The recent developments in South Ossetia provoke mixed feelings, first, compassion. At the same time when you regularly watch on television scenes that are reminiscent of Chechnya it causes irritation and at times anger. But that is the emotional side. It is far more important to understand rationally what has happened.
In fact, it is hard to say who was the first to pull the trigger. I have a hunch that emotions have played their sinister role, at any rate, on Saakashvili's part. At a certain point he felt that he could make it, that he was strong enough. I think he acted without counseling with his "senior partners." Up until yesterday their reaction was unclear. It looks as if the United States has been caught unawares.
The same is true of Russia, hence the delay with the eventual tough reaction. Russia could not believe that Saakashvili could risk sending his tanks and Grad rockets...That sense of bewilderment passed. A decision was made and, as far as I can judge from the public reaction, the overwhelming majority has supported the government's tough response.
But as events unfold other questions crop up: is there an alternative opinion or, as in former times, one has to glean it from foreign broadcasts? As soon as it occurs to you, you feel that it is not a black-and-white situation. The Western media give a strange coverage of this war: Russia alone is to blame for everything. Western officials, as usual, apply double standards. The present situation in Southern Caucasus inevitably brings associations with Kosovo and Yugoslavia.
It turns out that what some can get away with others cannot. So, I would not say that the European and American positions are adequate. I have a feeling that in addition to double standards, they also have a hidden agenda. First, while vilifying Russia they are not going to take strong measures against it. Second, the need for negotiations is still being stressed. Third, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's statement on the events in South Ossetia suggests that it is still unclear who is to blame. If his real position was unequivocally anti-Russian, he, or anyone else, would not have said that.
Besides, intelligence is at work everywhere and there are independent experts in Europe and America. I assure you that their assessment of Saakashvili is anything but positive. I think Bush himself learned about it with a feeling of dismay. But in this situation every leader has a certain role to play from which he cannot depart because it is built into his global policy. In this case, formally and officially, they have to criticize Russia. They have a pretext for this. Russia is indeed fighting outside its own territory. And I should say that Russia has gone a bit too far. Let us hope that it too has something to do with emotions. However, in my opinion, it is time to hold negotiations. It is time to call a halt to hostilities, otherwise the West may toughen its position in earnest.
A few words about the media are in order. Our television provides very convincing coverage: not cynical, professional and very precise and competent even in terms of propaganda. If only our reports could reach the Western audience. The images that people in Georgia and the Western public get are far less compelling than ours. But will we be able to bring our point of view home to the world community? I think it is important today. Most importantly, it is time to put an end to the fighting.
All wars, as we know, end in peace sooner or later. The question is who will get what dividends from the war. At present one can only speculate on that score. I don't think what happened has soured the relations between the West and Russia all that much, especially if our side is ready for talks.
My guess is that NATO is distancing itself from Georgia. What use is Georgia to the alliance if the price for it will be so high? In that sense Saakashvili has lost. But a solution to the Georgia-Ossetia-Abkhaz-Russian conundrum is only delayed. Especially if one bears in mind that only last spring there were active talks about mediators and possible softening of positions. The hopes were well justified. Now the negotiation process has been thrown back.
I think that after this war there can be no serious talk about the CIS. No matter what pictures Russian television carries and how real the nightmare in and around Tskhinvali may be, Russia will be looked on with suspicion not only in Ukraine but everywhere in the CIS. The post-Soviet era is over. I think what happened underlined it.
Another point, that so far can be mentioned only parenthetically, is that the future of the 2014 Olympics is under a big question mark. Let us hope that the situation will change for the better by that time.
It is a pity that a precedent is being set up. In the midst of negotiations it suddenly turns out that one of the conflicting parties may take a risk, whether due to stupidity or some clandestine plan. And you cannot help looking at the neighbors, Armenia and Azerbaijan: the precedent is there...As a result, one gets a feeling that all talks are useless.
Alexey Malashenko is a member of the scientific council at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
The Carnegie Russia and Eurasia Program has, since the end of the Cold War, led the field of Eurasian security, including strategic nuclear weapons and nonproliferation, development, economic and social issues, governance, and the rule of law.
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