Russia, Georgia: Unfriendly Relationship

Global Voices Online
Wednesday, October 4, 2006

A Tbilisi, Georgia, spice seller: "I was taking some photos in the Tbilisi's market and this lady, instead trying to sell me something, she asked me a portrait." - by tomaradze

Georgia (population approx. 4.4 million) arrested four Russian soldiers last week, charging them with espionage. Russia (population approx. 142.4 million) reacted by accusing Georgia of "state terrorism," recalling its ambassador as well as other diplomats and their families, imposing a travel and postal ban, and threatening to adopt a bill that would prevent Georgians living in Russia (approx. 1 million) from sending money (approx. $300 million each year) back home. On Monday, Georgia handed over the alleged military intelligence officers to the OSCE, and they were later flown back to Russia. Today, Russian president Vladimir Putin advised Georgia not "to talk to Russia in the language of provocation and blackmail," after which the Russian parliament passed a motion condemning the Georgian leadership.

LJ user plushev writes (RUS) that the current sanctions against Georgia aren't too different from the ban on Georgian wine and mineral water imposed by Russia in May 2006:

The Georgian story repeats itself: fake justifications for pressure. Aeroflot's flights are cancelled because Georgian air companies are bankrupt - that's original. Postal transactions are suspended because it sometimes happens that this money isn't paid in Georgia - amazing care for the Georgian population. Why is my biggest country in the world, the country that aspires to some [leading] role in this world, is acting like a [small doggie], afraid to say this out loud: "Guys, we're doing this to you because of this and that." Who is it afraid of?

Here are some responses (RUS):

sashachist: [...] The logic is simple: Georgian authorities [have done too many] of these provocations - at first, there was an intention to resolve the conflict in a friendly way, stop saying nonsense, Mr. Saakashvili, you are rificulous - do you remember how you blamed Gazprom for blowing up the gas pipe... et cetera [...] The idea, of course, is to make the Georgian people understand that such a confrontation with Russia hurts not those they've elected - it hurts themselves, so that they were choosing the ones [needed by Russia] in the future. This logic is very simple and has every right to exist.


tson: Obviously, [they are afraid of] the other biggest country in the world.


woronin: If we pressure them for political reasons, we'll be violating international conventions [...]. For example, politically-motivated embargo on products is in violation of the WTO norms, etc. Though China [doesn't seem to care about it], I think. Let someone try to get friendly with Taiwan...

wombatik: [...] Terribly sorry for Borjomi. It was good for children's health. Though, if one stops being selfish, one feels even sorrier for people whose trips, work, contacts are being cancelled and interrupted.

But I don't get this one thing: why do we need this? Of course, it hurts when something that used to be "ours" suddenly [barks] something about independence and go off to be friends with a strong competitor. [...]

Experts say that to us it's more important not to hurt Georgia, but to spit into America's soup one more time. My kid - a third-grader - asked me the other day if America is good or bad. Good, I say. Then I realize that the kid has had the time to hear things at school and on TV. So I say honestly, it's now a norm to dislike America. Why, asks the kid. I haven't been able to explain.

nesmeeva: This is called political correctness, Russian style %)

father_gorry: [Afraid of] the world community. It's so easy to tie the leash of someone else's opinion upon oneself, and it's so hard to take it off.

sara_phan: Don't remember who and where recalled how the USA announced the blockade of Cuba after the Carribean crisis. The situation is very similar: Americans also have military bases on Cuba, who doesn't know about Guantanamo! The aim of the blockade was to stifle Fidel's regime. I want to remind the hot heads that it all happened over 40 years ago, and Fidel is still there. Maybe it's not worth it to [repeat mistakes]?

Before last Wednesday, there was a totally real opposition to Saakashvili - but now it has unanimously supported the president.


Blogger Alex Exler is being sarcastic (RUS) about the alleged Russian spies' ordeal:

Finally, the released officers have told us about the abuse they were through in Georgia. One feels like crying reading it. For something like this, the blockade is not enough - everything should be bombed to hell! I'm citing these mournful lines:

"I think that my rights were violated: I wasn't allowed to get in touch with the consul and the relatives, I wasn't given a lawyer. Besides, I wasn't shown the accusation papers. The investigator read the charges, and I refused to sign. Besides, there was talk about political accusations [...], which I denied, and I didn't meet with anyone else before the trial," - said Savva. - "I saw the lawyer in the evening of the second day (after detention), and I had a meeting with (Georgia's minister of internal affairs) Vano Merabishvili, who offered me a drink and a snack, but I refused."

Aren't they evil or what? Offered him a drink only on the second day. And it's likely that they brought him the same wine that, thanks to Onishchenko, is teeming with pesticides. [...]

Quite a number of readers disagree with Exler:

igMamont: I don't see the grounds for sarcasm. They showed off by detaining the servicemen - and got hit on the [head] for that. What would the United States do if Georgia detained CIA officers?


eImage: Alex, you are wrong. One thing is when cops are "abusing" someone like this, and it's a completely different matter when this is being done by an unfriendly state. It's more than mere abuse - it's humiliation of the state employees using fake reasons. They just wanted to humiliate the state of Russia. And it has to be punished. [...]

The TV footage alone, of a Georgian embassy in Moscow employee hitting [...] a protester who was already being held by the police - it says a lot. If they aren't shy [to do something like this] in Moscow, then what are they doing to our folk in Georgia? [...]

Are we Russia or a "helpless and weak state," as some Georgian officials say? Who cares about consuls and lawyers when the guys were facing 15 years for "terrorism"? And they would've gotten it, if Putin hadn't [woken up].

And he refused the drink because who knows what could have been put into it. You drink it and then sign everything. [...]

The United States is brought up in the comments to this post, too. Here's one that differs somewhat from those cited earlier:

Yeretik: Oh and ah. I remember when the Russia-friendly Iraqis cut off the heads of the Russian diplomats - Russia's reaction then wasn't as brave. At first, when the heads were still in place, they [were trying to please the terrorists], and then they put the blame for what happened on the USA.


The United States features in some Russian bloggers' Georgia-related posts for an entirely different reason, too: they are discussing the seemingly proverbial "stupidity" of Americans and their poor knowledge of geography, citing a Yahoo! Message Boards thread - "Anti-Georgia campaign heats up in Russia" - and the subsequent report (RUS) in a Russian online newspaper, according to which, "some Americans, on hearing about the blockade of Georgia, have demanded withdrawal of the Russian troops from the USA."

It turns out, however, that much of the message board discussion took place in May 2005 and was meant as a joke; LJ user watertank compiles a list (RUS) of the bloggers who didn't recognize it as such:

[...] how a last year's joke can be turned into a fresh piece of world news :) [...]

And at a forum frequented by the former Soviet citizens currently residing in the United States, one poster, formerly of Kyiv, Ukraine, reveals that the joke is pretty old:

- Did you hear it, CNN said thet russian invaded Georgia
- I hope they'll start from CNN headquarter


Moscow-based LJ user silna expresses her warm feelings for Georgia and its people (RUS):


You know what. I want to scream out loud here.



I've never been there, I have only a few Georgian friends, but this land and this people are dear to me. [...] And what's going on is hurting me. Yes, with my mind I understand why it is happening and what for, but my heart aches. And what can I do? Me, an apolitical Russian person, [not belonging to any party, not the one who runs the country]? I can only say something, and I'm saying it.

And here's more: I'll definitely go to Georgia one day, and will hug as many Georgians as possible, and I'll drink home-made wine there for all of us. For the dear ones. [...]

This blogger also links to the travel reports and photos (RUS, part one and part two) from a recent trip to Georgia by LJ user semasongs (Aleksandr Semenov, Moscow).

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