A Trigger-Happy Dictator With Nothing Left to Lose



It’s usually a good idea not to encourage a bully. But that is exactly what NATO is doing with its upcoming May 6-June 1 training exercises at the Georgian military base Vaziani. 


These training exercises, dubbed the “Partnership for Peace Programme” have as their stated goal “improving interoperability between NATO and partner countries.”


“Partnership for Peace?” Anything but. These training exercises sound to me like a great way to tempt Georgian President Mikhail Saakhashvili into making another go at Abkhazia and South Ossetia.


On August 7 of last year, he sent his army storming into the two breakaway republics with the intention of bringing them back under full Georgian dominion. That the Russian army was stationed in them at the time did not deter him. Why? In part, probably because, in his little dictator brain, he had reasoned that NATO would help him.


He implied no less in an interview just the day before with the Pulitzer Center’s Zygmunt Dzieciolowski, in which he said that he “cannot imagine the West not coming to Georgia’s aid. It would be like the betrayal of Hungary in 1956 or the then-Czechoslovakia in 1968, when the Soviet Union’s aggressive repression of restive satellites was met with silence from the West.


Saakhashvili hasn’t given up on the two provinces. In a September 2008 news conference, he vowed to “reclaim” them at some later point.


Now that NATO is going to be stationed in his country for at least a month, might this not strike him as a perfect time to try?


He might rightly reason that with NATO troops stationed on his turf, he can safely take a gamble on attacking Russia. The worst that can happen is the Russian military outfights him and forces him into a retreat. They won’t counterattack and invade Georgia again, that is for certain. Not while NATO is there and the risk of inciting a war with NATO is present. Saakhasvhili will just pull back, declare another cesefire, and life will go on.


Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suspects as much, and he made no secret about it last Thursday when he warned NATO not to take steps that would create “a sense of all-permissiveness and impunity in the Georgian regime.”


The Russian military worries about it, too. They’ve been stepping up their troop numbers in Abkhazia’s Gali district and in the Akhalgori district of South Ossetia, as well as conducting naval maneuvers on the Black Sea, all to Saakhashvili’s dismay.


Having exact information about high probability of provocative actions against Abkhazia and South Ossetia in this period, the Russian side has taken preventive measures to ensure security of these republics and our servicemen stationed there,” said Andrei Nesterenko, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, on Thursday.


He also stressed that a real threat is coming from Georgia in terms of preparing “new provocations, including concentration of special troops and military hardware in the immediate proximity of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”


There is an additional factor here, and that is Saakhasvhili’s domestic situation. He has been under a lot of heat lately, or more specifically, mass protests—ongoing since April 9—that demand nothing less than Saakhashvili’s resignation. For an autocratic government, which Georgia’s leadership is, the official response to the protest has been relatively mild. Civil Georgia reports thus: “The authorities continue the tactic of staying away from protests, with uniformed police having no presence on the protest venues and low presence around those venues,” albeit turning a blind eye to “separate cases of attacks on opposition activists and supporters.”


For a protest to go on this long and make this much noise without any state-orchestrated crackdown, it is painfully clear that the Saakashvili machine is weak and ailing. He is a dictator in a tight spot.


Not good, in this case: Dictators in tight spots are the ones most likely to do reckless things. Might he decide he has nothing to lose–and everything to gain–by going to war again with Russia? He might. If nothing else, he will dampen the momentum to overthrow him for the time being—wartime presidents, as a rule, are popular presidents.


On that subject, here is some food for thought from former Georgian president Edward Shevardnadze, spoken in the aftermath of last summer’s war: “This is a character of Georgian people, if someone meddles in their affairs, their national pride comes forward. It happened when Russia announced breaking of relations with Mikhail Saakashvili.”



4 Responses to “A Trigger-Happy Dictator With Nothing Left to Lose”

  1. kallekn Says:

    Trigger-happy, maybe. But a dictator? Some arguments for using that word, please?

  2. Rick Docksai Says:

    No problem:

    1)Brutally suppressing peaceful citizen protests

    2) Imposing martial law and rescheduling elections

    3) recklessly unleashing military force against the civilian population of Tshkhinvali


    4) using torture and arbitrary detention as law enforcement tools

    All of these are typical behaviors of a dictator.

  3. Kalle Kniivilä Says:

    Possibly you have point there. But then again, he WAS democratically reelected in relatively free and fair snap elections after brutally supressing peaceful(?) citizen protests. And I suppose he would be reelected again, if new elections were to be held now. A typical dictator wouldn’t be.

    I don’t personally like Saakashvili very much at all, and some of the things he did in South Ossetia can probably be qualified as war crimes. But it seems that he has more popular support than any other politician in Georgia. And just because a person is a war criminal doesn’t necessarily mean he is a dictator as well.

    By the way, as you know, the opposition is not exactly more conciliatory in the Ossetian and Abkhaz disputes than Saakashvili is. And the Ossetian and Abkhaz regimes are of course even worse.

    • rickdocksai Says:

      You do think Saakashvili would win again? Why so?

      And by the way, as to whether or not he is a dictator, I encourage you to check out this link about the protestors in Tbilisi erecting improvised cells to represent Georgia becoming a “police state”

      And this link, where you will read about the criticism he is receiving for “failure to carry out democratic reforms promised after the 2003 ‘Rose Revolution’ that brought him to power.”

      We can argue over what names we wish to use for Saakashvili. I may use the word “dictator,” you may not. But we can probably agree that he is no democrat.

      He’s far from alone. Plenty of the heads of state in his part of the world–including most of those in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Russia itself–are similar in that regard. But from the looks of it, blocs of regular citizens expect better and are not afraid to say so. I’ll hope that they gain ground as time goes on, and that the Color Revolutions will lead ultimately to meaningful change and people-centered governance all around.

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