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War to Flare Again?

By Messenger Staff
Monday, September 26
Georgia exists in a strange reality. Its government declared tourism a priority for the country meanwhile one-fifth of its territory is occupied by a neighboring country. President Saakashvili promised from the UN lectern that Georgia will not use force to return its breakaway territories. Meanwhile the Russian parliament, the Duma, is discussing the possible deployment of Iskander type missiles and more military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moreover, one of the members of the Russian parliament, Semen Baghdasarov of the oxymoronic "Fair Russia" party, predicts a new war between Russia and Georgia in the near future – perhaps before the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Baghdasarov reinforced his statement by claiming that the Georgian army has managed to restore its potential and increase its capacity as well as the number of people in service. He also mentioned the arms supply into Georgia from Israel and Turkey and reforms which are considerably improving the combat capabilities of Georgian armed forces. There are several explanations for Baghdasarov’s statement. Maybe it was calculated to put pressure on the Georgian leadership. Or it may serve to justify Russia's accumulation of military personnel and arms in the occupied territories. It could also possibly be a deliberate voicing of the plans of the Russian elite before the presidential elections there.

In terms of this latter interpretation, it is worth remembering that before becoming the president of Russia in 2000 then-prime minister Vladimir Putin launched a military assault against Chechnya provoking a surge of support for the president in waiting. With current Russian President Dmitri Medvedev finally endorsing Putin for president in 2012, the latter is once again a president in waiting. Scratch under the surface and it's clear that many Russians, especially in the growing middle class, are getting tired of this bizarre political sham in their country. However, demonizing Georgia, perhaps even stirring up conflict, may help to draw attention away from the political musical chairs and bolster Putin's popularity in the run up to his shoe-in as president.

In fairness, accusations fly from both sides. When Putin was elected in 2000, the Kremlin was blaming the Chechens for a series of terrorist outrages. In 2011, it was Saakashvili who announced to those present in New York that Georgia had been the victim of multiple attempts at terrorist attack apparently masterminded by the Russian special services. It seems then that with elections coming up in Georgia, Saakashvili can also benefit from stoking up the rhetoric of the Russian threat.

So it is difficult to determine precisely what is behind Baghdasarov’s statement. But one thing is clear: Russia remains occupying Georgian territories, filling them with soldiers and equipment and not concealing its aggression towards Georgia. Upcoming elections in both countries have the possibility to escalate an already tense situation if either side see it as in their interest, and judging from Baghdasarov's views, the Russians are already keenly aware of this.