Russians Rally Behind Gov’t. Over Georgia Intervention
August 11, 2008 - 4:28 AMThe U.S., NATO and the E.U. have called for an immediate end to the fighting, but Moscow says there will no ceasefire until the pro-Western government of Georgia pledges to refrain from future violence in South Ossetia.
The United States, NATO and the European Union called for an immediate end to the fighting, but Moscow says there will no ceasefire until the pro-Western government of Georgia takes steps, including a formal pledge to refrain from future violence in the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin traveled to Vladikavkaz, the regional capital of Russia’s North Ossetia region, and denounced what he described as Georgia’s genocide against South Ossetians across the border.
President Bush has called for an immediate halt to the violence, while U.S. presidential hopefuls Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) both criticized Russia’s military action.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who held a series of telephone talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice over the weekend, indirectly accused the West of helping to provoke the conflict.
Even more direct was Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, who described Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili as a “murderer” and said Georgia’s assault on South Ossetia was tacitly backed by its Western “sponsors.”
During the Soviet era, North and South Ossetia fell under different divisions of the Soviet governing structure. When the USSR collapsed, North Ossetia became a nominally autonomous republic within the Russian federation, while South Ossetia fell within the boundaries of independent Georgia.
Violent conflict erupted in 1992, and since then, Russian-backed separatists in South Ossetia have sought to reunite with North Ossetia.
Georgia’s military action last week was aimed at regaining control over South Ossetia. It sparked Russia’s intervention, with President Dmitry Medvedev pledging “not to allow deaths of our compatriots to remain unpunished.”
Many North Ossetians sympathize with those in the south, and as the fighting escalated, there were reports of thousands of people from North Ossetia and elsewhere in Russia volunteering to fight in South Ossetia.
The region’s separatist leader, Eduard Kokoity, appealed to volunteers not to come to the region, at least for now. He told Russian television on Saturday that a disorganized influx of armed volunteers could hinder the evacuation of refugees from the conflict area.
Pro-Kremlin lawmakers were quick to ridicule the Western view that Georgia is a “beacon of democracy.”
Georgia’s pronouncements on democracy and human rights were a cover for its true intention to use violence to achieve its ends, said Konstantin Kosachev, head of the powerful international relations committee of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.
Vladimir Vasiliyev, the Duma’s security committee head, claimed that the U.S. was directly responsible for the escalation, charging that “Georgia could have done nothing without the Americans.”
The conflict appears to have unified domestic political forces. Guennady Zyuganov, head of the Communist Party – the only remaining opposition party of significant size in the State Duma – urged Russian armed forces to strike military facilities in Georgia.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the legislature’s deputy speaker and head of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party, advocated the use of tactical missile weapons against Georgian targets.
The government is getting support from other quarters too. “From the international legal perspective, the Russian action could be described as a humanitarian intervention,” said Alexey Arbatov, head of the Center for International Security, a Moscow-based think-tank.
Further complicating the situation, another breakaway region of Georgia, Abkhazia, cited a mutual defense agreement with South Ossetia and started an offensive against Georgian forces in a small part of the region still under Georgian control.
Abkhazia has been wary that Georgia could turn its attention in its direction after South Ossetia.
Russia reportedly has dispatched vessels from its Black Sea Fleet towards the coast of Abkhazia. It also flew thousands of additional troops to Abkhazia, where it has deployed peacekeepers for a decade.