Minister faults west in Georgia

It seems that in some Western nations, both and notably in the United States, respected media have been painting a one-sided picture of the current crisis in Georgia and South Ossetia. From official Western statements, one might conclude that the crisis started when Russia sent in its troops to support its peacekeeping in the region.

The Western media has avoided mentioning the decision of the Georgian government to "restore the constitutional order" in South Ossetia through use of military force on the nights of August 7-8. In fact, the Georgian army used multiple rocket launchers, artillery and air force to fire at the sleeping city of Tskhinval.

The statements of officials in the EU and the U.S. failed to mention the fact that Tbilisi's aggressive action meant a significant escalation of the conflict. Instead we find the vague notion of Russia's "seizing an opportunity." But what kind of opportunity are they referring to? Short of detailing that opportunity, the entire assessment of the situation is utterly distorted.

Some independent observers admit that Russia didn't respond immediately, and was actually caught by surprise at the outbreak of violence in the region.

Russia started moving troops in support of peacekeepers only on the second day of Georgia's full-scale military assault on the republic. In fact, our military were striking sites outside South Ossetia.

Our peacekeepers have taken their positions in order to protect civilian populations and have identified legitimate targets that threaten homes and villages.

Our military acted efficiently and professionally and it was a successful ground operation. Our very clear and legitimate objectives are in contrast to the U.S./NATO operation against Serbia over Kosovo in 1999, which was an inconclusive air bombardment campaign that very soon ran out of military targets and degenerated into attacks on bridges, TV towers, passenger trains and other civilian sites, hitting an embassy in the process.

Russia used force in full conformity with international law, its right for self defense and its obligations under the agreements with regard to this particular conflict. Russia could not allow its peacekeepers to watch acts of genocide committed in front of their eyes, like the ones that occurred in the Bosnian city of Srebrenitsa. There is also a moral side to our Western partners' shortsightedness. The issue of the victims of Georgian military onslaught is pushed aside as something of no consequence, but the death toll in South Ossetia went into the thousands.

The issue of Western involvement with the Tbilisi government is real. And when the mantra of the Georgian democratic government is talked about time and time again, does it mean that a democratic government is allowed to act in that brutal fashion against a civilian population it claims to be its own, by virtue of it being democratic?

Another real issue is U.S. military involvement with the Saakashvili government. It seemed to encourage an irresponsible and unpredictable government's ill-advised invasion of Ossetian territory. Why is there the rush to rearm the Georgian military, the results of which we have just witnessed?

We wecome Secretary Gates admitting that "most initial reports in this conflict proved to be wrong" as a matter of course. But it was precisely those initial reports that sowed panic in Georgia, including the flight of Georgian forces from Gori. It is our contention that Russian forces in the Gori and Senaki areas had to engage in the destruction and disposal of the weapons and munition dumps left dangerously unattended by the Georgian forces.

We do indeed insist on solid guarantees of peace in the area and the security of its population. This is why we'll continue to seek to deprive the present Georgian government of the means and resources to do harm to civilians. An embargo on arms supplies to the current Tbilisi government would be a right thing to do.

We will make sure that the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan endorsed in Moscow on August 12 is implemented, provided the parties to the conflict cooperate in good faith. So far we are not sure at all that Tbilisi is ready. President Saakashvili keeps trying to persuade the world that the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinval was destroyed not by the Georgian attack but by the Russian forces who, according to Mr. Saakashvili, bombed the city after they entered it.

Then there are the consequences for Russia's status in the current evolving international system and its relations with the U.S. and the EU. First, we will never accept anyone usurping the right to speak in the name of the entire international community. The debate underway within the EU is a very good case in point.

We have always been in favor of a positive development of a Russo-American relationship. That kind of agenda is set forth in the Foreign Policy Concept recently approved by President Dmitry Medvedev. But we have to bear in mind that, like between any other major world powers, our bilateral relationship can only advance upon the basis of reciprocity. But that is exactly what has been missing in our relations over the past 16 years, which makes any progress in the relations unsustainable. I meant precisely that when I said that the West will have to choose between its involvement with Georgia and its much broader partnership with Russia.

The latest actions of the West prove my position. Several joint military exercises have been cancelled by the Americans. Now Washington sounds like our naval ships are no longer welcome to take part in the Active Endeavor counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation operations in the Mediterranean. Washington also threatens to freeze our bilateral strategic stability dialogue. Of course, that strategic dialogue has not led us too far since last fall, including the issue of U.S. missile defense sites in Eastern Europe and the future of the strategic arms reduction regime. But the threat itself to drop these issues from our bilateral agenda is very indicative of the cost of the choice being made in Washington in favor of the Georgian government in Tbilisi. The U.S. seems to be eager to punish Russia at the expense of the problems that are much more important to the entire world than saving face of a failed leader.

It has to be said that it is entirely up to the American side to decide whether it wants a bilateral relationship with Russia, which our two countries and peoples deserve. After all, we could resign ourselves to the reality and just maintain diplomatic relations as a basic prerequisite of something bigger to come in the future. We'll accept any choice the Americans make, though we'll always prefer this to be on the positive side.

Otherwise both of us will face the prospect of mutual disengagement. At the end of the day, the objective reality we will have to deal with will inevitably force us to cooperate.

As for today, it would not be a bad idea to take a deep breath and start with a very simple thing: just admit for a moment that the course of history must not depend entirely on what the Georgian President is saying. Just admit that a democratically elected leader can lie. And lastly, recognize that there are other sources of information that shape your foreign policy.

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