The month of August has been a bad month in recent Russian history, and August 2008, tragically enough, is not an exception. Only now, we’re talking not about the default, a sunken submarine or a terrorist act. We’re talking about a war. The war between Russia and Georgia.
And it’s time to begin asking the two perennial, unmistakably Russian, questions: Who’s to be blamed and what is to be done?
But let me first ask two more. First, what is wrong with the system of "peacekeeping"? Why do peacekeepers, all over the globe, time and again fail to prevent atrocities against people they are supposed to protect? Why did the presence of not one, but two peacekeeping contingents in South Ossetia not stop the massacre of thousands of innocent civilians? Why did one "peacekeeping" contingent begin shooting at another instead of preventing bloodshed.
And the second: what is wrong with the UN Security Council? Why do the SC members who have no difficulties with writing resolutions condemning the results of presidential elections in remote countries waste three meetings — and will undoubtedly waste the fourth, fifth, and so on — to put the blame for the loss of innocent lives to where it rightfully belongs?
Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has made a number of serious mistakes. Although the timing of the military offensive in South Ossetia — coinciding with the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing — seemed to be opportune, he didn’t realize that the same inattention will be paid to the following events, including Russia’s heavy response. If the world, glued to TV screens, was supposed to ignore event A, why would it be expected to notice event B?
Saakashvili has also underestimated Russia’s military might in the region — especially its dominance over Georgia in the air space — and its willingness to use it for a resolute victory on the ground. Perhaps, Saakashvili and his military advisers have put too much stock in believing that the Russian army is too corrupted and disorganized to be ready for combat. Perhaps, they considered the 58th Army a paper tiger. Well, it wasn’t.
Finally, and most importantly, Saakashvili must have overestimated the West’s resolve to defend the "beacon of democracy" in the Caucasus. Having much of the world behind it in a "propaganda war", Georgia has found itself all alone against Russia in the real one. Many pundits have been saying for years that the United States would never engage in a military confrontation with Russia over Georgia. Saakashvili has chosen not to listen. Now, it’s time to count the chickens coming home to roost.
For the time being, Saakashvili is fully in control at home. Yesterday, opposition leaders reportedly visited with Saakashvili and assured him their full support. Sure, one doesn’t change horses in the middle of the stream…
But this may not last long. Already, in an interview with the France-Presse, former Georgian Foreign Minister, Salome Zhurabishvili, suggested that the United States was partly to blame for the violence in South Ossetia. No, she didn’t accuse Saakashvili in provoking the crisis, but the break with the "official" line is hard to miss.
Besides, it’s only a question of time that the Georgian elites recognize that the unification of the country — the hallmark of the whole Saakashvili presidency — is even further away than before August the 8th. With a pariah status in Moscow and possible war criminal charges over his head, Saakashvili may rapidly become a liability. And not only in Tbilisi, but in Western capitals, too.
Winning a "propaganda war" against Russia may well become the last victory of the Saakashvili administration. Well, Russia is not known for winning propaganda wars. In fact, it has lost just about every single one launched against it.
But it has won a military battle in South Ossetia. Saakashvili will learn very soon that in our imperfect times, victors of propaganda wars are getting only 15 minutes of CNN fame. It’s victors of real wars who command the respect of the world.