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Entries in Bruce Talley (113)


Andy Garcia and Renny Harlin Film on the South Ossetia Conflict 

Somehow I missed the reports last month that Director Renny Harlin is making a new film about the conflict in South Ossetia in 2008.  The title of the film at this moment is Georgia.  Apparently it is low budget and according to the director both anti-war and impartial.  The film is to star Andy Garcia as Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Calling attention to the human rights disaster that Georgia unleashed when it attacked South Ossetia would be welcome.  I hope that it will really be an impartial look at the conflict and the events leading up to it.  However, the title does not give me confidence.  And one of the producers of the film is an MP from President Saakashvili's ruling party.

Several years ago as I was exiting the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, I happened upon Andy Garcia.  As I walked by, I heard him speaking to someone on his mobile telephone.  I am not prone to eavesdropping, but I could not help but hear him loudly admonish the listener to "stay in the moment" as they apparently discussed a film role.

I hope that Mr. Garcia and Mr. Harlin find the "moments" to research what really happened in South Ossetia last year.  It should not be too hard in light of the recent report from the E.U.

There are reports that Georgia has been involved in the financing of the film.  Goldinvest, a Georgian firm gets credited for sponsoring the film.  The Georgian government has lent government buildings and military personnel for film scenes.  President Saakashvili  has also made statements that Russia's actions are depicted unfavorably in the film.  And he has spent time with the cast and crew of the film.  This does not sound like an environment likely to produce an impartial view of the subject matter.

The conflict in South Ossetia is primarily a humanitarian disaster for the victims, including South Ossetian, Russian and Georgian, who lost their lives and also for all of the displaced persons caused by the conflict. Georgia would like the debate to be about i"territorial integrity" to distract from the actions of their government in trying to reintegrate a nation that wants no part of Georgian occupation.  If Georgia exploits the humanitarian disaster that it caused by attacking South Ossetia to make a propaganda film, it would be unconscionable.  I hope that this does not happen.


Georgia, the GOP and the South Ossetia Conflict

Few people in the United States have any idea of how our policy in the Caucasus has been determined.   Of course, many probably are not really aware of the region or its significance.  Last year in the midst of the conflict in South Ossetia, Senator John McCain announced that we "are all Georgians."  It is interesting how he came to that conclusion.  One of McCain's chief advisors during last year's Presidential campaign, Randy Scheunemann, is a specialist in foreign affairs.  He is also a registered foreign agent for the Republic of Georgia.  During the period 2004- 2008 alone, his firms were paid over $2,000,000 to advise and lobby the U.S. Government by and on behalf of Georgia.  He was also paid a reported $70,000 per month by the McCain for President campaign.  Nice work if you can find it.  Mr. Scheunemann is of the neo-conservative  school of thought.  His ideological brethren include Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith.  They tend to see the world in terms of good and evil, have a low tolerance for diplomacy, emphasize unilateral U.S. action and a readiness to use military force. They are some of the same individuals who argued forcefully for the American invasion in Iraq.

Georgia has been one of our government's most reliable military partners in Iraq. While many of our traditional allies refused to participate, Georgia's military contribution has been out of proportion to the size of their nation and their military.  In the meantime, the U.S. has lavished billions of dollars in aid. In the aftermath of the 2008 conflict in South Ossetia, an additional $1 billion package was announced. Much of the money was spent on an increase in the military budget.  In the last decade alone, their military expenditures increased by more than 30 times according to some calculations.  At the same time that Western governments were encouraging South Ossetia and Abkhazia to disarm, they were providing the finances for Georgia to build up its military.  In 2007, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Georgia's rate of growth of military expenditures was the highest in the world.  It is pretty clear where the money came from, but what was the purpose?  Did they need it to defend themselves against impoverished Armenia?  Azerbaijan or Turkey with whom they have good relations?  Or was the point to reintegrate SouthOssetia and Abkhazia through forceful means?  The appearance is that the U.S. gained a partner in a war (Iraq) that most Western governments thought was unnecessary and irrelevant to the terrorist threat.  In return, the U.S. armed Georgia.  Georgia then used their rebuilt military for the attack in South Ossetia.

 I have spoken to many people from all walks of life in Russia and the near universal sentiment is that the U.S. was behind the attack.  It is known that there were US military advisors in Georgia shortly before the invasion. This can not help our image.

The Bush Administration wanted another partner for their ill-advised war in Iraq and got it.  The Georgians were then given money and used it to attack a near defenseless region that wants no part in being reintegrated into the Republic of Georgia.  If Russia gets a black eye in the process, so much the better by neocon reckoning.  It feels to an observer, like me, that the Bush Administration was playing a zero-sum game by proxy.  If it is good for Georgia, it must be bad for Russia.  If it is bad for Russia it must be good for the U.S.  I really dislike this.  I think a powerful, wealthy and stable Russia is in the best interests of the world.  I want to be clear that I bear no hostility towards the Georgian people and hope that they will enjoy stability and prosperity, too.

 We don't know exactly how much was spent on the Georgian military.  There is corruption in Georgia, money disappears and also there have been military expenditures that were disguised as other budgetary items.  So the true figure is probably greater than the 8% of GDP estimated in 2007.  This is in a country that has much poverty, decaying infrastructure and underfunded social and educational programs.  

 The Republic of Georgia has been represented in the Western press as a small, democratic nation victimized by Russia.  But it is not the beacon of democracy that it has been portrayed as.  There are reports of opposition figures marginalized, abused and imprisoned.  The US State Department's 2007 report found serious problems with Georgia's human rights record. And Freedom House has actually downgraded Georgia's human rights record since Mikhail Saakashvili became President.  The "Rose Revolution" in 2003 was supposed to change the corrupt and abusive practices of the government under Edvard Shevardnadze, but it has gotten worse! 

 I always thought that Georgia's President Saakashvili made a really stupid move attacking South Ossetia.  What did he think would happen when South Ossetian civilians and Russian peacekeepers started dying?  Surely he had to know the Russians would respond forcefully to an attack.  However, a friend with ties in South Ossetia explained to me that if Saakashvili  had been able to get the Georgian Army to the Roki Tunnel  (this is the only land route into SouthOssetia from Russia) and cut off access for Russian ground forces, it would have only been possible to dislodge the Georgians with a very lengthy and casualty-heavy bombing campaign.  Given the narrative at the time that Russia was invading Georgia, it may have been difficult for the Russian government to stomach the backlash.

The reintegration of South Ossetia would have been a domestic political triumph for Saakashvili and then he could have turned his attention on Abkhazia.  So he bet it all and lost.  Now South Ossetia is gone and Russia has announced they are spending $500 million for the security of Abkhazia. Even an ethnic Georgian has told me that everyone but the most diehard Georgian nationalists recognizes Abkhazia is gone forever.

 I find it personally distasteful that neocon ideologues like Scheunemann are being paid large sums of money by the Republic of Georgia to  lobby Congress to keep the money spigot turned on for the Saakashvili regime.  Then Georgia turns around and uses the money to attack South Ossetia.  Ossetian civilians and Russian peacekeepers die as a result.  In the meantime, Georgia's President appears in American media and represents his country as the victim of Russian aggression.  This is dishonest and immoral.  I would think a neocon lobbyist with close ties to Georgia would have a hard time sleeping. The conflict caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of refugees have been left homeless.  Even if the Bush Administration was not directly involved in the planning of the attack, who can doubt that Georgia would have done this without significant American aid?




A Brief History of (Abkhazian) Time

By Bruce Talley

2008 Events

The August 2008 conflict in South Ossetia was the first time that many in the West were aware of either South Ossetia or Abkhazia.  Both regions fought bloody wars of independence with Georgia in the aftermath of the breakup of the Soviet Union.  Between 1992 -94 thousands died. There were allegations of atrocities and ethnic cleansing on both sides.  Buildings and infrastructure suffered great damage.   Abkhazia and South Ossetia both later declared their independence.  Georgia has refused to recognize them and has enforced an economic blockade to force reintegration.   The international community, with the exception of Russia, has turned a blind eye. Without widespread international recognition, the airports are closed, the economies have stagnated and the people live in poverty.

History of Abkhazia

Abkhazia has a long history.  It is a small country on the southeast shores of the Black Sea.  With dramatic mountain scenery, beautiful beaches and a subtropical climate it has been a destination for travelers since the era of ancient Greece.  An Abkhazian Kingdom was established there more than 1,000 years ago.  When the Abkhazian region was absorbed by the Russian Empire in the 19th Century many Abkhazian Muslims fled to Turkey, where there is still a sizeable Diaspora.  Those who remained in Abkhazia were mostly Christian.   In the chaos following the Russian Revolution of 1917, the South Caucasus region was briefly included in an independent state.  Eventually, the Soviet Union established control.  Later, the Soviet dictator, Josef Stalin, a Georgian, decided that Abkhazia should be included in the borders of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic.  The Georgian S.S.R. was one of the 15 republics that constituted the Soviet Union.  However, power still devolved from Moscow.  During this period the Soviet government moved thousands of ethnic Georgians into Abkhazia.

Unique during Soviet times, Abkhazians protested to be given Republic status and, while remaining an integral part of the Soviet Union, to be outside of Georgia’s borders.

After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, only the 15 Soviet Republics were allowed to apply for recognition by the United Nations.  So Russia, Ukraine, Georgia and others could apply, but Abkhazia could not.  This meant that Abkhazia was condemned to be included inside the borders of a nation that many residents viewed as an occupier.

Effectively, the United Nations accepted Josef Stalin’s decision on Georgia’s borders.

What really happened in 2008?

The overwhelming narrative in the Western press since the August 2008 conflict was that Russia invaded Georgia.

Events do not agree.

Mikhail Saakashvili was reelected President of Georgia in 2008 on a promise of reintegration of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

August 8, the day of the start of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Georgia shelled Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia.  Russian peacekeepers, who had been in place since the conflict of the mid 1990’s, and hundreds of Ossetian civilians were killed.  OSCE monitors have stated that they believed that Georgia started the conflict with indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia have significant Russian minorities and have long looked to Russia for protection.  Despite President Saakashvili’s apparent belief to the contrary, it was absolutely predictable that Russia would respond militarily.

Condition of Abkhazia and Ossetia Today

In the aftermath, Russia and Nicaragua became the first nations to officially recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia.   Widespread recognition will bring investment and rebuilt infrastructure.  Tourism and economic development will follow.  There is no reason for Abkhazian citizens to live in poverty when their country has so many natural advantages.

I support international recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

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