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14.08.2008 | Boris Vizhnevsky

War or “forced peace”?

   

Assessment of any events, including those of recent days in Georgia, requires that the same approach be taken to the same situations.  Given the sheer volume of material circulating about the recent events and the fact that certain premises are probably less controversial to an international audience than to the author’s compatriots in Russia, some parts of the following have been seriously abridged in order to focus on what is less well-aired and certainly warrants attention (translator).

One

Whatever the reasons prompting the Georgian leadership to choose measures of force to resolve the problem of South Ossetia, they cannot justify the use of force. The use of force in issues of territorial integrity leads only to human losses, as can be seen by Chechnya, the former Yugoslavia for example.

Two

Whatever the actions, and however irresponsibly Mikhail Saakashkvili may have behaved, this does not justify the deployment of Russian armed forces on the territory of a sovereign state. The Russian forces used were not peacekeeping troops, and did not have a mandate, whether from the CIS or the UN.

The deployment of Russian armed forces, tanks, airborne forces, on Georgian territory without any official sanction, and without even an attempt to discuss the issue in the UN, not to speak of the bombings of Georgian territory beyond Southern Ossetia, all constituted an act of direct military aggression, and not humanitarian intervention as Russian official figures cynically claimed.

Three

Does one country have the right without the appropriate mandate to “force peace” on another, claiming that there is a direct risk to life of the civilian population?  The author mentions the NATO operations in the Balkans and the justification then given, but comments that no land forces were deployed and that the Russian government at the time strongly condemned these actions.  He also notes that some of those vocal with their protest are now firmly behind the Russian military action.

Lastly here he says that it is not difficult to imagine what Russia’s reaction would have been to attempts to “force peace” in Chechnya in 1995 or 1999 despite the fact that the number of victims among the civilian population was much higher. Russia then categorically rejected all suggestion that peacekeeping forces, whether with a mandate from the CIS or the UN be deployed.

Four

Russia has effectively ceased to be an intermediary in the conflict between the leadership of Georgia and the South Ossetian separatist regime. It is a party to the conflict and has over recent years been openly supporting one of the sides and providing the latter with military, financial, political and information support.  Following the events of 8-10 August, Russia has no right to take part in peacekeeping forces and a neutral contingent should be substituted. It would be wise to have a total overhaul of the peacekeeping forces in South Ossetia, which should have a UN mandate and include forces from countries with no interests of their own in the conflict.

Five

The Russian leadership claimed that Russia was “defending Russian Federation nationals” in South Ossetia. Yet how did there end up being such a considerable number (by some estimates 90%) of Russian citizens on this territory? We know the answer: Russian citizenship was deliberately provided to virtually all those who wanted it.

The hypocrisy of such policy is all the more clear if one thinks of the difficulties encountered by people born in the former USSR (and even the RSSR) when trying to get this citizenship. It would seem that in this case, and with Abkhazia, that there was a deliberate aim to create a pretext for intervening whenever this was convenient. The author notes that the invasion of the Sudetenland by the Nazis in 1938 was also carried out on the pretext of protecting Germans living there. He also points out that it doesn’t take much imagination to predict the Russian reaction to another country (USA, Turkey or Iran) providing Chechens en masse with their citizenship.

Six

It is impossible not to notice the grotesque mirror image similarity between the situation in South Ossetia and Chechnya.

Then they told us about the criminal regime in Chechnya; today Georgia is saying the same thing about the regime in South Ossetia.

Then they spoke of “an unlawful military formation” in Chechnya; now the same is heard in Tbilisi.

Then they told us about Russian refugees from Chechnya; today the Georgian media is speaking of Georgian refugees trying to flee South Ossetia (only the Russian media either doesn’t show them, or pretends they’re Ossetians.)

However, then Russian public opinion applauded the Grad missiles used in Chechnya, while today they angrily condemn them when used in South Ossetia. Then the Russian authorities stated that they wouldn’t give up an inch, while now they behave as though South Ossetia was not a part of Georgia.  And what they today call “war crimes” and “genocide” were then presented as “imposing constitutional order” and a “counter-terrorist operation”.

The hypocrisy and double standards that the Kremlin so likes to accuse the West of applying have been seen in this conflict like never before.

The author quotes Putin, Medvedev and Lavrov all spilling forth moral outrage and lavishly using words like “genocide” and “the death of innocent civilians”

In response to such utterances from the Human Rights Ombudsperson Vladimir Lukin, the author says: “I entirely agree, Vladimir Petrovich! Let the international tribune find those guilty and bring them to justice. However only after it finds those who gave the orders in Chechnya and those who carried them out brings them to justice. Incidentally, those who gave the orders aren’t hiding this at all”

Seven

A specific feature of this conflict is the total propagandist lies pouring from the Russian media. The Georgian media, one suspects is no better but it’s not available in Russia, and the Internet sites are blocked so that Russian citizens don’t find out an opposite point of view. Only a tiny minority are able to watch CNN or Euronews.

If you believe what the representatives of the “State Committee of South Ossetia on the Press and Information”, widely circulated in the Russian media, then the crimes of the “Georgian fascists” are already comparable with those of the Nazis. If that’s true, then there is clearly a terrible crime.  And if it’s not?

Firstly, can you believe information coming from those who according to the laws of war always try to present the enemy as monsters?  Can you believe the “Head of the State Committee of South Ossetia on the Press and Information”, Ms Gogloyeva when on Saturday she speaks of 1600 murdered civilians, while on Sunday of 1,000, or on Saturday of 12 Georgian tanks stopped, and on Sunday of 6?  And where in fact is this “State Committee of South Ossetia on the Press and Information “ if it assures us that Tskhinvali is totally destroyed? In Vladikavkaz?  Or right in Moscow on Lubyanka? In such a situation you shouldn’t wonder if tomorrow you hear even more terrible things.

Secondly, but no less importantly, we are hearing about the “atrocities of the Georgian military” by State media or outlets loyal to the government which have been lying on any subject even remotely important to the Kremlin over recent years.  So where is the guarantee that the stories of “ethnic cleansing”, “the wounded being hammered to death” and “the slaughter of infants”, grenades thrown into basements where women and children were seeking shelter are any more trustworthy than the tales we were told about the Kursk, Beslan, spying stones, YUKOS, and foreign security services maintaining the Russian opposition?

We learned about what was happening during the two Chechen wars from independent journalists who could be trusted. There are no grounds to believe “State officials” carrying out a propaganda order and working today on federal channels. And when the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs complains that “many western media outlets are politically partisan in their coverage of the events in South Ossetia”, you feel like asking if they shouldn’t turn the mirror.

Eight

What did Russia entirely forget in South Ossetia? Why support a regime which there are all too many grounds for considering criminal, or (in Yulia Latynina’s words) a join enterprise of the Russian chekists (FSB) and local bandits, waste huge amounts of money and sacrifice the lives of Russian soldiers?  To annex the territory?  And with that to become Georgia’s enemy forever and to hang that albatross around our neck? To have the next Ramzan Kadyrov sitting there and milking State funds in return for loyalty?  It would be interesting, incidentally, to know where Putin is planning to get a minimum of 10 billion roubles to “restore South Ossetia”. On what legal grounds?  Or does he already see the territory as his? Of courts if they “restore” it like they did Chechnya, we know the result.

Nine

The reactions of Russian political forces to the events in South Ossetia are yet another argument confirming the lack of prospect for the “National Assembly” idea.

Indeed what kind of cooperation and united opposition can you speak of when Edward Limonov calls for Russian forces to also be sent into Abkhazia, the National Bolsheviks wildly support the Russian intervention in South Ossetia , while Lev Ponomarev, together with Sergei Kovalev and Yelena Bonner call for Russia to be thrown out of the G8? If the liberals see it as necessary to recognize Georgia’s territorial integrity and the nationalists not just in word but in deed (all the way to actually taking part in military action) have all these years supported Abkhazian and Ossetian separatists?

Ten

What is happening at the moment is a vital test for the Russian democratic opposition.

It is important to not be cowards, to not give in to the general (and artificially fuelled by official propaganda like in 1999 during the Second Chechen War) chauvinist excitement. And call what is white - white and black – black.  Call using Grad missiles against Tskhinvali a crime, but name the Russian aggression – aggression and not “humanitarian intervention” and not a “peacekeeping operation”. And not behave like the Union of Right Forces Party in 1999 when Chubais  labelled as traitors all who didn’t believe that the Russian army was “being renewed in Chechnya” (I wonder if we will soon hear of it being “renewed” in South Ossetia or Abkhazia?)

This requires no little courage – to not march in step. To say what you think regardless of the opinion of the majority which has been well “zombified” and supports the latest “decisive actions” of its leaders.

However there is no other way.

11 August 2008

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