Friday, August 29, 2014


Russia's Make-Believe Withdrawal From Georgia

A Russian checkpoint at Georgian-South Ossetian border on October 9A Russian checkpoint at Georgian-South Ossetian border on October 9
A Russian checkpoint at Georgian-South Ossetian border on October 9
A Russian checkpoint at Georgian-South Ossetian border on October 9
By David Kakabadze and Brian Whitmore
Let's stop pretending.

Russia has not withdrawn its troops from Georgia. It has not, as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev claimed on October 9, "fulfilled all obligations." And it has certainly not honored an EU-backed cease-fire deal to end hostilities between Moscow and Tbilisi.

Not even close.

And yet the West continues to play along with Moscow's game of make-believe, praising Russia's "withdrawal" and hinting that a return to business as usual could be in the cards. With the first round of EU-sponsored talks in Geneva on the Russia-Georgia conflict just hours away, Moscow is also -- unsurprisingly -- eager to turn the page.

The question is whether the West will let it.

Under the terms of the cease-fire brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Russia and Georgia are each required to pull back their troops to the positions they held before armed conflict broke out on August 7-8. Georgia complied long ago.

Moscow was required to withdraw all troops from Georgia proper and reduce its total presence in breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia to preconflict levels of 2,500 peacekeepers.

In fact, Russia is more than tripling its forces in those separatist regions to an eye-popping 7,600 heavily armed soldiers. And in a clear sign that this will be a long-term presence, Russians have already built a steel and concrete garrison in the strategic South Ossetian town of Java.

Moreover, Russian troops remain in South Ossetia's Akhalgori district and the Kodori Gorge in Abkhazia -- both of which Tbilisi controlled before the war.

Russia is also not allowing EU monitors to enter Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as required under the cease-fire agreement. This is not surprising given the reports coming from groups like Human Rights Watch documenting how Russian-backed South Ossetian militias have been burning down ethnic-Georgian villages in the region. Moscow and its clients in Tskhinvali are also not allowing tens of thousands of ethnic Georgians, displaced by the recent conflict, to return to their homes in South Ossetia -- which is also required by the cease-fire.

So what was it that Medvedev meant when he announced to great fanfare on October 9 that Russia had withdrawn from Georgia and complied with the cease-fire?

Apparently he simply meant that Russia had pulled out from the so-called buffer zones that Moscow unilaterally set up around Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But in reality, Russia has not even done this. One Russian checkpoint, in the town of Perevi near the administrative border with South Ossetia, remains.

Moscow, of course, claims Abkhazia and South Ossetia are now independent countries and that Russian troops are there by the invitation of the governments in Sukhumi and Tskhinvali. In reality, no country save Russia and Nicaragua recognizes Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent.

The truth of the matter, no matter how you spin it, is that Russia is in clear violation of the cease-fire.

Nevertheless, with talks starting in Geneva, Moscow has decided the best defense is a good offense. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Russia's top priority is to secure an arms embargo against Tbilisi that would remain in place as long as Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili remains in power. This only serves to reinforce the strong impression in Tbilisi and elsewhere that Moscow's real goal in Georgia is regime change.

The conflict in Georgia and its aftermath have the potential to set precedents for a newly resurgent Russia's relations with its neighbors and with the West. Either Moscow can continue to bully its neighbors secure in the knowledge that the EU and the United States will still treat it like a valued partner, or the Kremlin will discover the hard way that such behavior has consequences.

Longtime Russia watcher Edward Lucas, author of the book "The New Cold War," wrote in the "Financial Times" on October 8 that for Moscow "the lesson of the Georgian adventure is simple: we got away with it."

And get away with it they will, unless the West decides to stop pretending.

David Kakabadze is the director of RFE/RL's Georgian Service, and Brian Whitmore is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL. The views expressed in this commentary are the authors' own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.

David Kakabadze

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Comment Sorting
by: Richard from: Canada
October 14, 2008 19:22
Great article and spot on!<br /><br />I have lost complete respect for the EU and to a lesser extent NATO, for their lack of solidarity. <br /><br />I am not talking about going to war, but, business cannot be as usual until Russia complies. <br /><br />How can the EU over look what has happened? <br /><br /> <br />

by: Anton from: Auckland
October 15, 2008 12:11
I can understand the emotions of Mr Kakabadze, as similar way all Georgians I personally know, feel. It is surprizing though, that the same type of emotions are determining the actions of Georgian government, which can not allow it to reestablish the ties with reality.<br /><br />They lost the war (or maybe they do have doubts in this?) and lost the territories, as far as I can understand, in the same administrative borders, in which they had them within USSR. Moreover, they signed the peace deal with the winner, and in such circumstances it is the winner, not the loser who is in position to dictate - because if the loser is in disagreement, then they need to restart the war and enforce their concept, that is what the wars are for!<br /><br />I can not understand Russia as well, why they are talking all the time about this weapon embargo? What would Russia lose if someone starts to sell weapons to Georgia if it is clear they have no clue what to do with these weapons? Politically Russia would win if Georgia invests in the weapons rather than in the economy, as these weapons can be further used in the civil war... Also, why Russia demands for Georgia to sign some accords with the separatists, when at the moment all headache is EU's problem? They do not want to sign security treaty - too bad, let EU bribes or forces them in it and delivers Russia what was promised and timely.<br /><br />I can only see that Russia has left there an unfinished business, which accounts for a powder keg with a fuse ready - so if the Georgian government decides to maintain status quo, then Russia for years ahead would have a convenient excuse to bomb them again or even to occupy in full. Most of all Russia is interested in the instability, as it compromizes the pipeline routs, so I absolutely fail to understand why Georgia helps to achieve this! The wisest way for them to behave is to admit the reality, reestablish diplomatic relationships with Russia and build a Mannerheim line along Ossetian and Abkhas borders, putting the landmines in front of it. Instead they continue to entertain everyone around with late anger and useless threats - this is the behavier of a lapdog just released from the jaws of a pitbull. It is against Georgia's national interests to behave like that because this would weaken their country and may threaten their statehood and territorial integrity - while they are busy claiming Ossetia, Turkey may claim the entire Georgia on the same grounds - as Turkey may need to secure the same pipeline which Russia threatens, this is another way to build Nabucco and oil pipe from Uzbekistan.<br /><br />

by: Soslan Asetey from: London/England
October 17, 2008 04:58
Hi read the article above, and I must say that, as always &quot;THE GEORGIAN {&quot;LOBI&quot;}, works&quot;.<br />But I would rather ask to the &quot;author&quot; of the above article to {&quot;study the History of South Ossetia, and Abkhazia, and how those countries came in to Georgin territory in the first place&quot;}.<br />I think that is the main (Q) in whole thing.<br /><br />Giorgia and her western friends all condemn &quot;STALIN'S all actions, but this one suits them all and that is clear &quot;double standards&quot;, for us, Ossetian, and Abkhaz, because the fact is that, Stalin vever asked Ossetians, or Abkhaz to go under &quot;Georgian rule in the first place, and if we did evryone knows what would of be the price of objection then&quot;.<br /> <br />Soslan Asetey

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