The blame game should stop

After years of reciprocated provocations the Georgian president issued the order for an all out attack on a city with thousands if not tens of thousands civilian inhabitants present. Russian troops, apart from the already present peacekeepers and the hurriedly scrambled jets, arrived about 12 hours later. The next phase saw Russian troops securing military targets in Georgia proper, using indiscriminate force killing civilians and frightening many to flee their homes. The one politician who has visited both the refugee camps in North-Ossetia and Gori, Bernard Kouchner has condemned Georgia for making serious mistakes and Russia for its unacceptable reaction.

Here is where the blame game should stop. The blame game does not help us to find the best solution for the victims of the conflict.

The solution, I see, is a refreeze of the conflict along the June 1992 accord with one consequence from the recent fighting and the elimination of two flaws in the former structure: (a) For the coming years there can be no Georgian or Ossetian peacekeepers. Russia should remain because it is currently the only party trusted by South-Ossetian population. (1) Georgia needs international support that is part of the Joint Control Commission and will be present in the form of peacekeepers. This mission will have to be commanded by a nation with strong economic ties with Russia, ties that are much more important than a conflict within the Caucasus. (2) South-Ossetia must be given a status in which it can represent itself in the international arena, without having to rely on Russia.

Hopefully, in the coming weeks we will see the international community decide on a double ring of peacekeepers: Russians will protect the South Ossetian population and controlling the Ossetian militia and the volunteer brigades from the Northern Caucasus. An international mission commanded by a large European nation will protect the Georgian population on their side of the conflict line and control Georgian provocateurs.

Besides the revived peace mission in a new quality, South-Ossetian leadership should be given some form of international status that would permit it to voice their opinion in international institutions. Russia should not wish to incorporate lands across the Caucasus. The social-economic prospects for an independent South-Ossetia are bleak. Kosovo should be brought to mind, not as a reference to east-west differences, but to remind us that each case is unique.

Sadly, while the danger of military escalation is declining, it is by now the blame game that poses the largest threat to a swift and viable solution. The current situation is not helped by attempts made to attribute part of Georgia's responsibility in the conflict to nations that supplied and trained the Georgian military. Equally destructive are efforts to prove a Russian intent behind the escalation of violence.

Both sides of the conflict have been preparing for the worst. This is what militaries do. One cannot expect Moscow not to have had a contingency plan for a situation in which its peacekeepers in South-Ossetia and Abkhazia are attacked, nor to not have trained for such an occasion. Georgia is fully entitled to build up its national defenses with international assistance, although I think that economic programs could have done more to win the hearts and minds of the populations in the break-away republics. A similar criticism concerns Russia. Why didn’t its soft power suffice to avoid a military confrontation?

Let us leave the question of guilt to an international court of justice, agreed upon and trusted by all parties. It is after all civilized justice we long for, not tar and feathers.

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