Georgia is emerging battered but defiant from its recent military
confrontation with Russia. Russian troops still control significantly
more Georgian territory than they did a month ago and no one can answer
the key question: How can the occupiers be forced to leave? But
Georgian officials are openly gleeful over Moscow's diplomatic
isolation, as its friends decline to join the Kremlin in recognizing
the independence of two breakaway Georgian regions. VOA correspondent
Peter Heinlein in Tbilisi reports that Georgians are beginning to see a
silver lining in the clouds of war that still hang over their tiny but
Georgia's fate is still a very big
question mark. Russia has issued a blunt challenge to the West to stay
out of its Caucasus backyard. And there are serious doubts that Europe
and the United States have the political will to make the Russians go
The former president of Georgia's parliament, Nino
Burjanadze, who now is a strong government critic, maintains it was a
mistake to challenge Russia's provocative military actions in the
breakaway South Ossetia region in early August. "I think we already
lost the war, and I'm afraid there is no military solution of this
situation," he said.
But Burjanadze says Russia has also emerged
a loser. "When I said we Georgians are not winners in this conflict, it
does not mean Russia has won," he said. "Russia showed once again its
real face, that it preferred to be the gendarme in
international relations and not to be a distinguished member of the
international community that will be respected."
Mikheil Saakashvili's political rivals say he will have a lot of
explaining to do if and when the crisis subsides. In the short term,
almost all agree that the Kremlin's intense dislike for Mr. Saakashvili
has made his position at home more secure.
But in the longer term,
political analyst Archil Gegeshidze says Russia will surely succeed in
creating internal political instability in Georgia.
course, I expect there will be some new waves of mass protests here in
the country," he said. "To what extent this government will be able to
survive those protests remains to be seen. But it is obvious there
will be some internal political instability."
Georgians are increasingly hopeful that the final outcome of their
confrontation with Russia will be to their advantage. For one thing,
Western countries that until recently had all but forgotten the
Caucasus are again recognizing Georgia's critical strategic importance.
The European Union is holding a summit to discuss how to
respond to Russia's intervention. The United States has poured
tens of millions of dollars of humanitarian assistance and uncounted
military aid into Georgia, and it has sent several senior officials to
Tbilisi, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Democratic
Party vice presidential candidate Joe Biden. Vice President Dick
Cheney is expected to arrive next week.
Georgia's minister for
European integration, David Darchiashvili, says the crisis has prompted
the government to accelerate its move to embrace, and be embraced by,
"Until recently the top priority was NATO
integration," he said. The EU is not as high a priority. But now what
has happened, since the EU is playing the very important role, Europe's
weight will increase in Georgia, and Georgia will be heading toward
European integration more seriously."
Darchiashvili says the
government is becoming increasingly confident that it did the right
thing in confronting Russia, and that it will be able to defend itself
against domestic critics.
"I am ready to answer any questions,"
he said. "I do not see any major breach from our side, the principles
we stayed for years. We do not want to confront Russia with it's huge
resources, but it's Russia that wants to reconquer Georgia. So we
should not defend ourselves?"
Officials here have hardly been
able to contain their glee at the diplomatic rebuff Russia has
suffered, as close friends such as Belarus, Cuba and Venezuela have
shied away from endorsing Moscow's recognition of independence for the
breakaway Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Security Director Alexander Lumaya says this kind of international
response could force Moscow to think twice about its actions.
found itself close to complete international isolation," he said. "It's
not something they feel comfortable with. So the path of development
of this situation and whether they will apply this invasion pattern to
other countries in the neighborhood would depend on how strongly the
international community would pursue the line it has taken."
big test comes on Monday when European Union leaders are scheduled to
launch what is expected to be a full-scale review of relations with
Russia. While news reports from Paris indicate there will be no
decision on sanctions, the meeting is giving Georgians hope that the
Kremlin will be made to answer for its invasion.
Gegeshidze sees Russia's move in Georgia as payback to the West for the
Kremlin's perceived humiliation on issues such as Western recognition
of Kosovo's independence, and expanding the NATO alliance up to the
Gegeshidze calls this a "moment of truth".
"This is a very decisive moment. Either Russia succeeds and the West fails, or West succeeds and Russia fails," he said.
say if Europe and the United States can muster the political will to
stand up to Russia, and if Georgia is soon invited to begin the process
of joining NATO, and if sufficient aid arrives to start the process of
rebuilding, the outcome of the current crisis could be decidedly
But some analysts say those are some big 'ifs.'