Europe, Headlines, Human Rights

GEORGIA: ‘Provoked Into Aggression’

Kester Kenn Klomegah

MOSCOW, Aug 13 2008 (IPS) - Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvilli has become an uncertain sort of leader. At first, he won praise after successfully leading the popular ‘Rose Revolution’ in 2003 that catapulted him into power. Now he has received global condemnation for the military attack that he ordered in the breakaway republic of South Ossetia.

The military clashes that left many civilians dead and thousands homeless will now make it difficult to integrate South Ossetia with Georgia. But Saakashvilli could have been drawn by Russia into the present crisis.

Giorgi Kakulia, president of the Academy for Peace and Development, a non-governmental research institution in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, believes the main cause of the conflict in South Ossetia is that Russia wanted to provoke and destabilise Georgia.

“The reason for the escalation of the conflict was ceaseless shooting into the Georgian villages by Ossetian forces. The Georgian side requested from Russian peacekeepers several times during the last two weeks to stop shooting, but they did nothing, and it was not possible to stop Ossetians without attacking them. That’s why the Georgian army went into the conflict zone, in order to stop the aggression and re-establish constitutional order in the region,” Kakulia told IPS.

Russia used these tactics to stop Georgian attempts to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) because that would bring the military alliance close to Russia’s border.

“As for the U.S., they want to have access to Georgian territory for different reasons; one is oil and gas transit, and secondly, establishing a military base for the U.S. army in the event of an attack on Iran, and for placing radars or anti-rockets systems.”

Georgia lies at the heart of the Caucasus – which hosts a major pipeline pumping oil from Asia to Europe – and is at the centre of a battle for regional influence between the United States and Russia.

Georgia is locked in an increasingly tense row with Russia over the two rebel regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that broke away from Tbilisi after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.

Russia’s parliament unanimously approved a resolution early this year urging the Kremlin to consider recognising Georgia’s breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The parliamentarians said Russia should consider speeding up recognition of the rebel regions as independent if pro-western Georgia is put on the track to join NATO.

The State Duma’s non-binding resolution was widely seen in Russia as a signal by the lower house of parliament that Moscow could use Kosovo’s independence – which it fiercely opposed – as a precedent to recognise separatists closer to home.

Irina Bolgova, lecturer in Soviet politics at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations, says Georgian military engagement in South Ossetia is legal because the region is a part of the Georgian state, but the way the operation was conducted, with bombings of civilians, would be seen as a violation of peace. The Russian military moves were a response to the killing of Russian peacekeepers deployed in South Ossetia.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said Russian action was in conformity with Article 51 of the UN Charter, under which such defensive actions do not require UN permission to be legal within international law.

Tiko Tkeshelashvili from the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development in Tbilisi told IPS that Georgia has been openly invaded by Russian military forces.

“We are punished for our aspiration to become part of a democratic world; today our choice towards the West is threatened. Russian aggression is a challenge to the international community, and every minute is critical for the lives of innocent civilians,” Tkeshlashvili told IPS.

At a meeting in the Kremlin with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the operations in South Ossetia have ended because they had achieved their main goal: to protect Russian peacekeepers and the civilian population.

Medvedev said the Georgian side had taken aggressive action against civilians and Russian peacekeepers. He spoke of more than a thousand casualties, tens of thousands of refugees, and mass destruction.

The Russian leader said the only way out of the crisis was withdrawal of Georgian armed forces from the conflict zone, return to the process of peace agreements, and the signing of a legally binding agreement against use of force.

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