Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Tension in Georgia requires a calm response

In a disconcerting echo of events last summer, allegations and counter allegations are accompanying increased tensions in Georgia. An incident at an army base outside Tbilisi, termed a ‘mutiny’ by the Georgian government, has, predictably, been interpreted quite differently by opposition parties. Meanwhile, Russian troops have begun, openly, to patrol the borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as Nato prepares to conduct manoeuvres, in a country which only last year embarked on a bout of military adventurism and which lies directly at Russia’s southern border.

It is, evidently, impossible to disentangle truth from allegation at this stage. We know that a battalion of troops, including its officers, has been accused of refusing orders. Saakashvili has claimed that the episode is part of a coup attempt, orchestrated by Russia, which intended his assassination. There is little evidence offered to back up his assertion. What we can say, with some certainty, is that opposition to the Georgian President is growing and that it is widely felt, within the country, that his policies towards Russia are both irresponsible and counterproductive. There is also a perception that political opposition is being ignored, at best, and strangled, at worst.

Saakashvili’s opponents claim that the ‘mutiny’ incident was organised by his government, in an attempt to distract from a new round of protests, taking place in Tbilisi. Bearing in mind the political mood in Georgia, and the less belligerent tone of the President’s allies in Washington, is this allegation any more fanciful than the notion that Moscow is directly fomenting a coup d'état from within its rival’s military? It is certainly quite plausible that a battalion of the Georgian army, having felt the brunt of Russian reprisals in the wake of Saakashvili’s war, and becoming ever more disillusioned with its government, viewed early Nato manoeuvres as an unnecessary provocation too far, and determined to refuse to take part.

It would be naïve not to acknowledge that the timing of Russia’s decision to patrol the borders of Georgia’s breakaway regions is probably connected to these Nato manoeuvres. However, any suggestion that it is not provocative for an endemically anti-Russian alliance to take part in exercises on the Federation’s border, in a country which aspires to membership of that alliance and premeditatedly involved itself in a war with Russia eight months ago, is frankly not tenable. It is, at the very least, a startlingly insensitive venue for Nato to choose for its manoeuvres, so soon after last summer’s conflict.

Despite the parallels, one can only hope that this year’s Georgian tensions have a happier denouement than their equivalents twelve months ago.

No comments: