The EU this week accepted the final report of its international commission on the Russia-Georgia war of August 2008. Russia is claiming full vindication, although the report actually blames Russian provocations for inciting Georgia’s actions. The headline rubric is “Report blames both sides.” In the end, this is all just paperwork. Georgia is, for all intents and purposes, on life support.
Russia’s patronage of the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia continues to condition the nature of their “independence” from Georgia. Passports and customs between Russia and the provinces were dispensed with months ago. Russia is establishing military bases in both provinces and retains, by Western estimates, some 6,000 to 10,000 troops in them. Dmitri Medvedev visits frequently. EU monitors, performing an increasingly irrelevant job, find their movements restricted: they have been unable for at least six months to verify the cross-accusations of Russia and Georgia about border provocations.
This month Russia begins allowing Abkhazia to switch from Georgia’s international telephone dialing code to Russia’s. The change comes 10 days after Russia dispatched patrol boats to prevent Georgia from enforcing sovereignty over its territorial waters off Abkhazia. In late August, Russia opened a new natural-gas pipeline into South Ossetia, making the province independent of gas routed through Georgia. More ominously for Georgian gas revenues, Russia got agreement from Turkey in August to host Gazprom’s new “South Stream” pipeline from the Caspian gas fields, which will bypass both Georgia and Ukraine.
The focus of the U.S. in our relations with Georgia is unswerving: we are preparing Georgian troops for a role in Afghanistan. Our posture with Moscow is too eagerly accommodating to give Tbilisi much realistic hope for intervention from Washington. As Mikheil Saakashvili moves in a dense crowd of Georgian political rivals with suspected funding ties to Russia, his government—and the waning independence of the Georgian republic—might consult the VA’s end-of-life planning manual and contemplate such questions as “What makes your life worth living?” and “How would you like to spend your last days?” Russia’s hegemonic policy doesn’t have to kill you outright, after all. It only has to make it impossible for you to keep living.