Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Began Preparing for Georgian War Four Years Ago, Illarionov Says

Paul Goble

Eagles Meer, PA, October 1 – The Russian government began preparing for the invasion of Georgia four years ago as part of a more general attack on the West and the West’s democratic, free market, and security ideas in the post-Soviet states, according to former Putin economics advisor and more recently Kremlin critic Andrei Illarionov.
In a speech delivered to the Cato Institute in Ukraine on September 4 but posted online only this week, Illarionov described what Moscow’s political leaders had said about Georgia over that period and what Russian intelligence services had done against Georgia well before the first of August (
And he described precisely what Russian forces had been doing in the weeks leading up to the outbreak of hostilities and what they did after that time, actions that in both cases show just how false are all Russian claims that Tbilisi started the war and that Moscow intervened to defend its citizens or the right of nations to self-determination.
If one examines this history, Illarionov said, then it becomes clear why Moscow went to war against Georgia and why it is so critical that everyone understand that “the Russian-Georgian war is part of another, very major war that Russia intends to launch as a responsive strike to the West.”
After disposing of Russia’s “propaganda” arguments about its invasion of Georgia – the defense of Russian citizens, the right of nations to self-determination, and the supposed Georgian genocide of Ossetians – Illarionov focused on two things: the reasons Moscow decided to move against Georgia after the “rose” revolution and the specific steps it took.
According to Illarionov, the reasons for the Russian-Georgian war are to be found in Moscow’s reaction to the changes Georgia has undertaken in the last four years and to Mikhail Saakashvili’s success in restoring Tbilisi’s control over the Ajar region which had more often looked to Russia than to Georgia.
Over the last four years, Illarionov said, “a contemporary, European, democratic state, responsible to the population, has been created.” And he added that as a specialist on economic reform, he was prepared to assert that there has not been any other country in the world which “has carried out so many reforms in such a short time.”
Those reforms, the former Kremlin advisor said, made it possible for Mikhail Saakashvili to turn from Moscow to the West and to indicate that he wanted his country to become a member of NATO and other Western institutions. Such goals were unacceptable to the Russian leadership, and consequently, it set as its “task” the removal of Saakashvili.
After the Georgian president “resolved” the Ajar problem, Moscow “began to think” about replacing him. In December 2005, the Kremlin ordered the heads of Russian energy companies to begin a blockade of Georgia, but when that effort failed, the Russian government turned to other means.
Several pipelines and electric power lines passing from Russia to Georgia were blown up, actions that many blamed on Islamic terrorists but which, Illarionov said, investigations showed were in fact the work of Russian special services. And “after that, there was an attempt at the liquidation of the leader of the [Georgian] opposition,” presumably by the same agencies.
In 2006, the Georgian special services arrested several Russian agencies but, Illarionov noted, “Georgia followed diplomatic etiquette and without any noise sent them back to Moscow.” Moscow stepped up its penetration efforts, and in September, Tbilisi announced the arrest of four Russian agents, and Moscow responded with an economic blockade.
Over the same period, Russia “strengthened its military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” and Russia diplomats told their colleagues quite openly that Moscow would engage in military actions in Georgia before September 2008, statements that many were inclined to dismiss but that proved to be quite true.
And then Illarionov details the specific steps from July through mid-August that show that Russia was planning to move well before Saakashvili transferred his forces into South Ossetia, the action that the Russian government continues to insist was the proximate cause of the war.
Most of the details he provided about that period have been reported in the Western media, although they, like Illarionov’s speech in Kyiv itself, have not been given much attention in the mainstream Russian media. (On that failure, see the discussion of Illarionov’s remarks at
But the former Kremlin advisor’s conclusion is if not new at least more clearly articulated than those which have been offered by most others. He pointed out that Russia continues to want a change of leadership in Tbilisi because for the Kremlin, “the western choice of Georgia is unacceptable.”
Consequently, Illarionov said, Moscow’s war against Western influence in the post-Soviet states and hence against the West itself has just begun. From the Kremlin’s perspective, Georgia was the weak link, a place where unlike in the Baltic countries or even Ukraine, it could act.
But because it did not achieve its goal in Georgia, Moscow will continue to push there and elsewhere because Illarionov suggests, the Russian leadership knows that if the Western combination of democracy and free markets succeed in these countries, not only will Russia’s influence there decline but the power of Russia’s current leaders will be at risk as well.

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