Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Tried but Failed in Georgia to Show It Could Act ‘Just Like the US,’ Russian Analysts Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 20 – Russia attempted to demonstrate in Georgia that it was “now just like America” and could thus “independently and without the agreement of the international community” use military force outside its borders, Moscow analysts say, but the Kremlin has not been able to achieve this goal “completely” and thus faces a rising tide of problems.
A 6,000-word article in the current issue of “Kommersant-Vlast” attempts to answer the most basic questions about the war between Moscow and Tbilisi, including “why did the war begin?” “Why hasn’t it ended?” “What were the losses on the Russian and Georgian sides? And “What did each side learn from the other?” (
But the article’s most intriguing discussion concerns a more important point, one that is beginning to agitate ever more people in the Rusof course importantly on what Russia was trying to achieve, and on that point, the “Kommersant-Vlast” article breaks some new ground.
According to the military and political experts the weekly surveyed, Moscow intervened in Georgia not simply to “liberate South Ossetia from Georgian forces” as President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin regularly insisted but rather because the Russian leadership had set for itself “more abstract and ambitious tasks.”
“The main goal,” the journal suggested, “can be formulated in the following way: Russia attempted to show that it now can act just like America independently and without the agreement of the international community conduct military operations on the territory of a former state,” something many believe the US has done and that Moscow aspires to be able to do as well.
“The extent to which Russia has been able to become ‘almost America’ will become clear in the coming weeks,” “Kommersant-Vlast” suggests. But “it is possible to judge on the basis of the first results that this goal [if in fact it is the one that Medvedev and Putin set in this case] has not been completely achieved.”
First of all, the weekly points out, “Russia has not been able” to remove Georgian President Mihkiel Saakashvili, a goal that both the Kremlin and the Russian foreign ministry deny but one that reflects the reality that “Moscow could like to have in Tbilisi a friendlier regime.”
Moreover, the article continues, “it is even doubtful that [Moscow] has been able to seriously discredit him.” Georgian society is more united overall and more united behind him than ever before as the result of the Russian attacks. And while Moscow may take some comfort that Saakashvili’s image abroad has suffered, its own image has suffered even more.
The appearance of Russian tanks in the vicinity of Tbilisi has made “an extremely unfavorable impression” on Western public opinion. And Moscow’s suggestion that Saakashvili be forced to stand before a court in the Hague is vitiated by the fact that “Moscow has not yet ratified all the documents necessary” to put forward such a demand officially.
Russia’s effort to prevent NATO from taking in Georgia appears to have backfired, although the final verdict on that is not yet in. And Moscow’s desire that its peacekeeping forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia receive international backing is not being met. EU officials are now saying that there should be a true multi-national contingent in place of a purely Russian one.
In addition, at the start of its campaign, almost no country in the world came out in support of what Russia is doing. Indeed to begin with, the weekly notes, “only Cuba and Libya” spoke out in support. Then came Venezuela, Syria and Hamas, but even Belarus, supposedly a country over which Russia has the most influence, “remained silent.”
And that lack of support for the Russian side was in sharp contrast to the international backing that Georgia soon received: From the very first, the three Baltic countries, Poland and Ukraine came out in support of Tbilisi, then the United States and almost all of the member states of the European Union and NATO.
Moreover, in selecting such an ambitious target, Moscow ended by harming and isolating itself in other ways: Recently, Medvedev had been pushing for the need to create a new European security architecture. And he was supposed to discuss this with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Sochi. But Russian actions in Georgia precluded that.
And there is a very real possibility that Russia is going to experience problems with getting into or remaining in the World Trade Organization, the Russia-NATO joint council and the G-8, all of which as indications of its status in the world are things the Russian government cares very much about.
Given all that, it is certain that Russian policy makers are now reflecting bitterly about the fact that “even after Iraq, the United States all the same was insured from such unpleasantness.” Its long-term diplomacy has ensured that it would continue to have real allies, even when many of them believed that Washington had made a mistake as in Iraq.
The Russian government, “Kommersant-Vlast” suggested, “has not yet fulfilled this part of the task,” as the fallout from Georgia shows. And “therefore it is still too early apparently for Russia to consider itself ‘a second America.’” Had Moscow set lest expansive goals, it could quite possibly claim victory now, but having set this goal, it is not in a position to do so.

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