Tuesday, September 16, 2008

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED IN GEORGIA?

Spiegel, Germany - Five weeks after the end of the war in the Caucasus, the winds have shifted in America. Even Washington is beginning to suspect that Saakashvili, a friend and ally, could in fact be a gambler -- someone who triggered the bloody five-day war and then told the West bold-faced lies. "The concerns about Russia have remained," says Paul Sanders, an expert on Russia and the director of the conservative Nixon Center in Washington. His words reflect the continuing Western assessment that Russia's military act of revenge against the tiny Caucasus nation Georgia was disproportionate, that Moscow violated international law by recognizing the separatist republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and, finally, that it used Georgia as a vehicle to showcase its imperial renaissance.

But then Saunders qualifies his statement: "More and more people are realizing that there are two sides in this conflict, and that Georgia was not as much a victim as a willing participant." Members of US President George W. Bush's administration, too, are reconsidering their position. Georgia "marched into the South Ossetian capital" after a series of provocations, says Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried.

Does this suggest that America's pronouncements of solidarity with Saakashvili were just as premature as those of the Europeans? British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had called for a "radical" review of relations with Moscow, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt decried what he called a violation of international law, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised Georgia that, at some point, it would "become a member of NATO, if it so wishes."

But now the volume is being turned down on the anti-Moscow rhetoric. Last week German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier publicly called for clarification on the question of who is to blame for the Caucasus war. "We do need to know more about who bears what portion of the responsibility for the military escalation and to what extent," Steinmeier told a meeting of Germany's more than 200 ambassadors in Berlin. The European Union, he said, must now "define our relations with the parties to the conflict for the medium and long term," and that the time has come to have concrete information. . .

The attempt to reconstruct the five-day war in August continues to revolve around one key question: Which side was the first to launch military strikes? Information coming from NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe now paints a different picture than the one that prevailed during the first days of the battle for the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali -- and is fueling the doubts of Western politicians.

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