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16 Aug, 2009 05:21

Georgians question alliance with the US

While the US is sending marines to Georgia to train a Georgian battalion, set to be deployed on a mission in Afghanistan next spring, ordinary people in Georgia are not so sure the country has chosen the right friend.

As Tbilisi and Washington work together, Georgia looks like a pressure cooker waiting to explode – like it did last summer when Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili chose to attack the breakaway republic of South Ossetia.

“There are conflicts in every society, but here they are happening all the time. Because of the geopolitical location of Georgia, [the efforts of] a lot of powerful countries in the world are concentrated in this region. The possibility exists for the whole Caucasus to catch fire at any time,” says sociology and philosophy professor Shota Kvirtia, who lost his wife seventeen years ago when war engulfed the region of Abkhazia, which was fighting for its independence from Georgia.

And many in Georgia believe last year’s war in South Ossetia was just a rehearsal for what will be the real showdown.

“For almost twenty years, Americans have been in charge of everything here. The Georgian government will not even sneeze without permission from America. That's why such a serious business as conducting war could not have been done without its backing,” says Tariel Gagnidze, of the Historical Heritage Foundation, angrily. He believes the Georgian government is fabricating facts and selling lies about what’s really going on.

“Moreover, when Americans are financing the whole military infrastructure, all military budgets, all military expenses – it’s impossible to start an action without America’s involvement,” asserts Gagnidze.

That involvement is evident everywhere on the streets of Tbilisi, but it does not mean the two sides understand each other, and many Georgians think America is foe rather than friend.

Irakli Todua , Editor-in-Chief of one of the few remaining independent Georgian newspapers – Georgia and the World – believes Russia had no choice but to intervene last August.

“Russia had to get involved in this conflict. If it hadn't, it would have escalated and more countries would have become involved,” says Todua.

Though his newspaper has not been closed down, its offices have been raided. Irakli says it is because he presented a view of the conflict that was markedly different from that of the government's.

In his opinion “it was a tragedy what happened between Russia and Georgia, and if there was the possibility for Russia to have avoided the conflict, I believe they would have.”

But the wounds of the war are still open, and people are confused whom to trust.

“I was in the Russian Federation and I saw it for myself that the Russians are not so angry with Georgian people. I found the opposite picture. Of course the propaganda machine works, but the people still have the mind and they still have the memory,” says Nana Japaridze, a member of the King Irakli II Historical Society, with optimism. She devotes her time to reminding Georgians about their shared heritage with their bigger neighbor.

Immediately after the war in South Ossetia, Russia was blamed for an excessive use of force against its much weaker neighbor, Georgia, and, in some instances, even for unleashing the war itself.

A year on, however, the international community has for the most part recognized that it was Georgian aggression that provoked Moscow's reaction.

Georgia's president Mikheil Saakashvili has come under fire, not just from abroad, but also at home for leading his country into a needless crisis. .

“I said to him last August that he should do everything possible and even impossible to avoid any kind of military confrontation with Russia and that he should not involve the country in military actions,” said Georgian Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burdzhanadze.

She  predicted that “otherwise we will receive very serious problems and our army will be defeated by the Russian army for sure, and Russia will recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia. That evening he told me that he understood that quite well. But unfortunately he acted in a different way.”