18 August 2008

Perspectives on the Conflict in South Ossetia

And then there's the near total silence about the strategic importance of Georgia in relation to the transport of oil and natural gas from the central Asian region. This is played out in US news as a clash between eastern and western ideologies, while it appears with little digging, to be considerably more pragmatic than that. Check the video below created by a young Russian student.

Richard Jehn / The Rag Blog

On August 8, Russian armored vehicles rolled into South Ossetia, a pro-Russian separatist region of Georgia. A week later, Russian troops are still in Georgia, a vital conduit of Caspian oil and natural gas to the West. Tensions between Moscow and Washington are rising. Here, Russian television shows a Georgian tank burning in Tskhinvali on the first day of clashes.

Washington's hypocrisy
By Dmitry Rogozin / August 18, 2008

BRUSSELS -- The U.S. administration is trying to stick the label of "bad guy" on Russia for exceeding the peacekeeping mandate and using "disproportionate force" in the peace-enforcement operation in Georgia.

Maybe our American friends have gone blind and deaf at the same time. Mikheil Saakashvili, the president of Georgia, is known as a tough nationalist who didn't hide his intentions of forcing Ossetians and Abkhazians to live in his country.

We were hoping that the U.S. administration, which had displayed so much kindness and touching care for the Georgian leader, would be able to save him from the maniacal desire to deal with the small and disobedient peoples of the Caucasus.

But a terrible thing happened. The dog bit its master. Saakashvili gave an order to wipe Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, from the face of earth.

The Georgian air force and artillery struck the sleeping town at midnight. More than 1,500 civilians perished in the very first hours of the shelling. At the same time, Georgian special forces shot 10 Russian peacekeepers who didn't expect such a betrayal from their Georgian colleagues.

The Kremlin attempted to reach Saakashvili, who was hiding, by phone. All this time the Russian Joint Staff forbid the surviving peacekeepers to open return fire. Finally our patience was exhausted. The Russian forces came to help Tskhinvali and its civilian population.

In reply to the insulting criticism by President Bush that Russia used "disproportionate force," I'd like to cite some legal grounds for our response. Can shooting peacekeepers and the mass extermination of a civilian population - mainly Russian citizens - be regarded as hostile action against a state? Is it ground enough to use armed force in self-defense and to safeguard the security of these citizens?

Tbilisi concealed the scope of the humanitarian catastrophe in South Ossetia. Saakashvili's constant lies about the true state of affairs in Georgia were attempts to lay the fault at somebody else's door.

The Russian response is entirely justified and is consistent with both international law and the humanitarian goals of the peacekeeping operation conducted in South Ossetia. I will try to explain.

The Georgian aggression against South Ossetia, which came as a straightforward, wide-scale attack on the Russian peacekeeping contingent - Russian armed forces legally based on the territory of Georgia - should be classified as an armed attack on the Russian Federation, giving grounds to fulfill the right to self-defense - the right of every state according to Article 51 of the UN Charter.

As for the defense of our citizens outside the country, the use of force to defend one's compatriots is traditionally regarded as a form of self-defense. Countries such as the United States, Britain, France and Israel have at numerous times resorted to the use of armed force to defend their citizens outside national borders.

Such incidents include the armed operation of Belgian paratroopers in 1965 to defend 2,000 foreigners in Zaire; the U.S. military intervention in Grenada in 1983 under the pretext of protecting thousands of American nationals, who found themselves in danger due to a coup d'êtat in this island state; the sending of American troops to Panama in 1989 to defend, among others, American nationals.

We also have to keep in mind the present-day military interventions by the U.S. and its allies in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan. By the way, the last three cases are examples of tough American interventions when its own citizens did not need direct protection. But in spite of those countries' massive civilian losses at the hands of American soldiers, no one blamed Washington for a "disproportionate use of force."

Of course, the history of international relations is full of abuses committed under the pretext of defending citizens.

In order to draw a clear line between lawful and unlawful use of force, one can single out a number of objective criteria: first, the existence of a real threat to life or systematic and violations of human rights; second, the absence of other, peaceful means of resolving the conflict; third, a humanitarian aim for an armed operation; and four, proportionality - i.e., limitation on the time and means of rescue.

Russia's actions were in full compliance with these criteria. In conducting its military action, Russian troops also strictly observed the requirements of international humanitarian law. The Russian military did not subject civil objects and civilians on the territory of Georgia to deliberate attacks.

It is hard to believe that in such a situation any other country would have remained idle. Let me quote two statements:

One: "We are against cruelty. We are against ethnic cleansing. A right to come back home should be guaranteed to the refugees. We all agree that murders, property destruction, annihilation of culture and religion are not to be tolerated. That is what we are fighting against. Bombardments of the aggressor will be mercilessly intensified."

Two: "We appeal to all free countries to join us but our actions are not determined by others. I will defend the freedom and security of my citizens, whatever actions are needed for it. Our special forces have seized airports and bridges... air forces and missiles have struck essential targets."

Who do you think is the author of these words? Medvedev? Putin? No. The first quote belongs to Bill Clinton, talking about NATO operation against Yugoslavia. The author of the second quote is the current resident of the White House, talking about the U.S. intervention in Iraq.

Does that mean that the United States and NATO can use brute force where they want to, and Russia has to abstain from it even if it has to look at thousands of its own citizens being shot? If it's not hypocrisy, then what IS hypocrisy?

Dmitry Rogozin is Russia's ambassador to NATO.

Source / International Herald Tribune

President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia. Photograph by: Vano Shlamov/AFP/Getty Images

New York Law to Russian Claw
by Kit R. Roane Aug 15 2008

The idealism and ambitions of Georgia's embattled leader were shaped in Manhattan.

More than a decade before he became Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili was just another struggling law student with big plans tooling around Manhattan on his bicycle.

"He was ambitious, idealistic, and I think he had something of the American messianic sense that you could use law to change the world," recalls professor Lori Damrosch, who taught Saakashvili in a Columbia law seminar entitled International Institutions in Transition.

"This was at a time of turmoil in the ex-Soviet republics, and he had a lot to say on those topics," she adds, noting that students at the law school were "imbued with this idealistic spirit" and that Saakashvili "absorbed these values."

With his country now bloodied after a clash with Russia and his leadership questioned, the overarching idealism of his New York student days would seem to have been finally shaken.

Critics have certainly come out of the woodwork, saying that the loss of Georgia's breakaway regions, particularly that of South Ossetia, would foment protest to Saakashvili's rule. Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, has said that the war brought on by Saakashvili's futile and perhaps rash attempt to secure the areas "pushed Georgia further away not just from Europe, but also complicates the NATO council in December." And Michael Evans, defense editor for the Times of London, noted that Saakashvili's "military adventure had all the hallmarks of rushed planning and a finger-crossed strategy," adding that the Georgian president gave Vladimir Putin "the opportunity he was waiting for to stamp his authority over Georgia and at the same time to cock a snoot at the West."

So far, Saakashvili has not wavered. He continues to hammer out a drumbeat of statements aimed at presenting himself as the biblical David, Russia as the corrupt Goliath intent upon creating a new iron curtain, and Georgia as the thin edge of the wedge.

"Let us be frank: This conflict is about the future of freedom in Europe," he wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

He has failed to persuade the West to send in reinforcements. With Russia still marching into new cities, the best news that Georgia could muster so far this week was word that its Olympic beach volleyball team had trounced the Russians in two out of three rounds.

Saakashvili would have likely modeled for a more robust response from the West. Well studied in the intricate dance among nations, he wrote a seminar paper on humanitarian intervention, which focused on ethnic conflicts in the former Soviet satellite states.

Unlike many other 1994 graduates of Columbia Law School, Saakashvili put his training to the test on the world stage.

By 1996, Saakashvili, who idolizes John F. Kennedy and leans politically toward John McCain, had already jettisoned a doctoral thesis at George Washington University Law School, quit the high-power law firm of Patterson Belknap and won a parliamentary seat in the Republic of Georgia (population 4.4 million).

This was the first of many leaps that would, in a short and bloodless coup, move Saakashvili into the presidency, an ascendancy that Saakashvili has said was helped along by the knowledge that he acquired while a law student in the United States.

"He clearly knew what he wanted when he was at Columbia, and he chose his courses very carefully and in a conscious way that didn't follow the usual diet, which is corporate and securities law," says professor George Bermann, who taught Saakashvili courses in European Union law, and transnational litigation and arbitration.

Despite Georgia's setbacks, no one should count Saakashvili out just yet. He has spent the last decade and a half proving that idealism in the most adept hands can be a strong bulwark against even the strongest and most depressing reality.

The man known as Misha abandoned a life of Knicks games and opera nights to turn around the poor, corrupt, and complicated country from which he sprang. He also became a leading light among the wave of twentysomething rat-packers who had washed onto our shores hungry for American-style democracy, then eagerly trekked back home to plant this new-found seed in the dark soil left vacant following the Soviet Union's collapse.

"He is a western person, and a very dedicated person, very dedicated to human rights," notes professor Dinah Shelton, of George Washington University's Law School, adding that when Saakashvili failed to finish his dissertation, his professors joked that his tackling Georgia's weighty issues as its president was no excuse.

Little seemed to stop Saakashvili once back in Georgia. When his mentor, then-president Eduard Shevardnadze, balked at Saakashvili's attempts to tackle official corruption, Saakashvili quit the government and went to work forming an opposition party.

After winning election to the head of the Tbilisi city council, he then used his populist appeal to claw his way back into power during the Rose Revolution of 2003. Again, he was unyielding, breaking with other opposition leaders who proposed talks with Sheverdnadze and sought a more measured approach. Instead Saakashvili and his supporters stormed the parliament chamber where Shevardnadze was holed up, then reportedly chased him from the building under the threat of flowers instead of guns.

Answering critics, Saakashvili told reporters at the time that his style was the type that "mobilizes people here," noting later that "Georgia needs a new way" and that every moment Shevardnadze remained in power meant "losing time."

Despite criticism of some of Saakashvili's methods—and despite evidence that a frustrated Saakashvili turned to a more thuggish approach himself during crackdowns on demonstrators last fall—his many successes spring from the same tight-rope approach.

He has overhauled the police, brought about important economic reforms, increased average salaries, and improved the country's power supply, notes Alexandra Stiglmayer, a senior Brussels-based policy analyst with the independent think tank European Stability Initiative.

"Saakashvili may be a complex personality and he has certainly made mistakes. But he has given the civil society breathing space," she says. "Compared with its neighbors in the region, such as the Northern Caucasus region in Russia, but also Armenia, Azerbaijan, and eastern Turkey, Georgia is more liberal, more open, and more committed to the rule of law."

The question now is whether he can stay in power. His old professors certainly hope their favored son will weather this latest storm.

Professor Damrosch recalls happening upon Saakashvili riding his bicycle when she was visiting Washington at the same time he was pursuing his doctoral studies there. She waved and Saakashvili sailed through several lanes of traffic just to chat.

"The image of Misha on a bicycle—whether in Washington, New York, or the more mountainous terrain of Georgia —conveys something of his energetic spirit," says Damrosch. "I can't think of anything that would slow him down."

Source / Portfolio.com

The truth about South Ossetia War, Georgia attack

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