Thursday, February 25, 2010

Guardian of what?

A truly awful article has appeared in this morning's Guardian.  There's some interesting information, such as the burning down of Abkhazia's national heritage (is that true?), however the article appears to have been written in Moscow rather than London. My rebuttal is below.

Unfortunately I will have to rebut this nonsense line by line:

1. "Abkhazians and South Ossetians have not the slightest wish to be "reintegrated" into a unitary Georgian state" First of all, how do you know this? If based on opinion polls, were these conducted in a democratic environment where people are able to access all relevant points of view? Have you taken into account the views of the tens of thousands of Ossetians who have chosen to live in Tbilisi? And what of the views of the ethnic Georgians who formerly lived in the two enclaves but have been ethnically cleansed?

2. "nobody in Abkhazia or South Ossetia is interested in joining in these discussions" This is not completely true; there are politicians from both communities interested in discussions. It is true that Kokoite and Bagapsh aren't interested, but with a carte blanche from Russia, why would they be?

3. "because of repeated Georgian attacks over many years...the Abkhazians and South Ossetians have no trust in Tbilisi" Actually this works both ways; ethnic Georgians have suffered equally at the hands of (unconstitutional) Abkhaz and Ossetian militias.

4. "all they have been offered by Tbilisi is essentially a return to the status quo ante bellum" Wrong. Georgia has offered profound autonomy under a neutral peacekeeping force to both regions. This offer was rejected in favour of continued Russian occupation.

5. " the August 2008 war – sparked by Saak'ashvili's assault on Tskhinvali". My other leg has bells on and wishes to be pulled. You don't think perhaps that the August 2008 war might have been caused by Vladimir Putin's intention to invade Georgia (evidenced by a massive military build-up in the North Caucasus, shelling of Georgian villages, killing of Georgian policemen, incursions into Georgian airspace, 20 years of failed Russian mediation and peace-keeping)?

6. "President Dmitry Medvedev then promptly corrected Russia's mistake in recognising Georgia's Soviet frontiers" A truly scary statement and one which invites all hell to break loose in the former Soviet states. Think Crimea, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Tatarstan, Transnistria, Gagauzia, former Chinese & Japanese territories...)

7. "There is a role, too, for Georgia's western friends. They need to persuade Tbilisi to face reality and recognise the lost territories. This would then allow the international community to follow suit. It would finally pave the way for meaningful talks on how to establish viable stability across Transcaucasia – something which must be in everyone's interest." The last thing that is anybody's interests is telling a newly aggressive Russia that it's military adventures will be rewarded. Perhaps Mr Hewitt will realise this when Russia invades Scotland to protect its people from 'genocide' at the hands of the English.

A final question. What benefit is Mr Hewitt gaining for writing such one-sided drivel, and who is giving him this benefit?


  1. The article is crap for many of the reasons you point out but I still think he has a point in that it may be best for Georgia to let it go and move on...

    Hewitt's biggest mistake is of course failing to mention that during/after the war in the early 90 the majority of the population in Abkhazia(the Georgians) were expelled and if they were to be allowed to move back then the region would probably vote to stay with Georgia.

    But one has to be realistic and look at the situation on the ground, the civilians were unjustly expelled but so were the 15 million Germans from eastern Europe, hundreds of thousands of Serbs from ex-Yu, hundreds of thousands of palestinians from the Palestine lands now part of Israel and hundreds of thousands of Finns from Karelia. You could say that in all those cases (except Finland) they had started a war and therefore had them selves to blame but I don't think ethnic cleansing is EVER acceptable. The point is that those people are never going to get their old lands back, and though it is unjust, they have to accept it and move on.

    Likewise I think that the best thing for Georgia is to let Abkhazia and SO go and continue to build their democracy and economy. They will never be able to enter the EU and/or NATO with the A and SO situation unsolved and France and Germany aren't interested in anything which will anger the Russians.

    I think the same is true regarding Transnistria. As long as the problem is unsolved, Moldova will suffer politically and economically. If the PMR people want their own state, why not let them. I think they have a point in that the transnistrian lands were added to bessarabia by stalin and historically the lands east of the dnestr have never belonged to the kingdom of Romania or the principality of Moldova. Why not offer PMR recognition as an independent state if they surrender Tighina to Rep of Moldova, then Moldova can continue their path to true democracy, capitalism and EU without the obstacle of a frozen conflict.

  2. You make some excellent points. I think there is a need to be pragmatic regarding possible solutions while still holding Russia to account for her misbehaviour. If nothing else, it will strengthen the negotiating position of Moldova and Georgia.

    Regarding the Georgian situation, South Ossetia's claim to statehood appears extremely weak, as there were no Ossetians living south of the North Caucasus mountains prior to the 17th century, the region has always had a mixed population, and it's too small to be economically viable. Abkhazia has a stronger case, having a much longer tenure, occasional periods as an independent state and a larger hinterland. A 'pragmatic' solution might be to let Abkhazia go while reintegrating S. Ossetia as an autonomous region under neutral peacekeepers.

    In the case of Transnistria similar pragmatism could be the order of the day, although here I would see the bulk of the territory (except Tighina & Dubasari) being given back to a Russia-friendly Ukraine in return for Romanian-speaking territories in Bugeac and Bucovina.

  3. I know that SO was a patchwork of Georgian-controlled and separatist areas, that the total population is small and that they will have difficulties surviving on their own in contrast to the Abkhazians who have had control of almost entire Abkhazia since the early 90's

    However, isn't it true that since the 2008 war, Abkhazia has extended their control to the areas that Georgia controlled 92-08 and SO have further cleansed their area of Georgians so that it isn't so much of a patchwork any longer?

    I really dislike to reward ethnic cleansing, but in this case I think it would be difficult if not impossible to get the areas back and let the Georgian refugees return. Russia has already recognised them and is probably preparing to annex SO and maybe also Abkhazia. Europe as usual does nothing and even the US is not prepared to put the needed pressure on Russia. Georgia has no trump on hand, sure they can deny recognition, but with both states bordering Russia who recognises and trades with them I don't think it will be enough.

    As for Transnistria, do you really think Ukraine would want it? I don't think they will and they are probably even less interested in giving away parts of Ukraine to Moldova. But I'm not an expert on this area, the reason I read your blog(which is great btw) is to know more about the region.

  4. It turns out that the writer of the article is 'Abkhazia's honorary representative to the UK', a wee fact that the Guardian forgot to mention.

  5. Russias aggresive behavior towards Georgia, and the way they exploit ethnic minorities, should not be denied, but the "pro-Russian" side actually has one very strong argument: South Ossetia was part of the Georgian SSR, but has never been part of an independent Georgia, neither before, nor after the Soviet union. So why should it be?

    I think much of the same goes for Transnistria. It was essentially Stalins idea to make it part of Moldova, and I don't see why Moldova should not be happier without Transnistria.

  6. I agree that Stalin's border-shifting meddling is what brought Transnistria into Moldova and that it is not historically Slavic.

    There is, however, a huge problem with the idea that internationally accepted national borders are violable, even with the consent of the majority who live in the region concerned.

    All the world's territorial disputes would be re-opened. Some of these disputes would be violent and many people would die.

    In the case of Moldova, Transnistria could theoretically be ceded back to Ukraine, but only in the case that the Bugeac & Bucovina files were reopened (bits of Romanian / Moldovan territory transferred by Stalin to Ukraine). Do we want to go there?

  7. Soory, I should have said that Transnistria is not historically Romanian...