09.11.2004
Georgiophobia
№4 2004 October/December



 

Compared
to other numerous articles describing the notoriety of Georgia and
its president, Andranik Migranyan’s article Georgia Propelling Its
Disintegration stands out for its delightful naivety. Take, for
instance, the author’s reference to Georgia’s (as well as
Azerbaijani, Moldovan, and Ukrainian) original sin. “Their creation
ignored economic, political and many other factors, nor did it
conform to democratic norms or procedures,” Migranyan writes. This,
beyond doubt, should make them so much different from the Russian
Federation, as if it had been formed by someone other than the
Kremlin bosses or with obeisance to “all the democratic norms.” Yet
Georgia is, undoubtedly, worse than all the others. What kind of a
country is it? It’s unable to manage its own affairs, “it has
failed to build efficient and consolidated economic, political and
military institutions.” As one of Dostoyevsky’s heroes would say,
“Why should a person like that live at all?”

 

The same
applies to whole countries. In 1939, Molotov explained that the
destruction of Poland was quite justified: that country, “a moronic
offspring of the Treaty of Versailles,” was no survivor.

 

How very
true! And gee, Russia is different. It has “efficient political and
economic institutions,” and its achievements are soaring so high
that Russia’s finest political experts have every right to
tongue-lash that ignominious nuisance called Georgia. True, there
are some politicians (for example, Putin) who claim that Russia
badly needs to become efficient itself, but this is our purely
domestic affair, you know. Well, Georgia’s weakness and
inefficiency has become a domestic affair, too. That is, Russia’s
domestic affair; Georgia is no alien to us, and its problems are
our own problems.

 

“Abkhazia
and South Ossetia began positioning themselves outside the Georgian
state even before the liquidation of the Soviet Union,” Migranyan
states. Once again, how different we are – Chechnya began
positioning itself outside the Russian Federation once the Soviet
Union had already ceased to exist.

“Since
those territories [Abkhazia and South Ossetia] were incorporated
into Georgia without an observance of the rights or will of their
populations, Abkhazians and Ossetians never viewed Georgia’s
territorial integrity as legitimate.” Are we not better again?
Chechnya and all other regions of the North Caucasus were, of
course, included in the Russian Federation “with observance of the
rights and will of their populations.” That is why, I suppose, the
Chechens hold Russia’s territorial integrity in such a high
esteem.

 

To sum up,
there is no sense citing all of the instances of double standards –
it is not worthwhile rewriting someone else’s article. Its sole
specificity (like that of numerous other articles) lies in the fact
that it would be difficult to recall the proverb about ’a speck in
the brother’s eye and a log in one’s own eye’ as often as in this
case.

 

END OF THE
ROMANTIC BEACH STORY

 

Georgiophobia. I could never imagine that our society would
invent such an odd thing. Once, it looked as if Russia had so many
types of xenophobia that there was no place to poke your nail
between them, and yet a new phobia appears.

 

I dare say
Georgiophobia falls into a new category. It is simply a pungent new
branch on the tree of Caucasiophobia. I say ’new’ because the
traditional treatment of the Georgians and Ossetians in Russia has
been fairly friendly. One could even speak of some sort of
Georgiophilia. This situation has many underlying reasons. The
Georgians and Ossetians are Christian, and Russia never warred
against them, while Georgian princes made up an inalienable part of
the Russian imperial elite. The Soviet era was a special story and
its nice attitude to Georgia that marked Stalin’s rule does not
need any explanations. After Stalin’s death both intellectuals and
grassroots maintained a warm, although mildly ironic, friendliness
toward the Georgians. One may recall the Muscovite Georgians like
the chansonier Bulat Okudjava and the filmmaker Georgy Danelia, the
popularity of Georgian movies and wines, as well as the respect for
Georgian hospitality. The spirit of those relations was perfectly
reflected in the Soviet-era movie by Danelia titled Mimino, a
confirmed hit. Naturally, Georgia being not only a home to perfect
wines and smoky kabobs, but also an independent country demanding
(Now, who could imagine that!) equal treatment came as an
unpleasant revelation for us. Russia could accept with greater ease
its divorce with Ukraine, the cool and always estranged Baltic
republics, the faraway Central Asian nations, and even with
Azerbaijan – but not Georgia! “Why, after we’ve been treating them
so nicely!” In a word, the former cordiality turned into an
opposite feeling of irritation with rather ungentlemanly overtones.
Russia would just not admit that Georgia is not a big restaurant,
but a separate independent country, although relying on Russia in
many ways.

 

Special
note should be made about the so-called ’Shevardnadze factor.’
Russian patriots and nationalists have an equal measure of love for
Stalin and hatred for Shevardnadze, and this seems strange at first
glance. Stalin’s name is associated with the murder of millions of
Russians and the toast “To the health of the great Russian people,”
which he made public shortly after the end of World War II, can
scarcely compensate for it. As for Shevardnadze, he never committed
such atrocities, whatever his notoriety in other respects. But the
hatred toward the “traitor Gorbachev” also extends to the “traitor
Shevardnadze.” In the 1990s, it became fashionable in certain
quarters to upbraid Shevardnadze – the stronger the epithets
addressed to him, the more patriotic a person would
seem.

 

Shevardnadzes come and go, of course, but Georgia remains. In
the meantime, one can hardly succeed in developing good relations
with a country while castigating its leaders at the same
time.

 

SENTIMENTS
ASIDE

 

All of
this may seem to be pure sentiment. After all, relations between
countries are not determined by emotions or by history (otherwise,
Russia would hardly have any relationship with Germany at the
present time); they are grounded in economic, political and
military interests.

 

The
tangled and antagonizing history of relations between Georgia and
Russia from 1991 through to 2004 awaits scrupulous analysis.
Attempting any guess as to who is to blame is useless at the
moment. It may have been Zviad Gamsakhurdia with his affected
anti-Russian hysteria; Russian generals who helped the Abkhazians
to fight with the Georgians; Shamil Basayev’s ’Abkhazian battalion’
engaged in the massacre of the Georgians, who believed that it was
directed by Moscow; the U.S., convinced that a pro-American Georgia
must preferably be anti-Russian; or the warlord Ruslan Gelayev and
his gang that took hiding in the Pankisi Gorge. No one can draw a
commonly shared opinion on all of these factors today. Moreover, it
is unwise to build relations that are based on the balance sheet of
past reciprocal offenses.

 

Presently,
the situation looks this way.

Saakashvili publicly admits that the militants have bases in
the Pankisi Gorge. Georgia fancies ridding itself of those
“visitors” (despite the fact that they have well-greased henchmen
in Tbilisi), but it does not have the strength to do so. Georgia is
the militants’ hostage. Even Russia has great problems in waging a
war on them. And if Georgia gets drawn into that war all alone, it
will simply collapse. Russia is the only force that can rid the
Georgians of the militants’ presence at the moment.

 

In this
context, only a crank would quarrel with the Georgians because of
the militants at a time when the two countries have a clear common
goal of eliminating those very militants. Unfortunately, the
possibility that a real quarrel is in the cards is very big. Russia
must deliver preemptive strikes (which, in fact, will be
retaliatory and long overdue) at the militants’ bases in Georgia,
but not at Georgia as such. The task at hand is to pound the
militants on the Georgian territory while acting in Georgia’s
interests and not against them.

 

What is
the right method of carrying out such a mission? Presently, the
road from Moscow to Tbilisi lies via Washington, which means that
the Russian authorities must take it. We will first have to
understand what our target is. Is it to suppress the militants’
bases in Georgia? If so, we must establish businesslike relations
with Georgia as an ally and partner in a coalition against
terrorism while, at the same time, securing U.S. assistance. Russia
and the U.S. in this case shall first issue guarantees to Georgia
concerning security against terrorism; only then should an
operation in the Pankisi Gorge begin. Georgian and American
participation in such a mission is desirable and their consent
mandatory.

 

Or is it
the case that Russia seeks to flex its muscles before their eyes
and demonstrate its tough-guy style to Georgia? Then everything is
OK – the operation in the Pankisi Gorge is unneeded and we can
simply engage in saber-rattling – not so much to frighten
terrorists, but rather the Georgians. Then more articles like
Migranyan’s will be highly instrumental. And may they hint
unambiguously that “America is playing filthy tricks on us.” Such
comments will not help defeat terrorists, but damn them all anyway!
We are concerned not about them or Georgia or the U.S., but about
scratching our teenage pimples.

 

One can do
the first thing first or the second thing first, but alas, solving
both tasks at one time is impossible.  

 

ABKHAZIA.
SOUTH OSSETIA

 

It seems
to me that gaining new territories is precisely the thing that
Russia does not need these days. Moreover, if it does need new
territories, it is worthwhile seeking them in any other place, even
on the North Pole, but not in the Caucasus. I dare say that
Chechnya is quite enough for us now. To support foreign separatism
means to throw stones at your neighbors while living in a glass
house. Should we really do it even if we love our neighbors so
dearly?

 

Supporting
the separatists may have played into our hands – we have something
to bargain over. If our goal is to wipe out the terrorists in their
backyards, then Russia must offer Georgia a compromise. The
Georgians have an interest in restoring their territorial
integrity. The Russians have an interest in building an alliance
with Georgia to fight against terrorists. Thus, here is a possible
solution: Russia stops supporting separatism in Abkhazia and South
Ossetia on the condition that guarantees against ethnic cleansing
are established in those territories. This means, among other
things, that Georgian laws come back in effect there (naturally, in
the format of a federal Georgian state and not the unitary one) and
Russian troops (or NATO or U.S. or CIS troops) are deployed there
as the guarantors of law and order, as well as the rights of the
Abkhazians, Georgians, and Ossetians.

Thus, we
would be getting new space for practical policies in the
Transcaucasian region instead of today’s senseless and dull
wrangling. An alliance with Georgia would fortify Russia’s
positions in the Caucasus. That alliance cannot be anti-American.
In fact, it would be the first step toward creating a trilateral
union, where Georgia will serve the role of a bridge between Russia
and the U.S.

 

Presently,
Georgia is a political testing range, where we are amusing
ourselves by acting out the diplomatic methods of the Cold War era.
We are pounding the Georgians with words and thus sending signals
to the U.S. Many people can reap profits from such a game, and for
many others in Russia it is a balm for the heart. But if we are
seeking to fight with terrorists in earnest, we will have to see to
it that Georgia becomes the first testing ground for a Grand
Russo-American Alliance. The task is complicated but solvable. We
all have a common foe – international terrorism – which for Russia
comes in the form of a “Chechen incarnation.” If Russia and the
U.S. really place this issue on the list of top priorities, the
opportunity will emerge for finding compromise solutions to all of
the other problems – including pipelines. With regard to the pipes,
sharing agreements are possible – a wide contrast to security and
terror that cannot be split into shares. And of course, the
interests of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are viewed differently by
people and politicians; the latter place emphasis on selfish
ambitions, while the people are craving for stability. Once it is
achieved, Abkhazia, a God-blessed land which has the potential to
play host to world-class resorts, may draw considerable investment.
Let the Russians, including their generals, consider how high the
value of their Abkhazian dachas would soar then.

 

Any
altercation with Georgia, in which Russia will play a safe but
pitiful role, may occur, of course. And such irrationality may one
day spill over into “a small victorious war” against the Georgians.
This, in turn, may set the entire South Caucasus ablaze – right in
the neighborhood of the Chechen powder keg. That war will
definitely a) finish off the CIS, b) push Ukraine and Azerbaijan
into NATO’s embrace, c) spoil Russia’s relations with the U.S. and
the Europeans, and d) jeopardize Russia’s relationship with the
populous and influential Georgian community that is now settled in
Russia.

 

***

 

Russia is
Georgia’s natural ally. To make Georgia understand this, Russia
must change its attitude toward its southerly neighbor. First and
foremost, we must take our feet off the tabletop and stop putting
on arrogant airs. And to make the job easier, let us read the last
passage of Migranyan’s article “If some people say that the age of
empires is gone, it is then gone for all empires, large or
small.”
Did I fail to understand this part correctly?