Five-day war: the lessons that Russia again fails to learn

Five-day war: the lessons that Russia again fails to learn
Aleksander B. KRYLOV

Following the break-up of the USSR and the armed conflicts of the
early 1990s the situation in the South Caucasus followed the path that
proved unfavourable to Russia. The United States and its allies
started gaining a footing in the region and pursued a policy of
gradually ousting Russia from the South and, in the future, also from
the North Caucasus. Moscow pursued a laissez-faire policy, one that
bore the imprint of defeatism and unjustified illusions about
prospects for future cooperation with the West. The scale of the
Russian Federation’s political, military and economic presence in the
South Caucasus was steadily shrinking as a result.
The situation began changing in the first decade of the 21st
century. The recent years seemed to suggest a radical revaluation of
Russia’s policy on the Caucasus, as well as a quality-new character of
that policy. Evidence of that was the Five-day war in August 2008,
followed by a refusal to recognize as legitimate Georgia’s post-Soviet
borders (that is the former Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic), by
the official recognition of independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia
on the 26th of August 2008, by concluding treaties of friendship,
cooperation and mutual assistance, on setting up two permanent Russian
military bases in the two republics, on the joint protection of their
borders etc.
But even after the Five-day war Russia failed to learn the lesson and
do away with the basic drawback of its Caucasus policy, that of
leading developments. One gets the impression that once the war was
over, Moscow thought it sufficient to set up military bases and
frontier posts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and concentrate on
economic aid to the two republics (the aid that unfortunately far too
often fails to reach the rank and file there).
Following the Five-day war diplomatic relations between Russia and
Georgia were severed on Tbilisi’s initiative. The Russian l-term moves
to secure Saakashvili’s trial. The information campaign in the West to
expose the Georgian Army’s crimes against South Ossetia’s peaceful
population stood no comparison (in terms of scale and commitment) with
the round-the-clock propaganda of the idea that a `small democratic
Georgia’ should be defended from being bullied by the `imperial’
In the wake of the Five-day war Moscow proclaimed a policy of
non-interference in Georgia’s internal affairs, said it recognized
Georgia’s territorial integrity and began waiting for the Georgian
people themselves to condemn and overthrow Saakashvili for the crimes
perpetrated. As a result the Georgian dictator got a chance to recover
from the military disaster, have more armaments delivered and restore
his armed forces’ fighting efficiency.
It was not before Georgia began almost daily shelling of South Ossetia
that the Russian leaders said that as of the third of August the force
of the Russian military base would make security-related moves on a
daily basis in view of the upcoming first anniversary of Georgia’s
aggression, including military exercise on South Ossetian
soil. President of the Republic of South Ossetia E. Kokoity welcomed
the statement in question by the Russian Defence Ministry and
`Russia’s very tough mood as regards the situation’. However, it would
have proved far more reasonable to preserve that kind of tough mood
all along since the winning of the Five-day war, which would have
helped cut short the very possibility of Saakashvili’s returning to
his previous practice of all sorts of anti-Russian provocations to use
them in his propaganda warfare against the Russian Federation. Russian
diplomacy has actually lost the opportunity for using the problem of
cargo shipments to Afghanistan to bring pressure to bear on the United
States and NATO in the Caucasus direction (and in the post-Soviet area
in general). Tying Russia’s position on the issue with obtaining a
guaranteed embargo on arms deliveries to the aggressor-state Georgia,
as well as tying that position with NATO’s enlargement eastwards and
other issues that are sensitive to Russia’s national interests
couldn’t have been more opportune under the circumstances (even with
due account for Russia’s interest in the NATO troops’ further presence
in Afghanistan). But rather than bargaining about the transit shipment
problem, Russia grew so fascinated by the Obama-announced `resetting’
that actually gave the US and NATO the green light to ship their
cargoes to Afghanistan across Russian soil.
In response Russia got Obama’s broad smile and his verbal promise to
improve relations with Moscow. This is certainly suggestive of a story
of twenty years ago and involving the very same kind of verbal
promises not to expand NATO eastwards following the break-up of the
Warsaw Pact and the reunification of Germany. One would hate to see
the current Russian leaders to inherit Mikhail Gorbachev’s amazing
gullibility with regard to our western partners.
Russia continues to remain the world’s only nation that boasts a
nuclear capacity that’s comparable with that of the United States,
which determines the character of the policy that the United States
and NATO pursue on this country. The US and NATO will naturally seek
to comprehensively weaken Russia, which is graphically illustrated in
the Caucasus region, the one that’s so sensitive to Russia’s national
The new US Administration’s officials continue making contradictory
statements on Washington’s Caucasus policy. Most State Department
officials that have retained their posts since the George Bush years
insist that the previous policy has been preserved and point out that
change will prove cosmetic in character.
However, the Barack Obama-an ing’ of US-Russian relations instils
certain hope that the new Administration may give up at least the
toughest forms of confrontation with Russia in the Caucasus. Obama’s
Caucasus policy will most likely proceed from the expediency of
reducing the scale of the US direct involvement in regional affairs
and from the striving for shifting the greater share of worries about
the defence of the US interests on the NATO allies and on other
countries and international organizations (by analogy with Iraq and
Under the new Administration the United States has actually forgone
its former policy of granting Georgia and Ukraine NATO membership in
the shortest possible time. The US Senate Commission on studying the
US policy on Russia advised the new Administration against encouraging
Georgia’s and Ukraine’s joining NATO. The Commission has drawn up a
document that suggests `resigning to the fact that neither Ukraine,
nor Georgia is prepared for NATO membership’ and using other
opportunities for developing partnership relations with these
The Senators offered, by way of an alternative to NATO membership, `a
special form of cooperation’ of Georgia and Ukraine with the military
alliance. The NATO Command shares the view. Before stepping down as
NATO’s Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that Ukraine and
Georgia were unprepared for joining NATO and that the situation would
hardly change in the foreseeable future. He emphasized that some
country’s leader’s desire for joining does not necessarily imply that
their country will be granted NATO membership.
But nor is this evidence that NATO has given up its policy of
enlargement. Hardly had the alliance’s new Secretary-General Anders
Fogh Rasmussen settled himself in his new armchair when he demanded
that Moscow should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity
of its neighbours and emphasized that he would go ahead with
`practical cooperation’ for supporting Ukraine’s and Georgia’s armed
forces’ reforms. Rasmu hat Ukraine and Georgia could gain NATO
membership provided they met the alliance’s required criteria and,
unlike his predecessor, made no comment on the deadline the two
countries should meet (with Ukrainian `orange’ and Georgian `rosy’
democrats cheering this). This did not prevent him from recognizing
Russia as NATO’s second priority after Afghanistan and claiming that
he sought to normalize relations with Russia, which was hardly
convincing what with his previous statements about the intention to
continue pursuing the policy of NATO’s enlargement eastwards.
It was only recently that the American Administration was revelling,
amid the unipolar world situation, in its seemingly unlimited power,
treating its NATO allies disparagingly and taking little care of their
interests in the South Caucasus or elsewhere. This kind of patronizing
tone caused obvious annoyance in many European politicians. Now that
Washington’s `Pax Americana’ is falling to decay, the US has stopped
harping on the subject of
Europe-and-the-entire-humanity-made-happy-by-th e-United-States and is
clearly seeking to disburden its cares on its NATO allies. The
`Eastern Partnership’ project, which has been drawn up to replace the
now bankrupt GUAM alliance has come in handy as a supplement to NATO’s
plans to expand eastwards.
The `Eastern Partnership’s’ officially proclaimed objective is to
`undertake integration initiatives’ with regard to the six post-Soviet
republics that are not part of the European Union or NATO, namely
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and
Ukraine. Specifically, in terms of boosting political interaction,
providing for concluding new-generation association agreements,
achieving closer integration of the `eastern partners” economies into
the economy of the European Union, easing visa formalities and taking
joint measures in the field of energy security in the interests of all
parties to the partnership, as well as in extending the scope of
financial aid.
Russia’s involvement in the `Eastern Partnership’ project is not
really foreseen, which is evidence of the West’s striving for this
country’s political and economic isolation. The project’s actual
objective is to block integration trends in the post-Soviet area
through disorganizing the performance of the CIS, EurAsEc, CSTO and
Most investment projects of the `Eastern Partnership’ are about such
strategically important areas as power production, transport, the
protection of external borders, the law enforcement project also
provides for setting up a `Forum of nongovernmental organizations’
that would enable the European Union to energetically influence the
internal political situation in the post-Soviet countries,
specifically through funding opposition organizations.
Although EU leaders keep making statements that `Eastern Partnership’
is not aimed against Russia, it is obvious that the project seeks to
bring back to life and expand the GUAM bloc, which has gone bankrupt
and which the United States set up in olden times as an anti-Russian
alternative to the CIS. The Five-day war in the South Caucasus has
proved that the bloc in question is absolutely untenable. Therefore it
is only natural that practical implementation of the `Eastern
Partnership’ project began right after the Five-day war amid the US
and NATO’s obvious inability to oust Russia from the South Caucasus
and establish full Euro-Atlantic control over the region.
Shortly after the fighting was over, an EU emergency summit was called
in France to adopt a resolution on the need `to provide support for
regional cooperation and cement relations with the eastern neighbours
through implementing the `Eastern Partnership’ and `Black Sea Synergy’
projects. Azerbaijan and Georgia (along with Moldavia and Ukraine)
were included in the list with no strings attached.
Armenia and Belarus were told that their access to `Eastern
Partnership’s’ promised economic and other advantages was conditional
on the `democratization’ of state mechanism and public life. The
demand is perfectly formal in character since it would be absurd to
consider the authoritarian (as the West puts it) Azerbaijan or
absolutely disorganized Ukraine and Georgia as examples of democratic
development in the post-Soviet area. It is obvious that `Eastern
Partnership’s’ advantages have been promised to bring pressure to bear
on Armenia and Belarus to ensure their foreign policies’ eventual
re-orientation and, in the long term, their rejection of a union with
Russia EU to have a pronounced effect on Belarusian leaders. Minsk
has, as a result, recanted its earlier made promises and is dallying
with recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. A
propaganda campaign has been launched in Armenia to negatively affect
the current public sentiment on Russia through libelling
Russian-Armenian strategic partnership (which allegedly fails to
guarantee Armenia’s security, is unequal and disadvantageous in
character). There is little, if any, doubt that the presidential
election that’s due in Abkhazia in December 2009 will also be used to
destabilize the situation and slander Russia’s Caucasus policy in
every way possible.
The Caucasus is so important to Russia that any self-complacence or
reposing on the Five-day war laurels is absolutely
inadmissible. Russia’s policy on the Caucasus is still non-systemic
and incomprehensive in character; pre-emptive moves are either too
late or not made at all. The opportunities that offered themselves as
a result of the victory in the Five-day war were not taken advantage
of in full measure. This has prompted another aggravation of the
situation and anti-Russian trend growth both in the North and South

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS