While the Georgia crisis has caught the attention of news outlets worldwide, it is clear that Georgia – and its relation with Russia – is not a recent problem but an ongoing one that demands critique and consideration, particularly in regards to issues of globalization. The ongoing Georgia crisis with Russia is not only political but social and economic as well.
Historically, Georgia and Russia have had a complicated relationship, with Russia having ruled Georgia for nearly 200 years before the collapse of the Soviet Union.1 Georgia is comprised of nine regions, 69 districts, three autonomous regions (South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Ajara). The former Georgian autonomous region, Ossetia, considers itself independent of both Russia and Georgia, but to date international bodies like the United Nations consider it still to be part of Georgia. This status makes Ossetians separatists, since Ossetia is not altogether independent; the same goes for the autonomous region of Abkhazia, which has no official recognition.
What began as a military issue between the Ossetian militia and the Georgian army developed into a much greater and complicated problem! Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, tried to retake South Ossetia, the tension climbed when the Russian army invaded the area in an effort to support the separatists wanting to avoid Georgian rule.
In an effort to promote ceasefire and negotiations, the European Union and its president Nicolas Sarkozy developed a six-point peace plan:2
- No more use of force
- Stop all military actions for good
- Free access to humanitarian aid
- Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
- Russian troops return to pre-conflict positions
- International talks about future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia
This peace plan has garnered a number of responses. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) argues that Russia’s withdrawal declaration is not enough.
The Russian military pressure threatens democratic governance in former Soviet countries, and worries the international community (particularly the United States) into preventing displays of Russian power. However, little action has been undertaken to prevent Russia from using violence, and diplomatic relations have proved difficult.
Russia, overlooking agreements and frameworks
The Russian military intervention poses a significant problem for Georgia, but even more problematic for both Georgia and observers is the lack of consistency across what is said and done. On Tuesday, August 5, 2008 date, The New York Times reported that Russian president Medvedev announced the end of Russia’s military campaign in the region, yet Russian airstrikes and military violence continued throughout the day.3 With declarations and actions differing, there may be some lingering problems in the implementation of the campaign withdrawal.
While Georgian president Saakashvili and President Medvedev have tentatively agreed on withdrawal plans, the Russians remain fairly victorious. In fact, only hours after determining the six-point peace plan, Russia was accused of violating the agreement by invading Gori, a strategically located town in South Ossetia.4
This invasion has the potential to mark the beginning of a new cold war with the West, and has “already aroused widespread alarm about Russia’s redrawing of the geopolitical map, and some fear that they could undermine democratic gains in a region that was once part of the Soviet sphere.”5
However, the ceasefire could create a clearer path for diplomacy and discussion. The players in enforcing the ceasefire include the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States.
While France, in particular, is encouraging peacekeeping and monitoring, some questions follow. Who is to monitor and to keep the peace the contentious regions of South Ossetia and Abhkazia? How long will this monitoring go on? It also gives an opportunity for skepticism – how likely is it that this monitoring process will work? With Russia firmly in control of the situation and manipulating it, such facilitation will be difficult to undertake.
Russia’s vast military action in the autonomous regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia has raised suspicions in the United States, especially with its lack of decisive withdrawal plans.
Human rights and livelihood in Georgia
This four-day war with continued violence and military action has produced tremendous human rights concerns in Georgia, as Russia left great marks on Georgia lives. In fact, “the conflict [has] left hundreds of people dead and created tens of thousand of refugees.”6
One blogger, as reported by the New York Times through Global Voices, offers an interesting look at Georgian society:7
Just a week ago we were chatting about some sweet trifles – where they do French manicure better, and where I put that swimming suit, and how to train your husband to hang his wet towel on the rope.
Now we are breaking our heads, [trying to figure out] how to get to Batumi with kids and avoid being shot at, where a safer place to take shelter is, who said what the U.N. Security Council, whether it is true that people got killed in Poti.
EurasiaNet talks from the mouthpiece of Georgians as well, writing of the “stories of torture, rape and brutal murders about in the schools and government buildings where over 100,000 displaced persons from throughout Georgia now live.”8 Many of people do not know what has happened to their parents, family members, spouses or children because large numbers remained behind in areas that are now under Russian and separatist control.
The Georgian government sees the Russian intervention as ethnic cleansing through the prevention of ethnic Georgians from inhabiting the territory. On the same turn, the Ossetians argue that Georgia has been at the head of ethnic cleansing and desire President Saakashvili to face allegations of war crimes.9 The mass confusion of this situation combined with violence and displacement has created a power vacuum in the particularly tense zones, with refugees abound.
James Traub, a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, asserts that while human rights atrocities have most likely taken place, it is important to put the term “ethnic cleansing” into perspective.10 He argues that “this is a region in which virtually all military acts are denounced as ‘ethnic cleansing,’ if not ‘genocide.’”
Furthermore, the aftermath of violence in cities throughout Georgia has left many homeless and helpless. Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, believes there are six principles to which the Georgian government must adhere to with the utmost urgency in order to improve human rights:
- The government must guarantee the right of return for those who left or were displaced by the violence. In guaranteeing this right, the government must also protect the Georgians’ safety, make their homes habitable again, and repair damages.
- The government must safeguard living conditions for those who were displaced or left if they cannot return home.
- The government must de-mine areas full of bombs, mines, explosions, and other dangerous devices. In this process, areas that are full of these explosives are to be clearly marked.
- Burning and pillaging of homes, as well as looting, must be stopped.
- Through humanitarian efforts, the government must rescue and then protect prisoners of war, detainees, or other individuals who are remain in violent areas.
- The government must seek and accept international assistance.11
There has been cyberwarfare that has been waged beside the actual physical and psychological warfare. Hackers from both Russia and Georgia have been attacking each others’ news websites.12 Service attacks, defacement, and blocking has been the main focus of these attacks, with many websites being rerouted or blocked altogether.
Georgian president Saakashvili’s website, for example, has been rerouted to a website that displays Saakashvili and Hitler melded together. Since the physical warfare has been so complicated and chaotic, the cyberwarfare reflects this as well; communications specialists believe that governments can expect these cyber attacks to become more common, and to be hand-in-hand with military action.
Russia’s history with separatists
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has maintained a precarious role in world politics. While it has rebuilt diplomatic relations with other nations, it has also kept many at a distance because of its great human rights violations, censorship concerns, and treatment of non-Russian residents. The Russian government is especially harsh with separatists, although particularly with those who are within the Russian borders as they exist today.
For example, the Chechen Republic is situated by the Russian Federation on nearly all sides, except Georgia to the South. This region is historically rife with violence and consternation. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the independence movement in Chechnya grew. Led by the Chechen National Congress, this movement fought against the Russian Federation and became a locked territory. Although Chechnya twice made major efforts to secede during two Chechen war, Russia exerted its immense power to establish a pro-Moscow regime in Chechnya, thus preventing further rebellion.
Domination is power, and for Russia, the Chechens are arguably under Russian rule. Since it is surrounded by Russian territory, and because of its oil-rich lands, Chechnya is therefore Russian.13 In fact, since the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Russia has used counterterrorism as a guise for its pressure on Chechnya, “as part of the broader war on global terrorism.” Russia in fact connected Chechen separatists with international terrorist groups like al Qaeda.
While there are many factors that pose obstacles for the Georgians as they face separatists and a power struggle with Russia, Georgia can take action in some ways. For example, the Georgian government can work to improve its relationship with its citizens by working domestically to rebuild homes and repair psychological and physical damage. Also, in appealing to international organizations and institutions, Georgia may find aid available to make this process easier.
In dealing with Russia, it may be useful for Georgia to continue to request assistance from the international community; already it has made moves to join the North American Treaty Organization and to leave membership of the post-Soviet Eastern European organization, the Commonwealth of Independent States.14
Additionally, thinking of Russia’s own failures with the Chechen Republic may help Georgia avoid those same mistakes. However, as Russia and Georgia continue to differ on recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, history may prevail.15
1 Stack, Megan K. and Peter Spiegel. “Bush demands Russia reverse course in Georgia.” The Los Angeles Times. August 12, 20081 Stack, Megan K. and Peter Spiegel. “” . August 12, 2008
1 Stack, Megan K. and Peter Spiegel. “” . August 12, 2008
2 “Russia ‘ends Georgia operation.’” BBC World News. August 12, 2008.
3 Kramer, Andrew E. and Ellen Barry. “Russia, in Accordance With Georgians, Sets Withdrawal.” The New York Times. August 12, 2008.
4 Nizza, Mike. “On Georgia, Confusion at Every Turn.” The Lede. The New York Times. August 14, 2008.
5 Kramer, Andrew E. and Ellen Barry. “Russia, in Accordance With Georgians, Sets Withdrawal.” The New York Times. August 12, 2008.
6 “Russia urged to quit Georgia port.” BBC World News. August 22, 2008.
7 Nizza, Mike. “Witness Describe a Shaken Georgian Capital.” The Lede. The New York Times. August 12, 2008.
8 Akhmeteli, Nina. “Georgia: Russian Troops Withdrawing, but Ethnic Cleansing Accusations Linger.” Eurasianet.org. August 22, 2008.
9 Chivers, C. J. “In Battered Villages, Georgians Speak, if They Dare.” The New York Times. 19 August 19, 2008.
10 “Q & A on Georgia.” The New York Times. July 14, 2008.
11 Human Rights Education Associates. “South Ossetia: Hammarberg proposes six principles of protection for victims.” E-mail to subscriber list. September 8, 2008.
12 Hoffman, Stefanie. “Cyberwarfare Escalates Between Georgia, Russia.” ChannelWeb. August 14, 2008.
13 “Chechnya.” Freedom House. 2008.
14 “Georgia to leave alliance of ex-Soviet states.” CNN. August 12, 2008.
15 “Medvedev recognizes Georgian states.” Al Jazeera English. August 26, 2008.
* Picture Source http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/country_profiles/3797729.stm