Russian president Dmitry Medvedev signed the revamped truce agreement pushed by Condoleezza Rice as a way to get Russian troops out of Georgia, after nine days of war ruined the city of Gori and revealed the nature of the Russian regime. Mikheil Saakashvili reluctantly signed it yesterday, bitter over the lack of Western military response against the Russians. The question now — will the Russians actually leave?
The agreement now sets the stage for a Russian troop withdrawal from Georgia after more than a week of warfare. It was not immediately clear if any troops had begun pulling back.
The cease-fire agreement calls for both sides forces to pull back to positions they held before fighting erupted Aug. 8 after Georgia launched a massive barrage to try to take control of the Russian-backed separatist region of South Ossetia. The Russian army quickly overwhelmed the forces of the former Soviet republic neighbor and then drove deep into Georgia.
The plan appears to leave some tense issues open to interpretation, including whether Georgia will be able to send troops back into parts of South Ossetia.
This replaces the Sarkozy cease-fire, which turned out to be little more than a surrender foisted on Saakashvili. The Bush administration sent Rice to Tbilisi immediately to renegotiate a more balanced agreement that would result in a Russian retreat. Saakashvili wanted a more robust response from the US, such as attacks on Russian armored columns that continued to threaten the Georgian capital. No one wanted to see the military situation escalate, though, and Rice got the deal the US wanted.
Russia continues to insist that it will stay in its peacekeeping role in the Caucasus region, but the pretexts Vladimir Putin used to invade Georgia as peacekeepers have been exposed as frauds. The Washington Post explains this in an editorial following several days of featuring Russian apologists on its editorial pages. For instance, on the charge of Georgian genocide in South Ossetia, the numbers don’t add up:
A researcher for Human Rights Watch who visited Tskhinvali reported as follows: “A doctor at Tskhinvali Regional Hospital who was on duty from the afternoon of August 7 told Human Rights Watch that between August 6 to 12 the hospital treated 273 wounded, both military and civilians. . . . The doctor also said that 44 bodies had been brought to the hospital since the fighting began, of both military and civilians. The figure reflects only those killed in the city of Tskhinvali. But the doctor was adamant that the majority of people killed in the city had been brought to the hospital before being buried, because the city morgue was not functioning due to the lack of electricity in the city.”
As for their “humanitarian” mission, Russia repeatedly lied about their actions and the situation on the ground, both before and during the invasion. In fact, as even the self-styled “president” of South Ossetia noted to a Russian journalist, it was Ossetians who created the humanitarian crisis, encouraged by Putin and Medvedev:
Militia forces under Russian control include South Ossetians and others brought in from Russia itself — what Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza described as “the North Caucasus irregular forces that the Russian military inexplicably encouraged to enter South Ossetia to murder, rape and steal.” They have attacked civilians in Gori and engaged in ethnic cleansing of Georgian-populated villages in South Ossetia. Remarkably, the Russian-allied “president” of South Ossetia acknowledged the ethnic cleansing yesterday in an interview with the Russian newspaper Kommersant, although he did not acknowledge the killings of Georgian civilians that others have documented. Eduard Kokoity said that his forces “offered them a corridor and gave the peaceful population the chance to leave” and that “we do not intend to allow” their return.
Under these circumstances, Russia can hardly be trusted to abide by the terms of the agreement they just signed, let alone act as “peacekeepers” in the region. They have stoked the conflict by openly backing separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, even while they shelled Georgia. When Georgia responded, Russia had all the pretext it needed to bring in both their army and a host of irregular militias to conduct what appears to be a Russia-sponsored round of ethnic cleansing, looting, and pillaging.
This strips bare the façade of civility that Putin projected to the gullible since assuming power in Moscow. John McCain diagnosed Putin accurately, and several others warned that Russian imperial impulses had not magically disappeared with the Politburo, as they had not originated with them in the first place. Those who ridiculed these warnings should now see the folly of their credulity regading Putin and the new autocracy in Russia.
How can we push back against Russian imperialism? Russia has mostly funded its new imperial ambitions on oil and natural gas. We need to kick out the price supports on energy that allows Putin (and others such as Iran) to prosper. That will severely hamper their ambitions and force them back into a position where they need the West to survive, at which point we can dictate behavioral norms — like ending any imperial expansions.