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Russia Has Played its Aces in Georgia

Grigol Vashadze, the foreign minister of Georgia, was in Washington this week to sign a strategic security accord with Washington (one final poke in the eye of Russia from the outcoming Bush administration).  Joshua Keating over at Foreign Policy caught up with him and posted an interesting interview:

FP: One of the messages from the European states at the Bucharest summit was that Georgia would only be considered after it resolved the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Isn’t this an open invitation for Russia to make sure those conflicts don’t get resolved?

GV: We are not speaking about conflicts. We could speak about conflicts before the August war. Now this is not a conflict; it’s an occupation. From one point of view, it’s absolutely dreadful because you wake up and 20 percent of your territory is occupied by an unwelcome neighbor. From another point of view, Russia played all their aces. Everything is called its proper name right now: Russia is not a peacekeeper; it is an occupier. We’re not talking about ethnic conflict; we’re talking about the cleaning of those territories of their core population to build up Russian military bases.

So we have a very simple question: Can Russia use those occupied territories as an instrument of influence? As this charter shows, and as the world’s attitude changed, we see that, no, Russia cannot do that anymore.

FP: What do you mean that Russia has “played its aces”?

GV: What were Russia’s aces? First, there was the promise that if Georgia behaves as a good neighbor, Russia would be a real peacekeeper and mediator. And, second, that Russia will never recognize the independence [of South Ossetia and Abkhazia]. Now they are an occupier and they have recognized the independence [of those regions], and ethnic cleansing is done. What are they going to do now? Enter Tbilisi and bring in one Russian soldier to stand over each Georgian?

After the August war, Russia discovered a simple thing: They have no political basis in Georgia. They don’t have the right information. They don’t have any allies in the political class, and they don’t have any prospect of having any allies in the foreseeable future. If someone in Russia had been planning to make an enemy out of Georgia, it couldn’t have been done more effectively than what they did.