Thursday, 1 October 2009

Friends like these? Report proves that Saakashvili can't be trusted.

The IIFFMCG’s report on the conflict in Georgia runs to more than 1,000 pages (the Guardian provides a synopsis with excerpts it regards as critical). It is the most detailed examination, to date, of the war which erupted last summer.

Although each side’s conduct, before, during and after the events of August 2008, is criticised in the document, it substantiates, unequivocally, the view that President Saakashvili’s adventurism was the immediate precipitant of conflict. .

Perhaps the report might infuse with more caution those who continue to advocate the regime in Tbilisi, as if it were a bastion of freedom, democracy and good sense.

Not only did Saakashvili provoke a war with Russia. He then lied to the world, in an attempt to persuade international opinion that Moscow had actually been the aggressor. The Georgian president offers partnership which is unreliable and untrustworthy.

The Russian authorities, having been presented with their pretext by Saakashvili, responded disproportionately. The report found that within ‘very few days the pattern of legitimate and illegitimate military action had thus turned around between the two main actors Georgia and Russia’. It was, in other words, a war started illegally by Georgia, which Russia prosecuted beyond legality.

There was, the document concluded, fault on both sides, but the brutal truth is that conflict would have been avoided, had the Georgian forces refrained from shelling, and then invading, South Ossetia.

Whilst Georgia commanded a degree of reactive international support when the war was ongoing, this report will strengthen the argument that many states, including Britain, should revisit their support for Saakashvili and his government.

The short-term lesson, which will be drawn from this report, is likely to be that a more cautious approach is needed in dealings with Saakashvili. If a re-examination of the regime which he heads, and its democratic credentials, results, then something positive has been achieved.

In the longer term it would be prudent to consider, more widely, the reflex which unthinkingly assumes that enemies of Russia ought to be friends of ‘the west’.

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