ROAR: “Saakashvili irritates Europeans”

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Many Russians still believe Western leaders supported Georgia in the conflict over South Ossetia because they tried to “squeeze Moscow out of the Caucasus.”

Opinions of both politicians and analysts in Russia and the US remain practically unchanged about the 2008 war over South Ossetia. At the same time, many European politicians and observers seem to have changed their attitudes to last year’s events.

Despite the support for Georgia in last year’s conflict, the US administration is trying to reset its relations with Russia. The Georgian regime feels uneasy about this, Aleksey Mukhin, general director of the Independent Center for Political Information, told RT.

“There were concerns that the US could stop its financial and political support to Tbilisi,” Mukhin said. The Georgian opposition immediately sped up its attempts to change the regime.

On the other side of the conflict are Ossetians and Russia, and their positions have not changed either, Mukhin stressed. They could make the most of the upcoming presentation of the results of the report by European observers about the beginning of the war, as Georgia is expected to be named as the side that started the war.

Russia may even insist on creating some kind of international tribunal for the Georgian leadership for the attempted genocide of Ossetians. However Mukhin called this idea “hypothetical”.

Tbilisi, in its turn, has not changed its position either and now accuses Russia of aggression and occupation of Georgia’s territory. Georgia is trying not to provoke Russia into a full-scale conflict, but it is initiating small conflicts in the zone of conflict, Mukhin said.

Gunfire continues to occur on the border between South Ossetia and Georgia, and it will last all during the period of information coverage of the anniversary of the conflict, Mukhin believes.

He stressed that the Georgian leadership is incapable of fulfilling its main task – returning South Ossetia. However, Tbilisi’s tactical scheme is to get American observers to the zone of the conflict.

“European observers at the moment do not meet Georgia’s requirements,” Mukhin stressed. “American observers will guarantee that the US will continue to finance the Saakashvili regime,” he said.

“The Georgian plans may be in line with Washington’s intentions to increase its influence in the region, even if it will be the observers’ mission,” Mukhin said. "The attempt to establish good relations between the US and Russian presidents will not be an obstacle for Washington," he added.

As for analysts in Russia, they have not changed their opinions about the conflict, Mukhin stressed. “Many of them formed their attitudes immediately after the conflict,” he said. "There is no evolution of opinions among analysts,” he said.

Political scientists in the US do not see this conflict as a priority for US interests, and Georgia worries about it, Mukhin said. The interest is even decreasing with time, because the US has more important problems.

Many European analysts and politicians, however, have changed their opinions, Mukhin told RT. “It is Saakashvili himself who irritates them very much,” he added. “It is indicative that the Georgian leader no longer speaks in public against a background of the European Union’s flag,” Mukhin said.

The present situation in the region may remain unchanged for a long time, Mukhin thinks. The course of the conflict, which came into a “hot phase” in 1992, shows that it is a long-term one. So, Russia did not risk anything when it recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia, he said. Georgia’s prediction that Russia would find itself in international isolation has never been realized, Mukhin added.

The conflict over South Ossetia brought positive results for Russia, Timofey Bordachev, director of the Center of European Studies at the Higher School of Economics, believes. “The discussion about the reform of the security system in Europe has begun," he told Vedomosti newspaper. “Nobody wanted to discuss these issues with Russia before.”

Last year’s conflict also helped Russia to achieve its main foreign policy task: the process of NATO’s enlargement was suspended, Bordachev believes. Russia, obviously, is an opponent of the Georgian and Ukrainian bids to join the alliance.

However, the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which followed the war, had some negative consequences, Bordachev believes. The fact that no country has recognized the two republics shows that “Russia does not enjoy sufficient confidence in the world to be an alternative to the US,” he said.

A recent poll, conducted by the Levada Center on the anniversary of the conflict, showed that 40% of Russians surveyed in 46 regions at the end of July believe that the recognition of South Ossetia did not help or harm Russia. In 2008, some 28% thought the same.

Some 35% of those surveyed said that South Ossetia and Abkhazia should join Russia. Only six percent believe that the republics should be parts of Georgia. Some 40% of respondents think it is better for South Ossetia and Abkhazia to develop as independent states.

Currently, 29% of respondents believe that the recognition of the republics helped Russia. In 2008, 40% of those polled by the Levada Center said the same.

Denis Volkov, research fellow at the Levada Center, told Komsomolskaya Pravda that before the war the majority of those polled said that South Ossetia and Abkhazia should join Russia. “Now the majority believe that it is necessary to consider the pros and cons before taking this decision,” Volkov said.

Almost 40% of respondents said they are interested to a certain extent in what is going on in South Ossetia, and 11% are interested in them “to a considerable extent.”

According to the poll, 35% of respondents believe that Georgia’s discriminative policy against Ossetians led to the war in 2008. Almost the same number of people thought the same immediately after the conflict broke out.

This year, 34% of those polled think the main reason behind the conflict was America’s aspiration to increase its influence in the North Caucasus and “to set Georgia at loggerheads with Russia.” After the war in 2008, almost half the people surveyed gave the same answer.

Commenting on these results of the poll, Volkov said that Russians already knew Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and the US President George Bush, and the attitude to these figures, had been developed long before the conflict over South Ossetia.

Five percent of respondents said this time, as well as in 2008, that the reason behind the conflict was Russia’s intention to maintain its influence in the Caucasus. Some 57% of respondents think now that the Russian leadership did everything possible to prevent the escalation of conflict and bloodshed. In 2008, the number of those who thought the same was even higher – 70%.

Russians seem to be certain about the reason why the West supported Georgia in that conflict. Some 62% of those polled in 2009 (66% in 2008) said that leaders of Western countries want to “weaken” Russia and “squeeze it out” of the Caucasus region. Almost half of the respondents are aware that the situation around South Ossetia still “remains tense.”

Sergey Borisov, RT