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  March towards Tbilisi: a mix of desire and fear

Jonas Motiejûnas
2009 06 29

Can Russia afford one more war with Georgia?

The Kremlin has several times declared that it was for M.Saakashivili‘s resignation. Actually, Russia can easily remove him from the post of president: the Russian tanks are located about 40 km from Tbilisi and can take the Georgian capital any time. Part of the country‘s territory – South Ossetia and Abkhazia – have declared independence and it is difficult to imagine that Georgia could take these territories back in the near future.

There are arguments that war is inevitable, as well as opposite opinions.

This month maneuvers of the Russian troops will take place close to the Georgian border. The Kremlin denies that this is a preparation for the war, but the same was said in August of the last year when the war with Georgia commenced.  The Russian generals and media continue to affirm that after the last year‘s war the Georgian army has become very strong and endangers South Ossetia, Abkhazia and even Russia.  It is not true, since actually Georgia has not received the military support promised by the United States. However, the Russian generals wish to “liberate“ Tbilisi and replace M.Saakashvili with a more compliant protégé.

But the most important thing is that strategic Russia‘s interests simply push it towards Tbilisi. One of its main interests is to sustain the monopoly for gas and oil supply to the EU.  The Kremlin does not need any alternative oil pipelines or gas pipelines, and Georgia is the transit country through which the EU can get gas and oil from Azerbaijan or from more remote states. This situation is one of the key reasons why Moscow cannot reconcile with an independent Georgia.

These are long-term interests, and the Kremlin is not going to refuse them.

I don‘t think that Georgia‘s occupation is relevant for Russia: Russia needs an independent state.  In this respect never ending opposition protests in Georgia could play the role of the army. The main requirement of the opposition is removal of M.Saakashvili. However, many leaders of protest demonstrations used to be part of M.Saakashvili‘s „team“; they had a possibility to change situation, but they didn’t do that. According to the Georgian public polls, society got tired of the endless crises and political discord. The above moods are not revolutionary, but the Kremlin could easily make use of this situation. But it wouldn’t do that.

What prevents Russia from finalizing this Caucasus war and having a loyal Georgia nearby?

Political, social and even military situation in North Caucasus is very unstable. The region has many own problems, which could make Russia use force. Russia is concerned about the situation in Dagestan and Ingushetia. Moreover, the entire North Caucasus could be referred to as a bomb of delayed-action, which was laid by V.Putin himself when he was president.

But the most important reason withholding Russia from the replacement of power in Tbilisi is that is not aware (or to be more exact, is aware) of the West’s actions. It is not difficult to guess the position of B.Obama, president of the United States: the next Russia‘s intervention to the neighboring state would worsen relations significantly. It could also worsen relations with the EU and NATO (much more than was the case after the last year‘s August war). Discussions have not yet ceased on whether Georgia or Russia provoked and started the war. However, there are no doubts who could be the author of the march towards Tbilisi. This time relations with the West would worsen not for half a year, but for the coming decades. Russia cannot afford that, since economically it is no less dependent on the West than the West is dependent on its energy resources.

It is impossible to answer the question on whether another war is possible between Russia and Georgia. In this case not only strategic interests of the countries (especially Russia‘s interests) and attitudes of the international society could matter, but also voluntaristic decisions and emotions of politicians, or even a coincidence.

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