Georgia will not abandon its pro-Western course, and this needs to be accepted15.12.2008 | 17:38
The events of August this year have cancelled out the many years of friendly relations between Russia and Georgia. If not forever, then certainly for the foreseeable future. Why could the dispute in August 2008 not be solved peacefully? For what reasons was a military operation preferred to peaceful dialogue? How has the political landscape changed since the five-day war? And is it possible for Georgian-Russian relations to be normalized? We asked the General Director of the Centre for Political Technologies Igor Bunin to comment on these issues.
The five day war has already gone down in history. In your view, could the August events have been avoided?
War needed to be avoided. The situation in the conflict zones could have been kept in a suspended state for a long time to come. The unrecognized republics could have maintained their status for a very long time. On one condition - if Tbilisi hadn't made an attempt to take them in a blitz attack.
For five years Georgia had been deciding between a mild and tough scenario for "restoring its territorial integrity". The mild scenario meant exerting constant pressure on the then unrecognized republics.
In 2006 the Defence Minister Irakli Okurashvili promised to see in the New Year in Tskhinvali. In order for the regime to demonstrate its commitment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, he was dismissed.
But the "mild" path was not giving the rapid results which the country's young leaders had become accustomed to. This left two options - either to abandon any attempts to incorporate South Ossetia indefinitely, or to implement the tough scenario.
Mikheil Saakashvili chose the latter option. And Russia was forced to intervene in the conflict.
Was it possible for Georgia to continue its dialogue with Abkhazia and South Ossetia?
I think that it was almost impossible for Georgia to carry out any direct dialogue with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Too much blood was shed in the 1990s. As soon as the country declared its independence, the new Georgian regime immediately decided that it could easily establish a unitary state. As you know, Gamsakhurdia annulled any autonomy status.
The military activities in South Ossetia and Abkhazia alienated the nations from each other for a considerable time. But everyone in Tbilisi (both within the leadership and in society) wanted to restore a "great Georgia": to regain territory that had been lost, encourage tourists to come and become similar to Switzerland. In Tbilisi the loss of these territories was viewed predominantly as a blow to the pride of the Georgian nation as a whole.
On the other hand, the self-assertiveness of the Georgian authorities irritated the leaderships of the unrecognized republics. Russia was ready to become a negotiator in this process. Of course this doesn't mean that it could have persuaded South Ossetia and Abkhazia to rejoin Georgia. However, it was in Moscow's interests to maintain peace there.
But... Relations between Russia and Georgia only worsened. Georgia was determined to emerge victorious. For the Georgian elite it was absolutely unacceptable that the events of the 1990s had damaged the image of Georgia as it used to be. All this increased the light-mindedness of the young, inexperienced rulers.
Four months after the August events, the Georgian leadership admitted that Georgia started the war. In your opinion, did Saakashvili receive a "green light" from the West in August?
For a long time it was thought that the position of the West was a decisive obstacle preventing the forceful option, since it had no interest in the conflict escalating. In the first few hours of the conflict the White House called for all sides to cease hostilities. Great Britain expressed its grave concern at the escalation of the situation in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone and called for all parties "to immediately cease fighting and resume talks without delay". So no one gave Georgia a "green light" to launch a military operation in the usual sense of the phrase.
But the thing is that the West did not view the situation severely and did not show the necessary toughness. This explains the fact that for so long Europe thought that Georgia wasn't to blame. It was only several months after the August events that BBC reports emerged about the atrocities committed by the Georgian army. Then the West had to admit that Georgia was responsible for starting the war. I'll reiterate that I don't think it directly gave its permission for a military operation. But its attitude to the Georgian leadership was loyal and too shallow.