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Georgia's allies have little help to offer

Russia's assault on its southern neighbour sends out a message to Europe and America that the era of the West's global dominance is over. President Saakashvili appears to have seriously miscalculated either that Russia would not be provoked or that the West would rush to Georgia's aid. Israel plays down its defence ties with Georgia.

"The image of President Bush smiling and chatting with Prime Minister Vladimir V Putin of Russia from the stands of the Beijing Olympics even as Russian aircraft were shelling Georgia outlines the reality of America's Russia policy. While America considers Georgia its strongest ally in the bloc of former Soviet countries, Washington needs Russia too much on big issues like Iran to risk it all to defend Georgia," Helene Cooper wrote in a news analysis for The New York Times. "And Bush administration officials acknowledged that the outside world, and the United States in particular, had little leverage over Russian actions. "'There is no possibility of drawing Nato or the international community into this,' said a senior State Department official in a conference call with reporters... "'Strategically, the Russians have been sending signals that they really wanted to flex their muscles, and they're upset about Kosovo,' the diplomat said. He was alluding to Russia's anger at the West for recognising Kosovo's independence from Serbia. "Indeed, the decision by the United States and Europe to recognise Kosovo may well have paved the way for Russia's lightning-fast decision to send troops to back the separatists in South Ossetia. During one meeting on Kosovo in Brussels this year, Mr Lavrov, the foreign minister, warned [US Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice and European diplomats that if they recognised Kosovo, they would be setting a precedent for South Ossetia and other breakaway provinces." The commentator, Steven Clemons, wrote: "By pushing Kosovo the way the US did and aggravating nationalist sensitivities, Russia could in reaction be rationally expected to further integrate and cultivate South Ossetia and Abkhazia under de facto Russian control and pull these provinces that border Russia away from the state of Georgia. "At the time, there was word from senior level sources that Russia had asked the US to stretch an independence process for Kosovo over a longer stretch of time - and tie to it some process of independence for the two autonomous Georgia provinces. In exchange, Russia would not veto the creation of a new state of Kosovo at the Security Council. The US rejected Russia's secret entreaties and instead rushed recognition of Kosovo and said damn the consequences. "Now thousands are dead. The fact is that a combination of American recklessness, serious miscalculation and overreach by Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, as well as Russia's forceful reassertion of its regional national interests and status as an oil and gas rich, tough international player means America and Europe have yet again helped generate a crisis that tests US global credibility." James Sherr from Chatham House wrote in The Sunday Telegraph: "Russia's regional objectives are ... straightforward. It aims to show its neighbours, by means of the Georgian example, that Russia is 'glavniy' ['number one']: that its contentment is the key to 'stability and security', and that if Russia expresses its discontent, Nato will be unwilling and unable to help. It aims to show Nato that its newest aspirant members are divided, divisible and, in the case of Georgia, reckless. It aims to show both sets of actors that Russia has (in Putin's words) 'earned a right to be self-interested' and that in its own 'zone', it will defend these interests irrespective of what others think about them. For Russia, the broader implications are also becoming straightforward. To its political establishment, to the heads of Gazprom and Rosneft, to its armed forces and security services and to their advisers and 'ideologists', the key point is that the era of Western dominance is over." In The Observer, Thomas de Waal described Georgia's president by saying: "Saakashvili is a famously volatile risk-taker, veering between warmonger and peacemaker, democrat and autocrat. On several occasions international officials have pulled him back from the brink. On a visit to Washington in 2004, he received a tongue-lashing from then Secretary of State Colin Powell who told him to act with restraint. Two months ago, he could have triggered a war with his other breakaway province of Abkhazia by calling for the expulsion of Russian peacekeepers from there, but European diplomats persuaded him to step back. This time he has yielded to provocation and stepped over the precipice. "The provocation is real, but the Georgian President is rash to believe this is a war he can win or that the West wants it. Both George Bush and John McCain have visited Georgia, made glowing speeches praising Saakashvili and were rewarded with the Order of St George. But Bush, at least in public, is now bound to be cautious, calling for a ceasefire. "The reaction in much of Europe will be much less forgiving. Even before this crisis, a number of governments, notably France and Germany, were reporting 'Georgia fatigue'. Though they broadly wished the Saakashvili government well, they did not buy the line that he was a model democrat - the sight last November of his riot police tear-gassing protesters in Tbilisi and smashing up an opposition TV station dispelled that illusion. And they have a long agenda of issues with Russia, which they regard as more important than the post-Soviet quarrel between Moscow and Tbilisi. Paris and Berlin will now say they were right to urge caution on Georgia's Nato ambitions at the Bucharest Nato summit."

"The fighting which broke out over the weekend between Russia and Georgia has brought Israel's intensive involvement in the region into the limelight. This involvement includes the sale of advanced weapons to Georgia and the training of the Georgian army's infantry forces," Arie Egozi reported in the Israeli newspaper Ynet. "Israel began selling arms to Georgia about seven years ago following an initiative by Georgian citizens who immigrated to Israel and became businesspeople. "'They contacted defence industry officials and arms dealers and told them that Georgia had relatively large budgets and could be interested in purchasing Israeli weapons,' says a source involved in arms exports. "The military co-operation between the countries developed swiftly. The fact that Georgia's defence minister, Davit Kezerashvili, is a former Israeli who is fluent in Hebrew contributed to this co-operation. "'His door was always open to the Israelis who came and offered his country arms systems made in Israel,' the source said. 'Compared to countries in Eastern Europe, the deals in this country were conducted fast, mainly due to the defence minister's personal involvement.'" The Jerusalem Post, covering an investigative report in the Israeli daily, Ma'ariv, said: "Israeli defence officials were embarrassed in April when an Israeli-manufactured drone was shot down by the Russians, and again in May when another drone, and a state-of-the-art Israeli rocket system called Lynx, were on display at a Georgian military parade. "The Ma'ariv report said former government minister and Tel Aviv mayor Roni Milo was heavily involved in arms sales to Georgia, as a representative of Elbit and the Israeli Military Industries, and that Brig-Gen (res) Gal Hirsch, one of the senior officers who left the IDF after coming under blistering criticism following the Second Lebanon War, was heavily involved in the country in providing training for infantry and elite units. "According to the Ma'ariv story, the Russians sent a letter to Livni asking Israel to refrain from selling state-of-the-art weaponry to Georgia, and stating that Moscow had acceded to similar requests by Jerusalem in the past." Over the weekend, the Israeli foreign ministry recommended a complete halt to the sale of arms and any security-related equipment to Georgia because of the ongoing fighting. Haaretz said: "Israel's recommendation to halt defence sales to Georgia stems from concern that Russia would choose to retaliate against Jerusalem for its continued military support of Georgia by lifting restrictions on its arms transfers to Iran and Arab states. "'Israel needs to be very careful and sensitive these days,' said a senior political source. 'The Russians are selling many arms to Iran and Syria and there is no need to offer them an excuse to sell even more advanced weapons.' "The source noted that Israel is particularly interested in the transfer of advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, and therefore Jerusalem must show restraint in its arm sales to Georgia."

Updated: August 11, 2008 04:00 AM

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