Russia, Georgia Ask: Who's the Villain, Who's the Victim?
Five years after their 2008 war, Georgia and Russia appear to be busy getting nowhere toward any form of reconciliation. Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has said that Moscow will restore diplomatic ties with Georgia if Tbilisi admits to starting the fight. In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, who launched a charm offensive in Moscow, countered that Tbilisi is doing its darndest to be constructive, but stands firm with its demand that breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia return to Georgian control.
In an August 4 interview with the pro-Kremlin TV broadcaster Russia Today, Medvedev, who was Russia's president in 2008, claimed that military engagement with Georgia was his idea and that he had not been playing second fiddle to then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. He also claimed that toppling the government in Georgia was never Russia’s goal -- but did not explain how that jives with Putin’s reported intention to hang Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili by his private parts.
Commenting on Georgia’s internationally backed calls for Russia to withdraw its recognition of the sovereignty of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia (and with it, its troops), Medvedev passed the buck to the separatist regions' residents. Political choices “lie with the people who live there,” he underlined.
Medvedev also welcomed the “pragmatic” ways of Ivanishvili’s government, and for trying to put trade and business before foreign-policy squabbles in its ties with Russia. Medvedev just asked to take the pragmatism to the next level by “recognizing what happened" in 2008 -- in other words, that Tbilisi had no business moving into South Ossetia.
Georgian politicians are willing to discuss their share of the blame, but they regard Russia as the main aggressor and continue the calls for a withdrawal of Russian troops and the end of Russian recognition of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia. “Our assessments of the August war will not be reconciled with those of Russia for a long time,”commented Zurab Abashidze, Georgia’s key negotiator with Russia, Netgazeti.ge reported. “But we are trying to think forward, look into the future. That’s why we began the dialogue with Russia and it is going to be a very difficult and long process.”
The rhetoric may have cooled -- apart from some loose-canon remarks from Russia’s food security chief Genadiy Onishchenko and occasional invectives from President Saakashvili -- but the two are nowhere near ready to apologize and shake hands on it.
One area of progress, though -- both sides have seemed to stop making action movies about the war.
For many Georgians, though, the main gauges of progress are those still affected by the five-day war -- Georgia’s tens of thousands of Internally Displaced People and those farmers whose backyards and lives are now divided by a barbed-wire fence.