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Deepening unease with US strategy

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The recent fighting between Georgia and Russia has revealed splits in the Western ruling class over whether or not to turn up the heat on Russia.
Issue 2114

The recent fighting between Georgia and Russia has revealed splits in the Western ruling class over whether or not to turn up the heat on Russia.

The “hawks” in the “war on terror”, such as US vice-president Dick Cheney, want the US to keep up the pressure and escalate the conflict further.

“Russian aggression must not go unanswered,” he said, arguing that the US should support the “democratically elected government” of Georgia against a threat to its “territorial integrity”.

Georgia has undoubtedly been the neocons’ pet regime in the Caucasus, which explains why many Western leaders have blamed Russia for the current conflict.

But there are some who think that Georgia has overplayed its hand by invading South Ossetia, leading to division among Western rulers about the way forward.

The Daily Telegraph wrote in an editorial on Monday of this week that Georgia’s president Mikheil Saakashvili “is no more a convinced liberal than [Russian leader] Vladimir Putin”.

“Like Mr Putin – indeed, like almost all autocratic leaders – he knows that a sense of national crisis can boost a regime’s popularity,” it wrote.

The Telegraph added that Saakashvili “came to power in a coup”.

Yet the newspaper took a very different view back in late 2003 when the “coup” was described as a “democratic revolution”.

Back then the paper wrote that Saakashvili “is the antithesis of the former communist strongmen who largely dominate the region more than a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union”.

The fact that the Telegraph is now seeking to put some distance between the West and Georgia reflects a widespread and growing unease in the ruling class over the course of the “war on terror”.


The journalist Bruce Anderson, also on the hard right of politics, made this point in his column in the Independent newspaper.

He accused Saakashvili of “criminal irresponsibility” – but he also attacked British and US diplomats who “took their eye off the ball”.

“All the talk about Nato encouraged Georgian adventurism. It helped President Saakashvili to think that he could behave like a founder member.

“He concluded that he could provoke Russia with impunity. The Russians concluded that it was time to teach him a lesson.”

There are sections of ruling class opinion in Europe that have always been unimpressed by US belligerence towards Russia.

They are concerned that Europe would be in the frontline of any Russian military advance – and that large swathes of European industry relies upon Russian oil and gas supplies.

But the Telegraph writers and Bruce Andersons of this world are very much on the pro-US wing of the ruling class.

The fact that even they think Georgia has gone too far reflects a much deeper disillusion with the whole neoconservative imperial project.

Georgia’s government has deep ideological ties to the US right.

As historian Mark Almond noted in the Guardian newspaper, “The streets of the Georgian capital are plastered with posters of George W Bush alongside his Georgian protege. George W Bush avenue leads to Tbilisi airport.”

Saakashvili even sent 2,000 troops to Iraq – the largest foreign force in the country after the US and Britain.

Western sponsorship of Georgia started around the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union. The country declared independence in 1991, but was soon embroiled in a bloody civil war.

Eduard Shevardnadze, the former Soviet foreign minister, took power following a military coup in 1992. His rule soon became a byword for corruption and nepotism.

But it was propped up by the West, receiving foreign and military aid from the US and signing deals with Nato.

By 2003 Shevardnadze’s regime had outlived its usefulness and was overthrown in the so called “Rose Revolution”.

That led to the installation of Saakashvili as president, who turned the republic into the US’s key ally in the Caucasus.


Growing disillusionment with the Rose Revolution exploded in a series of mass demonstrations in Georgia last year. Saakashvili ordered riot police to crush the protests and accused the alliance of oppostion parties of being “Russian stooges”.

Stung by economic chaos, Saakashvili’s new regime grew closer to the US, with repeated visits by US officials sealing this growing alliance.

Saakashvili thought he would have full US backing for Georgian military action in South Ossetia.

This move is now looking like it may have been a grave miscalculation.

Stop the War Coalition public meeting: Georgia, Nato and the spread of war. Thursday 14 August, 6.30pm, Small Hall, Friends House, Euston Road. For more details go to »

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