Russia’s signing on November 24 of a ‘treaty on alliance and strategic partnership’ with Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia should be viewed as part of a much bigger picture. As stated in previous articles, part of its motivation is to show up US actions for what they are: if the West can do what it did in Ukraine, Kosovo and Iraq, why can’t Russia do the same in Abkhazia? But it also raises bigger questions about the real meaning of all the fine principles bandied about by the “bash Russia” brigade.
The signed treaty envisions the creation of a common defence and security space and stipulates that joint actions will be taken to protect the “Abkhazian-Georgian border” and Russia will supply economic assistance to the region, which it regards as an independent state.
Under international law, Abkhazia is still part of Georgia and the vast majority of the world’s nations recognise it as such. On that basis, Russia cannot sign an agreement with it as an independent entity, or do anything else there, without the permission of the Georgian government. Therefore the usual Western media outlets are claiming that the agreement is “detrimental to ongoing efforts to stabilise the security situation in the region.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has condemned the treaty and said that the alliance strongly supports Georgia’s sovereignty. “This so-called treaty does not contribute to a peaceful and lasting settlement of the situation in Georgia,” he said. Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said that “Just like earlier agreements signed between the Russian Federation and Abkhazia, this violates Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, contradicts principles of international law and the international commitments of the Russian Federation, including the 12 August 2008 Agreement and its Implementing Measures of 8 September 2008.”
So what are these things these dignitaries are talking about – “sovereignty”, “territorial integrity”, “and security?” No one is bothering to define these terms. Not because they can’t, but because doing so automatically weakens their position to such an extent that they would find it very difficult to make such claims in future.
Georgia is supposed to be an independent sovereign state, making its own decisions on matters which affect it. Like most of the developing world, this sovereignty is more apparent than real: any decisions made must be in line with the self-declared “national interests” of Georgia’s biggest partners, because it does not have the means to pursue its own national interests. But there are particular quirks to the Georgian situation which make any claim to “support its sovereignty” even more of a joke.
For a start – when did Georgia become independent? It declared itself such in 1992, after the virulently anti-Soviet Zviad Gamsakhurdia gained control of the local Soviet. This was an act of the “self-determination” which is so often invoked as a principle when it suits the West to do so: the Maidan Square demonstrators were allegedly exercising their “right to self-determination” before fascist thugs were inserted to take matters out of their hands, while the referendum in Crimea, also self-determination, was not recognised.
Yet Georgia’s independence and sovereignty were not recognised by most countries while Gamsakhurduia was in power. It is often forgotten that the West publicly opposed the breakup of the Soviet Union, as Lithuanians in particular know very well, because it suddenly saw the “Evil Empire” as a friend. More particularly, it didn’t want the Soviet Union’s resources falling into several pairs of hands when there was hope it could tie one.
Gamsakhurdia reminded the West of all its own rhetoric against the Soviet Union, agreeing with every word and basing his rule on removing every last vestige of this evil from Georgia. 87% of the Georgian population supported him in the first presidential elections. But the West didn’t want to hear. So Georgia wasn’t independent and Gamsakhurdia had to go, regardless of what its electors said. Tellingly, one of the criticisms of Gamsakhurdia was that he had “failed to find a common language with the West”, whereas in fact his language was identical to that used by the West for the previous seventy-five years.
Gamsakhurdia was removed in a coup conducted by criminal gangs which no Western country would regard as legal if it happened within their borders. Nevertheless, this was supported by the West. Eduard Shevardnadze was then installed to replace him, having made himself the darling of the West in Soviet times but alienated any support he might once have had in Georgia. After declaring war in the 87% of “Zviadists”, he was told by Bill Clinton he had “embraced democracy”, a claim for which Clinton himself should have been tried for treason.
Shevardnadze was eventually removed, through US agitation, when his continual ballot-rigging and institutional corruption got too much for the US to bear. More specifically, it had thought it could use Shevardnadze for its own dirty purposes and found he had turned the tables and was using the West to serve his own dirty purposes. The West couldn’t take the humiliation. So in came Mikheil Saakashvili, the equally corrupt murderer and extortioner who ended up the same way when he jumped the gun of the pre-planned US invasion of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to try and claim the glory for himself.
This is how much the West cares about Georgia’s sovereignty. If it had any respect for the notion it would not repeatedly have changed its government to suit itself. The Georgian people would know they could choose the leaders they want, not the ones the West allows them to choose from, and Georgia would be able to generate its own income, through being granted access to markets and promoting its many fine products and virtues, rather than being diplomatically forced to depend on “aid agencies” which have long been shown to be fronts for gun running and worse.
So the West believes Abkhazia is part of Georgia and defends this principle. Really?
According to the West the current problems between Georgia and its breakaway regions date from Gamsakhurdia’s time. We are told that he said “Georgia for the Georgians” and wanted to persecute minorities. We are not told when he is supposed to have said this however. Nor are we told that Gamsakhurdia guaranteed Abkhazia an autonomous parliament of its own in which the Abkhaz would have a permanent majority, despite the fact they only accounted for 10% of the population of Abkhazia at the time.
If anyone was discriminated against in Gamsakhurdia’s Abkhazia, it was everyone except the Abkhaz. Indeed, it was his actions which enabled the separatists to gain control of the local parliament and declare their independence. He was then condemned by the West for refusing to grant this independence. Apparently the West had exactly the opposite view when Georgia was briefly sovereign to the one it professes now.
The present Georgia-Abkhaz problems do not derive from Gamsakhurdia, as is often stated, but from Eduard Shevardnadze’s attempt to take control of the province in 1993. This was a typical act of calculation: either he would resolve the problem by slaughtering the Abkhaz, or the criminal militias who had put him in power, who were the basis of the force sent, would be defeated themselves, leaving him free of their influence.
This action, too, was supported by the West. It then spent years arming Georgia to retake its territories and agreed to support an invasion of them, as the Georgia-based US commanders confirmed when drunk. When Saakashvili went in ahead of the planned date it did not support him. It also denied selling him the cluster bombs used, despite the labels found on them, and did nothing to stop Russia’s active support of the separatists in both regions, thereby demonstrating it was using the dispute to sell arms, and make Georgia ever more dependent on it, rather than actually try and restore its territorial integrity.
Furthermore, territorial integrity is meaningless if the territory is not controlled by the government of that country. No Georgian ever voted for the country to become the regional arms dealing and transit hub, the main supply route the US uses to get arms to the groups serving its purposes in other countries, such as ISIL. Nor did they vote for the Pankisi Valley to become a terrorist training camp. Such actions provoke reactions, and the enemies the US makes through them are much more likely to attack small, nearby Georgia than the big, faraway US. This is how much the West respects Georgia’s territorial integrity as a state.
Does the presence of Russian troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia without the agreement of the Georgian government compromise Georgia’s security?
The Russian troops in Georgia have done their jobs in a professional manner. The separatist militias they previously sponsored were, indeed, a lawless bunch. The security of the populations living either side of the barbed wire fences erected as “national boundaries” by the Russians are much more secure than they were when separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia relied on their militias to retain control of their regions.
The presence of Russian troops supposedly threatens the annexation of the breakaway regions. The presence of NATO in the Baltic States, and Georgia, threatens the annexation of regions of Russia. It is just as likely that South Ossetia will unite with North Ossetia, part of Russia, in a NATO-backed rump state than in a Russian-dominated one. We are expected to accept the diplomatic assurances that NATO has no such intentions, whilst not accepting Russia’s similar assurances.
The implication of the Western position is that Russia will annex Abkhazia and perhaps Georgia too. As long as the West betrays its own values Russia will do what it wants. The backlash against “political correctness” in Western Europe shows us what happens when genuine principles become meaningless words.
Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.