As an amateur chess player, I am always amazed for how this great and strategic game is played. After all, chess kept Andy Dufresne’s mind occupied while he concocted most brilliant escape the S hawshank prison.
The game is comprised of the begging, middle, and end. In the beginning players move their pieces based on the opening strategies to position themselves for a good and sustained defense. The middle is about developing an offense strategy. Finally, the ending is reaching the ultimate goal ‘checkmate’ – a term which is derived from an Arabic which translates a king is dead. In professional chess, opponents make serious of moves, the payer who makes first strategic mistake most likely to lose the game.
A former Soviet Republic of Georgia’s strategic mistake came last week when it moved its queen to an attacking position - Georgian authorities arrested four Russian military personnel on spying allegations. Russia counterattacked by moving queen forward to exert pressure on the Georgian king. Georgia pulls the king back by releasing the Russian military personnel. Russia advances pawns by imposing punitive and economic sanctions and establishes a complete blockade of the former soviet republic. Georgia moves next?
There can be no doubt Russia and Georgia are deeply involved in playing a political chess. The only difference is this time the wooden chess pieces are replaced with human lives, economic stability, and security.
The opening of this “grand game” started with the election of the current president Mikhail Saakashvili, who came to power via general election followed the Rose Revolution which deposed a long time Soviet hawk, Edward Shevardnadze. Saakashvili, a US educated lawyer, won the popular election with a 96% margin. He ran on an anti-corruption and poverty reduction platform. Needless to say not much has improved in Georgia since his reelection in January of ‘04. The inflation is rampant and ordinary people are reeling in the harsh economic grimness.
After coming to a power the baby-faced Saakashvili thrust with full force into the game which he did not understand from the start by “moving” his pawns into the full scale Russian political offense. His expectation of quick and easy fixes was quickly shattered by more experienced and strategic player, Putin. Georgian leader misunderstood the Russians and the Russians strategic imperatives.
Soon after the inaugurations the world newspaper headlines reflected on Saakashvili’s anti-Russian rhetoric and that he wanted his country out of Russia’s “orbit”, develop close relationship with the West, and joint NATO by 2008. This thrust of the pawn openings infuriated otherwise laidback and calculating Russia. Russia started taking defensive measures to economically punish the Caucasian nation. Russia temporarily stopped a flow of natural gas supplies to Georgia (it was blamed on terrorist acts, though), banned or restricted Georgian imports of agro-cultural products including wine and mineral water products. Georgia frustrated with poor miscalculated opening strategy moves its queen forward too soon by arresting the four military personal members in hope to increase its defense capabilities on the board. Russia blocks the Georgian queen by possibly threatening to use the military force and institutes economic and political blockades in Georgia. Saakashivilly, confused of the magnitude of the grand strategy, yields to pressure and pulls the queen back by releasing the arrested servicemen and revealing his weakness and political immaturity to his opponent. Russia “smells” blood and further advances its pawns by freezing banking correspondence, conceals electronic supplies shipment, and issues a moratorium on the business trade and transactions.
Sakashivili realizes of the miscalculations and immediately tries to remedy the situation by stating his desire for a good relationship with Russia and even getting the West involved in defusing the situation. Russia an expert chess player with an extra queen in its arsenal knows the outcome of this game unless the game is stopped and both players agree to attend the Dr. Phil show for a therapy session. The end game for Russia is obvious; Georgia is pushing itself to a brink of war. Putin comment about a “state terrorism” seems a logical precursor for a military justification. I am not sure how the West can prevent a Russian military attack if Russia uses Israeli attack on Lebanon over the abducted soldiers as a pretext for its own military actions. Russia may not be able to get the servicemen back, but it surely could do a tremendous economic damage to Georgia, with sustained energy flow stoppage it would leave Georgia in shambles. Saakashivili demonstrated his political immaturity and embarrassed himself by arresting and releasing the servicemen next day. His prestige is definitely hurt by his strategic miscalculation. Russia while not blameless was waiting for this strategic mistake, now it will try to use the Georgian missteps to achieve its end-state goal.
Russia’s end-state goal is to reverse the anti-Russian course and subdue Georgia into the “small brother” role which Georgia played for decades. Russia knows its power and influence over the neighboring former soviet republics depends on pre-empting “renegade” former USSR states from becoming thorns on its sides. Losing strategic influence over former soviet republics means major blow to Russia as a major international power.
Saakashvili while is bright is only 38 years old, but he can be no match to Putin’s political maturity. Putin, an “old” apparatchik who has been in many echelons of power, is playing the “game” quite well. By judging the speed how fast the punitive and economic blockade followed the arrest incident, one can deduce Russia almost wanted Georgia to make this mistake. Georgia’s strategic mistake will have dire consequences for Georgia. Georgia is fully depended on Russia both economically and socially. Until Saakashvili realizes that he is playing the game of pawns against Mr. Putin’s game of queens – Georgia will likely to face harsher economic realities and security instability. Sadly, ordinary Georgians will suffer the most.
Saakashivilli is simply hoping that the West is going to come for a rescue. I am always reminded of Cardinal Richelieu, who said “States don’t have principles – they have interests.” I am not sure Mr. Saakashivili’s truly understands the interests of the West.
Georgia can not win this game and the longer it plays the worst things get. Stating that his people are used to the economic hardship is not the way out. There can be no prosperity in Georgia without integrated and close economic and diplomatic ties with Russia. Perhaps Saakashvili must realize that he is not the one who is playing his game but he is one who is being played.
This game must stop now. Set aside political egos for the sake of people who just want to live in peace and prosperity.
Opinion expressed by Brandon Kudratov
A private resident from Atlanta, USA