These events force to attract attention not on their own. Much of what the Georgian president is saying today, in one way or another, has already emanated from his mouth or has been voiced by members of his team. Saakashvili's “transformation” takes place after about one and a half years, that is, since the end of 2008, official Tbilisi has been in mild “disgrace” in the West.
Last year, Mikhail Saakashvili did not make a single official visit to the EU or the United States. All of his meetings with Western leaders were informal, short-lived and empty in essence. Thus, commenting on the revival of Georgian foreign policy, a well-known expert close to the official government of Georgia (in the recent past, the state minister), Gia Nodia, came to the following conclusion: “There was no such thing for a long time. Against the background of the last two years, when the number of official visits to Tbilisi has clearly decreased, this can be called a diplomatic breakthrough. ”
Does this mean that Georgia, like before the August 2008 War, is becoming the “favorite child” of Washington and Brussels?
Milestones of "transformation"
We will not rush to conclusions. To begin with, we will designate some of the most important initiatives taken in recent months by the Georgian leader. September 23 2010, he spoke at the regular session of the United Nations General Assembly, where he put forward the idea of a “unified Caucasus”.
“In terms of humanitarian and cultural space of the North and South Caucasus does not exist,” said Saakashvili. “There is one Caucasus that belongs to Europe and which one day, following the path of Georgia, will join the European family of free states.” According to him, Georgia is working in all directions in order to make the idea of a “unified Caucasus” a reality.
Saakashvili’s initiative was publicly supported by some of the leaders of the ethnonationalist North Caucasian movements. Former general representative of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in Russia, Mayrbek Vachagayev, said: “We should forget all our mutual grievances against the threat of this bear, which will allow him to understand: Georgia is not only Georgians, but Georgia and the whole Caucasus, then the bear will be already busy with other problems ".
In development of this 11 concept of October 2010, Georgia introduced new rules for staying on its territory for some Russian citizens. From that day, for residents of seven North Caucasian subjects of the Russian Federation (Adygea, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, North Ossetia and Chechnya) the crossing of the Georgian state border was seriously simplified. For 90 days they have the opportunity to stay in Georgia without a visa.
Following this, Tbilisi achieved some success in two NATO forums. First, on November 16, 2010, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Warsaw adopted six recommendatory resolutions, one of which was devoted to the situation in Georgia. This document contains a recommendation to continue the course on the North Atlantic integration of the Transcaucasian republic, and also gives a critical assessment of Russian actions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In addition, the resolution calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the territory of the two former autonomies of the Georgian SSR, which received recognition from Moscow. In fact, the Assembly agreed with the official concept of Tbilisi on the "occupation" of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Almost immediately after the completion of the work of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, 19 – 20 took place in November in the Alliance Summit in Lisbon, which, in addition to accepting the most important documents for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was also remembered for the informal increase in the status of the Georgian president. Saakashvili met with the head of the American state Barack Obama. In fact, this was the first serious conversation of the two leaders, as they had seen each other before, but did not discuss any issue substantively.
This time, the conversation between the two presidents was the practical implementation of the Charter on Strategic Partnership, which was prepared and signed by the previous Republican administration from the American side. Thus, Washington has demonstrated that a certain continuity with the course of Bush Jr. is preserved, and Georgia is regarded as an important partner of the United States. Add to this the general resolution of the summit, in which the decisions of the NATO Bucharest Forum (April 2008 of the year), which declared Georgia’s membership in the alliance a strategic goal, were again supported.
After Lisbon, Saakashvili began what he himself more than once defined as “aggressive peacemaking”. A few days after the encouraging results of the NATO summit, November 23, 2010, the Georgian president spoke in the European Parliament, where he declared his readiness to negotiate with the Russian side without any preconditions, as well as Tbilisi’s refusal to solve controversial problems with the former Georgian autonomies strength
“We will only resort to peaceful means of liberation from the occupation and reunification of Georgia,” Saakashvili said. “Even if the Russian Federation refuses to withdraw its occupying troops, even if the militia created with its support multiplies human rights violations.”
However, the Georgian president used such rhetoric more than once. With enviable regularity, such calls have been repeated since January 2004. And with equally enviable constancy, they were interspersed with not peacekeeping actions to “defrost” conflicts and provocations (an outbreak of violence in South Ossetia in 2004, the introduction of units of the Georgian army and the republic’s internal troops in the Kodori Gorge in the summer of 2006). I would like to remind you that one of the “peace initiatives” of the third president of post-Soviet Georgia was sounded on August 7 of 2008, on the eve of giving an order to “restore constitutional order in the Tskhinvali region”.
And today we see in the actions of Saakashvili serious propaganda and populist overtones. It is necessary to show the world that Georgia is goodwill, and Russia is aggression. Especially since Russian diplomats are still unable to find an active antidote for the offensive propaganda of the Georgian leader. Instead of “catching” him on the floor and putting forward a clear draft agreement on the non-use of force, they repeat, like a spell, the words about the impossibility of negotiations with the Georgian regime.
Unfortunately, the sluggishness of the Russians multiplies the success of such a master of public relations, like Saakashvili. After his “peace initiative” in the European Parliament, Catherine Margaret Ashton, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union (she is considered a more pro-Georgian politician than the EU Special Representative for the Caucasus, Swedish diplomat Peter Semneby, a supporter of maintaining contacts with the Abkhaz and South Ossetian parties), stated: “I see this as a constructive step and a positive contribution to efforts towards a peaceful and lasting settlement of the conflict.”
By the end of the outgoing year, Saakashvili achieved another tactical success. The US Senate has begun the procedure for considering the draft resolution on the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as occupied territories. Discussion of the document by the upper house of the American Congress is scheduled for 2011 year, but now you can fix: among its supporters there are Republicans and Democrats.
At present, the fact of “occupation” at the parliamentary level is recognized by the highest legislative bodies of Lithuania and Romania (this happened in June of 2010). But the international weight of the US Senate is incomparable with any parliament of Central and Eastern Europe. And although it is premature to make final predictions about the senators' decision, the very fact of considering the Georgian initiative is extremely important. After all, it can be used as a lever for pressure on Moscow on certain issues.
Similarly, by the way, US congressmen and senators act against Turkey, occasionally highlighting the recognition of the Armenian Genocide in the Ottoman Empire (although the final decision on this issue has not been made).
At the same time, some new features should be added to all these facts. In November, 2010, the Georgian-Iranian bilateral relations intensified. Moreover, Tehran and Tbilisi were able to move from serious diplomatic compliments in such cases to serious practical solutions. This includes the opening of the consulate of the Islamic Republic in Batumi (which has recently become a kind of showcase of the Georgian “economic miracle”), and the liberalization of the visa regime. From now on, Iranians can travel to Georgia, and Georgian citizens can travel to Iran without visas for up to 45 days. The parties also agreed to open an air link between Tbilisi and Tehran, discontinued 10 years ago, in 2000.
The reasons for the new "takeoff"
In this regard, a clear understanding of the reasons that made the current “transformation” of Saakashvili possible is necessary. No less important is the awareness of the likely consequences of his "second breath." Let's not forget that the first directly led to the events of the “hot August” of 2008.
Speaking about the current surge in political activity of the Georgian leader, the famous British expert Thomas de Waal called Saakashvili “the wizard Misha”. What did the political scientist mean? According to him, “two years ago, after the defeat in the August war, almost everyone who watched the events counted the days that remain for Saakashvili until the end of his term as president. Today he is once again the undisputed leader of Georgia. ”
In fact, no matter how we treat the person of the Georgian leader, almost all sociological studies record the growth of his popularity inside the country, while the opposition is steadily losing points. During the first five months of this year, American and European emissaries closely followed the "dress rehearsal" of the presidential campaign - the first direct election of the mayor of Tbilisi. It is easy to see that the changes for Saakashvili ended when the post of the capital's mayor, as well as other local elections, was won by the team of the third president of Georgia. In the course of this campaign, there were both the notorious administrative resource and unequal media opportunities for candidates from the ruling “United National Movement” and opposition forces. But at the same time, the opposition won itself. Its applicants fought on two fronts, that is, against the hated head of the Georgian state and against each other, defending their right to be the best democrat. In the end, they lost, lost democracy.
But the West realized that Saakashvili’s alternative would not appear in Georgia in the near future. And a string of US, EU, post-Soviet states representatives (who, after 2008, also avoided contacts with the Georgian president) left for Tbilisi immediately after it became clear. October 1 2010, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen arrived on the banks of the Kura River. During his visit, the official representative office of the alliance opened in Georgia.
Of course, the outbreak of new interest in this country is not explained solely by internal factors. Unfortunately, we have a stereotypical view of Georgia as an insignificantly small amount from the point of view of military resources. In fact, the republic cannot compare closely not only with the Russian military contingent in the North Caucasus, but even with the grouping of the Interior Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation in this part of our country. But if you measure the situation with other rulers, then everything looks not so simple.
But why are the United States and NATO so "nursing" with Tbilisi? How justified are the high-grade assessments of Georgia’s contribution to the fight against “international terrorism” given to her by the Secretary General of the North Atlantic Alliance during his recent visit to the capital of Georgia?
To answer these questions, let's look at the dynamics of the Georgian military presence in Afghanistan.
Back in April 2010, the 173 Georgian troops were there. Prior to this, in December 2009 of the year (when relations between Tbilisi and the West were developing far from brilliantly) Saakashvili declared that he would not go on increasing the number of Georgian military contingent. However, time has made adjustments to his plans.
Realizing that Afghanistan is today the most painful point not only of foreign but also of the domestic policy of the US administration, the Georgian president quickly realized that the road to the heart of Washington lies on this direction. And on April 6, 2010 was decided to multiply (on the scale of Georgia) increase in the number of Georgian military in Afghanistan: 750 soldiers and officers were sent there as well. It should be noted that the change in Mikhail Saakashvili’s approaches occurred immediately after Barack Obama demanded that thousands of reinforcements be sent to Afghan territory to help the already-leading US military forces.
The President of Georgia has always been able to voice this or that initiative on time and in place. As a result, 925 armed defenders of the Transcaucasian Republic are now serving far away from their homeland. They suffered their first losses in September 2010: 28-year-old senior lieutenant Mukhran Shukvani died in a mine blast and Corporal Alexander Gitolendiya received a severe wound, and both legs were amputated. Today, the damage of Georgians in the “heart of Asia” is estimated at five people only killed. Thus, the military cooperation between Tbilisi and Washington is now literally sealed with blood.
Currently, the Georgian military is stationed in Kabul - in the area of responsibility of France, and also in Helmend - in the area of responsibility of the United States. Earlier, in 2003 – 2008, the Georgian guys happened to serve in Iraq (in 2008, there were 2000 people in Mesopotamia). In May - July 2008, they took part in hostilities in Wasit province on the border with Iran, 165 kilometers from Baghdad. That is, if the Georgian divisions were not, the British would solve this problem, the Americans with possible victims (then four Georgians died) and internal political costs for the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Britain.
Since NATO countries are extremely sensitive to losses, and Washington’s European allies are very reluctant to respond to calls for a “blood tax” in the unpopular Afghan campaign, Georgian help is becoming an important factor, not just a set of propaganda clichés. Especially since Georgia has a much lower threshold of loss sensitivity. Saakashvili’s authoritarian style in this case, NATO is not a hindrance. On the contrary, it allows, if necessary, to build up a military presence in Afghanistan without unnecessary discussions and procedural delays. Hence the very calm attitude of the West towards Saakashvili’s proposed constitutional changes (they redistribute powers in favor of the prime minister and allow the current president to remain at the head of the country after the election of 2013 of the year).
In addition, the United States and many Western European states categorically do not want to strengthen the Iranian factor in the Caucasus, and therefore strive to keep Saakashvili in their area of influence. Incidentally, the leaders of the Islamic Republic, despite all the unbridled pro-Western rhetoric of the Georgian side, are ready for a pragmatic partnership with Tbilisi. In this respect, the opinion of Seyed Javad Miri, a professor at the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, is indicative: “Iran has an understanding that Russia seeks to collect all the cards in hand and play with the Iranian card to the United States and the European Union. In this situation, it would be wise to recreate broken ties with players who have historically been parts of Iran and the Iranian zone of influence, such as Georgia. ”
A non-trivial question arises: will the West take into account its previous mistakes and will it not repeat the scenarios of previous years in its “Russian policy”? In this regard, it should be noted that after 2004, the relations of the Russian Federation with the United States, NATO and the EU went down the line. Today, partnership with the West can bring not only Tbilisi, but also Moscow as an asset.
Yes, the configuration of forces on Capitol Hill in Washington has changed (Republican victory in congressional elections). But the priority role in the development of foreign policy strategy belongs to the executive branch, and Obama is not going to curb the “reset”. The relations of Moscow and NATO have already received the definition of a “fresh start” from the hands of his Secretary General. And who, besides experts, will remember the words of former Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer about “the inability to do things like before” and such a preface for his contacts to resume, as the withdrawal of Russian forces to the position “before 8 August 2008”?
Despite all the rhetorical calls for Russia to abandon the unilateral recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as to withdraw its forces from there, NATO resumed cooperation with the Russian Federation. At various levels, it has been developing since April 2009. And the Lisbon summit in this regard has become an important event. The Alliance recognized the significant role of Moscow in ensuring European and international security, and NATO official documents stated that it is no longer a threat to the Russian Federation.
The Corfu Process (discussion of Russian initiatives on European security) is moving in the same direction (albeit slowly). The same “Afghan factor” actualizes the role of not only Georgia, but also Russia. Its significance as a transit territory (together with economic assistance) for the Afghan operation in strategic terms far exceeds the role of 925 Georgian soldiers.
In addition, the West already has 2004 – 2008 experience and its current attitude towards Saakashvili is not so enthusiastic and romantic. It is more mundane. Not for nothing that almost immediately after Lisbon, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: “We (that is, members of the alliance. - SM) are not going to import problems into NATO. Only those states that have no problems with their borders can become members of NATO. ” Many of his European colleagues are ready to join Sarkozy’s opinion openly or privately.
One cannot disregard the serious shifts in Russia's bilateral relations with such recent partners of Georgia as Poland (as evidenced by the recent visit of President Medvedev to Warsaw). Consequently, the use of the “proxy war” scenario, when Georgia was perceived as a “representative of the West”, is extremely problematic in the new conditions. True, the West will not make a final choice between Tbilisi and Moscow either.