Dodona Kiziria, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Indiana University
Mr. Gorbachev’s article “Russia Never Wanted a War” (see New York Times, August 20, op-ed section, page 23) can be accepted at face value by those who remember him as “darling Misha” and still credit him, quite erroneously, for bringing down the “evil empire.”
However, those who are familiar with the events which took place during the final years of the Soviet Union should remember (the Georgians certainly do!) that it was Mr. Gorbachev who sent tanks to crush the peaceful demonstration in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, on April 9, 1989. Georgia was demanding independence, and Mr. Gorbachev, then the head of the Soviet government, could not tolerate such heresy. 22 innocent people, most of them eighteen to twenty years old, were hacked to death by Russian soldiers. The name of the place was fittingly called “Lenin Square.” I do not remember Mr. Gorbachev bemoaning death of those innocent victims. Moreover, in 1991 he threatened President Gamsakhurdia that Georgia will have separatist movement in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He certainly kept his promise.
In the civil war that broke out in Georgian in1991 and lasted almost three years, Russia played active role supplying arms to warring sides favoring separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. After the end of the war Russia claimed the role of the peacekeeper in these regions but instead of facilitating a peaceful solution of the problem, she intentionally exacerbated ethnic tension keeping Georgia in a permanent state of instability.
In the 1990‘s, during the war in Chechnya where many innocent lives were destroyed and the city of Grozny burnt to ashes (did Mr. Gorbachev deplore the war with the same passion?), Russian government made another “friendly” gesture to its neighbor, a gesture aimed at crippling Georgia economically. Citizens of Georgia were barred from traveling to Russia without visa supposedly because Chechen fighters could penetrate to Russia from Georgia. Considering the opportunities open to the Chechens along the porous borders of the Caucasus, it was a very lame excuse indeed, especially since at that time no other member country of the CIS was burdened with visa requirements.
A few years ago the Russian government delivered another blow to Georgia’s economy; they blocked import of Georgian goods, suspended all flights and financial transactions with Georgian banks. At the same time, citizens of Georgia, living in Russia legally or illegally, were rounded up by the police and deported to Georgia in cargo planes. The operations were conducted in a manner that resulted at least in three deaths and caused great human misery.
Having strengthened its grip on Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russian government never stopped provoking Georgia or creating additional hot spots inside the country. Russian planes have repeatedly made brazen flights over Georgian territory, and just two months ago shot down a Georgian unarmed drone plane near South Ossetia’s boarder, a border that is legally part of Georgian territory. Had any of these actions been committed by the Government of Georgia, Russia would have started a war long time ago. Mr. Gorbachev have not mentioned innocent victims killed, villages razed to the ground, towns bombed, houses pillaged and bridges blown up deep inside Georgia, many kilometers away of the conflict zone.
This is not a war launched in defense of South Ossetians who, like many other ethnic minorities of the region, are derisively referred to by the Russians as “persons of Caucasian descent.” It is a war to punish Georgia for wanting to be free from the iron embrace of its “big brother.” It is a war Russia always wanted.
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