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Will the West turn a blind eye?

Monday, October 13
October 10 was the deadline for the Russian troops to withdraw from Georgian territory, as was said in the Sarkozy-brokered agreement. Moscow pulled most of its armed forces out of the so-called Buffer Zones and most probably will leave the remaining bits of land as well. It therefore claims it has fulfilled its obligations. But the abovementioned document clearly stated that both sides had to return their troops to their positions prior to August 7, when the war broke out. Russia has not done this, and is trying to avoid doing so by once again reinterpreting the text of the agreement according to its own willfully twisted logic.

Now it is up to the West to decide whether it will swallow the bitter Russian pill, and turn a blind eye to the fact that the Kremlin is illegally occupying Georgian territory by recognizing its puppet separatist regimes as independent countries, or whether it will insist that Russia does indeed fulfil its commitments and follows the rules of civilized conduct.

The West is facing this dilemma: there are many other acute problems in the world. Should the EU be so concerned about tiny little Georgia, which, by the way, Russia insists started the conflict in the first place? Or should it be principled and force Moscow, not militarily of course, to follow the rules by which it insisted this game should be played?

In the Sarkozy-Medvedev document, prepared under the pressure of hostilities in Georgia and primarily aimed at stopping the bloodshed, there are certain opaque clauses which, if read with honesty and fairness, could easily be clarified. But Moscow’s leaders conduct themselves in mafia style, basing their policy on the principle of “might is right.” In fact Russia has behaved this way from the very beginning. Despite an already existing signed document, it carried on occupying Georgian lands, conducting ethnic cleansing and atrocities there, hastily recognising separatist “states” and building military bases there. “There is a new reality since the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states by Russia, and we conduct ourselves according this new reality,” Moscow says shamelessly. Remembering what happened during the reality of the Prague Spring, Hungarian Uprising etcetera, the reality Russia is talking about is a very old one, there is nothing new in Russia taking by force something which is not theirs.

The Sarkozy-Medvedev agreement was later amended. The new version does not mention the withdrawal of troops to their pre August 7 positions but does not annul this clause either. Russian political analysts and politicians maintain that the clause no longer applies but Georgians think otherwise. The Geneva conference will clarify which interpretation is correct. Will the conference be another Munich, signing away territory for political expediency, or will some higher principle be at work?

As of today the situation is as follows: Russians / South Ossetians occupy the entire administrative territory of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region as it was constituted during the Soviet period, and Abkhaz and Russian forces occupy the Kodori Gorge within the borders of the Abkhaz Autonomous Republic as it was in the Soviet period. They were in neither of these places before August 7. If it is acceptable for them to be there now, what is to stop them occupying the Georgian-controlled part of Abkhazia, or, indeed, all the territory of other countries bordering Georgia to its East, South and West, which was likewise not mentioned in any ceasefire agreement?

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner stated during his recent visit to Tbilisi that October 10 was just the beginning of a peace process which should be followed step by step. He acknowledged, however, that the Russians are still in Akhalgori and Upper Abkhazia, in places controlled by Georgia before the war. It is difficult to understand, therefore, how many steps Kouchner believes have been taken. The phrase “step by step” implies a long process. Is it long because it needs to be, or because the slower the pace of the process, the less expectation attaches to each stage of it, and the more one side can then delay the process and get away with it?

We hear about this longer timeframe more and more. Various diplomats and politicians are saying Georgia should become more attractive economically and democratically so that it becomes more desirable for the Abkhaz and South Ossetians to be part of in the longer term. This of course will be a very long process, requiring a minimum of tough decision-making in Europe. But those who say such things will eventually be forced to admit that neither Abkhazia not South Ossetia takes any independent decision whatsoever. Everything is decided for them by the Kremlin, which is unlikely to find a richer and more democratic Georgia more attractive, quirt the contrary.

A crucial date for the West approaches. Either it will surrender to the new master of ceremonies in Europe and probably the world, Russia, or it insists on pursuing the democratic values, mainly rule of law, which it preaches and hold dear. Now we will discover if, for perhaps the first time, the concept of ‘European values’ actually means anything.