it is hardly surprising they occur in war-torn countries.
Around the same time as the Rwandan report was released, another event of considerable importance occurred: the first trial conviction by a US military tribunal of a Guantanamo Bay detainee. Salim Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former driver, was found guilty of providing support for terrorism, although he was acquitted of the more serious charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism.
Before there was time to take a breath, reports of Russia invading the Georgian territory of South Ossetia began to emerge, those two countries trading military blows and slinging around accusations of genocide and ethnic cleansing, while the international community put on a show of stern diplomatic concern.
These events have a number of things in common. They are all grand episodes of international diplomacy that distract the common observer from the fact that, underneath the layer of political posturing, is the untold suffering of murdered, raped and mutilated civilians and the broader destruction of peoples and their societies.
They are also all episodes of great political hypocrisy that permeates any debate about the politics of international justice. Take the arrest of Karadzic in Serbia. Here is a former leader, a self-declared president of Bosnian Serbs, to be tried by an international criminal tribunal sponsored largely by the West. And there was Slobodan Milosevic, former president of Serbia, also arrested and tried by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, not to mention the former prime minister of Rwanda, Jean Kambanda, tried and convicted by an international criminal tribunal for genocide. Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia, awaits trial by the mixed international Special Court of Sierra Leone and the president of Sudan has now been indicted by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
While these are great steps in the development of international criminal justice and the fight against impunity, they are also examples of justice being levelled against weak states by powerful ones. This is surely one reason such little attention has been paid to Rwanda's claims about France. France is a permanent member of the Security Council and a powerful member of the European Union and NATO. No doubt much animosity exists between France and Rwanda but a government report of this nature should be scrutinised closely to determine whether the allegations bear any merit.
And what of the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the United States and the United Kingdom? Most sensible international lawyers view the attack on Iraq as an illegal use of force, yet with both those countries on the Security Council no international justice response is likely. Indeed, calls for consideration of the criminal responsibility of George Bush, Tony Blair and even John Howard are brushed off as ludicrous. And it is certain that after events in South Ossetia have subsided, there will be no serious consideration of Vladimir Putin's responsibility. The West certainly won't call for it; and Putin is relying on the "humanitarian intervention" justification that the US and Europe used to bomb Serbia.
Australia has also engaged in its fair share of hypocrisy in the international politics of justice. It was right behind the US in Afghanistan and Iraq. We stood by mutely as our own citizen, David Hicks, was subjected to illegal detention, probably torture and was certainly denied the fundamental human rights accorded criminal suspects in our country. Perhaps worse, Australia reportedly turned a blind eye to Mamdouh Habib, an Australian terror suspect, being rendered by the US to Egypt for torture on his way to Guantanamo Bay.
The Pentagon press secretary said last week that there was still "a significant population within Guantanamo who will likely never be released because of the threat they pose to the world", presumably regardless of any outcome in the already heavily prosecution-slanted military tribunal process.
International criminal justice is flourishing. Senior politicians, even heads of state, are subjected to scrutiny and trial, and a growing dedication to international criminal justice must be causing tyrants to think twice about spilling the blood of their own and other peoples.
To say that there is politics in justice is like saying there is oxygen in air. It is the nature of the politics that matters. Whether it is Milosevic, Omar al-Bashir, Robert Mugabe, Howard, Alain Juppe, Bush or Putin, international criminal justice will be better served when there is a system that focuses more on the crime and less on who commits it.
US, Israel part ways on Georgian conflict
Larry Cohler-Esses, The Jewish Week
For Israel this week, the outbreak of war between Georgia and Russia has been all about Iran.
As Tblisi and Moscow agreed to a cease-fire Tuesday in their five-day conflict over two disputed territories, Russia was still bristling with anger over U.S. policies and statements on the issue. But thanks to Israel’s decision to limit its arms sales to Georgia, the Kremlin had only kind words for Israel, Washington’s closest ally, as the guns of war died down.
“We are appreciative of Israel’s position of not selling offensive weapons to a conflict area,” Russian diplomat Anatoly Yurkov told The Jerusalem Post that day.
On CNN, Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s envoy to the UN, also made a point of praising Israel for “reconsidering its relationship in the arms area with Georgia” and compared Jerusalem’s reaction to the conflict unfavorably to Washington’s.
But for Israel, the key statement came from Yurkov, the No. 2 official in Russia’s Tel Aviv embassy in Tel Aviv, temporarily filling the top spot as Russian Ambassador Petr V. Stegniy vacationed. Moscow, he suggested, was likely to take Israel’s reactions to the conflict into account when weighing its own arms sales to Iran and Syria.
For Jerry Hough, the Brookings Institution’s former senior Russian specialist, that signals further possibilities. If the White House alters its stance on NATO membership for Georgia and certain other issues, he said, “Russia may moderate and pay a price” on Iran.
But to Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, a hawkish Washington think tank, “It is unrealistic for us to expect that Russia will assume a constructive stance on Iran even as it itself violates significant established international norms.
All of which suggests that the UN track is well and truly dead, as far as pressuring Iran is concerned.”
Israel arms sales to Georgia over the last decade have been estimated at some $300 million to $500 million. They have included spy drones, infantry weapons and electronics for artillery systems. Israel has reportedly helped upgrade Soviet-designed Su-25 ground attack jets assembled in Georgia. And former Israeli generals serve as advisers to the Georgian military.
The arms dealers involved have also included important figures, such as former Likud cabinet minister Roni Milo.
But Jerusalem pulled its trainers out quickly and vowed to restrict itself to selling Georgia defensive weapons after hostilities broke out last Thursday. “The day we will want to prevent a future deal with Iran, our hands must be clean,” a senior political source told the daily paper Haaretz.
By contrast, the U.S., which has also been selling arms to Georgia and training its troops, flew 2,000 Georgian soldiers from Iraq, where they were part of the U.S.-led coalition, into Georgia to join the fight with Russia.
It is a parochial issue, in one sense. When two nations go to war, other countries inevitably assess the implications for their own particular interests. But in this case, Israel’s particular interest has much wider ramifications.
Israel regards Iran’s drive to develop its nuclear capabilities as a threat to its very existence.
And it views cooperation from Moscow — which has been supplying Iran with arms and help in its nuclear efforts — as crucial to halting Iran’s drive. Jerusalem, like Washington, also seeks the Kremlin’s cooperation in imposing tighter UN sanctions on Iran. If such sanctions fail, Israeli officials have warned, their only alternative will be war.
Now, with reports of continued violence and Russian troops still present in Georgia proper despite the cease-fire, Jerusalem’s hopes for avoiding this choice becomes part of a three-dimensional geopolitical chess game. And the key players are Russia and the United States, leaving Israel at the margins with interests that, in some ways, seem to diverge from those of its closest partner.
“The prerequisite for any movement on the UN sanctions front is that Moscow and Washington be on speaking terms,” said Berman, who is an Iran specialist. “And this has the potential to reconfigure in a very negative sense how the two sides think about each other.”
But others, such as Yossi Alpher, a former analyst for the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, see the situation in more complex terms.
“What happens in Georgia is just a tiny part of this,” he said. “What happens with missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic is probably more important. My sense is that Russia is sending a message. It feels very hard pressed on all its Western borders. And it saw what Georgia was doing as part of this broader campaign to whittle away at its influence over anyone on its borders.”
Alpher and others evince a practical awareness of other issues Russia views as crucial to its own security — issues that Washington has brushed aside as Moscow’s anger and sense of grievance have risen, along with its power and wealth, thanks to huge oil revenues in recent years.
During the 1990s as NATO, the Western military alliance against the old Soviet Union, admitted Poland, the Czech Republic and other former satellites of the Soviet Union on Russia’s western border, a weakened Kremlin protested vehemently but could do nothing. It was not mollified by NATO’s declarations that it no longer viewed Russia as its adversary.
But President Clinton at the time stated that NATO would not expand beyond Eastern Europe.
The Bush administration, however, has strongly backed NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, on Russia’s southern border. Despite Russia’s adamant opposition, it is also plans to install anti-missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic, bordering Russia. Moscow rejects Washington’s stand that the anti-missile defenses — scored by critics as of dubious value — are meant only to counter a looming nuclear missile threat from Iran.
Earlier this year, the United States and the major powers of Western Europe also recognized Kosovo as an independent country over angry Russian protests. Kosovo, effectively a second state for Albanians, was a breakaway territory from Serbia, Russia’s closest ally.
Russia explicitly retaliated by recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Georgian breakaway provinces in which it was acting as a peacekeeper, thereby inflaming Georgia — part of the lead up to the outbreak of hostilities last week.
Now, thanks to Iran, Israel finds it has an interest in — but little influence over — how all these issues have affected Russian attitudes.
According to the Israeli daily paper Haaretz, Israeli officials have urged their American counterparts in recent months to tone down their other disputes with Moscow to focus its efforts on obtaining Russia’s backing against Iran. Among other things, they suggested that Washington offer to drop its plan to station a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic in exchange for Russia agreeing to stiffer sanctions against Iran. The administration rejected this idea, the paper reported.
“It seems to me if there is a deal with Russia on Iran, it will come in the next administration fairly early,” said Hough, the Brookings Institution’s former top Russian specialist. “It will involve the United States giving up on NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia.” In addition, he said, “The new administration has got to decide whether to go ahead with missiles defenses in Eastern Europe.”
Hough said the likelihood of such a deal is great if Democrat Barak Obama is elected president but almost nil if Republican John McCain, a longtime hawk on Russia, takes the White House. But the outbreak of hostilities in Georgia found Obama, too, calling for “a membership action plan for NATO” in his statement of support for Georgia on Monday.
That sounded pretty close to the position of McCain, who told Fox News, “I would move forward at the right time with the application for membership in NATO by Georgia… As you know, through NATO membership, if a member nation is attacked, it is viewed as an attack on all.”
In the short term, a lot will depend on whether Russia’s goals in Georgia prove limited to asserting its sway over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two territories that seek to break off from Georgia; or if, as Georgia, its supporters and hawkish critics of Russia charge, Moscow seeks to overthrow the country’s democratically elected government or retake all or part of Georgia proper — a country it ruled until 1991 as part of the former Soviet Union.
“It’s clear there are two narratives contending with each other in Washington,” said Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “One is that the Russian bear is back, and it’s time for the United States to double down and realize it again has a major competitor in Moscow.
“The second narrative sees it as much more complicated. It puts the onus on both Georgia and Russia. But the ‘complicated’ narrative disappears if Russia goes to Tblisi.”
US watched as squabble turned into a showdown
17/08/08, New York Times
WASHINGTON — Five months ago, President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, long a darling of this city’s diplomatic dinner party circuit, came to town to push for America to muscle his tiny country of four million into NATO.
On Capitol Hill, at the State Department and at the Pentagon, Mr. Saakashvili, brash and hyperkinetic, urged the West not to appease Russia by rejecting his country’s NATO ambitions.
At the White House, President Bush bantered with the Georgian president about his prowess as a dancer. Laura Bush, the first lady, took Mr. Saakashvili’s wife to lunch. Mr. Bush promised him to push hard for Georgia’s acceptance into NATO. After the meeting, Mr. Saakashvili pronounced his visit “one of the most successful visits during my presidency,” and said he did not know of any other leader of a small country with the access to the administration that he had.
Three weeks later, Mr. Bush went to the Black Sea resort of Sochi, at the invitation of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. There, he received a message from the Russian: the push to offer Ukraine and Georgia NATO membership was crossing Russia’s “red lines,” according to an administration official close to the talks.
Afterward, Mr. Bush said of Mr. Putin, “He’s been very truthful and to me, that’s the only way you can find common ground.” It was one of many moments when the United States seemed to have missed — or gambled it could manage — the depth of Russia’s anger and the resolve of the Georgian president to provoke the Russians.
The story of how a 16-year, low-grade conflict over who should rule two small, mountainous regions in the Caucasus erupted into the most serious post-cold-war showdown between the United States and Russia is one of miscalculation, missed signals and overreaching, according to interviews with diplomats and senior officials in the United States, the European Union, Russia and Georgia. In many cases, the officials would speak only on the condition of anonymity.
It is also the story of how both Democrats and Republicans have misread Russia’s determination to dominate its traditional sphere of influence.
As with many foreign policy issues, this one highlighted a continuing fight within the administration. Vice President Dick Cheney and his aides and allies, who saw Georgia as a role model for their democracy promotion campaign, pushed to sell Georgia more arms, including Stinger antiaircraft missiles, so that it could defend itself against possible Russian aggression.
On the other side, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley and William J. Burns, the new under secretary of state for political affairs, argued that such a sale would provoke Russia, which would see it as arrogant meddling in its turf, the officials and diplomats said.
They describe three leaders on a collision course. Mr. Bush, rewarding Georgia for its robust troop contribution to Iraq — at 2,000, the third highest, behind the United States and Britain — promised NATO membership and its accompanying umbrella of American military support. Mr. Putin, angry at what he saw as American infringement right in his backyard, decided that Georgia was the line in the sand that the West would not be allowed to cross. And Mr. Saakashvili, unabashedly pro-American, was determined to show, once and for all, that Georgia was no longer a vassal of Russia.
With a vastly more confident Russia, flush with oil money, a booming economy and a rebuilt military no longer bogged down in Chechnya, the stars were aligned for a confrontation in which Russia could, with a quick show of force, teach a lesson to the United States, Georgia and all of the former Soviet satellites and republics seeking closer ties with the West.
“We have probably failed to understand that the Russians are really quite serious when they say, ‘We have interests and we’re going to defend them,’ ” said James Collins, United States ambassador to Russia from 1997 to 2001. “Russia does have interests, and at some point they’re going to stand up and draw lines that are not simply to be ignored.”
Georgia Makes Its Moves
The stage for the confrontation was set in January 2004, when Mr. Saakashvili handily won the presidency after leading protests against a rigged election the previous year. He made the return of separatist areas to Georgian control a central plank of his platform.
It was a potent theme. Georgia had lost the wars against separatists in the 1990s, and Russia’s involvement stung Georgians. Mr. Saakashvili saw international law on his side. His young government, a small circle of men in their 30s with virtually no military experience, openly endorsed this thinking.
Georgia increased its troop contribution to Iraq, and in return the United States provided more military training. The Georgians clearly saw this as a step toward building up a military that could be used to settle problems with the separatists at home.
Whether they intended to build a military for fighting or deterrence is unclear. American officials said they repeatedly and bluntly told their Georgian counterparts that the Iraq mission should not be taken as a sign of American support, or as a prelude, for operations against the separatists. And it was obvious that Russia’s army, which at roughly 641,000 troops is 25 times the size of Georgia’s, could easily overwhelm the Georgian forces.
Nevertheless, the career foreign policy establishment worried that the wrong signals were being sent. “We were training Saakashvili’s army, and he was getting at least a corps of highly trained individuals, which he could use for adventures,” said one former senior intelligence analyst, who covered Georgia and Russia at the time. “The feeling in the intelligence community was that this was a very high-risk endeavor.”
Mr. Saakashvili proceeded against other separatist enclaves — retaking one, Ajaria, in 2004, and advancing high into the mountains of the upper Kodori Gorge in Abhkazia in 2006 to sweep away bands of criminals who had long controlled the place.
Georgia labeled it a police operation, but it was a military one: Mark Lenzi, then the country director for the nonprofit International Republican Institute, visited the region and says he saw that military markings on a helicopter had been freshly painted over with the word “police.”
Mr. Lenzi, who worked with Mr. Saakashvili’s young government, says that in retrospect, there were risks that were not adequately assessed. “It was a combustible,” he said. “But it was a little bit of the price we were willing to pay for the military cooperation in Iraq.”
He added: “I go back to the democracy thing. I’m not saying I gave them a big pass here. But looking back I should have pressed harder.”
By last November, Mr. Saakashvili’s democratic credentials were becoming checkered. Accused by the opposition of corruption, arrogance and centralization, he struck back against demonstrators and declared a state of emergency. After he won a snap election this year on a vote that the opposition said was subtly rigged, Mr. Saakashvili turned his attention back to the enclaves.
Georgia had new military equipment and the experience of Iraq. Russia had engaged in several brief air attacks and had shot down a pilotless reconnaissance plane over Georgian soil.
Inside the Saakashvili government, officials were seething. Batu Kutelia, a first deputy minister of defense, framed the presence of Russia in the enclaves with intensity. “Tell me,” he asked a reporter over dinner this spring, “would you share your wife?”
Several Georgian officials said that night that seizing South Ossetia would be militarily easy. But there was a difference between any operation in the remaining enclaves and the successful reclamation of Ajaria and the Kodori Gorge: the remaining enclaves had large numbers of Russian troops.
Russia, too, was laying down its markers, strenuously protesting the West’s intention to recognize the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo, set on independence after the long Balkans wars of the 1990s. The Russians insisted that independence for Kosovo would be a serious affront. Last February, the United States and the European Union, over Russia’s vehement objections, recognized an independent Kosovo.
Mr. Putin and other Russian officials drew a parallel with Kosovo: If the West could redraw boundaries against the wishes of Russia and its ally Serbia, then Russia could redraw boundaries in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
By April, before the Russians had a chance to grow accustomed to an independent Kosovo, they were being confronted with what they saw as more meddling in their backyard. On April 3, the night before the NATO summit meeting in Bucharest, Romania, Mr. Bush attended a dinner with European leaders and annoyed the Germans and French by lobbying long and hard for Ukraine and Georgia to be welcomed into a Membership Action Plan that prepares nations for NATO membership.
Mr. Bush lost that battle, but won two others the next day that would anger Russia: NATO leaders agreed to endorse a United States missile defense system based in Eastern Europe, and the Europeans said invitations to the membership plan for Georgia and Ukraine might come in a year, at the next summit.
NATO leaders had invited Mr. Putin to Bucharest to speak, seeking to offset the impression that the alliance was hostile to Russia. He was cordial but clear, saying that Russia viewed “the appearance of a powerful military bloc” on its borders “as a direct threat” to its security. “The claim that this process is not directed against Russia will not suffice,” Mr. Putin said. “National security is not based on promises.”
The next day, Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin went to Sochi. “It definitely wasn’t what I would call a ‘look-into-your-eyes-and-see-your-soul’ meeting,” said a Bush administration official, referring to Mr. Bush’s famous line after he first met Mr. Putin. Mr. Bush had dinner with Mr. Putin and his protégé and successor, Dmitri A. Medvedev, at the Russian resort, which is near Georgia. The official said the discussion centered on Ukraine and Georgia, and Mr. Putin warned, again, against the NATO push.
Asked how Mr. Bush reacted to the warning, the official said: “It wasn’t anything we hadn’t heard before.”
It appeared that the Bush administration misread the depth of Russia’s fury. A Bush administration official said the Americans understood that Russia was angry, but believed that they could forestall a worsening of the relationship by looking for other possibilities for cooperation.
Ms. Rice offered up an 11-page “strategic framework declaration” examining areas where the two nations could work together, which was hammered out with Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, that night in Sochi. The statement included language describing how they would in the future address the issue of missile defenses the United States had proposed basing in Eastern Europe. The United States promised to work toward “assuaging” Russian concerns.
Washington Weighs In
Nine days later, on April 16, Mr. Putin took action. In one of his last formal acts as president, he issued an order that Russia was broadly expanding support for Abkhazia and South Ossetia and would establish legal connections with the regions’ separatist governments.
Washington was quick to rally around Mr. Saakashvili. Senator John McCain, whose campaign foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, had represented Georgia as a lobbyist, was the first to blast Russia. Mr. McCain, who already was the Republicans’ presumptive presidential nominee, telephoned Mr. Saakashvili to offer support, and then told reporters on April 17 that “we must not allow Russia to believe it has a free hand to engage in policies that undermine Georgian sovereignty.” On April 21 came a statement from a “deeply troubled” Senator Barack Obama, the leading Democratic candidate.
“There’s no doubt that the Georgians have carefully cultivated a broad base of support in Washington,” said Stephen Sestanovich, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and foreign policy adviser to the Obama campaign who has hosted dinner parties for Mr. Saakashvili in Washington.
Within the Bush administration, “the fight between the hawks and the doves” erupted anew, said one administration official. In this case, the people he called the “hawks” —Mr. Cheney and the assistant secretary of state for Europe, Daniel Fried — argued for more American military aid for Georgia; the “doves” — Ms. Rice, Mr. Hadley, Mr. Burns — urged restraint.
The United States was already providing Georgia with military aid, equipment and training, and Ms. Rice, for the time being, won the fight against adding American-provided Stinger missiles to Georgia’s arsenal.
On April 21, Georgia accused Russia of shooting down the pilotless Georgian plane over Abkhazia and released what it said was a video of the encounter. Mr. Putin responded that he had expressed “bewilderment” to Mr. Saakashvili at Georgia’s sending reconnaissance planes over Abkhazia.
A senior adviser to Mr. Saakashvili said Mr. Cheney’s office was more openly critical of the Russians after the episode than was the State Department, which struck a more balanced tone, asking Russia to explain their actions.
Bush administration officials have been adamant that they told Mr. Saakashvili that the United States would not back Georgia militarily in a fight with Russia, but a senior administration official acknowledged that “it’s possible that Georgians may have confused the cheerleading from Washington with something else.”
In May and June, Russia increased the number of troops in South Ossetia and sent troops into Abkhazia, who Moscow said were going for humanitarian purposes, Georgian and American officials said.
Ms. Rice traveled to Tbilisi, Georgia, in July, where, aides said, she privately told Mr. Saakashvili not to let Russia provoke him into a fight he could not win. But her public comments, delivered while standing next to Mr. Saakashvili during a news conference, were far stronger and more supportive.
And when she brought up NATO membership, mentioning that the Bush administration had pushed for it in Bucharest, Mr. Saakashvili jumped on the opportunity to get a public commitment that the administration would bring the matter up again with NATO before leaving office.
“So are you going — I understood you are going to give a tough fight for us in December,” he said.
Ms. Rice: “Always, Mr. President. We always fight for our friends.”
The Russians and the Georgians give different accounts of who provoked whom in the weeks before Aug. 7. Each side accuses the other of premeditated attack. While the public line from the Bush administration has been that Russia and Mr. Putin are largely to blame, some administration officials said the Georgian military had drawn up a “concept of operations” for crisis in South Ossetia that called for its army units to sweep across the region and rapidly establish such firm control that a Russian response could be pre-empted.
They note that in January, the Georgian Ministry of Defense released a “strategic defense review” that laid out its broad military planning for the breakaway regions. As described by David J. Smith of the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, the document sets out goals for the Georgian armed forces and refers specifically to the threat of conflict in the separatist regions.
American officials said that they had clearly told their Georgian counterparts that the plan had little chance of success, given Kremlin statements promising to protect the local population from Georgian “aggression” — and the fact of overwhelming Russian military force along the border.
The shelling from South Ossetia to Georgia proper increased significantly in August. On the morning of Aug. 1, five Georgian police officers were wounded by two remotely detonated explosions on a bypass road in South Ossetia, Georgian officials said. Troops from Georgia battled separatist fighters, killing at least six people; the Georgians accused the South Ossetian separatists of firing at Georgian towns behind the shelter of Russian peacekeepers.
On Aug. 6, the separatists fired on several Georgian villages, Georgian officials said. The Russian Defense Ministry and South Ossetian officials say that Georgians provoked the escalation by shelling Russian peacekeeping positions in the region’s capital of Tskhinvali, along with civilian areas.
The Georgians said the separatists stepped up their shelling. Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili of Georgia called Mr. Fried and told him that her country was under attack, and that Georgia had to protect its people. Mr. Fried, according to a senior administration official, told the Georgian not to go into South Ossetia. The Georgians moved in on Aug. 7.
Helene Cooper reported from Washington, C. J. Chivers from Georgia and Clifford J. Levy from Moscow. Reporting was contributed by Anne Barnard and Ellen Barry from Moscow; Andrew E. Kramer from Tbilisi, Georgia; Sabrina Tavernise and Matt Siegel from Tskhinvali, Georgia; and Thom Shanker from Washington.
This is a tale of US expansion not Russian aggression
Seumas Milne, The Guardian
The outcome of six grim days of bloodshed in the Caucasus has triggered an outpouring of the most nauseating hypocrisy from western politicians and their captive media. As talking heads thundered against Russian imperialism and brutal disproportionality, US vice-president Dick Cheney, faithfully echoed by Gordon Brown and David Miliband, declared that "Russian aggression must not go unanswered". George Bush denounced Russia for having "invaded a sovereign neighbouring state" and threatening "a democratic government". Such an action, he insisted, "is unacceptable in the 21st century".
Could these by any chance be the leaders of the same governments that in 2003 invaded and occupied - along with Georgia, as luck would have it - the sovereign state of Iraq on a false pretext at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives? Or even the two governments that blocked a ceasefire in the summer of 2006 as Israel pulverised Lebanon's infrastructure and killed more than a thousand civilians in retaliation for the capture or killing of five soldiers?
You'd be hard put to recall after all the fury over Russian aggression that it was actually Georgia that began the war last Thursday with an all-out attack on South Ossetia to "restore constitutional order" - in other words, rule over an area it has never controlled since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nor, amid the outrage at Russian bombardments, have there been much more than the briefest references to the atrocities committed by Georgian forces against citizens it claims as its own in South Ossetia's capital Tskhinvali. Several hundred civilians were killed there by Georgian troops last week, along with Russian soldiers operating under a 1990s peace agreement: "I saw a Georgian soldier throw a grenade into a basement full of women and children," one Tskhinvali resident, Saramat Tskhovredov, told reporters on Tuesday.
Might it be because Georgia is what Jim Murphy, Britain's minister for Europe, called a "small beautiful democracy". Well it's certainly small and beautiful, but both the current president, Mikheil Saakashvili, and his predecessor came to power in western-backed coups, the most recent prettified as a "Rose revolution". Saakashvili was then initially rubber-stamped into office with 96% of the vote before establishing what the International Crisis Group recently described as an "increasingly authoritarian" government, violently cracking down on opposition dissent and independent media last November. "Democratic" simply seems to mean "pro-western" in these cases.
The long-running dispute over South Ossetia - as well as Abkhazia, the other contested region of Georgia - is the inevitable consequence of the breakup of the Soviet Union. As in the case of Yugoslavia, minorities who were happy enough to live on either side of an internal boundary that made little difference to their lives feel quite differently when they find themselves on the wrong side of an international state border.
Such problems would be hard enough to settle through negotiation in any circumstances. But add in the tireless US promotion of Georgia as a pro-western, anti-Russian forward base in the region, its efforts to bring Georgia into Nato, the routing of a key Caspian oil pipeline through its territory aimed at weakening Russia's control of energy supplies, and the US-sponsored recognition of the independence of Kosovo - whose status Russia had explicitly linked to that of South Ossetia and Abkhazia - and conflict was only a matter of time.
The CIA has in fact been closely involved in Georgia since the Soviet collapse. But under the Bush administration, Georgia has become a fully fledged US satellite. Georgia's forces are armed and trained by the US and Israel. It has the third-largest military contingent in Iraq - hence the US need to airlift 800 of them back to fight the Russians at the weekend. Saakashvili's links with the neoconservatives in Washington are particularly close: the lobbying firm headed by US Republican candidate John McCain's top foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, has been paid nearly $900,000 by the Georgian government since 2004.
But underlying the conflict of the past week has also been the Bush administration's wider, explicit determination to enforce US global hegemony and prevent any regional challenge, particularly from a resurgent Russia. That aim was first spelled out when Cheney was defence secretary under Bush's father, but its full impact has only been felt as Russia has begun to recover from the disintegration of the 1990s.
Over the past decade, Nato's relentless eastward expansion has brought the western military alliance hard up against Russia's borders and deep into former Soviet territory. American military bases have spread across eastern Europe and central Asia, as the US has helped install one anti-Russian client government after another through a series of colour-coded revolutions. Now the Bush administration is preparing to site a missile defence system in eastern Europe transparently targeted at Russia.
By any sensible reckoning, this is not a story of Russian aggression, but of US imperial expansion and ever tighter encirclement of Russia by a potentially hostile power. That a stronger Russia has now used the South Ossetian imbroglio to put a check on that expansion should hardly come as a surprise. What is harder to work out is why Saakashvili launched last week's attack and whether he was given any encouragement by his friends in Washington.
If so, it has spectacularly backfired, at savage human cost. And despite Bush's attempts to talk tough yesterday, the war has also exposed the limits of US power in the region. As long as Georgia proper's independence is respected - best protected by opting for neutrality - that should be no bad thing. Unipolar domination of the world has squeezed the space for genuine self-determination and the return of some counterweight has to be welcome. But the process of adjustment also brings huge dangers. If Georgia had been a member of Nato, this week's conflict would have risked a far sharper escalation. That would be even more obvious in the case of Ukraine - which yesterday gave a warning of the potential for future confrontation when its pro-western president threatened to restrict the movement of Russian ships in and out of their Crimean base in Sevastopol. As great power conflict returns, South Ossetia is likely to be only a taste of things to come.
Georgia: A Blow to US Energy
Steve LeVine, BusinessWeek
The sudden war in the Caucasus brought Georgia to heel, reasserted Russia's claim as the dominant force in the region, and dealt a blow to U.S. prestige. But in this part of the world, diplomacy and war are about oil and gas as much as they are about hegemony and the tragic loss of human life. Victory in Georgia now gives Russia the edge in the struggle over access to the Caspian's 35 billion barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of gas. The probable losers: the U.S. and those Western oil companies that have bet heavily on the Caspian as one of the few regions where they could still operate with relative freedom.
At the core of the struggle is a vast network of actual and planned pipelines for shipping Caspian Sea oil to the world market from countries that were once part of the Soviet empire. American policymakers working with a BP-led consortium had already helped build oil and natural gas pipelines across Georgia to the Turkish coast. Next on the drawing board: another pipeline through Georgia to carry natural gas from the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea to Austria—offering an alternate supply to Western Europe, which now depends on Russia for a third of its energy.
But after the mauling Georgia got, "any chance of a new non-Russian pipeline out of Central Asia and into Europe is pretty much dead," says Chris Ruppel, an energy analyst at Execution, a brokerage in Greenwich, Conn. The risk of building a pipeline through countries vulnerable to the wrath of Russia is just too high.
The Russia-Georgia war thus may have dealt a blow to 15 years of American economic diplomacy. Back in the mid-1990s, Clinton Administration officials looking at a map of the recently dismantled Soviet Union grasped a singular fact about its southern perimeter: The newly independent countries there were overflowing with oil and natural gas but had to ship it via Russia to reach customers. Without pipelines of their own, the Caspian states would never fully develop their energy industries, or be politically independent of Russia. The lack of pipelines also curbed the export potential of companies like Chevron, which owns half of Tengiz, the giant Kazakhstan oilfield. After first resisting, BP (BP) and Chevron (CVX) backed the American pipeline strategy.
Georgia was a key transit point for any line to the West. John Wolf, a former U.S. ambassador and now head of the Eisenhower Fellowship program in Philadelphia, was in the thick of the bargaining and arm-twisting that created the so-called East-West Energy Corridor. Wolf recalls powwowing with the leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey on the construction of what would become the 1,000-mile-long Baku-Ceyhan, the Caspian's first independent oil export pipeline. These leaders knew they risked provoking Russia's wrath but figured the gamble was worth it, Wolf says. Now almost 1 million barrels a day normally course through the pipeline. For Georgia, it's not the fees it collects from pipeline transit—about $60 million annually—that are important. Instead, the pipeline's presence signaled Georgia's stability and encouraged a flood of foreign investment.
That stability, of course, has proved illusory. Yet the Russians won't interfere with the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline directly, analysts say. Moscow's strategy depends on not spooking the Europeans, who might then be encouraged to back the construction of other non-Russian energy pipelines. Since there have been no confirmed attacks on the pipelines running through Georgia, no European leader has called for a reconsideration of energy policy.
Besides, the Russians may not need to shut down the Baku-Ceyhan line to win the advantage in the energy wars. "There's no doubt that what's happening has increased the investment risk within the region," says Nick Butler, a former senior executive at BP who directs the Cambridge Centre for Energy Studies at the University of Cambridge's Judge Business School. Already, on Aug. 12, BP shut down a secondary oil pipeline that ends at Georgia's Black Sea port of Supsa, saying there could be a risk of attack on the line.
Russia's Pipeline Plans
Both Chevron and ExxonMobil (XOM) had also planned to ship hundreds of thousands of additional barrels a day along the route traversing Georgia. Now that may be subject to change. "Do you want to put more eggs in the South Caucasus basket?" asks Edward C. Chow, a former Chevron executive and now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington."And if you do, are there certain accommodations that need to be made with the Russians to protect them?"
What about the White House's plans for a pipeline to ship natural gas to Europe? The proposed pipeline's success depends on Turkmenistan, which has the fourth-largest natural gas reserves on the planet, an estimated 3 trillion cubic meters. The Turkmen are cautious: Under former President Saparmurat Niyazov, they refused to defy the Russians and support the construction of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. "[Niyazov] thought about it and probably decided he didn't want to wake up dead," says former U.S. diplomat Wolf.
The assault on Georgia may make the Turkmen even more wary of the new pipeline. Instead, they may end up cutting a deal with the Russians, who are vigorously pursuing new gas pipelines of their own in a bid to dominate energy in the region. "A new Iron Curtain," says analyst Ruppel, "is descending around the periphery of Russia."
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
TRIPOLI, Lebanon - Lebanese security officials say the toll from the morning rush hour bombing of a bus carrying civilians and members of the military in the northern city of Tripoli has now risen to 18 killed and 40 wounded.
The officials say the dead included 10 off-duty soldiers. The blast occurred Wednesday morning when a roadside bomb went off on a busy main street of Tripoli as a public bus drove by.
It raised suspicions that al-Qaida-inspired Islamic militants may have sought revenge on the military for last year's fatal clashes.
But local media also link the bombing to tensions ahead of a visit later Wednesday by Lebanese president to Syria to patch up stormy relations between the neighbors. - AP
It appears too early to get a clear picture of who was behind the Tripoli bus bombing. The city and several surrounding villages have recently been embroiled in sectarian clashes between Sunnis and Alawites. But it is unlikely that either group would have carried out such a significant attack, which has the hallmarks of a typical Islamist operation.
Nahr el-Bared was the centre of a major confrontation between the Islamist movement, Fatah al-Islam, and the Lebanese Army last year. The bus today was carrying a number of soldiers, which suggests that they were the target. The main suspect that would deliberately launch a major attack on the scale of today's bus bombings is Fatah al-Islam.
The attack is also evidence of Lebanon's fragile internal security. Skirmishes between rival tribes and terrorist bombings are happening too frequently in Lebanon. Criticism has to be levelled at the government's (which now includes Loyalists and Opposition) incompetency to improve the security situation in the country.
Corruption is costing Lebanese lives.
Below is an insightful article into Lebanon's telecommunications industry, detailing the flaws and incompetence that can only be attributed to state-sponsored corruption.
Now that every political party is participating in government, there are no excuses, and no sole perpetrator to blame. Lebanon's entire political establishment is a failure.
It is time the Lebanese people stop being drawn into the petty sectarian political game and draw their focus on the failure of our entire political elite. Loyalist or Opposition, there is no political party or leader that is offering a solution to any of the ailing problems that concern Lebanese daily life. No one is demonstrating interest to reform the state, develop the economy, or assist in social programs.
All parties, however, are seemingly content in benefiting from a corrupt system that has expanded their power and wealth, while the rest of the Lebanese scram for visas to exit this hell of corruption and conflict.
Mobile connection in Lebanon is the most expensive in the region where almost 2/3 of the fees is accounted for by overheads and taxes. The new coalition government has retracted previous governmental promises to decrease mobile subscription rates. Apparently, under pressure from Sanioura, the price cut was postponed because the mobile sector provides the main income in (much needed) foreign currency for the public pocket.
More importantly, the decision to postpone price cuts follows an established policy of eliminating competition and insuring maximum profit with the eventual aim of fully privatizing the telecommunications sector. The ridiculous prices the Lebanese pay for their mobile connection is the bait that will lure the highest bid (estimated to be between $5 & $7 bn). This policy, by a self-proclaimed liberal and progressive political elite, has gone hand in hand with monopolizing the market and insuring that any competition is nipped in the bud.
The same strategy is followed by the government owned OGERO with respect to Broadband networking. Lebanese ISP’s pioneering work with Internet in the region came to a near complete halt with the absence of proper infrastructure to develop further. Not only did it take forever for OGERO to install the infrastructure, but now they are making it near impossible for the independent ISPs to run a profitable service. OGERO limits their trunk bandwidth, thus limiting the number of subscribers they can have. OGERO also takes its time processing applications for increased bandwidth, undermining private ISPs ability to meet client demands. The result is that OGERO’s share of the market increases. Why? To better the quality of telecom? Rather, the better to privatize with, my dear!
So, while the private sector pioneered Internet connection in Lebanon, the government slows it down, setting us back 10 Internet years with one of the slowest and most expensive Broadband in the region. Instead of supporting and subsidizing private efforts, the government stabs its own memorandum of understanding with the private-sector in the back. Such is government policy of supporting economic and social growth. All this, and the service sector is considered a priority!
It is quite easy to blame it all on Hariri entourage’s economic policy. But now with the coalition government, it is becoming increasingly clear that mindless privatization at the expense of responsible, planned development and sustainable growth is a trait shared by government and opposition alike - if such a distinction holds at all when it comes to their political programs. Once upon a time, when Hizballah was outside government, Nasrallah called the privatization of the Telecom sector “the biggest looting operation in the history of Lebanon.” Not only is the silence deafening now, but the minister of telecommuncations is non other than Orange golden boy. Known for shooting his mouth off from the position of opposition, Jubran Basil is off to a very good start inside the bastion of bowel movement!
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
The latest updates and articles on the conflict in the Caucasus from several news outlets:
Russia orders halt to war in Georgia
12/08/08 - 5.36am EDT
* Russia orders halt to war as Sarkozy begins peace mission
* Lavrov says Russia cannot agree to Georgia peacekeepers
* Abkhazia starts offensive in Kodori
By Michael Stott and Margarita Antidze
MOSCOW/TBILISI, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a halt to military operations in Georgia on Tuesday after five days of fighting, just before French President Nicolas Sarkozy was to hold peace talks in Moscow.
A Kremlin spokesman confirmed that Medvedev had issued instructions to the Defence Ministry to "stop the operation to force the Georgian authorities to peace".
"The aggressor has been punished and sustained very serious losses," Interfax quoted Medvedev as telling Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.
Russian markets rose on Medvedev's words, with the rouble strengthening and shares rallying strongly as nervous investors expressed relief.
"That's the signal people were waiting for. Things have fallen so low that we are about 50 percent cheaper than Brazilian equity," said Alfa Bank share salesman Konstantin Shapsharov. The news broke just before Sarkozy was to meet Medvedev at the Kremlin to discuss an international plan to halt the war, which has rattled world oil markets and unnerved the West.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier Moscow could not agree to the plan if it included Georgians in a future peacekeeping force because they had attacked Russian colleagues during Tbilisi's push to recapture breakaway South Ossetia.
"They can no longer remain. They brought shame upon themselves as peacekeepers. They committed crimes," he told a news conference.
In Georgia, Russian forces attacked positions in and around the town of Gori on Tuesday, killing at least five people, a Reuters correspondent said. There were isolated skirmishes along the front line but no major offensives by either side overnight.
Close U.S. ally Georgia entered a conflict with Russia last week after launching an offensive to retake the pro-Russian region of South Ossetia, which broke away from Georgian rule in 1992. Moscow responded with a huge counter-offensive.
Separatists in the Black Sea region of Abkhazia, west of the main war theatre, launched a push early on Tuesday to drive Georgian forces out of the Kodori Gorge -- the only area of the province under Georgian control.
"The operation to liberate Kodori Gorge has started," Abkhazia's self-styled foreign minister Sergei Shamba said. "Our troops are making advances. We are hoping for success."
Abkhazia insisted Russian troops were not involved.
Moscow's troops appeared to have largely stayed within the two separatist areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia overnight, calming fears they might push deep into Georgia and threaten President Mikheil Saakashvili's government.
Reuters correspondents in the road junction of Gori, on the main east-west highway across Georgia, said no Russian forces were in the largely deserted town, though Russian warplanes were bombing artillery positions around the town.
Georgian officials said on Monday evening that Moscow had seized Gori, cutting the country in half, and Russian troops were advancing on Tbilisi to overthrow Saakashvili's government.
U.S. President George W. Bush appeared to support that view, saying on Monday that Russia had invaded a sovereign neighbouring state and threatened a democratic government."
Lavrov said in response that Russia had no intention of overthrowing Saakashvili though he should resign because "he can no longer be our partner".
STRAINED RELATIONS WITH WEST
Bush told Moscow to end its military action and accept a peace agreement, saying its moves had jeopardised relations with the United States and Europe.
Further calming fears of a major Russian military offensive inside Georgia, Moscow's troops pulled back from Senaki, a Georgian town east of Abkhazia which they had briefly occupied on Monday, saying their military objectives had been achieved.
Georgia hosts an important pipeline carrying oil from the Caspian to the West and the fighting has unsettled oil markets, though the pipeline itself has not been touched by the conflict.
The war has alarmed investors in Russia, hitting the rouble and Russian stocks and has raised fears of a wider conflagration in the volatile region bordering Iran, Turkey and Russia.
Moscow had on Monday snubbed Georgia's declaration of a ceasefire, saying Tbilisi was continuing to fight and must first sign a pledge never to use force against South Ossetia again.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, taking a leading role in the crisis, has accused Georgia of starting the crisis and attacked the United States for backing Tbilisi.
Georgia called for a U.N. peacekeeping force to intervene to halt its conflict with Russia, and said on Monday evening its battered forces had retreated to defend the capital Tbilisi.
Saakashvili said Moscow should know Georgia will not quit. "Georgia will never surrender," he said on CNN.
Saakashvili said earlier he had agreed to a plan proposed by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner under which hostilities would end, a mixed peacekeeping force would be deployed -- replacing the purely Russian one -- and troops would return to pre-conflict positions.
Kouchner was in Georgian on Monday before flying to Moscow for meetings on Tuesday before Sarkozy's arrival.
Russia says 1,600 South Ossetian civilians have been killed in the fighting and thousands are homeless but these figures have not been independently verified. Georgia has reported close to 200 killed and hundreds of wounded.
CNN airs misleading footage of South Ossetian city, Tskhinvali
Civilians perish as Georgian troops torch church
The Regnum news agency is reporting that Georgian troops burned down a 10th century Orthodox church while terrified civilians perished inside. The agency quotes eyewitness accounts of the atrocity after all-out fighting in Khetagurovo, a small village near the republic’s capital Tskhinvali.
Almost all of those fighting to defend the village were killed, but the report says the fate of others, mostly women and the elderly, turned out to be even more horrible.
Eyewitnesses report that Georgian tanks literally ran people down and that soldiers took almost all the women to another location. Their fate is still unknown.
Meanwhile, those who didn’t manage to escape found their shelter in a 10th century Orthodox church. Civilians hoped that Georgians of the same faith wouldn’t dare storm the building, one of the oldest of its kind in the country.
But Regnum reports that the Georgian troops set the church on fire and left those inside to perish.
It is the latest in a series of reports of the Georgian military attacking and killing civilians.
Le président russe annonce la fin des opérations militaires en Géorgie12/08/08 - 12.30pm (GMT +1.00)
10 h 50 : Le président russe Dmitri Medvedev a "pris la décision" d'arrêter l'opération russe "visant à contraindre la Géorgie à la paix", lors d'une rencontre avec le ministre de la défense russe, Anatoli Serdioukov, retransmise à la télévision. "Le but de l'opération est atteint", ajoute M. Medvedev, qui tempère toutefois son annonce, enjoignant les soldats russes de se défendre face aux éventuelles attaques géorgiennes : "Si vous deviez rencontrer un foyer de résistance [géorgien], ou faire face à des agressions, vous devriez alors les détruire", déclare-t-il au ministre de la défense. Le commandement de l'armée russe confirme que les forces russes ont arrêté leur progression en Géorgie, mais assure qu'elles resteront sur les positions qu'elles occupent actuellement. Au même moment, Nicolas Sarkozy, dont le pays assure la présidence tournante de l'Union européenne, commence à Moscou une tournée éclair de médiation auprès de la Russie et de la Géorgie.
10 h 45 : La réunion extraordinaire OTAN-Russie sur le conflit en cours en Géorgie prévue mardi est annulée "en raison de l'opposition des Américains", annonce le porte-parole du représentant permanent de la Russie auprès de l'OTAN, Dmitri Rogozine. Un peu plus tôt, la ministre des affaires étrangères géorgienne, Eka Tkeshelashvili, avait annulé sa venue à Bruxelles "à cause de la situation sur le terrain en Géorgie".
10 h 30 : Un journaliste géorgien qui couvrait le conflit pour l'hebdomadaire Russian Newsweek et son chauffeur ont été tués mardi par un obus qui a touché leur véhicule à Gori, selon un photographe de l'AFP présent sur les lieux. Et l'ambassadeur des Pays-Bas en Géorgie assure qu'un correspondant de la télévision néerlandaise RTL-2 a également été tué à Gori, dans la nuit de lundi à mardi, sans en donner l'identité. Ces morts portent à cinq le nombre de journalistes et collaborateurs de différents médias, tués depuis le début des combats en Ossétie du Sud, vendredi. Quatre autres auraient été blessés. Le siège de la télévision et de la radio locales de Gori ont été touchés par des bombardements, selon l'agence AP.
10 h 25 : La Russie ne cherche pas à faire tomber le président géorgien Mikheïl Saakachvili, mais considère que "ce serait mieux" s'il quittait le pouvoir, déclare le chef de la diplomatie russe, Sergueï Lavrov. "M. Saakachvili ne peut plus être notre partenaire", poursuit-il. "Je ne pense pas que la Russie ait l'intention non seulement de négocier mais même de s'entretenir avec [lui]. Il a commis des crimes contre nos citoyens".
10 h 15 : Une forte explosion a retenti mardi dans le centre de Tbilissi, la capitale géorgienne. Une explosion comparable avait été entendue dans la nuit de dimanche à lundi, provenant, selon des officiels géorgiens, d'un bombardement russe sur une cible située à cinq kilomètres de la capitale. "Nous avons aussi entendu l'explosion et essayons de déterminer ce qui s'est passé", a déclaré le secrétaire du Conseil de sécurité de Géorgie, Alexander Lomaia. Les autorités géorgiennes ont accusé mardi la Russie de continuer à bombarder le territoire géorgien.
10 heures : La télévision publique géorgienne annonce que la place centrale de la ville géorgienne de Gori, située à une quinzaine de kilomètres de la zone de conflit en Ossétie du Sud, a été bombardée mardi. Il y aurait plusieurs victimes et "les bâtiments de l'université de Gori [ainsi que de la poste centrale] sont en feu", selon le premier ministre, Lado Gourgenidze. "Plusieurs personnes ont été blessées et gisent sur le sol", constate également un reporteur de Reuters. L'endroit touché est situé près d'une zone de collines où les avions russes avaient déjà attaqué des positions d'artillerie géorgiennes. Reuters a dénombré quatre explosions dans les faubourgs de la ville mardi matin, sans pouvoir déterminer s'il s'agissait de bombardements aériens ou de tirs d'artillerie.
Beleaguered president: Gambler who risked his country and links with West
Tuesday, 12 August 2008
Wearing his trademark dark suit and red tie, Mikheil Saakashvili emerged on to the terrace of his new Presidential Palace into a humid Tbilisi afternoon yesterday to face the world's media. He spoke passionately about the need for the international community to respond to Russia's "invasion" of his country, but for a media-hungry man renowned for his charm and charisma, he looked fatigued and strained.
In many ways, his behaviour in the past week has been true to form. Mr Saakashvili has long been a political enigma. When he swept to power in the bloodless "rose revolution" of 2003, the West treated him like a messiah destined to bring freedom and democracy to his small Caucasus nation and spread it across the region.
Just as swiftly, he became enemy number one in the Kremlin, where he was hated as much as he was admired in the White House. While the West was delighted at the chain reaction of "coloured revolutions" that his coming to power triggered in the former Soviet space, the Russians were terrified. Regime change in Tbilisi has been on Vladimir Putin's to-do list since the day that Mr Saakashvili was sworn into office.
Mr Saakashvili, only 40 himself, employed a team of ministers whose age sometimes bordered on the ridiculous. Many key ministers have been in their 20s throughout his time in office. The young team made mistakes, but went about their job with a vigour and idealism unprecedented in the region.
But while Washington and Brussels were delighted to have a leader who wanted to open up to the West and spoke their language, doubts always remained that he may at times be a loose cannon. His language towards Russia has often been provocative, and he has a ruthless and impulsive streak revealed during the crushing of street protests last year.
Mr Saakashvili in recent days has looked like a man who bit off more than he could chew. It's still unclear who started this messy little war, with each side pointing accusing fingers at the other. Russia has clearlybeen spoiling for a fight, but it seems hard not to conclude that the vital hand in a very risky card game was played by Mr Saakashvili himself when he ordered a full-on assault of South Ossetia last Thursday night. He called Mr Putin's bluff, and Mr Putin, with some trademark harsh words, laid down a full house – not just repelling the Georgian assault on South Ossetia but launching attacks all over Georgia.
At yesterday's press conference, the President broke into a strangely inappropriate smile when asked about a "security incident" in Gori involving himself and the French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, in which the two politicians were rushed back to their cars and driven away. One foreign diplomat has described him as "looking lost" recently.
Given the severity of Russia's assault on his country, it's not surprising. But he clearly made a huge miscalculation as to the level of Western support that would be forthcoming in the event of war. As world leaders visited Tbilisi over the past three years, he wooed one after another with his lofty ideals and persuasive charm. But it is clear that he is desperately disappointed that the international community's response has been limited to lukewarm verbal support.
Quite what he expects is unclear; the prospect of American or European troops heading into Tskhinvali to take on the Russians is unthinkable. But his calls for a robust international response to the Russians had a note of fear in them; and his exhortations have become desperate pleas to the people he thought were his friends and allies to help him out.
"Please wake up everybody," said the US-educated lawyer, in his fluent, lightly accented English. "And please make your position and speak with one united voice."
When he received The Independent at the same venue just 10 weeks ago, he made a similar call for the West to stand up against Russia. "The next step will be Russian jets bombing Tbilisi," he said. It was difficult not to smirk, given the outrageousness of the prospect. Over the last few days, however he has been proved right, though how much his own brinkmanship made this a self-fulfilling prophecy is hard to say.
Mr Saakashvili, who has been described by one of his advisers as a "media junkie", also made it clear yesterday how much he values Western opinion about his regime and his country, and how closely he follows the Western press.
"That's the last thing on my mind," he said, when I asked him how the situation was affecting him psychologically and politically. And then, as though he couldn't resist: "I like your articles. But The Independent had a footnote the other day saying that Stalin divided North and South Ossetia. It's not true. South Ossetia has always been Georgian."
He then went on to explain that Georgia wanted the return of all displaced persons to their homes in South Ossetia, and looked forward to their living together. But while his rhetoric on civil rights and the Georgian economy has been consistently impressive, Mr Saakashvili has historically been least convincing on his plans for the reintegration of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. His attempt to take back South Ossetia militarily, which he has ruled out on numerous occasions before, was a tacit admission that attempts to win the territory back by negotiations are futile.
For now, in a time of war, the Georgian people are swept up by patriotic fervour and standing behind their leader. But with military defeat in South Ossetia, and a Russian response that will scare away foreign investors for some time to come, when the dust settles, its first political victim could be Mr Saakashvili himself.
Profile of a president
Born: Tbilisi, Georgia, in December 1967. His father, Nikoloz, is a physician who still practises medicine in Tbilisi. His mother, Giuli Alasania, is a history lecturer at Tbilisi State University.
Educated: Studied in France and Ukraine, then completed a law degree at Columbia University before working for a New York law firm. As well as his native Georgian, he speaks fluent French, Ukranian, Russian and English.
Family: Married his Dutch wife, Sandra Roelofs, in Manhattan in 1993.
Path to power: Appointed justice minister by the then-president of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze, in 2000 but quit in protest at corruption and formed a new party. After elections in 2003, he led daily protests against the government which resulted in Shevardnadze's resignation and Georgia's parliament being stormed, culminating in the "rose revolution". In the 2004 presidential election, Mr Saakashvili won more than 96 per cent of the votes to become Europe's youngest president. He modelled himself on a medieval king, David the Builder, and pledged to restore Georgia's territorial integrity.
Analysis: US plays a shadowy hand in Georgian conflict
12/08/08 - 3.12pm (GMT +10)
By Dr Alexey Muraviev, strategic affairs analyst and Lecturer in International Relations and National Security at Curtin University of Technology.
Georgia’s geographical position makes it vital in a regional game of great power politics. The control of Georgia gives access to the oil and gas rich areas of the Caspian Sea and former Soviet Central Asia. It allows firming up control over the Turkish Straits, a critically important shipping point. And further, it reduces Russia and its influence in some critical areas such as the Balkans, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
These considerations have driven the United States’ involvement in Georgia’s affairs, and the indirect assistance it has given to Georgia since hostilities commenced on Friday. What's known for a fact is that United States Air Forces (8 transport aircraft) assisted in redeployment of Georgia's 2,000 contingent from Iraq back to the country to take part in fighting. Reports suggest some were taken directly from the aircraft to the battleground. Further:
- US provides Georgia with open political and economic support (from what I know they have provided US$ 250,000 in immediate aid);
- The US military logistical support from Iraq included moving 11 tonnes of military cargo; and
- There are unconfirmed reports that US military instructors were involved in the initial assault on Tskhinvali.
That represents indirect military assistance and has not escaped Russia's attention. "It is a shame that some of our partners are not helping us but, essentially, are hindering us," Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said.
Through this prism, the recent conflict in the Caucasus can not be seen as a war between Georgia and Russia. This is a conflict of two great powers over an area that is equally important to both of them.
This is how it unfolded. On the night before the opening of the Olympics in China, Georgian armed forces launched a massive artillery strike on its breakaway province of Southern Ossetia, particularly its regional centre Tskhinvali. After hours of intensive shelling, which also involved the use of 122-mm BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers, Georgian Air Force executed several bombing raids in Tskhinvali and several other Ossetian settlements. Under cover of combat aircraft, several Georgian battalions reinforced with tanks raided villages and stormed the capital of Southern Ossetia. The battalion of Russian peacekeepers stationed in Tskhinvali was one of the first to come under intensive bombardment.
After just two days of this campaign, over 1,600 civilians were killed; an excess of 35,000 refugees fearing for their lives fled to Russia. Georgian forces were accused of multiple atrocities against non-combatants. The Russian response was swift and hard. Elements of the 58th Army based in Southern Russia crossed the border and advanced on Tskhinvali; Russian Air Force attacked Georgian positions and several targets across the country; the Russian Black Sea Fleet deployed a taskforce in the vicinity of Georgian coastline.
On Sunday 10 August, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili publicly declared a ceasefire and announced that his country was pulling forces back from a war zone. Despite these announcements, the Georgian military continued to shell Tskhinvali throughout Monday 11 August with no intention of reducing the level of fighting, let alone stopping it. Also, Georgian forces blew up a major water reservoir outside of Tskhinvali, flooding town basements where locals were seeking refuge from artillery shelling and aerial raids carried out by the Georgian military. Russian citizens in Georgia were denied the right to leave the country.
As well as the US interests at play in Georgia, many regional factors have led to the eruption of violence. After Georgia declared independence in 1991 its new leaders officially proclaimed a policy of nationalism (Georgia is for Georgians) as the new state ideology, thus triggering separatism in several enclaves largely populated by ethic minorities that do not comprise Georgian ethnos. Southern Ossetia was one of them. It intended to reconcile with its northern part (Northern Ossetia, which is part of Russia), and the socio-economic incentives (the standard of living in Russia is much higher than in Georgia) led to a situation when over 90% of South Ossetians were granted Russian citizenship. This fact alone gave the Russians a reason to intervene militarily.
However, Russia’s reaction can be explained not just by protecting its citizens and peacekeepers (Russia has received a mandate to run a peacekeeping operation in Abkhaziya and Southern Ossetia in 1992). Historically, Georgia and the Caucasus was one of Russia’s traditional spheres of interest and influence, not just economic and political but more importantly, cultural. Both the Georgians and Ossetians share the same faith as the Russians -- Christian Orthodoxy. These strong cultural ties explain Russia’s presence in the area: the nation acted as the guarantor and protector of the local Orthodox Christians against the Islamic Ottoman Empire.
These considerations brought Mikhail Saakashvili to power in November 2003 during the orchestrated “Revolution of Roses” (effectively a planned regime change). When you add Georgia's ambitions of joining NATO sooner rather than later and its close ties with the United States, you can start to understand Georgia’s actions in Southern Ossetia and the US reaction to Russia’s counter-attack.
Georgia: another Sarajevo moment avoided