My friend and fellow ConservativeHome contributor Carl Thomson recently wrote an interesting piece on this website about getting the Anglo-Russian relationship back on track. Included in the article were several fair points, such as the imperative for the UK to strengthen trading links with the Moscow and the benefits Russian investment brings to both the City of London and technology sector.
One issue I feel the need to challenge Carl on, however, is the issue of the factual inaccuracies in his article regarding the Russian aggression towards and occupation of large parts of the Republic of Georgia – a sovereign nation whose territorial integrity is championed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
In referring the bloody war in the country which took place in August 2007 claiming the lives of almost 400 people, he descibes “Georgia’s assault on South Ossetia”. Such a description accords with the Kremlin’s PR message, yet not with any conception of reality.
While David Cameron was the first foreign politician to travel to Tbilisi in the grim days of that five day invasion to lend his support to the Georgian people, others since have fallen for the ridiculous notion that Georgia would have dared to have started a war with Russia. Indeed, such a turn of events would have seen Georgia’s President Saakashvili willfully deploy his country’s 21,000 active soldiers against Russian standing army’s 1,027,000 troops.
In reality, the country’s democratically-elected leader was merely acting to defend those thousands of Georgians who were being systematically ethnically cleansed by Ossetian militias supported by the Russian so-called “peacekeepers”.
I wrote recently how Saakashvili deserved praise for declaring to the European Parliament that he renounces aggression and military means towards the withdrawal of Russian troops, who are still occupying 20% of Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and continue to violate each and every of the six provisions of the Sarkozy Peace Plan of 2008.
Barely was the digital ink dry than the revelations of WikiLeaks bore out the real narrative of the Russian invasion of Georgia two and a half years ago. Last month, the leaked cables put pay to any suggestion that Georgia was the aggressor in the conflict.
For this, we can be grateful to The Guardian’s Russian correspondent Luke Harding.
Harding discovered that, as long argued by Tbilisi and academics such as German Marshall Fund scholar Ron Asmus with expertise of the region, Russia had been providing Grad multiple rocket launchers and other arms to separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and carried out a wave of “covert actions” to undermine Georgia in the long run-up to the August 2008 war.
According to the classified US intelligence reports, Moscow’s hostile actions included “missile attacks, murder plots and a host of smaller-scale actions” designed to illegally oust Saakashvili from office in favour of a more malleable Georgian administration.
“The cumulative weight of the evidence of the last few years suggests that the Russians are aggressively playing a high-stakes covert game, and they consider few if any holds barred," wrote the US ambassador in Tbilisi, John Tefft on 20 August 2007 in a classified cable.
One Kremlin aim was to remove Saakashvili, Tefft wrote, yet the "variety and extent of the active measures suggests the deeper goal is turning Georgia from its Euroatlantic orientation back into the Russian fold".
Put simply, its aim was also to "provoke the Georgian leadership into a rash reaction that separates Georgia further from the west” and derail the country’s ambitions to join NATO and, in the fullness of time, the European Union.
Some will no doubt discount Tefft’s confidential remarks on the basis that they originated from an American diplomat representing a nation with famously chilly relations with the Kremlin. His position is, however, backed up by Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenko – a man leading a country which has, since 1996, been tied to the Moscow in a supranational entity known as the Union State of Russia and Belarus.
According to WikiLeaks cables bearing Lukashenko’s name, Moscow had apparently planned its invasion “years in advance”.
These cables entirely corroborate the claims of the Georgian government, whose intelligence service had detected Russia admitting for war in the days before conflict broke out; their tanks were the roll southwards through the Roki Tunnel that links South Ossetia to the country.
Later this month, I shall be visiting the Line of Occupation at Gori where snipers still look down and have Georgians in their crosshairs. From there, I will have the opportunity to witness the Russian-instigated devastation wrought on this tiny European country for myself.