Vladimir Vinokurov / San Francisco Chronicle – 2008-08-13 21:24:55
(August 13, 2008) — Although there has been widespread coverage in the American media of the tragic events unfolding in South Ossetia, essential background information about the conflict has often been omitted.
First and foremost, nearly all of the articles avoid calling Georgia’s action on Aug. 7 what it was — a clear act of military aggression by Georgia directed against the residents of South Ossetia and the Russian peacekeepers deployed in the region.
The result is a humanitarian disaster – hundreds of civilians dead, many of them Russian citizens; tens of thousands of refugees; and the destruction of many villages and the capital of South Ossetia.
It also seems to have been largely forgotten in the Western press that this is the second time that such a tragedy has happened. In the early 1990s, President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, then the leader of Georgia, proclaimed a policy of “Georgia for Georgians,” abolished the autonomous status of South Ossetia (even though two-thirds of the population of South Ossetia is ethnic Ossetian or Russian rather than Georgian), and launched war against its people.
It was after the resulting bloodshed (more that 1,000 killed and 2,500 wounded, many of them civilians) that a peacekeeping coalition comprised of Georgians, Ossetians, and Russians was established. Russian peacekeepers have been stationed in South Ossetia since that time to make sure that there is no further violation of peace in the conflict zone.
On the opening day of the Olympic Games — a symbol of peace and international cooperation — Georgia for the second time unleashed war in South Ossetia, violating the cease-fire that it had agreed to earlier in the day by attacking Russian peacekeepers, civilians, residences and humanitarian convoys. In this situation, Russia had no other choice but to respond.
One might expect Georgia’s violation of the cease-fire and use of force against South Ossetians to be met with strong international condemnation, but this did not occur. Instead, we saw attempts by some American experts and politicians to shift responsibility away from their Georgian ally by attributing to Russia ulterior motives in its response to the attack, such as the wish to restore its domination over this former part of the Soviet Union, to obstruct NATO enlargement, and so on.
Russia has tried for many years to prevent military conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia. When the American program of military assistance to Georgia was initiated despite the unresolved conflicts on its territory, the U.S. State Department offered us assurances that U.S. trained-and-equipped Georgian military personnel would not be used for military action against South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Our concerns were again ignored when Georgia later started to buy weapons in large quantities (the Georgian military budget has increased by a factor of 30 in the last several years). For many months, we tried to win the cooperation of the United States in convincing Georgia to sign a legally binding document not to use force in the South Ossetian conflict. Unfortunately, we saw no desire on the part of the United States to pressure Tbilisi to make this commitment.
Evidently our Western friends believed Georgia President Mikhail Saakashvili when he said: “It is ridiculous to ask us to do this because Georgia will never use force against its own people. It is as simple as that.” We see what has happened. Nonetheless, even now the American media treats everything Saakashvili says as the simple truth and ignores the voices and suffering of the Ossetian people.
On Tuesday, the president of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, announced an end to the military operation. That’s the best proof that the sole purpose of Russia’s actions was to enforce the peace and ensure the safety of the people of South Ossetia. Now it’s time for a comprehensive resolution of this conflict.
Our position is clear and simple — Georgia must completely withdraw its troops from South Ossetia and make a commitment not to use military force against the region in the future.
We feel this is a reasonable condition and the best way to move forward in ensuring that no further bloodshed and loss of civilian life will take place in the future.
© 2008 Hearst Communications Inc.
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