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The Russian-Georgian Confrontation

The current confrontation between Georgia and Russia in South Ossetia and Abkhazia owes itself to a variety of reasons such as the geopolitical aims of the world's powers, the issue of self-determination and control over energy resources.


The Russian-Georgian Confrontation

Anuradha Chenoy

The current confrontation between Georgia and Russia in South Ossetia and Abkhazia owes itself to a variety of reasons such as the geopolitical aims of the world’s powers, the issue of self-determination and control over energy resources.

Anuradha Chenoy ( teaches at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Economic & Political Weekly

august 23, 2008

he military confrontation between Georgia and Russia involves the issue of self-determination, identity, oil and great power politics. The immediate concerns are two autonomous regions of Georgia, namely, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, that unwillingly found themselves part of an independent Georgia after Soviet disintegration. The case of South Ossetia is particularly grievous since it aspires to breakaway from Georgia and join its other half, North Ossetia that is part of the Russian Federation. The majority (over 55 per cent) of South Ossetians hold Russian passports and their elected parliament and president supports the demand for secession. The case of Abkhazia, has similarities, where a majority of the Abkhazian ethnic group and Russians want to secede to Russia. The complication here is that unlike South Ossetia, several regions in Abkhazia have a minority of Georgians also. Thus in a sense, the case of these breakaway provinces is similar to the aspirations of several ethnic groups, that wish for some new state formation. The question however is that of several other dimensions of great power politics, military alliances, territoriality over people and finally the issue of international law.

Virtually Independent

South Ossetia has been virtually independent since the 1990s though not recognised, since Georgia has no control over any of its state apparatuses. The military security of both South Ossetia and parts of Abkhazia (like the Kodori Gorge) has been the responsibility of Russian Peacekeeping Forces, after a truce had been signed between Russia and Georgia in 1994. Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili decided to reverse this status quo and sent in Georgian troops to regain control over South Ossetia on August 5-6 and briefly recaptured it on those few days. South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity took the decision to evict the Georgians with the help of Russian peacekeepers and the Russian leadership decided to “defend their compatriots”. Given the Russian military might and the support from the local militia and citizens, Russians have got complete control of South Ossetia. The

Georgians have withdrawn, parts of the capital Tkshinvali flattened and the fighting has spread to Abkhazia and elsewhere. There have been almost 2,000 casualties in three days and 30,000 of Georgia’s total population of 75,000 have become refugees in the Russian Federation.

President George W Bush has called for a ceasefire and demanded that the situation go back to what it was on August 6. The importance of August 6 rather than before or after that date is that it was only on that day that the Georgians seized control of South Ossetia. Before that the South O ssetian president and militia under the Russian peacekeepers had clear control, as they do now, i e, post-August 7. The Russian attempt to have a Security Council resolution passed around August 6 that asked for Georgian withdrawal and stoppage of the use of force was effectively blocked by the US and Britain. Now that the Russians have controlled Georgia, the US wants a ceasefire and situation reverted to August 6, back to Georgian control.

The Russians will not agree to this. Russia has used its leverage with these breakaway regions to restructure this region to reassert their interest and hegemony in the Caucasus. For almost two decades Russia has watched a drastic shift in the geopolitics of this crucial region go against them to the extent of causing deep harm. Russia has long been arguing that countries on its immediate borders like Georgia should not become part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) since they see this military alliance as threatening to their interest. The western alliance, however, has ignored Russia as they continue to expand NATO membership without giving up its cold war structure. Georgia and Ukraine are keen to become NATO members and under the “Membership Action Programme” (MAP) were told that if there was a threat of attack from Russia, they would be included as full members. Obviously, Saakashvili’s diabolic plan was to regain South Ossetia and


NATO membership at one go. Moscow however did not hesitate to use counter force to stop this. But there are several other reasons for Moscow’s intervention in the Caucasus.

Anti-Russian Feeling

First, a new Georgian nationalism has been constructed on an anti-Russian feeling, since the earlier president the late Gamsakhurdia and the current president Mikheil Saakashvili have been in power. This has not helped in regions like South Ossetia or Abkhazia that remain close to Russia.

Second, Georgia has assisted Chechen rebels and those from Dagestan in Russia’s own troubled environs in their drive for secession. The Kodori Gorge that divides the two has seen years of low intensity fighting as a consequence.

Third, the US has also declared this region as part of its own national interest since oil pipelines from the oil-rich Azerbaijan and Caspian region cross through Georgia and the Caucasus to go to Europe. These are vital routes. It was under the US’ tutelage that the Baku-Tblisis-Ceyhan (BCT) pipeline was constructed and started functioning in 2005. It passes through 1,076 miles of Georgian territory and carries one million barrels of oil per year. This pipeline that cost $ one billion, was constructed in order to bypass Russia that has its own pipelines through Chechnya and elsewhere. Now the Georgians are seeking international intervention, as they feel the Russians might bomb this pipeline. The US is keen on an immediate ceasefire because any damage to this pipeline will mean yet another escalation in the price of oil, besides sustained instability in the Caucasus.

Fourth, the Caucasus are an important geopolitical region. It is between Russia, Europe, the volatile west Asia in region, the oil rich Caspian region and central Asia. The US has developed bases in Azerbaijan and has built close military and political ties with Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Russia has resented this, since the region now is deeply militarised and become contentious between Russia and the US.

Fifth, the Russians have close ties with neighbouring Armenia, which has a dispute over the Nagarno Karabakh, an autonomous region of Azerbaijan that wants secession. Ukraine also wants to support Georgia, though the people of Ukraine are polarised between Russia and the west.

Sixth, rebels from the Caucasus have links with narcotic trade, small arms and other kinds of trafficking. It is also claimed that they have links with the Al Qaida.

Seventh, since Georgia is a client state of the US, its control of the Caucasus assists US hegemony in the region.

Russia will accept a ceasefire that the European Union is trying to mediate only if Georgia commits not to use force in any of their breakaway regions. For Georgia this means a break-up of the c ountry. For the US it means a reassertion of R ussian hegemony as opposed to the US’ in parts of the region. For Russia it means that the Caucasus inside Russia and outside will again accept Russian c ontrol. The international community, i e, the west is likely to cry foul, the fighting can spread to other parts, and the bitterness will be permanent. The Russians will r emind the world that when Kosovo broke away from Serbia and declared independence, it was the US that gave them immediate and full recognition. This was against all norms of international law, as is this use of force. But then, the argument is that all such cases should be either equal before i nternational law or force will prevail.

One alternative in this case would be a referendum or an international tribunal that looks at all aspects as has been done in East Timor and other places. For the long run, a meeting and deliberations of the United Nations should consider how to deal with self-determination. Otherwise such problems are going to occur r epeatedly with much loss to human lives and security.

Appeal for Medical Assistance

This is an appeal on behalf of Hem Mishra – a 24-year old student from the village Kunj Bargal, Nagarkhan, in Almora district of Uttarakhand. He has been suffering from Angiomatous Lesion since birth. It has almost paralysed his left hand. He has been under treatment in AIIMS where he was operated twice – in 1982 and 1984. Due to little improvement, Hem’s case was further referred to R Venkataswamy, a senior hand surgeon in Chennai.

The surgeon operated on Hem twice in 1993 and 1994. The ring, little and middle fingers of Hem’s left hand were removed in the surgery. He was then advised multistaged procedures to reconstruct the hand by transferring the digits of the toe. In the first stage of the surgery, the whole lesion will be excised and a flap cover will be put. It will be followed after six months when a digit from the toe will be shifted to the hand. This is a major surgery which will be done after thorough investigations on the patient and he needs to stay at Chennai during this period.

We would also like to mention that Hem Mishra is a social activist and has been fighting for the causes of the people for the last eight years. His health has further deteriorated of late with his hand developing pain, swelling and bleeding.

The two stages of operation would cost him Rs 2,00,000. Further, the patient also needs an artificial limb that would be akin to the shape of the right hand. A private artificial limb centre has assured Hem that it will provide the limb which will cost around Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh. So the total estimate of the treatment would be more than Rs 3,00,000.

Hem’s parents have already spent a lot for his treatment for the last 24 years. It is beyond their means to organise the needed amount towards meeting the expenditure of the next levels of surgery. We are hopeful that the readers of EPW may and will consider this letter with compassion. We appeal to them to give a helping hand in solidarity with Hem to arrange his medical expense.

Note: The DD/Cheque can be sent to the account of Mr Ghanshyam Mishra Account No 9068-201-39720 Syndicate Bank, Maulana Azad Medical College Branch, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, New Delhi 110 002.

Appeal issued by P C Tewari (National Secretary, Indian Federation of Working Journalists, Almora), P S Bisht (Research Student, Almora), and Rajendra Dhasmana (President PUCL, Uttarakhand).

For any further communication please write to or Ghanshyam Mishra, C/o Chiranjeev Sharma, S-194, 1st Floor, Pandav Nagar, Delhi 110 092, Tel No: 09910404553

august 23, 2008

Economic & Political Weekly

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