The Russian Reaction

Following the Political Stand-of in Georgia, the Kremlin Accuses Saakashvili’s Statements of “anti-Russian Hysteria”

News | Tamara Nosenko | December 2007 / January 2008

Georgian President Saakashvili has accused Russia of financing the opposition to destabilize  political events in Georgia: "We have evidence of disruptive activity by the Russian special service in Georgia and we will present this evidence," he said on Nov. 7.

Soon afterwards, he deported three Russian diplomats accused of being involved in the opposition protests. "The events in Georgia were planned and financed [in Russia].

If we’d failed to take serious measures, the situation could become more dangerous," said Saakashvili in a public address broadcast on Georgian television. No substantial proof has ever been presented.

Later, on Nov. 14, the Georgian President claimed that Russia had illegally brought 200 troops with equipment – including tanks, multiple rocket launchers and cannon – into Abkhazia alongside its peacekeeping forces. "I think some particular government authorities [in Russia] are acting by the historical textbooks," Saakashvili said, suggesting that Russia was staging an armed revolt in a neighboring state [Abkhazia], that would serve as the basis  for the deployment of troops to the country.

David Bakradze, Georgian Minister on Conflict Adjustment, blamed Russia for the conflict escalation in Abkhazia:  "Apparently, in Russia they think that Georgia is in weak position and that it’s possible to use force against Georgia now," he said.

Russia has denied this accusation, a claim supported by UN Observers in Georgia who had been brought in as monitors, and found no military hardware or soldiers. At the same time, Russia completed the withdrawal of troops based there since the collapse of the Soviet Union, an action moved up from 2008. By advancing the date, Russia appears to have hoped to remove a source of current tension with Saakashvili.

Nevertheless, relations between Georgia and Russia seem to be reaching a dangerous point. From the very beginning of Saakashvili’s presidency, Russia has been labeled as the greatest enemy Georgia has ever had.

"Georgian politicians try to blame Russia for the domestic problems," said Russian Ambassador to Georgia, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, on Nov. 8. "I am really alarmed by the fact that the anti-Russian theme is becoming predominant in Georgia’s foreign policy."

Saakashvili’s choice to turn to the West while blaming Russia for all possible sins has brought only negative results so far. Following the deadlock in negotiations on South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russia imposed an embargo on Georgian wine and mineral water, continued with a blockade of the air-corridor between the two countries and followed with entry-visa restrictions for Georgians.

This response could be seen as a normal move in political battle except for one shameful thing – the anti-Georgian campaign in Russia, and particularly in Moscow, in spring 2007, was unprecedented for its nationalistic cruelty and lawlessness. As usually happens in Russia today, President Putin expressed his displeasure and the bureaucracy followed suit, trying to outdo each other in their show of loyalty.

As a result, Georgian businesses in Moscow were closed and businessmen arrested; Georgians were chased and threatened by the police; and the Russian media descended into hate-speech. Ugly as it was, this would not happen to Russians in Tbilisi – traditionally Georgians have left politics to politicians, while seeing Russians as friends and brothers.

Undoubtedly, Russia has its own geo-political and economical interests in the Caucasus region and in Georgia in particular. Having declared their independence unilaterally, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have come into an acute conflict with Georgia. These are also the two regions Russia wants to keep and Georgia will fight for. Part of the former Russian Empire as well as the Soviet Union, observers are convinced that modern Russia will never agree to let them go and risk losing its influence in the region. Russia cannot afford to reduce its access to the Black Sea, or risk the security of the oil pipeline or other energy resources in the region. And finally, there are many ethnic Russians living in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whose  allegiance to Russia is strong. Thus, although responding sharply to Georgian accusations, Russia is insisting on dialogue to resolve the conflict.

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