Monday, March 23, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Gains Another ‘Win’ in Georgian Campaign as Russian Soldiers Suffer Another ‘Loss’

Paul Goble

Vienna, March 23 – The European Union commission set up to determine the cause of the Russian-Georgian war has concluded that Georgian President Mikhiel Saakashvili launched the conflict in South Ossetia through a hitherto secret order, a conclusion that Russia media are spinning to suggest that Georgia, not Moscow bears responsibility for the broader conflict.
But even as Moscow pocketed its latest diplomatic success in convincing many in the West that Saakashvili’s movement of troops from one part of his country to another justified Moscow’s invasion of Georgia, the Russian government is being embarrassed by reports that it did not pay its own soldiers who took part in that operation.
In an article in today’s “Izvestiya” headlined “The EU Commission: Saakashvili Started the War,” journalist Viktoriya Leblan cites a report in yesterday’s German newsweekly “Spiegel” that the commission had been convinced on this score by secret order the Georgian president had issued before the start of hostilities (
That document, the contents of which were repeated in a public order by Georgian General Mamuka Kurashvili last August, specified that Georgian forces must take the initiative to achieve “the realization of the constitutional order” in South Ossetia, a territory that then and now the international community, less Russia and Nicaragua, considers part of Georgia.
Many commentators have criticized Saakashvili for taking an action that the Russian side was almost certain to view as a provocation and exploit for its own purposes, but it is important to note that whatever the EU commission says on this point, Saakashvili may have been guilty of a miscalculation, but the Russian government, by invading, is guilty of an international crime.
That government, it now appears, is also guilty of not paying its own soldiers who took part in the invasion of Georgia. “Moskovsky komsomolets” is reporting today that more than a hundred draftees have complained to military prosecutors that they have not been paid for their participation in the invasion (
Prior to and during that operation, the Russian military authorities insisted that “there was no war” and that this was “simply an operation of the Russian Federation to force Georgia to peace.” But at the same time, they said that there had not been any draftees in the Russian units involved.
But soon, as the paper notes, “one lie followed another.” The defense ministry had to admit that there were in fact draftees in Georgia but that there was only “a handful.” (The officials of course refused to give any “exact figures,” “Moskovsky komsomolets” said.) And then it turned out that “this too was not true,” and that many draftees had been involved.
But Moscow’s “lie did not end after the completion of military actions.” Despite explicit rules calling for soldiers who took part to receive $54 “for each day serving on the territory of a foreign state,” the military authorities refused to pay, saying that there was no such rule and implicitly suggesting that the soldiers had not been abroad.
The numbers of those who have not been paid is large: In the Yekaterinburg garrison alone, the paper reports, “50 soldiers did not received a kopeck for their participation in the military operations of Georgia,” until military prosecutors insisted that more than a million rubles (30,000 US dollars) be paid out. But elsewhere, the soldiers have not been paid.
And in Moscow, Volgograd, Perm and Nizhny Novgorod, the paper continues, there are 122 “documented complaints” from draftees who fought in South Ossetia, with 23 of these stating that commanders “refused to prepare the documents they needed and others detailing other sources of resistance.
In fact, however, the situation is even worse than that, “Moskovsky komsomolets” says. The military refuses to give the draftees involved the kind of certification that would allow them the right to certain social benefits that are due those who are sent to “hot spots.” Those few soldiers who have gotten documents have discovered that “there is not a word” about the war.
All of this constitutes a clear-cut violation of their rights, the paper says, and it suggests that those involved should appeal directly to the Duma and the president. After all, “if by the documents, there was no war, then on what basis were military medals and orders handed out? Or perhaps,” “Moskovsky komsomolets” asks bitterly, “there was no truth in that either?”

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