on the silk road

Gorbachev Says Georgia Started Conflict


(CNN) — Georgian leaders may be blaming Russia for the conflict raging in South Ossetia, but former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said Thursday “there is no doubt” that Georgia provoked the clash.

Mikhail Gorbachev told CNN's Larry King that Russia called extra troops into Georgia to stem violence.

Mikhail Gorbachev told CNN’s Larry King that Russia called extra troops into Georgia to stem violence.

Gorbachev told CNN’s Larry King that Russia moved additional forces into South Ossetia in response to “devastation” in the South Ossetia city of Tskhinvali.

“This was the use of sophisticated weapons against a small town, against a sleeping people. This was a barbaric assault,” said Gorbachev, the last president of the former Soviet Union.

But Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who also appeared on CNN’s “Larry King Live” Thursday, said he was “profoundly shocked” that Mikhail Gorbachev would use a television appearance “for basically vindicating lies and deceptions.”

Last week, Georgia said it launched an operation into South Ossetia after a cease-fire was broken with artillery fire from Russian separatists that killed 10 people including civilians and peacekeepers. It accused Russia, which also has peacekeepers in the region, of backing the separatists.

Hours later, the Russian news agency Interfax reported that Russian authorities said 10 Russian peacekeepers had been killed and 30 wounded in an attack by Georgians.

“Western television didn’t show what happened in Tskhinvali,” Gorbachev said. “Only now they’re beginning to show some pictures of the destruction. So this looks to me like it was a well-prepared project. And with any outcome, they wanted to put the blame on Russia.”

He called Georgia’s claims that Russia is attempting to dismantle its democracy “all lies from beginning to end.”

In response, Saakashvili expressed disappointment with the sentiments from Gorbachev, who he said he once respected.

“This is the man, Mr. Gorbachev, who helped to, you know, bring down KGB kingdom. And he is the one who is, you know, justifying what the KGB people are doing right now in my country,” Saakashvili said.

“Shame on him. Shame on you, Mr. Gorbachev, for perpetuating the very regime you helped to defeat and you fought against as the head of the Soviet Union.”

Gorbachev also said the United States is jeopardizing its fragile relationship with Russia by backing Georgia. Video Watch Gorbachev discuss U.S.-Russia relations »

“There is a chance for our two countries to develop a new agenda for cooperation so as to promote both U.S. and Russia interests, and the interests of other countries, and the interests of stability, particularly in the hotspots in different continents,” said Gorbachev, who won the Nobel Peace Price in 1990. 



Says ‘Forget’ Georgian Territorial Integrity, US-Russian Tensions Mount

MOSCOW (Combined Sources)–Russia’s foreign minister declared Thursday that the world “can forget about” Georgia’s territorial integrity, and officials said Russia targeted military infrastructure and equipment — including radars and patrol boats at a Black Sea naval base and oil hub.

Russia’s president met in the Kremlin with the leaders of Georgia’s two separatist provinces — a clear sign that Moscow could absorb the regions. And the comments from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov appeared to come as a challenge to the United States, where President Bush has called for Russia to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia.”

“One can forget about any talk about Georgia’s territorial integrity because, I believe, it is impossible to persuade South Ossetia and Abkhazia to agree with the logic that they can be forced back into the Georgian state,” Lavrov told reporters.

Bush Sends Troops with Aid

The White House said it would ignore the comment, while President George W. Bush sent American troops to Georgia on Wednesday to oversee a “vigorous and ongoing” humanitarian mission, in a direct challenge to Russia’s display of military dominance over the region. His action came after Russian soldiers moved into two strategic Georgian cities in what he and Georgian officials called a violation of the cease-fire Russia signed the day before.

Bush demanded that Russia abide by the cease-fire and withdraw its forces or risk its place in “the diplomatic, political, economic and security structures of the 21st century.” It was his strongest warning yet of potential retaliation against Russia over the conflict.

On a day when the White House evoked emotional memories of the cold war, a senior Pentagon official said the relief effort was intended “to show to Russia that we can come to the aid of a European ally, and that we can do it at will, whenever and wherever we want.” At a minimum, American forces in Georgia will test Russia’s pledge to allow relief supplies into the country; they could also deter further Russian attacks, though at the risk of a potential military confrontation.

in Georgia, President Mikheil Saakashvili interpreted the aid operation as a decision to defend Georgia’s ports and airports, though Bush administration and Pentagon officials quickly made it clear that would not be the case. A senior administration official said, “We won’t be protecting the airport or seaport, but we’ll certainly protect our assets if we need to.”Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was headed to Georgia to ask the U.S. ally to to sign a cease-fire agreement with Russia that includes apparent concessions to Moscow but preserves Georgian borders, a U.S. official said Thursday.

Poland Signs Missile Deal With US

Meanwhile, Poland finally agreed on Thursday to host elements of U.S. global anti-missile system on its territory after Washington improved the terms of the deal amid the Georgia crisis. The preliminary deal was signed by deputy Polish Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer and U.S. chief negotiator John Rood. It still needs to be endorsed by the Polish parliament.

Washington says the interceptors and a radar in the Czech Republic would form part of a global “missile shield” protecting the United States and its allies from long range missiles that could in the future be fired by Iran or groups such as al-Qaeda. Russia, however, had warned the west that it would regard such a move as a direct threat to its national security.

“We have crossed the Rubicon,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said just before the deal was signed. “We have finally got understanding of our point of view that Poland, being a crucial partner in NATO and an important friend and ally of the United States, must also be safe.”

Officials said the deal included a U.S. declaration that it will aid Poland militarily in case of a threat from a third country and that it would establish a permanent U.S. base on Polish soil in a symbolic gesture underlining the alliance.

“We are comfortable that we negotiated a strong agreement,” Rood said. “It elevates our security relationship to a new level.”

If everything goes to schedule, the interceptor base would be ready by around 2012, officials have said. The Czechs have already signed an agreement to host the radar although parliament there must yet ratify it.

Russia Vehemently Opposes

Russia has vehemently opposed placing the shield installations in central Europe, saying they would threaten its security and upset the post-Cold War balance of power in Europe.

Moscow has threatened to take retaliatory steps against Poland and the Czech Republic, its former reluctant vassals who are now part of the European Union and NATO.

In the face of Russian opposition, Tusk had argued he could not agree to the shield unless the United States agreed to boost Warsaw’s air defenses and enhance mutual military cooperation.

Russia’s military action against Georgia strengthened the argument, Tusk said on Tuesday, ahead of the talks this week.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski played down the impact of the events in Georgia on the deal, apparently hoping to soften any criticism from Moscow.

In the first sign of Moscow’s displeasure, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday canceled a planned trip to Warsaw in September, Polish diplomats said.

The deal, if approved by parliaments in Prague and Warsaw, will escalate the recent diplomatic row between Russia and the United States.

Washington hopes the shield might persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program, although Teheran says it wants to develop nuclear energy only to generate electricity and not to make nuclear weapons.

Tensions Mount

In Washington, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he saw no need to invoke American military force in the war between Russia and Georgia but warned that U.S.-Russian relations could suffer lasting damage if Moscow doesn’t retreat.

“The United States spent 45 years working very hard to avoid a military confrontation with Russia,” said Gates. “I see no reason to change that approach today.”

The latest developments presented a huge challenge to the EU-sponsored cease-fire agreement designed to end seven days of fighting. The accord had envisioned Russian and Georgian forces returning to their original positions.

Lavrov on Wednesday also sent a decisive message to the United States, but saying that the US must choose between its “real partnership” with Russia and what he called the US’s “special project” of Georgia, reported the Pravda newspaper.

“We realize and everyone writes about that Georgia today is a special project of the US. We understand that the US worries about the fate of this project,” the minister added. “But here we have either the notion of prestige about this ‘virtual project’ or partnership, which requires collective actions to be taken,” the minister said.

“The Russian Armed Forces and the Russian peacemakers have orders from the Supreme Commander-in-Chief–the president of Russia–to observe all combat laws. Civilians must be protected against infringements of human life and dignity. We will look into every message saying that it is taking place and we will not let this happen,” Lavrov said.

He also said that in assessing the recent developments, the US was neglecting to condemn Georgia for bombing S. Ossetia and leveling its capital Tskhinvali.

About 100 Russian investigators continue to work in the capital of South Ossetia, which was virtually leveled as a result of the Georgian aggression. The officers are investigating the murder of Russian citizens and Russian peacemakers.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the gathering of concrete evidence to prove that the Georgian authorities had committed acts of genocide against the citizens of South Ossetia.

Outside View: Kosovo spark, Ossetia fire
By OBRAD KESIC (UPI Outside View Commentator)
It is obvious that the current conflict in Georgia has been greatly influenced by the United States’ and the European Union’s decision to initiate, support and recognize Kosovo’s independence. Over the last few days this connection has been made in newspapers from Spain to China. Prominent European statesmen such as Lech Walesa and Jiri Dienstbier also have linked the current violence in the Caucasus to the “irresponsible” decision to recognize Serbia’s breakaway province.Even the major protagonists in the current crisis have embraced this connection. The South Ossetians and Abkhazians have cited Kosovo’s independence as an argument for their own separatist ambitions; the Russians have referred to Kosovo to slash at the credibility and legitimacy of EU and American criticisms. Georgian leaders who had warned about the dangerous precedent of Kosovo’s independence and had refused to recognize it are now desperately attempting to find differences between the two situations in order to deny any possible legitimacy for the case for independence of its own separatist regions. 

There is now a striking similarity between the current Georgian crisis and the Kosovo issue. In 1999, arguing that a humanitarian intervention was needed to protect innocent civilians from a repressive and violent state, NATO bombed Serbia and effectively separated Kosovo from the rest of the country. Now it is Russia’s turn at humanitarian intervention. The Albanians in Kosovo claimed a right to self-determination and their own state, arguing that their rights would never fully be guaranteed in Serbia. This fundamental claim is now being made by Ossetians and Abkhazians as to why they need to be independent from Georgia.

Kosovo’s independence came about in large part through an arrogant and reckless attitude in Washington (primarily in the Department of State and Congress), as well as in some EU capitals, that the positions of Serbia and Russia could simply be ignored. The U.N. Security Council and international law could be bypassed simply by arguing that the Kosovo problem was “unique” and easily quarantined from other similar ethnically motivated disputes over territory. There was a mistaken belief that if American and EU diplomats, officials and leaders repeated the official mantra that “Kosovo is unique” and that “Kosovo is not a precedent” that this would suffice to contain any possible repercussions from a policy that was hastily endorsed as “the only possible” option. American and some European diplomats grew fond of saying that Serbia and Russia should accept “reality” and the “facts on the ground” in Kosovo.

Now it is Washington and Brussels who must accept the reality of their own policy blunder in Kosovo, if they are to have any chance at containing and ending the violence in Georgia. This ought to begin by acknowledging that Kosovo’s case for independence is no more or less unique than that of South Ossetia, Abkhazia or numerous others. It also should be realized that wishful thinking is no substitute for policy that is based on principles anchored in international law. If the United States and the European Union are not prepared to militarily intervene in the Georgian conflict, it leaves three options open.

The first is to refuse to assume any responsibility for the current mess and to continue the motions of diplomatic activity (shuttle diplomacy, rhetorical expressions of outrage and support for Georgia and self-serving media interviews) and hope that the Russians end their military intervention as soon as possible and that afterward there will be something left of a viable Georgian state.

The second option is to accept the results of their own policies in the Balkans by acknowledging directly or indirectly the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This could be justified in the same way as in the case of Kosovo: namely that by attempting to take back South Ossetia by military action (and the humanitarian tragedy this caused), Georgia has lost the right to govern these two regions where the overwhelming majority of the citizens will never again accept being governed by Tbilisi.

The third option is to admit the EU and U.S. policy on Kosovo was a mistake and attempt to manage the Georgian crisis in light of this. That would mean freezing Kosovo’s independence by returning complete authority over the province to the United Nations and by restarting negotiations between Serbs and Kosovar Albanians under U.N. sponsorship. For Georgia this would signify the only hope that Russia would lose its moral ground for further military escalation and that it could return to the status quo prior to its own military actions on Aug. 6. This would also allow for the United Nations to regain credibility and legitimacy for new peace talks on South Ossetia and Abkhazia and for any possible peacekeeping role.

If American and EU officials continue to ignore the new international reality that they have helped create by backing Kosovo’s independence, they will have chosen a road that will lead to new separatist conflicts well beyond the Balkans and the Caucasus.

With their policies they have smashed an international order that had for the most part balanced for hundreds of years the demands for self-determination with the need to maintain the territorial integrity and sovereignty of international borders. One way or another, they must now pay for it.

(Obrad Kesic is a senior partner with TSM Global Consultants LLC.)

(United Press International’s “Outside View” commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)