War on the Horizon?

by Nathan Hamm on 8/24/2004 · 4 comments

In an interview with a French newspaper, Mikheil Saakashvili warns that Georgia and Russia are close to war.

“We are very close to a war (with Russia), the population must be prepared,” he told the Liberation newspaper.

Denouncing military aid from Russia to rebels in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia, Mr Saakashvili stressed that he had “no intention of provoking [a war]”.

I would love to be able to read it in the original French to see if I could still spin this the way I am about to.

I am slightly skeptical here. Saakashvili strikes me as someone who is very skilled at saying just enough to provoke an outburst from his opponents and adept at exaggerating enough so that his friends rush to his side. Saying Georgia and Russia are close to war is, I think, a way of saying to the US and Europe that he still needs help in achieving his goals. In other words, he’s reminding the West to continue to stand at his side. This statement does not necessarily mean that Russia and Georgia are moving closer to war. This statement also may not have a thing to do with warning Georgians. I could be very wrong though.

It is worth mentioning that the EU is sending an envoy to South Ossetia.

And in some tangents, Georgian officials feel that bad translations are partially to blame for raising tension between Russia and Georgia.

Georgian citizens are spending their nights in Tbilisi driving Russian diplomats crazy.

Every evening, using a laptop, projector and speakers, activists huddle across the street to project a series of explosions, flags, and anti-Russian slogans on the walls of the embassy.

Blaring nationalistic music is directed against the embassy as well.

The protests come as Russian and Georgian politicians trade accusations over fighting in South Ossetia, where pro-Russian separatists are pushing for independence from Georgia.

The protesters’ slogans include: “Georgia without Russian troops”, “Police state”, “MirotWARtsy” – an ironic corruption of the Russian word for peacekeepers, “mirotvortsy” – and “Take your trench coat and go”.

At one point, a verse from the 19th Century Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov appears: “Farewell, unwashed Russia, land of masters, land of slaves, land that can no lower go, land where the rabble run the show.”

All due respect to my Russian friends and readers, but that is kind of funny.

In an interview with a French newspaper, Mikheil Saakashvili warns that Georgia and Russia are close to war.

“We are very close to a war (with Russia), the population must be prepared,” he told the Liberation newspaper.

Denouncing military aid from Russia to rebels in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia, Mr Saakashvili stressed that he had “no intention of provoking [a war]”.

I would love to be able to read it in the original French to see if I could still spin this the way I am about to.

I am slightly skeptical here. Saakashvili strikes me as someone who is very skilled at saying just enough to provoke an outburst from his opponents and adept at exaggerating enough so that his friends rush to his side. Saying Georgia and Russia are close to war is, I think, a way of saying to the US and Europe that he still needs help in achieving his goals. In other words, he’s reminding the West to continue to stand at his side. This statement does not necessarily mean that Russia and Georgia are moving closer to war. This statement also may not have a thing to do with warning Georgians. I could be very wrong though.

It is worth mentioning that the EU is sending an envoy to South Ossetia.

And in some tangents, Georgian officials feel that bad translations are partially to blame for raising tension between Russia and Georgia.


Subscribe to receive updates from Registan

This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

For information on reproducing this article, see our Terms of Use

{ 4 comments }

Alisher August 25, 2004 at 3:26 am

Nathan, I’ve read the article in the Libération and I guess you are right in your analysis. The war with Russia is the last thing Saakashvili wants, in the article he actually says “..I dont have any intention to provoke this [war], I am not a fool” and further he says:”..we want also to attract the attention of the whole world to this situation”. There are other interesting things in the original that the ABC summary doesnt have:
a. Saakashvili says he doesnt want to “conquer” the two regions, but his primary task was to stop the smuggling from these regions.. but he also mentions that now, as a result, the population of the South Osetia, who lived mainly on smuggling goods, is without any resources and many people are unemployed…(which makes them more inclined to make war with Georgia)
b. He says that he is in contact with Putin, but according to him Putin is not the only person who makes decisions, he mentions a son of Kadirov who declared that Chenchens are ready to send 5000 men to Ossetia in case of war with Georgia, from the other side, there are the Ingush, who are very hostile to Ossetians..(lack of coherent Russian policy and the ethnic aspect)
c. He also accuses the imperialistic ambitions of Russia..there is nothing new in this rhetoric, but the only thing that attracted my attention is that Saakashvili says:” The fundamental problem for Russia is that she lost a lot of territories these last years: she lost the Baltic republics and Eastern Europe, she lost Georgia after our revolution of roses the last year, and then Adjaria..” It is interesting that he portrays this situation like this..

Anonymous August 25, 2004 at 9:36 pm

Nathan, the Lermontov quote is even funnier than the BBC correspondent think.
The poet served as an officer in tzar’s Army in Caucasus Wars, wrote great poems/proze on the subject and was killed on duel in Kislovodsk, where he was buried.
And the quote is translated rather poorly, too.
Farewell, unwashed Russia,
Land of slaves, land of lords
And you, blue trenches*
And you, the peoples, loyal to them.

(*”mundir”; he meant Tzar’s Secret Service Department)

dda August 25, 2004 at 11:50 pm

Here’s a (very) rough translation.
Hope this helps,

Didier

Tense relations between Georgia and South Ossetia

Three Georgian soldiers killed by ossetian militiamen last Wednesday night.

By Lorraine MILLOT

Ossetian, Russian and Georgian militaries, after repeated warning shots, have managed to kill the first few victims of what could be a new war in Caucasus. Three Georgian soldiers were killed last Wednesday night by Ossetian militias, said the Georgian Ministry of Internal affairs. “Groups had tried to occupy a small road leading to Georgian villages, in order to invade these villages and expell the Georgian population,” declared Mikhail Saakashvili, the young and fiery Georgian President, who intends to reconquer two separatist regions, South Ossetia and Abkazia. “We can’t allow an ethnic cleansing of the Georgian population [in these regions],” said Saakashvili, throwing more oil on a fire that is begging to explode.
A hero of the Rose revolution last November, Saakashvili promised to get back these two regions, which, with the help of Russia, have split from Georgia since 1992, ending a war that had led to thousands of deaths. “Georgia cannot tolerate this status quo,” where the law is ignored, and where Moscow has more say than Tbilissi, giving way to all sorts of traffics and unlawful activities, explains Alexander Rondeli, President of the Strategic Analyses Foundation(?) in Tbilissi. «However, Georgia has absolutely no interest in an armed conflict, which could result in the loss of the two regions, underlines the analyst. The only parties with an interest in seeing the situation escalate are the separatist fractions, who need it in order to exist, and have Russia come to their rescue.”

Escalade. Between war declarations, the Georgian President insists he won’t let anyone provoke war. After threatening to “shoot” on Russian boats carrying tourists to Abkazia, Saakashvili let the leader of the Russian extreme-right, Vladimir Jirinovski, and a boatful of supporters, land in Abkazia. “Neither Georgia nor Russia really want the situation to escalate, says Moscow politics expert Viktor Kremeniuk. But this region is full of mercenaries and soldiers who may have an interest in the conflict, would it be only for the money sent to buy weapons, and earn medals.”

The roots of this conflict are extremely complex, a mixture of the varied interests of several minorities, Abkaz, Ossetians, Chechens, among others. These roots can go as far back as the 18th Century, when Russia conquered the Caucasus, a region Russia is getting expelled from these days. From 1801, Georgia was under Russian rule (except for a brief independent stint between 1918 and 1921, during the bolshevik revolution), and it is easy to figure that for Russia, losing Georgia in the aftermath of the end of Soviet Union, in 1991, is still a painful memory.
“The fact of the mater is that since its independence, Georgia never had a friendly attitude towards Russia. Some experts even accuse Georgia to have helped Chechen freedom fighters,” explains Evgeni Stepanov, Director of the Institut of Conflicts Study (?) in Moscow.

Pipeline. Since the independence, Tbilissi strived to get under the US umbrella, among others by launching the construction of a giant pipeline that would enable to transport the oil from the Caspian Sea while not entering Russian territory. The security of this pipeline, a needle in Russia’s flanks, is one of the main objectives of this conflict, among many others.

Nathan August 26, 2004 at 11:13 am

A lot is made of the Lermontov quote in Highlanders.

Previous post:

Next post: