It has been two years since Georgia attacked South Ossetia. Many had to acknowledge that Mikhail Saakashvili, the sitting President of Georgia, committed a war crime when he ordered his troops to attack Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. Many of his former followers became his oppositionists. Why does the criminal still hold the power? Pravda.Ru interviewed Konstantin Zatulin, State Duma deputy and the director of the Institute for the CIS and the Baltic States, about the consequences of the Caucasian war that took place in August 2008.
Zatulin: The war in the Caucasus had immediate and long-term consequences. First and foremost, one has to bear in mind the fact that Russia interfered and stopped the aggression. Moscow's subsequent recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia became a direct consequence of the war which Georgia unleashed. It's also very important that Russia has not made any steps back away from Abkhazia and South Ossetia despite the colossal pressure that Russia had to deal with. This is very important because it was all different during Yeltsin's stay at power. Russian politicians would often make loud statements during those years but then hide them quickly. This is exactly what happened during the events in Yugoslavia.
Pravda.Ru: There are scientists of politics who believe that South Ossetia was saved at the cost of Russia's relations with the West.
Zatulin: It was a seasonal matter. It's worthy of note that Russia's dialogue worsened with the United States mostly, not with the West on the whole. It did not have any long-term consequences either, though. Furthermore, it's not about the end of Bush's presidency, whose administration encouraged the Georgian aggression. Afterwards, the Western political establishment came to realize that Russia was strongly determined to defend its interests in the region.
When making the decision to start the war, Saakashvili used the USA's approving hints as a basis for it. The United States did not come out as a winner after all: the USA was not involved in the peaceful regulation process afterwards. The United States wanted to be involved in the solution of basic international issues, but eventually found itself brushed aside.
Pravda.Ru: The West refuses to acknowledge the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but the majority of Western states support Kosovo's independence. Why does this territory have a right for independence, whereas Abkhazia and South Ossetia have not?
Zatulin: It's very hard for me, just like for spokespeople of the Western political establishment to answer this question.
I believe that Abkhazia and South Ossetia have more serious reasons to be recognized as independent nations than Kosovo does. The independence of the latter is directly connected with NATO's aggression against Yugoslavia. Kosovo was not independent before that time period. As for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, there is nothing that could remind such a situation. Their independence was de facto achieved in the beginning of the 1990s, not in 2008. Georgia's aggression only gave an incentive to Russia's recognition of their independence.
Kosovo's independence was declared artificially, after the presence of foreign troops there for several years. That was done without any reason too. For example, no one can say that the Serbs were going to retrieve Kosovo with the use of force and that the declaration of independence was provoked from the outside.
As for Georgia's claims for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the logic of the Georgian administration is rather strange at this point. Tbilisi disdains the Soviet past. However, when it goes about the annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which took place during Stalin's era, they show a completely different attitude to the problem. No one in the Georgian administration seems to be willing to turn down such a gift from Stalin. But as long as Georgia disdains the Soviet past, it automatically implies its refusal from both Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Pravda.Ru: How did the Caucasian war affect Georgia?
Zatulin: As for our relations with Georgia, we drew a line there after the war and after we recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Many in Georgia had to acknowledge that Saakashvili had gone too far with that war. Those people did not make it public, but it's a fact. Many of his former followers became opposition members.
Saakashvili is still at power, though. Many spokespeople for the Georgian political elite have not been able to decline the imperial ambitions of annexing Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This is the reason why many Georgian politicians believe that Saakashvili's claims for the territories are justifiable.
The West keeps Saakashvili from fall - this is another aspect. Western countries had their doubts about the Georgian leader after the Caucasian war, but they eventually decided not to proceed with the idea of another color revolution. Apparently, they decided to keep Saakashvili instead of having someone else, a less predictable politician.
Such a state of affairs, when Saakashvili holds power in Georgia, is good for Russia, no matter how cynical it may sound. He is a half-isolated politician. He was allowed to keep his position, but only a few politicians communicate with him or have meetings with him. Everyone is perfectly aware of the fact that it was him who started the war. All of his attempts to accuse Russia of the war are useless. If there were another politician in his place, he would no longer be such a notorious figure and would have more opportunities to cooperate with the West.
Pravda.Ru: What do you think about the development of Russia's relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia?
Zatulin: In spite of a number of positive factors, I'd like to say that the recent year has revealed many problems connected with these two republics, especially South Ossetia. The latter is not a self-sufficient state formation and can not exist without Russia's economic participation. Russia assigned considerable funds for the recreation and the development of South Ossetia. The recreation process raises serious concerns with Russia. Russian officials may very often find no understanding with their South Ossetian colleagues.
We are now going through the "test of peace" in the relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia's further position in the Caucasus depends on how this test is going to end. We both need only a positive outcome. Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia have succeeded politically and militarily: 20 years of independent existence mean a lot. All they have to do now is to become independent economically.
Pravda.Ru: You were one of the few experts, who predicted the Caucasian war. Are there any prerequisites for another Georgian aggression ?
Zatulin: As for Georgia's possible aggression, I'll say that there is no fact to confirm right now that Saakashvili is ready for another war. However, some of his actions may mean that he can provoke it.
Let's take, for example, Georgia's recent detention of a Ukrainian vessel in Abkhazian waters. The vessel was arrested, and its crew was jailed. Such things never happen even in such conflict-prone countries as Cyprus or Taiwan. What if the Abkhazian military respond with seizing a Georgian vessel? No one can guarantee here that such adventurous actions will not trigger another war.