суббота, 18 октября 2008 г.

RT Expert View: Caucasian peace settlement

This week RT experts discuss the talks in Geneva that were meant to be the next step to negotiate a strong and lasting peace in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Peter Lavelle, RT political analyst and anchor

This week the first round of the Geneva talks on the final settlement of South Ossetia and Abkhazia ended in failure – actually they never really started. Another meeting is scheduled for November.

Is it reasonable to expect all the sides involved will ever find common ground? The biggest problem facing all sides in these negotiations is expectations. Tbilisi wants to pretend the war never happened and the Russians, South Ossetians, and Abkhazians want international recognition of the war's outcome. And nowhere is there talk of compromise.

What happens next?

Sergey Roy, editor, www.guardian-psj.ru security website

The ostensible reason for the failure of the talks in Geneva on the post-conflict settlement was the refusal of the Abkhazian and South Ossetian representatives to be in the same room as representatives of the pro-Tbilisi “administrations” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia included by Saakashvili in the official Georgian delegation. Indeed, including these people in the delegation was a clear, and habitual, act of provocation on Saakashvili’s part, as these people represent no one but themselves and their Tbilisi bosses: in terms of numbers, their constituencies in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are zero, they have been so for the last fifteen years and will remain so forever.

At a deeper level, the conversations in Geneva were doomed to failure because of the nature of their intended purpose – a post-war settlement. The fact is that Russia has already achieved a post-war settlement. It has recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia as sovereign states, and that is exactly the settlement that these three parties want and intend to stick to no matter what conversations are held in Geneva or anywhere else.

Georgians have long talked of South Ossetia as a “dagger aimed at the very heart of Georgia.” That is what it looks like on the maps, and that is what Russia intends it to be – just in case the current or any other Georgian regime ventures to make another bid at destabilising the situation in the Caucasus.

In terms of long-term strategy, Russia has carried off a decisive coup that will help it keep a firm hand on the Caucasus. No attempt to dislodge it from this position is ever likely to succeed as long as its rulers remain true to their duty of looking after Russia’s national interests (a state of things that is by no means to be taken for granted – cf. Gorbachev’s and Yeltsin’s policies).

Given all this, why does Russia agree to take part in discussions that are overtly so senseless and unpromising? First, it promised to do so in the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan. Second, it is a venue where the international status of Russia’s protégés can be asserted and solidified. And third, there is the humanitarian aspect, like the plight of the refugees and dealing with the destruction inflicted by the war, that can indeed be profitably discussed there. With all this in view, Russia is even prepared to talk to a regime that it has accused of war crimes and genocide – the more so that any international tribunal that might punish Georgia for such crimes is an unlikely prospect.

As for Georgia, it will continue to indulge in its trademark theatricals, hoping (very much against hope) that the West will gang up on Russia and make it budge from the positions it has won. Not very likely.

Patrick Armstrong retired in 2008 after 30 years as an analyst for the Canadian government, specialising in the USSR and then Russia.

I can’t see much hope for conferences to have any useful discussion, let alone produce an acceptable resolution of the problem, so long as Saakashvili remains in power. It seems inconceivable that he will ever admit that his decision to invade South Ossetia resulted in catastrophe for Georgia and ended any possibility of Abkhazia and South Ossetia ever being part of Georgia for the foreseeable future.

Should he be replaced by a leader prepared to recognise this reality, and act on it, there may be some hope. Likewise many Western countries – especially the US – have painted themselves into a corner by endlessly repeating the mantra of internationally-recognised borders (a principle that apparently did not apply in the Kosovo case).

The central fact of the situation, to which very little attention has been paid, is that the Ossetians and Abkhazians simply do not want to be in Georgia: they both feel that they have strong historical cases that they never were a part of Georgia until Stalin put them there; they can each point to referendums and other actions to support this. Quite apart from having fought, and won, wars to drive Georgians out of the territory on more than one occasion.

It is futile to try and force people into a country they don’t want to be part of and it is otiose to pretend that this fact can be ignored.

But a lot has to happen before this reality is absorbed either in Tbilisi or in many Western capitals.

William Dunkerley, Russian media business analyst and consultant

Parties ostensibly met to settle details regarding the aftermath of the Georgian/Russian war. For most observers, those details involve the international status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and the positioning of Russian troops within those territories. That’s one dimension of this issue.

Another dimension is the international PR war that was waged in the media during and after the war. It is worthwhile to contemplate which dimension was the operant factor in the failure of the Geneva talks, and, indeed, in a greater geopolitical context.

In the international PR conflict that surrounded the Georgian/Russian war, Russia was the clear loser. The leading headline of the coverage was, “Russia invades Georgia.” That was the simple assertion to which a very complex matter was reduced. What’s more, it was fitted into an overarching theme. It is that the military action was part of a scheme having an ultimate goal of re-establishing a Russian empire.

Actually, there has been a long series of such PR wars that have been waged against Russia. And Russia has usually lost. Here are a few examples: Russia is using energy as a weapon against democracy … Political opponents are being silenced… Antagonistic journalists are being killed.

The Litvinenko case is a good example of one of these thematic PR wars. In this case, the organisers of the International Federation of Journalists World Congress commissioned me to study the media coverage and report on my findings. The bottom line of what I found was that the news reports presented in the West were not factually based. They were fabrications of one outlaw oligarch who then deployed a prominent PR firm to shape and propagate the mythology. (A copy of my report can be found at: http://www.russiaprofile.org/page.php?pageid=Politics&articleid=a1180613251)

The PR assaults all seem to involve a general theme or allegation that has no clear factual basis. Indeed, in each instance the facts seem to have been on Russia’s side, but the perceptions were not.

Here’s the takeaway point: If Russia is to have better luck in international situations like the recently-failed Geneva talks, it will need to start winning the PR wars. To accomplish that, it would be good to start with an assessment of the tactics and strategies that have contributed to the past losses, and to make the changes needed for bringing about a better result.


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