By Stephen Blank (August 10, 2011)
On August 5, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave an interview to Moscow-based and Georgian media on the third anniversary of the Russia-Georgia war in August 2008 (www.kremlin.ru, August 5). Medvedev made several controversial remarks, which must be understood in terms of the three audiences he sought to reach: the Russian domestic audience, Georgia – especially its political class – and the United States.
Unfortunately, the controversial charges he made are either tendentious, mendacious, or both. Medvedev wanted to pose like Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who also made remarks about South Ossetia and Abkhazia joining Russia and which was interpreted as an electioneering ploy (www.politkom.ru, August 2). Thus, aping Putin, he fabricated implications, regularly made by Russian and anti-Georgian analysts, that the Bush Administration and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in some way instigated Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to believe he could start a war with Russia with impunity (www.kremlin.ru, August 5).
This wholly omits the long record, now revealed in analyses and even in WikiLeaks of Moscow’s four-year campaign to destabilize Georgia before the war, and the fact that this campaign has continued uninterrupted since then. Yet at the same time, Medvedev conceded he had no evidence (and given the propensity of Russian intelligence services to fabricate evidence, this is a big admission) to bolster his claims (www.kremlin.ru, August, 5). Indeed, he has no intelligence because there is none. US officials were eager to prevent a war, not start one and the record shows that clearly.
Second, like Putin, he resorted to personal insults against Saakashvili. While it is clear that the Russian leadership finds Saakashvili odious and the Georgian leader has done many strange things during his tenure, Moscow only permits itself to engage in such outbursts against former Soviet Republics, e.g. Medvedev’s August 11, 2009 letter to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. Moreover, such insults usually are aimed at covering up the lack of willingness to negotiate on the issues; Moscow refuses to let go of its illegal conquests and occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, while tightening the noose of “integration” around these provinces. Indeed, Medvedev’s claim that the war was a crime against Russia is again mendacious. In fact, considerable evidence exists that it was a Russian provocation. Russia and its local allies, not Georgia, committed the ethnic cleansing during the war.
Third, it may be the case that it was not a Russian objective to capture Tbilisi, as Medvedev says (www.kremlin.ru, August 5). However, it does appear that Moscow intended for a Georgian uprising to oust Saakashvili and has continued ever since to support his opposition and resort to espionage, subversion, and even acts of terrorism, such as bombs near the US embassy, to destabilize Georgia, another fact that Medvedev forgot to mention. Instead, he denounced what he called “senile” US Senators who voted for the resolution supporting Georgia’s territorial integrity (which is still recognized by the overwhelming number of governments around the world) and denouncing the Russian occupation (the correct legal term) of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Here again we see Medvedev posing as the tough defender of Russia against the incorrigible Americans who are always intriguing against it. In other words, Medvedev tries here to usurp Putin’s claim to be the toughest defender of Russia against the United States.
Going further to diminish the Russian prime minister, Medvedev claims that he alone gave the orders to return fire and launch an offensive and did not talk to Putin for 24 hours afterwards on August 7-8, 2008. While Putin was in Beijing at the Olympic Games and it certainly would have been difficult to establish secure communications with him under the circumstances, Putin conspicuously returned immediately and went to the command headquarters at Vladikavkaz. So once again, Medvedev is likely shading the truth to enhance his standing while reducing Putin’s.
Lastly, Medvedev denies that Russia broke the agreements it made with the EU (www.kremlin.ru, August 5). Here again he is not telling the truth. Although the EU swallowed the violations and the extension of sovereignty to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia with full premeditation broke and has refused to concede on many of the points negotiated with the then EU President, French President Nicholas Sarkozy. Indeed, as the interviewers point out, both Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon are still waiting for Russia to complete the plan agreed to in 2008.
This depressing and somewhat pathetic performance may play well among Russian voters. It will certainly not help calm Russo-Georgian relations, which remain very tense and deadlocked. Neither will it help partisans of the Obama Administration’s reset policy in the United States. Indeed, it gives opponents of that policy added justification to ask what exactly Washington has gained thereby. Moreover, the interview shows Moscow’s contempt for international law, for Georgia (and implicitly other small post-Soviet states), as well as Russian leaders’ habitual resort to mendacity to defend their policies. It also casts a revealing light on what the Russian leadership truly thinks about the United States despite the reset policy. While playing to the gallery and cutting down rivals is a long-standing political tradition around the world, it is by no means clear that Medvedev did himself any favors with this interview or that he somehow advanced Russian national interests.