President Medvedev’s Georgian Concerns

PRESIDENT MEDVEDEV’S GEORGIAN CONCERNS
by Alexandra Samarina, Aleksei Gorbachev

WPS Agency
Nezavisimaya Gazeta
August 8, 2011 Monday
Russia

The interview with the president: velvet paws hide sharp claws

HIGHLIGHT: SPEAKING OF THE GEORGIAN CONFLICT, THE HEAD OF STATE
ADDRESSED POTENTIAL VOTERS; Dmitry Medvedev’s interview: analysis
and aftermath.

There definitely was more to President Dmitry Medvedev’s interview
with Russia Today, 1st Caucasus TV, and Radio Echo of Moscow than
a mere commemoration of the third anniversary of the Five-Day War
between Russia and Georgia. Experts got the impression that the head
of state was really addressing his potential electorate and, more to
the point, his partner within the tandem.

Medvedev’s interview was of the sort usually described by the
phrase “velvet paws hide sharp claws”. On the one hand, he spoke of
“establishment of peace”, “normal dialogue”, “negotiations and ability
to listen to the other party”. On the other, of the necessity to
“recognize and put up with the reality.”

Medvedev admitted that “the pain was still lingering”. He said,
however, that “the decision to deploy the army and the ensuing
recognition of the territories as subjects of international law were
absolutely correct.” The president emphasized that he had acted within
the framework of the Constitution and called the decisions made in
August 2008 “legitimate, reasonable, and necessary”. “Sovereignty
of these territories had to be recognized in the name of their
protection.”

Medvedev said that he would respect the choice made by the Georgian
people but reiterated that he would never have anything to do with
the current president of Georgia (Mikhail Saakashvili, elected by
the same Georgian people by the way).

In fact, it was Medvedev’s statement on the decision to send the
Russian army into harm’s way that stunned the interviewers. Medvedev
emphasized that it had been his decision. “Who called whom? Did you
call Vladimir Putin in Beijing or was it he calling you from Beijing?”

asked Aleksei Venediktov of Radio Echo of Moscow. The president’s
answer was quite sincere. “As a matter of fact, nobody called anyone.

We got in touch twenty-four hours later.” – “Twenty-four hours?”

Venediktov was clearly confused. “Twenty-four hours later. I had
given all orders already, and things there were getting into high gear.

Putin made a statement then, saying that we could not be expected to
do nothing and put up with it,” said Medvedev.

Medvedev then repeated again and again that Putin and he had contacted
each other twenty-four hours later. “Yes, we got in touch by means
of a secure line… Then he came back and we met and discussed the
matter again. Even before his return, however, I had met with the
Security Council to explain my stand on the matter and the decision to
return fire and enter the conflict. The Security Council had backed
me… It was only after Putin’s return that I met with all of them,
Putin included, in Sochi.”

Igor Yurgens, Director of the Institute of Contemporary Development,
also called the interview significant from the standpoint of domestic
politics. Said Yurgens, “Inner loyalty is becoming increasingly more
inconsistent with the external manifestations of violations of some
pact of which we know nothing save for the fact that it exists.”

According to Yurgens, the president was making a deliberate emphasis
on independence in decision-making in August 2008. Yurgens even
thought that he knew why. “Were it not for the hasty establishment
of this laugh of the Russian Popular Front and consequently for
the psychological pressure Putin’s team was putting Medvedev under,
answer to this question would have been different.” Yurgens emphasized
that Medvedev had played an instrumental part in Russia’s reaction
to the sudden crisis in August 2008. “Medvedev stopped the hotheads
clamoring for a march to Tbilisi. In a broader sense, Medvedev stopped
the forces determined to flush our liberalism down the drain. Sure,
I remember the fiery speeches these hawks were making in Moscow in
August 2008. Danger to Medvedev’s policy was so apparent and grave
then that were it not for his determination, everything would have
been quite different now. Medvedev can take pride in what he did then.”

Aleksei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center called Medvedev’s
interview “unexpected”. “To tell you the truth, I cannot understand the
purpose of this interview. I do not think that the interview earned
Medvedev additional respect with voters. Liberals who do respect him
must have been kind of put out by his sharply-worded rhetorics in
connection with the international community. And gaining pro-Putin
hard-liners’ sympathies required more than just this interview,”
said Malashenko.

Visiting Camp Seliger shortly before the president’s interview, Putin
commented on the prospects of absorption of South Ossetia by Russia.

According to Malashenko, Putin’s comments had been much more newsworthy
than the president’s interview. “It’s simple, really. The premier
spoke of the future whereas the president, about the past.”

President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev will visit Medvedev in Sochi on
August 9. Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart Serj Sargsjan met in
Kazan on June 29. This meeting was brokered by Medvedev.

Neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan have responded to the statements made by
the Russian president. Retired Azerbaijani diplomats point out that it
was due to Moscow that Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia
were occupied in the first place. They believe that it was done to
prevent NATO’s expansion into the Caucasus. Said political scientist
Vafa Guluzade, “[President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev discarded the mask
of a peacekeeper at long last. He essentially threatened Azerbaijan
with a repeat of the Georgian scenario in the event the hostilities
in Nagorno-Karabakh broke out all over again…

By and large, Medvedev admitted that occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh
had been orchestrated by Russia.”

Political scientist Zardusht Alizade said that Medvedev was
“blackmailing Azerbaijan”.

Political Techniques Center Vice President Aleksei Makarkin pointed
out that recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as sovereign
states had failed to make any noticeable effect on Karabakh conflict
settlement. “[Levon] Ter-Petrosjan was forced to resign [as president
of Armenia] the moment it was decided that he had gone too far in
concessions to Azerbaijan. Political bargaining between Russia and
Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh is plain impossible. Baku will never
recognize runaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia as sovereign states,”
said Makarkin.

Tbilisi’s official reaction to the interview meanwhile was absolutely
predictable. Saakashvili’s Press Secretary Manana Mandzhgaladze
proclaimed Tbilisi ready for civilized and friendly relations with
Russia – as long as Russia abandoned its aggressive policy and
learned to respect territorial integrity of Georgia. Mandzhgaladze
said that the tone of the Russian president had reminded her of the
Cold War era. She admitted being shocked by Medvedev’s words that
what she called aggression against Georgia ought to be a lesson to
other countries.

Georgian consulate section within the Embassy of Switzerland in
Moscow in the meantime shut down on account of being left without
electricity. The Russians referred to the Georgians’ debts for communal
services. The Georgian Foreign Ministry called the Russians’ claims
preposterous and groundless.