16.11.2008
The Logic of South Ossetia Conflict
№4 2008 October/December

It is impossible at this point to conduct a thorough analysis of
the causes and long-term aftermaths of the Georgian invasion of
South Ossetia and the Russian operation to coerce Georgia to peace
that followed it, because the information that continues to come in
– both as news and analysis – is nothing but a continuation of the
media war. Yet it is hard to overestimate the significance of this
armed conflict as it was the first instance since the breakup of
the Soviet Union where Russia used force at its own initiative to
defend its rights outside its territory. (The activities of the
11th Army under the command of General Alexander Lebed in Moldova
in 1992, which came on the heels of the Soviet Union’s
disintegration, were actually a continuation of Soviet policies.
The campaign was steered by Lebed of his own free will and strongly
disapproved of by Moscow. The march of Russian paratroopers into
Pristina in 1999 was an act of propaganda rather than defense.
Also, Russian peacekeepers were deployed in this region through an
international community resolution and not by a unilateral Russian
decision.)
That is why I will try to draw up some provisional remarks and
conclusions.

THE LOGIC OF THE GEORGIAN INVASION

It is probably not a mistake to say that Mikheil Saakashvili’s
decision to invade South Ossetia was prompted by two closely
intertwined factors:

He needed a small war that he could win, since there is nothing
more instrumental for boosting one’s own political ranking than
successful military action, and Saakashvili’s popularity rating at
the time of the invasion was much lower than it was during the
much-lauded Rose Revolution (it is enough to recall the
opposition’s protests in November 2007);

Saakashvili craved the restoration of Georgian sovereignty over
the former autonomous republics that had drifted away in the early
1990s. Every nation has a natural concern for safeguarding its
state territory and the Georgians naturally felt acute pain about
the lack of Georgian control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It
was likewise natural to expect that the nation would
enthusiastically hail the restoration of Georgia’s constitutional
order in these two territories regardless of the possible huge
number of casualties among peaceful Ossetians. The indigenous
population of any country attaches a much greater value to its own
statehood than to the lives of immigrants and ethnic minorities,
and Georgia is no exception in this respect. A successful operation
in South Ossetia would have become a second stage of the
restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity (the toppling of the
Aslan Abashidze regime in Adzharia in 2004 could be considered the
first phase of the effort). The re-absorption of Abkhazia that,
according to the data available at the moment, was planned as a
follow-up to the defeat of South Ossetia, would have become a third
stage.

In other words, Saakashvili had both personal and state
objectives in mind – boosting his popularity rating and forcefully
re-absorbing rebellious territories. Remarkably, his labeling of
the incursion into Tskhinvali as “an operation to restore the
constitutional order” had formal grounds. First, the government in
Tskhinvali and its volunteer guard units were completely illegal
under the Georgian constitution and their elimination (including
the physical destruction of their allies in South Ossetia) was not
a war against a sovereign state or the genocide of a people that
had the right to self-determination, but a lawful restoration of
order in a rebellious region. Second, combat actions in South
Ossetia were designed precisely as a punitive police operation –
Saakashvili hardly expected that Russia would take strong measures
to protect civilians in its peacekeeping contingent’s zone of
responsibility. He reckoned that South Ossetian armed guard units
alone would not hold out against Georgian armed forces for a long
time, and even volunteers from North Ossetia would not help as
their support would not arrive in time.

It is obvious that the operation had a rather simple military
and political plan: a powerful artillery shelling of all the
possible spots of resistance; putting troops into the rebellious
republic; defeating the remaining guard units (and, possibly,
Russian peacekeepers, too); cleansing the territories; setting up
agencies of power reporting to Tbilisi; and proclaiming that the
constitutional order has been restored. Tskhinvali was to be
occupied within one day and the whole operation was most likely
designed to only take a few days.

Georgia had good chances for success. In the first place, the
Georgians and South Ossetians had incomparable military potentials.
The Georgian Armed Forces were equipped with tanks, heavy artillery
weapons and salvo systems and had received training from U.S.
instructors, while South Ossetia’s armed forces actually consisted
of volunteer guard units. Also, the geography of Tskhinvali, which
was surrounded by high areas controlled by Georgian forces, was
conducive to anything but long defense. Thus Saakashvili could hope
for a Blitzkrieg. Furthermore, the timing of the operation was
specially chosen to coincide with the opening of the Summer
Olympics in Beijing. Saakashvili reckoned that Tskhinvali would
have been defeated before the world leaders gathered in Beijing
could react. Even if Russia chose to render military support to
South Ossetia, it would be too late because a pro-Georgian
administration would already be installed in Tskhinvali and it
would be too late for Moscow to take any steps at all. It was more
logical at the time to expect that Russia might not want to send
its troops there at all (even if there were casualties among
Russian peacekeepers) and that it would rather restrict its
reaction to a couple of rancorous statements – something that the
world had grown accustomed to – and sever direct communications
with Georgia. Russia’s notes of protest would not frighten Mikheil
Saakashvili – the winner, the restorer of Georgia’s territorial
integrity and Washington’s favorite. In any case, NATO would
provide unequivocal support to Georgia’s territorial integrity. Of
course, the U.S. and its allies would express their condolences
over the unavoidable victims among the South Ossetian population –
but they would not regard this as the genocide of the Ossetian
people.

The problem of presumable casualties requires special note. The
data available today indicates that Georgian troops received an
order to directly exterminate civilians in South Ossetia. It cannot
be ruled out that in this way Saakashvili wanted to resolve the
problem of Ossetian separatism once and for all. The most horrible
thing is that, being the most pro-American and, consequently, the
most pro-democratic president in the CIS, he would most certainly
have gotten away with it. A confirmation of this can be found in
numerous reports (often fake) about “the victims among the civilian
Georgian population” that the Western mass media churned out after
Russian troops went into South Ossetia and then into Georgia.
Simultaneously, the Western media preferred to keep silent about
the hundreds of Ossetians who had died during the Georgian assault
on Tskhinvali. Remarkably, very similar methods of “resolving” the
ethnic problem were popular among the former “fighters for
independence” in what the West believes to be the most progressive
post-Soviet countries – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine. To
this end, they formed national subdivisions of the SS that are
highly advertised and mythologized these days.

To sum up, Saakashvili had plausible reasons for launching the
operation in South Ossetia, as well as good chances for making it
successful and for ensuring a durable political result, owing to
NATO support and due to the extermination of the Ossetians. Thus
the logic of the Georgian invasion – not its moral aspects – was
practically immaculate.

THE RESULTS FOR GEORGIA

While the Russian media continue to describe Saakashvili as a
psychically imbalanced individual predisposed to hysteria and who
is mentally deranged, let us recall that his plan (or, rather, the
reconstruction he proposed) was crowned with virtually total
success. Tskhinvali was practically in the Georgian army’s hands
just several hours after the start of the operation and the greater
part of South Ossetia was occupied, as well. Neither world leaders
nor Russia produced any reaction to the events, and the Georgians
started setting up their own agencies of power on the seized
territories. this allowed Tbilisi to make a vociferous statement on
the success of the “operation to restore constitutional law and
order.”

Russia’s response caught Saakashvili by surprise, but still the
Georgian military proved capable of offering strong resistance to
the advance-guard units of Russia’s troops and even to organize a
counteroffensive of a kind, since some areas of Tskhinvali, which
the Russian Defense Ministry reported had been liberated from
Georgian forces, again fell under Georgian control in the dark
hours of August 9. Even official reports confirmed a loss of
several dozen tanks and several warplanes, which testifies to the
Georgian army’s good fighting capability. But it is equally natural
that Georgia could not fight back for too long, and Russian troops
took the tactical initiative on August 10, forcing the Georgian
units to chaotically retreat and flee. Georgia’s naval force – as
well as the Air Force – suffered heavy losses. The Russians
destroyed two new army bases and seized large amounts of armored
vehicles, artillery weapons, small arms, and transport vehicles.
The damage done to Georgia’s defense potential (including the
command infrastructure) rules out any Georgian military operations
for the time being.

To all appearances, there was widespread panic in Georgia, as
there were numerous reports about efforts to organize the defense
of Tbilisi (and this proves that the Georgian leaders had expected
the early appearance of Russian units in the Tbilisi suburbs).
Also, the reports said residents of the city and some members of
the Georgian political leadership had fled. Judging from news
footage, Saakashvili was scared and lost, as his attempts to make
any arrangements whatever with the Russian leadership bumped into a
wall of silence. This kind of conduct displayed by the Georgian
president gave food for contemptuous comments in the Russian media.
Russian analysts and Georgian political oppositionists predict that
Saakashvili will be forced to leave the political stage – he has
squandered his popularity and Georgians are unlikely to forgive him
for his military defeats (from Russian troops in South Ossetia to
Abkhazian armed units in Abkhazia, where the Georgian Army was
forced out of the Kodori Gorge), for conduct unworthy of a state
leader, and for the final loss of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Although this forecast has grounds, it does not look fully
trustworthy. Using the trump card of opposing Russia’s aggression
and showing himself as a dedicated fighter for Georgia’s
self-identity, sovereignty and democratic values in the Caucasus,
Saakashvili may consolidate the Georgians around his personality.
Whatever the causes of an intervention of foreign troops might be
and however noble the objectives they pursue are, the majority of
the population in the target country will always have painful
feelings about it. This factor, as well as the Georgians’ ethnic
mentality and the support given to Saakashvili by leading Western
powers (in spite of a few statements decrying Saakashvili’s action,
he has crucial significance for the West as a project, and
short-term support guaranteed for him on the part of the U.S. and
Britain as a minimum), means that his chances for political
survival are rather high.

Let us mention that even if Saakashvili is forced to quit, his
successor will hardly be any more tractable in relationship to
Russia. The Georgians blame Russia for the loss of their
territories and any politician who assumes power in Georgia will
simply have to keep anti-Russian sentiment at a high level. In
addition, the strong U.S. impact on political decision-making in
Tbilisi predestines the arrival – at least in the next few years –
of only those candidates who will keep up the current anti-Russian,
and allegedly pro-NATO, vector of state policy.

The breakaway regions are completely lost for Georgia now –
simply due to the fact that non-Georgians will not be able to live
again in a united Georgian state after the extermination of the
Ossetians in Tskhinvali. As it often happens, the plan that looked
so promising in terms of a quick and efficacious untangling of the
problem of separatism, produced the directly opposite results,
making independence the only possible option for the Abkhazians and
Ossetians and its recognition, the only possible option for Russia
(as a guarantor of peace in the region, Russia can defend the
rights of people living in South Ossetia and Abkhazia efficiently
only if the two regions stay outside of Georgia’s sovereign
territory; and the events of August 2008 showed the essential need
of this defense). This means that while talks on a broad autonomy
for the two republics, along with their de jure existence inside
Georgia, were possible in theory before the conflict, one must
forget about them for good now.

Importantly, there was no information about the involvement in
combat operations of those who supported the administration of
Dmitry Sanakoyev (the puppet leader of South Ossetian regions that
were under Georgia’s control before the conflict) or the supporters
of the so-called ‘Abkhazian government in exile,’ on the Georgian
side. This means that there was a collapse of official Tbilisi
policies toward the tumultuous republics. The Saakashvili regime
has failed to raise reliable supporters either among the Ossetians
or Abkhazians. Even if the Georgian leadership had succeeded in
seizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it would have to resort to
purges of the local population; i.e., to genocide, to protect
itself from a protracted guerilla war and unending outbursts of
separatism in the two republics. Tbilisi would fail to place its
marionettes in South Ossetia, as no appropriate candidates were in
sight – any puppet must have at least some percentage of the
people’s trust, but neither Sanakoyev nor the ‘Abkhazian government
in exile’ had any.

Georgia beyond any doubt has emerged victorious from the first
phase of the media war, as the leaders of most countries condemned
Russia’s actions and spoke unanimously in Georgia’s support. At the
same time, they said nothing about the Georgian leaders’ perfidy,
as the invasion of South Ossetia began just hours after their own
calls for peace negotiations. Nor did the West say anything about
the totally unjustified cruelty, with which the Georgian Armed
Forces acted against the civilian population in South Ossetia. The
West was wholly focused on Russia’s “asymmetrical military
reaction.” However, it is not clear to what degree the efforts of
Georgian propaganda-mongers played a role in ensuring this
unanimous support. The Mikheil Saakashvili project might be so
important for the U.S. and NATO that the West could not afford to
recognize its defaults, to say nothing of the crimes committed
under its guise.

The international mass media seethed with bias and did not stop
short of downright falsification in their coverage of the conflict.
Russia was depicted as an aggressor and Georgia, as a tiny
freedom-loving country that was heroically fighting an invasion
under the command of its pro-Western leader. Any attempts to
recount the events from the Russian or South Ossetian point of view
were cut short. Suffice it to recall the notorious Fox TV interview
of two Ossetian women who were simply cut off when their desire to
thank Russia for its protection became clear. In other words, the
world watched the conflict with Tbilisi’s eyes.

The political results of the conflict may seem advantageous for
Georgia at first glance. NATO is ready to help the Georgians
restore their military potential and certain information indicates
it has already launched this aid. Also, NATO countries have put
military ships in the Black Sea. Apart from the officially declared
goal of delivering humanitarian aid to Georgia, these naval forces
quite obviously are delivering military hardware, as well, and
provide coverage of the Georgian coast from the sea.

The chances that Georgia will get NATO’s Membership Action Plan
in December have gone up considerably. Germany, which had earlier
actively opposed NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, has
confirmed through a statement by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel
that Georgia will join NATO. This in turn may produce a new surge
or even an aggravation of tensions in the zones of the
Georgian-Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhazian confrontation, which
Russia’s successful military operation was meant to have
eliminated.

And yet, the mention of Georgia’s foreign policy achievements is
a mere instance of making a virtue of necessity, a palliation
against military and political defeat. The incursion into South
Ossetia deprived Georgia of its army and – once and for all – of
one-third of its former territory. Saakashvili’s adventure in
Tskhinvali ended in a total collapse, and even if Georgia gets NATO
membership, this will not make up for its political losses.

THE RESULTS FOR RUSSIA

By standing up to defend the South Ossetian population – the
majority of which are Russian citizens – from extermination by
Georgian troops and to support its own peacekeepers, who had become
targets of an unmotivated attack, Russia took the only action that
was possible in that situation. The logic of defending the civilian
population in the zone of one’s own peacekeeping control is
immaculate from both the political and moral point of view, and the
operation by the Russian troops was quite correctly described as
“peace enforcement.” This was not a war against Georgia; this was a
peacekeeping action aimed at coercing the aggressor to stop
military operations.

One can assess the military and internal political outcome of
this operation as successful:

— The Russian military command was able to promptly organize a
counteroffensive against the Georgian Armed Forces;
— The Georgian army was forced out of South Ossetia and
defeated;
— A telling blow was dealt to Georgia’s defense potential that
rules out a repeat of the aggression in the short term;
— Most Russians (except for radical oppositionists) approved
of the actions taken by the country’s political leaders and top
brass;
— Russia coerced Georgia to peace efficiently and accurately,
as it confined its actions to forcing the Georgian army out of
South Ossetia and eliminating the Georgian defense machine. The
Russian government did not succumb to the lure of making a
victorious march to Tbilisi and supplanting Saakashvili, who has
been a big headache;
 -The media war against Georgia did not turn into an
anti-Georgian hysteria. Criticism was restricted to the incumbent
Georgian leaders, and respect for the Georgian nation was always
stressed;
— The Chechen battalions of Vostok (East) and Zapad (West) fought
in Ossetia together with regular units of the Russian army, and
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said he was ready to send Chechen
volunteers to the conflict zone. This provides a weighty argument
against those who accuse Russia of double standards as a country
that supports “separatists abroad” in the face of ruthless
oppression of ethnic movements at home. Chechens fighting for
Russia means that the Chechens link their destiny to Russia; hence
they are not separatists. Thus the armed operations that the
Russian Armed Forces had to conduct in Chechnya from 1994-1996 and
from 1999-2001 should be treated as anti-terrorist operations, not
as the genocide of a freedom-loving Chechen nation that was
reluctant to live under the yoke of an oppressive Russian
autocracy. This is an important ideological victory for Moscow but,
unfortunately, both the Russian and Western media have not assessed
it properly yet. Georgia did not get the same support from its
puppet Dmitry Sanakoyev;
— Russia has demonstrated the sovereignty and independence of
its foreign policy, and the recognition of South Ossetia and
Abkhazia’s independence came as the climax of this demonstration.
The recognition as such was a carefully weighed-out political step,
too. In the first place, Russia remained committed to the principle
of a country’s territorial integrity to the very end. Russia found
it possible to veer off from this only in an exclusive situation
involving the mass killings of Russian citizens and after this same
principle had been de facto discarded by the leading world powers
(remember the recognition of Kosovo). Second, Russia observed the
theory of international law as it recognized the independence of
only those territories where the metropolitan nation had committed
acts of unjustifiable cruelty that made the further existence of
these territories within the metropolitan country impossible in
principle (during the lifetime of the next two generations of
people at least). No recognition of the independence of Moldova’s
Dniester region or Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh followed;
— In spite of an avalanche of anti-Russian statements, the
Kremlin had the stamina to hold its ground and warded off the
measures taken against it with reciprocal measures, such as
effectuating its own initiative on freezing relations with NATO.
Simultaneously, it did not throw out any demonstrative challenges
either to NATO or the EU, and showed its interest in
good-neighborly – but equitable – relations in every imaginable
way. This policy has proven to be fruitful. Western leaders were
prepared to renounce any cooperation with Russia or to impose
sanctions on it during or immediately after the conflict. The
sanctions might go as far as this country’s expulsion from the G8;
the refusal of membership in the World Trade Organization; and a
boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi or their relocation to
some other country. (It is noteworthy that the Russian military
operation made Sochi a much more secure place for the Olympics, as
the risk of Georgia’s runoff invasion of Abkhazia and the outbreak
of hostilities in the immediate vicinity of the Olympic capital has
been removed.) Separate programs of cooperation were cancelled (for
instance, the U.S. rejected joint military exercises with Russia).
But when it became clear at the end of August that Russia would
continue to abide firmly by the course it had embarked on, and that
sanctions might also damage countries that introduced them, the
anti-Russian statements lost some of their energy.
— The outcome of the talks held by EU foreign ministers revealed
that no real measures against Russia would be taken despite calls
from Poland and the Baltic countries to punish Russia. However,
this does not mean the end of NATO’s continued expansion into the
traditional zone of Russia’s influence;
— Russia cannot be viewed as a guided state anymore. The peace
enforcement operation in Georgia and the ensuing recognition of
Abkhazia and South Ossetia showed Russia’s ability to defend its
sovereign interests not only in a declarative way or with the aid
of effectual but inefficient actions (the turning back of the prime
minister’s jet while on a flight over the Atlantic or the battle
march of paratroopers into Pristina). Now Russia can do it with the
use of force. It does not fear the declarations adopted against it
and is able to counteract them. This represents the destruction of
the post-Soviet unipolar world order;
— Russia has demonstrated – and this will become obvious to the
whole world in time – that it is not an aggressor but, rather, a
country defending human rights. The world is not ready to see
Russia in that role yet, but it will have to get accustomed to
it.

However, the operation also highlighted a range of serious
problems.

— The Russian government offered an inadmissibly slow reaction
to the Georgian attack on South Ossetia and to the attack on
Russian peacekeepers during the night of August 7 and into the
early hours of August 8. A statement that the Russian army would
extend its protection to the people of South Ossetia was aired too
late – only on August 8. Had Moscow warned that it would use
military force earlier, it might have made the Georgian leaders
think and thus might have saved many lives. This procrastinating
shows that the Russian government’s mechanism of adopting decisions
in critical situations may be inefficient. A number of sources said
this slowness was caused by the need to coordinate steps with Prime
Minister Vladimir Putin, who was in Beijing at the time. This in
turn caused many to doubt the independence of Russian President
Dmitry Medvedev;

— The Russian army suffered huge losses. While the losses of
manpower mostly stemmed from the perfidious attack on Russian
peacekeepers, the loss of dozens of units of combat equipment and
several warplanes attests to the insufficiently high level of the
combat capability of the Russian Armed Forces and to the fairly
effective resistance of Georgian army units, at least in the first
phase. Remarkably, the commanding officers who took part in the
operation right in the combat area did not receive any medals. Nor
did the mass media say much about those officers (which contrasts
with the media promotion of General Troshev and General Shamanov
during the second campaign in Chechnya). This offers tentative
evidence that the Kremlin gave a rather low assessment to the
commanders’ performance. The Defense Ministry had to admit that the
actions of the Armed Forces revealed some shortcomings, but it did
not report any details. Also, it is quite possible that military
operations like the one against Georgia show the extent of the
Russian army’s capability at the moment.

Russia remained in full diplomatic and informational solitude
throughout the conflict, as only Cuba voiced support for the
military operation. None of the CIS member-nations, not even
Belarus, showed any solidarity with Russia. This indicates that CIS
countries are reluctant to side fully with Moscow out of a fear of
spoiling relations with the West in the first place, and that none
of them wants to see a stronger Russia. In any case, the situation
has revealed a generally apprehensive mood even in the region that
Moscow has traditionally looked at as a zone of its special
interests. Add to this the fact that the second country to
recognize the independence of two new states was Nicaragua, not
Belarus, although Abkhazia has said it wants to join the Union
State of Russia and Belarus. Of course, some may consider this as a
success of Russian foreign policy, since the first recognition came
from a country located far outside the sphere of Russia’s
influence. And yet it would be nice to see the countries located
inside the zone of influence show on their part that the influence
does exist. One should also note that even slight positive signs
from the U.S. toward the Lukashenko regime were enough for Minsk to
give up support – real, not verbal – for the Kremlin’s actions.

The fear of an excessively strong Russia prompted its neighbors
to take steps that pose geopolitical risks to Moscow over the long
term. Although such steps were easy to forecast and the Russian
government was most definitely prepared to face them, this does not
make them any less embarrassing. In the first place, a U.S.-Polish
agreement was quickly signed on deploying an element of the U.S.
national missile defense system on Polish territory. Second, the
Russian Black Sea Fleet will almost certainly have to abandon its
main base in Sevastopol after 2017. Meanwhile, claims that Sukhumi
can provide an adequate replacement for Sevastopol do not hold
water, as Abkhazian President Sergei Bagapsh has spoken out against
an increase in Russia’s military presence in his country.

The results of this war are not at all unequivocal for Russia.
By winning this victory, Russia tapped the limit of capabilities of
its armed forces. We have seen perfectly well that troops trained
and equipped under NATO standards can put up an effective
resistance to Russia. We showed sovereign will and broke up the
post-Belavezha Accords world order and now we will have to pay for
this with a worsening of our relations with the West over the short
term. As for the long term, we run the risk of sliding into a more
or less overt standoff, for which Russia does not have the
resources, ideology or geopolitical opportunities right now. The
U.S. is unlikely to be ready to reconcile itself with the emergence
of one more regional center of power that has displayed its
anti-NATO orientation so sharply and that is ready to rebuff any
encroachments on its interests so actively.

On the other hand, a return to the Cold War era is hardly
likely, since neither the U.S. nor Russia want that. NATO countries
do not have enough military or political resources now for a
serious confrontation with Russia and that is why the chances are
good that our two countries will return to a traditional cautious
partnership after a period of bellicose statements in Moscow and in
the West. The partnership, though, may have a new configuration –
one where Russia will speak in the international arena in a much
louder voice than previously and where it will have a much greater
weight.
Still, one should not forget that the U.S. remains the world’s
biggest economy (although it is going through a time of serious
trouble now), that the countries friendly to it – EU countries and
Japan – also belong to the group of leading economic powers, and
that militarization programs give a strong impulse to national
economies – exactly what the U.S. needs at the moment. And remember
that the Soviet Union fell apart because its economy did not
withstand the pressures of the arms race forced on it by the
U.S.

WHAT’S NEXT?

I believe that the Russian leadership could benefit greatly now
if it remembers the following:

— However obvious the need to rebuff anti-Russian actions may
be, Russia must stay away from taking excessively aggressive
military, economic and diplomatic steps and state – in every
possible way – its interest in good-neighborly (and equitable)
relations with other countries. President Medvedev and the
government have coped with this job fairly well so far, as Moscow’s
responses – the freezing of relations with NATO, the organization
of joint war games with Venezuela – fit perfectly into the format
of reasonable counteraction to NATO measures;

— Let us not succumb to the euphoria of victory or claim
the role of a hegemon in the CIS and Eastern Europe, or try to
teach a lesson to anti-Russian regimes. The date for
Russian-Ukrainian negotiations over the price of natural gas is
getting closer and it is important that we reach a reasonable
compromise before the start of 2009 in order to avoid emergency
shutdowns of export gas pipelines. In the light of the South
Ossetian war, the world will definitely treat such shutdowns as a
desire by Russia to use the energy baton against “a democratic
Ukraine that has chosen the path of European integration;”

— Russia must build up the strength of its armed forces in
every possible way – something Dmitry Medvedev has spoken about –
and raise the efficiency of its control system in times of peace
and war alike;

— The logic of investing Stabilization Fund resources in
U.S. securities in the current situation is highly questionable. It
might be desirable to consider an option for their alternative
investment in Russian domestic projects;

We must not consider Abkhazia and South Ossetia as our vassals.
These two countries have gone through too much to gain independence
and they can join any other state only of their own free will and
at their own initiative. Russia should not build up its military
presence there. Also, it should refrain from attempts to place the
two countries under its political control. It is sufficient that
Abkhazia and South Ossetia have entrusted Russia with representing
their interests to the outside world. And the fact that they have
been recognized only by Russia so far provides Russian businesses
with a unique opportunity to legalize their presence in the two
countries and fasten them to Russia with the aid of economic
levers. Simultaneously, they must remember that the legal owners of
some property there may live in Georgia, too. Quite possibly,
Russia might lead a search for a compromise concerning these
properties. In addition, Russia should take part in resolving the
problem of refugees.

* * *
We have been living in conditions of a post-Soviet, Belavezha
Accords world order since 1991, and we have become used to that by
now, although many people detest it. The Belavezha Accords era saw
the harshest economic crisis in Russia in the 1990s; the drift of
former Soviet republics into NATO; bombing raids in Serbia and
Iraq; then the start of the rebirth of the Russian economy; a
restoration – albeit partial – of prosperity for all Russian
citizens; and the first timid attempts to oppose political pressure
from the West. This world order collapsed in ruins in August 2008
and now we are witnessing the birth of a new world system. It is
difficult to imagine today what it will look like exactly. We are
certainly living in interesting times.