06MOSCOW7385, RUSSIA’S GEORGIA POLICY: “THE CAUCASUS BENEATH ME”

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW7385 2006-07-12 11:08 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO6378
OO RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #7385/01 1931108
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 121108Z JUL 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8830
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MOSCOW 007385 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/12/2016 
TAGS: PREL MARR MOPS GG RS
SUBJECT: RUSSIA'S GEORGIA POLICY:  "THE CAUCASUS BENEATH ME" 
 
REF: A. MOSCOW 7340 AND PREVIOUS B. TBILISI 1647 AND 
     PREVIOUS C. OSC CEP20060702950094 
 
Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns.  Reason 1.4 (b, d) 
 
Summary 
------- 
 
1. (C) Russia's policies towards Georgia are the product of 
three factors:  anger unleashed by perceptions of betrayal 
and disrespect, fear of encirclement by a West intent on 
dismembering Russia's conception of the "Post-Soviet space," 
and solidarity with the separatist Abkhaz and South 
Ossetians, especially among their ethnic kin in the North 
Caucasus and among the Russian military.  Those three factors 
do not produce a coherent policy which might, for example, 
promote the growth of Russian economic preponderance within a 
Georgia that, like Azerbaijan or Armenia, balances between 
Russia and the West.  Instead, childish exchanges of rhetoric 
are punctuated by hostile acts, whether centrally ordered 
(such as the bans on Georgian wine and mineral water) or not. 
 
2. (C) Russian policymakers see separatist conflicts as their 
strongest lever in dealing with Saakashvili's government, 
which they universally view as belligerent, amateurish, and 
out of touch with the Georgian people.  But, paradoxically, 
that leverage cannot be used, because Russia's over-riding 
goal is to preserve the status quo in the conflicts.  Russia 
has little incentive to seek to resolve the conflicts, even 
in exchange for Georgian agreement to drop its NATO 
aspirations.  Nor will it annex the territories.  Some in 
Russia may be tempted to use the conflict lever to oust 
Saakashvili, but most Moscow policymakers fear the 
consequences.  Most Russian officials seem to believe that 
Georgia will re-start hostilities in South Ossetia this 
summer, and the Russian military is taking steps to counter 
that perceived threat to the status quo.  Georgian Government 
and Parliament action on the PKOs in South Ossetia and 
Abkhazia are likely to keep the cycle of rhetoric and tension 
rising over the next few months.    End Summary. 
 
Paradise Lost 
------------- 
 
"Some years ago, 
There, where the currents 
Of the Aragvi and the Kura flow together, 
Embracing like two sisters..." 
 
Lermontov, "Mtsyri" 
 
3. (C) No issue engages Russian emotions (as opposed to state 
interest) as much as Georgia.  While Russians look at two 
centuries of Georgians from Bagration to Stalin as integral 
to Russia's history, to Georgians those two centuries 
represent just the latest episode in over two millennia of 
transient alien occupations to be survived with charm and 
cunning.  The "spoiled child of the Russian Empire," as one 
Georgian put it, Georgia was enshrined in the Russian soul as 
a playground where the northerner could relax at song-filled 
feasts, enjoying the companionship of the friendly natives, 
drinking endless toasts to each other in Georgia's prized 
wine, beaker after hedonistic beaker full of the warm South. 
As the Georgian Ambassador here put it, the Georgians always 
told the Russians how much they loved them, "and they 
actually believed us."  What a betrayal, then, when the 
Georgians pushed the Russians away and started feasting with 
none other than the Americans!  As one Russian general said 
grumpily when the first American trainers arrived to 
implement the Georgia Train and Equip Program, "The Americans 
think they will teach the Georgians to fight.  In reality, 
the Georgians will teach the Americans to sing." 
 
4. (C) That was under Shevardnadze, for whom the Russians had 
nothing but loathing -- "liar" and "swindler" were among 
their more polite labels for him.  All that is forgotten, and 
Russians now remember him as a "statesman" and a "real 
politician" -- in comparison with his successor, Mikheil 
Saakashvili.  This change has more to do with Saakashvili's 
personality than his policies.  If anything, he is more 
straightforward and honest with the Russians than 
Shevardnadze was.   But it is clear that Putin thinks of 
Saakashvili as a disrespectful punk (though an entertaining 
conversationalist), and words of conventional wisdom here 
describe Saakashvili as "unpredictable," "irrational," 
"emotional," and "incapable of thinking ahead."  The Russian 
political class is convinced that Saakashvili is out of touch 
with the Georgian people, to whom, they claim, he has failed 
to deliver good government and economic improvement. 
 
Empire Lost 
----------- 
 
MOSCOW 00007385  002 OF 004 
 
 
 
5. (C) Though Saakashvili's foreign and security goals are 
not so different from Shevardnadze's, the times have changed 
and Georgia has come much farther towards reaching those 
goals, including NATO membership.   At the same time, Russia 
has seen its position within the region deteriorate.  A wave 
of hysteria has swept Russia that the U.S. fomented both the 
Orange and Rose revolutions to encircle Russia with hostile 
regimes and NATO bases, and Russian pundits warn that the 
U.S. (and George Soros) now have Russia in their sights. &#x000A
;Although Ukraine's NATO prospects engage Russia's state 
interests more, Saakashvili and his vocal sidekick DefMin 
Okruashvili are the incarnate bogeymen of the Color Scare. 
Beyond the popular hyperventilation, there is consensus among 
Russia's political class that the country's security is 
threatened by "Orange technologies" emanating from 
Washington, and that Russia must defend itself along the 
border of the former Soviet Union -- the architecture of the 
"Post-Soviet Space" must stay intact to keep Russia whole and 
free of foreign domination. 
 
Brethren Regained 
----------------- 
 
6. (C) The restive North Caucasus is a haven of support for 
anti-Georgian separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. 
That affects Russian policy as a whole, especially as the 
North Caucasus is a center of Russian policy incoherence. 
North Ossetia, the linchpin of Russia's hopes for stability 
in the North Caucasus, is not anxious to integrate the 
heavily armed Southerners, whose economy has been dominated 
by criminality for the last 15 years.  But North Ossetia will 
oppose any Georgian attempt to reintegrate South Ossetia -- 
and the North's importance to stability will make Russia 
listen.  The Adyg peoples -- Kabardians, Cherkess and Adyge 
-- are ethnic cousins to the Abkhaz and fought against 
Georgia in the Abkhaz separatist struggle (the Abkhaz defense 
minister is a Kabardian).  They, too, will oppose Russian 
concessions to Georgia, and the growing Islamist insurgencies 
in those republics will tend to dissuade Russia from making 
such concessions, which would predictably weaken the 
pro-Moscow leaderships.  The Russian military, too, supports 
the separatists, in part because Abkhazia was always a 
vacation spot for the generals, and the shrinking Russian 
military presence abroad has left fewer such opportunities 
for deployment in lucrative postings. 
 
Lurching Towards Policy 
----------------------- 
 
7. (C) The nostalgic hostility, fear of NATO encirclement, 
and North Caucasus concerns do not allow Russia a consistent 
set of goals in dealing with Georgia.  Russia's one true 
security goal -- neutralizing a perceived western containment 
-- should lead Russia to treat Georgia as it does Armenia and 
Azerbaijan, allowing it to balance its western and Russian 
relations while ensuring it does no real damage to Russian 
interests; all the while increasing Russia's investment and 
share of trade.  But Russia has never pursued this goal 
single-mindedly, instead embroiling itself in separatist 
conflicts that appease the North Caucasians, the military, 
and the lunatic fringe of neo-Imperialists in Moscow. 
 
8. (C) This has given the separatists and the emotion-driven 
an inordinate say in Russia's policy towards Georgia.  Russia 
has allowed itself to be drawn into childish shouting matches 
with Georgian politicians that often end in Russia having to 
show who's got more testosterone by taking some 
counter-productive action.  A case in point is the ban on 
Georgian wine and mineral water.  Russian fringe politicians 
and Georgian officials call each other names; the Georgians 
include the Russian government and Putin in their name 
calling; and Russia imposes a ban on Georgian wine.  This 
engenders a new cycle of name-calling; Georgian DefMin 
Okruashvili says Russians can't tell the difference between 
wine and "fecal matter," and Russia bans Georgian mineral 
water.  The net result is that Russia alienates the very 
Georgians who most want good relations with Russia -- 
exporters of products such as wine and mineral water.  Wine 
alone made up just under 49 percent of Georgian exports to 
Russia in 2005. 
 
9. (C) Another case in point is the set of explosions in 
southern Russia on January 22 that cut off deliveries of 
Russian gas and electricity to Georgia.  All we know of the 
perpetrators is that they were targeting Georgia and that 
they had the reach to conduct simultaneous operations in two 
widely-separated points in the North Caucasus.  Whether 
lunatic fringe or separatist, the perpetrators were enabled 
by Russia's atmosphere of hostility to Georgia, support for 
the separatists, and policy incoherence and instability in 
the North Caucasus.  The net result of the explosions was 
 
MOSCOW 00007385  003 OF 004 
 
 
that Saakashvili had a concrete example to show the Georgian 
people that their sufferings did not originate with 
government shortcomings in Georgia, but in subversive action 
taken in (and, in his view, originating with) Russia. 
 
10. (C) Much publicity has been given to the possibility that 
Russia could cut off remittances home from Georgians working 
in Russia.  Russians tend to view these remittances as a form 
of Russian "aid" to Georgia, rather than as part of the 
profit made by productive contributors to the Russian 
economy.  Cutting off remittances would probably be 
counterproductive.  Nonetheless, future rounds of nasty 
rhetoric could lead Russia to cast around for some action to 
show its displeasure, and the chattering classes have seized 
on this as a way of showing Russia's might. 
 
Supporting the Separatist Status Quo 
------------------------------------ 
 
11. (C) The status quo in the separatist conflicts over 
Abkhazia and South Ossetia is optimal, in the Russian view. 
Russia controls the two territories, the military is kept 
happy, and Georgia's emotions over the regions make them 
valuable cards for Russia in dealing with Georgia.  Russian 
officials have told us that they view the unresolved 
conflicts as deterrents against NATO acceptance of Georgian 
membership.  Since the regions border Russia, NATO would 
"have to think twice," an MFA official told us, before 
accepting a member which might lead NATO into a conflict with 
Russia.  Any change would be worse for the Russians, who 
would either lose control (if Georgia reimposed sovereignty) 
or take on international responsibility and probable 
opprobrium (if it annexed the territories, as Georgia accuses 
Russia of wanting to do, and as some in Russia recommend; or 
if it recognized their independence).  Fighting would 
threaten the status quo and subject Russia to heavy pressure 
from the North Caucasus to annex the regions, something 
Moscow (as opposed to Nalchik or Mozdok) would prefer to 
avoid. 
 
12. (C) Russian peacekeepers are in place in both separatist 
regions.  The belief here is that those peacekeepers are all 
that stand in the way of war and genocide, and that the 
peacekeepers have died to protect the peace.  We would also 
note that for nearly fifteen years Russian officers have 
found their deployments to the Abkhazia and South Ossetia 
PKFs to be lucrative, and the Russian military is deeply 
committed to remaining in place -- and deeply irritated by 
Georgian suggestions that the Russians be replaced by more 
neutrally oriented international peacekeepers.  As long as 
the conflicts remain frozen in the statu
s quo, the Russian 
military has a justification for remaining in place; 
occasional crises help bolster that justification.  The 
Russian PKO support for South Ossetia's reaction to Georgia's 
July 9 closure of its de facto border with South Ossetia -- 
in retaliation for the July 8 Russian closure of its border 
with Georgia -- showed a willingness to inflame a crisis. 
 
13. (C) The need to preserve the status quo means Russia will 
not, in our view, engage in a good faith effort to resolve 
the separatist conflicts.  It also means that Russia would 
probably not hand the regions back to Georgia, even in 
exchange for Georgia giving up its NATO aspirations.  Though 
Lavrov (but not Putin) has dangled that deal before 
Saakashvili, no Russian could trust Georgia not to revive its 
NATO aspirations at a later date, nor could Putin deliver 
Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgia without risking a major 
explosion in the North Caucasus. 
 
14. (C) Some in Russia will be tempted to welcome a Georgian 
resort to fighting in South Ossetia -- or even to engineer it 
themselves -- as a means of ousting Saakashvili.  They would 
reason that fighting would spread to Abkhazia under the pact 
reached by Kokoity and Bagapsh in Sukhumi June 14.  Abkhaz 
and Ossetians could displace tens of thousands of Georgians 
in South Ossetia and Abkhazia (a reprise of May 1998 in 
Abkhazia).  This demonstration of Saakashvili's inability to 
defend the people might lead to a popular uprising against 
him.  However, the Russians have no candidate to take 
Saakashvili's place, and they would be forced to annex or 
otherwise take responsibility for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. 
 On balance, Moscow would probably reject such an operation. 
As Russia's special negotiator for South Ossetia Yuriy Popov 
told us June 30, "Saakashvili gets under our skin ... but we 
like him right where we've got him."  However, the January 22 
explosions are a worrying precedent.  Some -- possibly 
separatists in South Ossetia or Abkhazia -- have shown that 
they are willing to start action whose consequences the GOR 
has to live with.  In June, Georgian authorities foiled a 
plot to assassinate an opposition political leader. 
Georgians charge that the alleged perpetrator, an Ossetian 
from Georgia resident in North Ossetia, was tasked by unnamed 
 
MOSCOW 00007385  004 OF 004 
 
 
special services with carrying out the assassination to 
destabilize Georgia by making it appear as though the 
Saakashvili administration were behind it. 
 
15. (C)  The high level of tension -- and of mutual suspicion 
-- could also lead to an "August 1914" scenario of sides 
slipping into conflict despite themselves.  Popov told us 
June 30 that Russian intelligence was reporting that 
Saakashvili had ordered his forces to engage in "small 
provocative attacks" against the Russian PKF in South Ossetia 
(he added that the same analysts believed the U.S. was 
encouraging the Georgians to take such action).  Popov 
pointed to Georgian deployments to mixed villages in South 
Ossetia (he had just come back from a meeting in Tskhinvali 
between the Georgian and South Ossetian Interior Ministers to 
resolve the issue), other reinforcements in the region, and 
military exercises.  The Russian military, he said, was 
prepared to counter the perceived threat, deploying itself 
"to be ready to counter any contingency."  We pointed out to 
Popov that the Georgian military was likely to perceive the 
new Russian deployments as a threat, and would also deploy 
itself to counter "any contingency," leading to a cycle of 
increased military confrontation. 
 
Dialogue and Its Background 
--------------------------- 
 
16. (C) The June 13 conversation between Putin and 
Saakashvili did not produce concrete results, but the fact of 
dialogue was a damper to tensions.  The Tskhinvali meeting 
between MinInt Merabishvili and "MinInt" Mindzayev did 
produce some results, including a commitment for the two men 
to meet monthly.  Saakashvili is due in Moscow July 21 for an 
informal CIS summit.  On June 13, he and Putin discussed 
holding a bilateral meeting on the margins. 
 
17. (C) The meetings may have new fires to put out, however. 
The Georgian parliament is expected imminently to take action 
on the Government's February 15 report about the Russian PKF 
in South Ossetia.  DefMin Okruashvili recently urged 
Parliament to demand the withdrawal of the PKF (Ref. C). 
(DFM Karasin drily noted to U/S Burns and EUR/AS Fried on 
June 28 that the PKF was not in South Ossetia at the 
invitation of the Georgian Parliament or Government, and 
would not leave at their unilateral behest).  On July 15 the 
GoG is due to report to the Georgian Parliament on the CIS 
(read Russian) PKF in Abkhazia, starting the cycle of tension 
there.  It was in expectation of those actions that the 
"Presidents" of South Ossetia and Abkhazia met June 6 in 
Vladikavkaz and again June 14 in Sukhumi (with Transnistria 
leader Smirnov) to announce a mutual security pact to counter 
Georgian "aggression" against the peacekeepers. 
 
18. (C) With these events forcing tensions higher, dialogue 
becomes even more of a necessity -- just to keep the 
situation from going further downhill; real improvement is a 
long way off.  Emotion towards Georgia and pressures over the 
separatist conflicts have disbalanced Russia's policy (itself 
none too clear).  On the conflicts, the center is caught -- 
between the demands of Georgia and the West to work towards 
resolution, and the demands of the separatists and military 
to pursue annexationist policies.  The center wants neither 
of these options, and would prefer to steer a course between 
the two.  However, Russia's emotions towards Georgia make 
even that option murky, and without dialogue to dampen 
emotions the cycle of childish rhetoric and pointless hostile 
actions will continue.  The U.S. can best contribute by 
promoting that dialogue and letting the Georgians and 
Russians talk face to face. 
BURNS

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