On December the 3rd about 40 Monterey Institute community members were given a chance to inform themselves more thoroughly and discuss the ongoing conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The two-hour event hosted by the MIIS Conflict Resolution Association featured in addition to speakers from our own university also a foreign guest- Mr. Andrey I. Belousov from the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in San Francisco.

He was supported by Mr. Alexander Melikishvili from James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and Professor Gordon M. Hahn. Speakers introduced their viewpoints about the conflict and discussed the possibilities of its peaceful resolution.

Gordon Hahn argued that there is plenty of blame to go around in the making of this small war. Georgia, Russia, the U.S., and Georgia’s breakaway republics Abkhazia and especially South Ossetia all bear approximately an equal share of responsibility.

The U.S. military and political support for Georgia and its current president Mikheil Saakashvili played an important role in exacerbating relations between Georgia, on the one hand, and Russia and the breakaway republics, on the other. The U.S. policy of NATO expansion to Georgia and Ukraine, despite Saakashvili’s refusal to agree to sign an agreement offered by Moscow, Sukhumi and Tskhinvali on the rejection of the use of force to resolve the frozen conflicts played a particularly pernicious role. The U.S. showed much less leadership than it did with regard to NATO expansion in trying to help the sides to the frozen conflicts avoid bloodshed. Numerous Russian, Ossetian, and Abkhazian political and military provocations also played an important role.

The Georgians’ record of oppressing its national minorities in the early 1990s and Saakashvili’s commitment to restore Tbilisi’s control over the breakaway republics by any means played a major role in the conflict. Saakashvili’s decision to invade South Ossetia and to massively and indiscriminately bomb the capitol Tskhinvali was the main cause of the war’s outbreak.  Prior Georgian rhetoric and military provocations were also immediate causes of the war’s outbreak.

Mr. Melikishvili’s viewpoint about the situation was the following: ” – First of all, the Russian military invasion of Georgia was the culmination of carefully prepared operation aimed at ousting the pro-Western government of Mikheil Saakashvili. The escalation of tensions in South Ossetia, including the growing number of cases when the Georgian villages were shelled from the positions held by the South Ossetian separatists, represented a series of provocations that led the Georgian government into a trap. The illegal dispensation of Russian citizenship to the residents of South Ossetia was part of the preparatory campaign aimed at consolidating Russian control of the breakaway province. Also, on the eve of the conflict Russia held large-scale military exercises “Caucasus 2008” in North Caucasus. After the maneuvers ended, however, Russian troops remained in the area in preparation of their deployment to South Ossetia.

– Second, what~happened in South~Ossetia was less about Georgia and more about Moscow’s attempt to reassert itself in the post-Soviet space. By responding with disproportionate force the Russian leadership drew the “red line” for the West in its “near abroad.” This was consistent with Putin’s~promise of “asymmetrical response” to the Western recognition of Kosovo’s independence in February of this year. Above all, it was a forceful demonstration of Russian opposition to the U.S. initiatives aimed at extending the NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine.

– Third, at present the continuous deterioration of bilateral relations between Russia and Georgia leaves very little hope for meaningful negotiations on resolution of conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are supposed to be taking place in Geneva in accordance with the sixth point of the~ceasefire agreement developed by the French President Sarkozy. Moreover, the Russian-Georgian diplomatic relations have been downgraded to respective interest sections. Thus, it has been confirmed that Russian diplomatic mission will be represented by the interest section at the Swiss Embassy in Tbilisi. At the same time the Georgian government formally asked Sweden to represent Georgian diplomatic
mission in Moscow. Moreover, Moscow’s recognition of independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in effect, undermines the very rationale for negotiations.

– Fourth, Russia remains in direct violation of~the ceasefire agreement engineered by Sarkozy. Russian troops withdrew from the so-called “buffer zones” set up along the perimeter of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia on the territory of Georgia proper before October 10. However, Russian troops remain in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Furthermore, Moscow made it very clear that Russia intends to build military bases in both of these breakaway regions. At present Russian military presence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia has been increasing gradually. In addition, the 225-member EU Monitoring Mission is not allowed to enter South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which is in direct contravention of the Sarkozy agreement that demandsunfettered access to the breakaway regions by the international monitors.

– Fifth, there have been many speculations about who started the war in South Ossetia. In this regard, the creation of the international fact-finding mission chaired by a Swiss lawyer under the aegis of the EU will hopefully put an end to the endless series of mutual recriminations. The blueprint of work is supposed to be presented to the EU by December 19, 2008. The independent EU mission will cross the Ts and dot the Is.”

For further information please contact:

Andreas Sepp
MA Candidate Spring 2010
MIIS International Policy Studies, Conflict Resolution


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