The Moscow Times
24 June 2009
By Yulia Latynina
Peacekeepers deployed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe must leave Georgia by June 30 after Russia vetoed on June 15 all attempts to keep their mission in force. That is about the same time General Nikolai Makarov, commander of Russia's forces in the war with Georgia in August and the commander of the "Caucasus 2009" military exercises planned for June 29 to July 6, announced that "Georgia is brandishing its weapons and is preparing to solve its territorial problems in any way it sees fit."
This raises a question: If Georgia is really planning to start a war, why is Russia going to such lengths to expel international observers who will be able to testify to the whole world how Georgia started the war?
The Akhalgori district is key to any future war in Georgia. In violation of all agreements signed by Moscow at the conclusion of the August war, Russia never withdrew its troops from Akhalgori -- territory that was previously under Georgian control and located only 30 kilometers from Tbilisi. If Russia starts a war, Akhalgori would be the obvious launching area. If, however, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili initiates the war, Akhalgori would be one of his first military targets.
Only a few journalists have managed to visit Akhalgori, but those who succeeded have painted a somber picture of conditions there. Marauding and killing by South Ossetian "civil guardsmen" have become part of everyday life. Alkhalgori has been transformed into a military base: It was from Akhalgori, by the way, that Russian Sergeant Alexander Glukhov deserted into Georgian territory in January.
Is Akhalgori just a big mismanagement problem? Perhaps, but if Russia intends to strike Tbilisi from Akhalgori it naturally does not need any witnesses hanging around -- above all journalists and international observers. One way is to control events is to deny journalists access and veto motions to continue OSCE peacekeeping operations. Another way is to get rid of other witnesses by using the South Ossetian "civil guardsmen" as a blunt instrument to remove them.
Russia's foreign policy did not become more peaceful following the war with Georgia. To the contrary, it fought a "gas war" with Ukraine in January and has recently fought a "milk war" with Belarus. If before the war with Georgia, Russia's position toward the rest of the world was "They don't love us." Now it is "They attacked us."
Of course, Russia would be crazy to start a new war with Georgia now. Unfortunately, it was just such madness that prompted its "gas war" with Ukraine.
Throughout most of this year, the Kremlin has tried to convince the world that Georgia started the war. Clearly, the more innocent the Kremlin considers itself to be, the more likely it will feel justified in starting a second war with Georgia to settle scores.
In private talks, OSCE officials ask not to take advantage of the fact that its peacekeepers will not be around to arbitrate -- or prevent -- new conflicts in Georgia. But by leaving, they are making another Russian-Georgian war more likely