Georgia on My Mind
The Daily Telegraph reports that Georgia, which lies between the Black Sea and Russia, has declared a state of emergency on the grounds that Russia is trying to take over the country.
Georgia's government has declared a state of emergency, accusing Russia of orchestrating a coup attempt following pitched battles between police and opposition supporters in the capital.
The country's image as a bastion of democratic western values in the former Soviet sphere took a battering after riot police attacked opposition protesters in Tbilisi and used force to pull the main anti-government television station off the air.
The immediate question is whether the state of emergency -- the second in as many weeks in a key allied country in the War on Terror -- is a power play by Mikhail Saakashvili or a genuine response to Russian subversion.
So far official American sources have been noncomittal on which of the two cases obtains. The Washington Post reports that the State Department has not taken a definite stand on whether Russia is in fact threatening Georgia.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called on the two sides to settle their differences peacefully. He declined to comment on claims of Russian interference. U.S. officials in the past have praised reform efforts but said that Georgia has a long way to go to achieve true democracy and tolerance of dissent.
Those reforms apparently include a significant reduction in the amount of perceived corruption.
Since coming to power in 2003, Saakashvili has boosted spending on the country's armed forces and increased its overall size to around 45,000. Of that figure, 12,000 have been trained in advanced techniques by U.S. military instructors. Some of these troops have been stationed in Iraq as part of the international coalition in the region, serving in Baqubah and the Green Zone of Baghdad. In May 2005, the 13th Infantry Battalion ("Shavnabada") became the first full battalion to serve outside of Georgia. This unit was responsible for two checkpoints to the Green Zone, and provided security for the Iraqi Parliament. In October 2005, the unit was replaced by the 21st Infantry Battalion. Soldiers of the 13th battalion wear the "combat patches" of the American unit they served under, the Third Infantry Division. The Georgian government claims to have restored "constitutional order" in the upper Kodori Gorge — the sole Georgia-controlled part of breakaway region Abkhazia.
Georgia has in the past few years significantly reduced corruption. Transparency International ranked Georgia at joint number 99th in the world in its 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index (with number 1 being the least corrupt nation), giving it a score of 2.8 (with number 10 being considered the best possible score).This is a significant improvement on Georgia's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index, where Georgia was rated joint 130th.
The main irritant for Russia is probably Georgia's attempt to shift its orientation West, towards NATO, the EU and the United States. The Russians are probably indifferent to any domestic grievances the Georgian opposition might have, but are probably interested in stopping Georgia from leaving their sphere of influence. That will inevitably happen if Saakashvili has his way. Russia has for some time been accused of trying to re-assemble the old Soviet Empire. The question, to which the reaction of the State Department leaves no answer, is whether the current unrest in Georgia is part of a Russian attempt to end the Rose Revolution. State probably hopes the problem solves itself. But what happens if it doesn't?