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Viewing cable 08MOSCOW2414, TFGG01: RUSSIA DEFIANT

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08MOSCOW2414 2008-08-14 15:03 2011-02-18 00:12 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow
Appears in these articles:
DE RUEHMO #2414/01 2271535
O 141535Z AUG 08
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MOSCOW 002414 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/13/2018 
Classified By: Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Alice G. Wells.  Reasons 
1.4(b) and ...

SUBJECT: TFGG01: RUSSIA DEFIANT Classified By: Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Alice G. Wells. Reasons 1.4(b) and (d). 

1. (C) Summary. Russian officials August 13 and 14 continued a defiant line, with Medvedev insisting that Russia would support an international agreement that recognized the rights of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. FM Lavrov questioned Georgia's territorial integrity and said Washington would need to choose between "an illusory project called Georgian leadership" and a "real partnership" with Russia. The MFA challenged Georgia's NATO aspirations, saying the decision would be "a test of political maturity and seriousness" of the Alliance. It also accused Ukraine of violating the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership, and bilateral agreements on the Black Sea Fleet (septel). After canvassing a range of prominent analysts, even the most pro-Western experts lashed out at the U.S. for supporting Georgia, saying Russia could not have remained passive in the face of Georgia's actions in South Ossetia, and contending that the GOR believed it was not violating international norms, but using the precedent set by the U.S. and the West in Kosovo in 1999. They argued that Georgia would never be able to reunify, and posited that Russia's actions demonstrated that Moscow would no longer "tolerate being ignored." The experts expressed concern at the impact on U.S.- Russian relations, but downplayed the prospect of international pressure on Russia. End summary. 

Medvedev Questions Status ------------------------- 

2. (U) President Medvedev reiterated that Russia would support "any settlement that recognized the international rights of Abkhazia and South Ossetia," following a press conference August 14 with the leaders of the two conflict zones. He maintained that Russia would serve as a guarantor of South Ossetia and Abkhazia both in the Caucasus and "in the whole world." Lavrov Defiant -------------- 3. (U) FM Lavrov challenged Georgia's territorial integrity in an interview on Ekho Moskvy August 14, calling it "limited due to the conflict in the two regions. He said it would be impossible to return them to Georgia, and he could not see a situation where either South Ossetia or Abkhazia would "wish to live in one state with the person who ordered military strikes on them." Lavrov reiterated that Moscow did not see Saakashvili as a "viable partner for negotiations." 4. (U) The day before, Lavrov had reacted strongly to comments from Washington. "We paid attention not only to what President Bush said but also to what he did not mention. ... On several occasions we cautioned our American partners as part of our dialogue of trust that this is a dangerous game and that it was possible that these resources ... could be used recklessly. Our American colleagues unambiguously and firmly assured us back then that they would not allow that to happen." Later in the day, and carried after midnight on local television, Lavrov posed to the U.S., "it is necessary to choose: prestige for the virtual project (support for Georgia) or real partnership (with Russia) which demands collective action." 5. (U) During his press conference yesterday, Lavrov also took exception to DAS Bryza's statement that Russia had ceased to be the peacemaker in Georgia. Calling this an attempt to mischaracterize the situation, Lavrov countered that the agreement brokered by President Sarkozy emphasized the role of Russia as peacemaker. FM Lavrov also denied claims that Russian troops remained in Poti, acknowledged there were troops on the outskirts of Gori and Senaki but asserted they were there simply to "neutralize" the unguarded arsenals of weapons and military hardware in the two zones. He also denied allegations of looting by Russian soldiers, contending the "peacekeepers" had strict instructions against looting, and saying the GOR would look into allegations but would not permit such actions. 

MFA on Georgian NATO Membership ------------------------------- 

6. (U) DFM Karasin challenged NATO on the issue of Georgia's membership in the Alliance. Karasin said the decision was a question that affected not only Georgia, but would be "a test MOSCOW 00002414 002 OF 004 of the political maturity and seriousness" of the Alliance. Referring to the "bloody nature of the Georgian aggression against South Ossetia and the following humanitarian catastrophe, he said that "serious politicians in NATO member-states" were "capable of making independent decisions." 

Other GOR Officials Defiant --------------------------- 

7. (U) The head of the Federation Council, Sergei Mironov, used more forceful language in a statement on his website, where he blamed the U.S. for backing Georgia into "this barbarous aggression," and that the U.S. had underestimated Russia's reaction. 

Experts United -------------- 

8. (C) Even the most pro-Western political experts here are expressing concern for the future of U.S.-Russian relations and pointing the finger at the U.S. for putting the relationship in jeopardy. Contending that Russia had no choice but to respond militarily to Georgia's attacks on South Ossetia, they accept the GOR's comparison of its actions in South Ossetia to the U.S. and NATO's actions in Kosovo in 1999. They point out that Russian officials had repeatedly warned for years about "Saakashvili's intent to unify Georgia by force," and note the GOR's frustration that "the U.S. had not only not listened, but had armed and trained the Georgian military." Some even argue that the GOR feels its concerns (e.g. over NATO enlargement, missile defense, and Western "encroachment" into Russia's neighbors) have been ignored by the West, and particularly by the U.S. for too long, but now Russia is strong enough to push back forcefully. 

9. (C) Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Moscow Center and Public Chamber member and Russian/Georgian political observer Nikolai Svanidze highlighted the concerns that persons who consider themselves to be "liberals" were confronting in trying to understand and explain domestic political implications of the Russian-Georgian conflict. Both were critical of Russian and Georgian leaders, as well as of the United States for its strong support for Georgia since 2003. They both cited the recent presidential election in Georgia when criticizing the U.S. for too great an emphasis on Georgia's democracy, while also readily acknowledging Russia's own shortfalls in terms of political freedom. Both noted that the GOR's military action to oust Georgian forces from South Ossetia and to inflict damage on military infrastructure in Georgia enjoyed overwhelming support from the Russian public. 

10. (SBU) Independent "Nezavisimaya Gazeta" editor Konstantin Remchukov -- a political moderate, who does not hesitate to criticize Kremlin policy, also presented a defiant view of Russian foreign policy. Remchukov said he was finally convinced that the Secretary did not give Saakashvili a green light to attack Tskhinvali, but that he was in a minority. U.S.-Russian relations were experiencing their worst crisis, he charged, due to the U.S. refusal to criticize Saakashvili's assault. In that context, the U.S. outrage at the "disproportionate response" was pocketed by Russians (and especially the Russian elite) as confirmation that the U.S. approved of the misadventure. Remchukov railed against U.S. unwillingness to accept that Saakashvili had ordered Georgian troops to fire on Russian peacekeepers -- "what would your response be?" Tskhinvali, he stressed, "changed everything," not just U.S.-Russian relations, but the entire strategic equation. "

Kosovo Set the Precedent" -------------------------- 

11. (C) Sergey Oznobischev, Director of the Institute for Strategic Assessments, Dmitriy Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center, Ivan Safranchuk of the World Security Institute, and Aleksandr Belkin of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy all told us that Russia believed it had been justified in undertaking a "humanitarian intervention" to save the people of South Ossetia. The Kremlin and MOD were applying "the exact model of the West's intervention in Kosovo in 1999," Safranchuk said. Russia was using "just cause" in order to prevent a humanitarian disaster. Despite Russia's criticism of that intervention and oft-repeated assertions that such actions should not be undertaken without a UN mandate, Belkin MOSCOW 00002414 003 OF 004 contended that Russia was not setting a precedent; it was merely following the one already established by the U.S. 

12. (C) Lipman said the GOR's use of the term "genocide" clearly made the link to Kosovo. "There's genocide, we invade, we occupy, we rule, and then we make the decision on independence," she posited was the GOR's belief in a direct correlation to the West's actions in the Balkans. "

Russia Won't Be Ignored Anymore" --------------------------------- 

13. (C) Many of the analysts said the GOR had made clear it was not responding to pressure from the West in making its decisions. Lipman pointed out that Russia had acted "without permission," and had made the decision to stop military operations "when it chose to," before French President Sarkozy arrived in Moscow. This is "old-style 19th Century politics," both she and Aleksandr Golts of the Daily Journal suggested. Russia wanted to be seen and treated as an equal to the U.S. and the West. Russia had warned about Saakashvili for years, they said, but the West, particularly the U.S., had ignored them. At the same time, the U.S. dismissed Russian concerns and continued to support the "color revolutions," to press for NATO enlargement to Russia's borders, and to move its military infrastructure into Central Asia and Eastern Europe (including missile defense). She posited that Russia had been telling the West that it was getting increasingly stronger and should not be taken for granted. Now, she suggested, the GOR believed it was strong enough to stand up to the West. "Munich was words; South Ossetia was action" Lipman argued. "

Georgia Will Never Reunify Now" -------------------------------- 

14. (C) Most analysts believe there is now no chance that South Ossetia and Abkhazia will ever rejoin Georgia. "Reunification of Georgia is completely impossible now," Oznobischev told us. There will be a "very strong imperative" for Russia to consider the two regions as sovereign states and recognize their independence, he contended. Trenin agreed, saying the status quo ante was "impossible now." 

Consequences for Relations with U.S. and the World --------------------------------------------- ----- 

15. (C) Lavrov told Ekho Moskvy August 13 that he did not see a reason to "interrupt our dialogue with the United States," commenting that the two countries "have a broad agenda." Others are not so sure. Both Svanidze and Lipman (separately) commented that some circles of Russians were now beginning to see that while the military operation had made them feel good about Russia's ability to defend what it defines as its interests, this has translated to fear - but not the respect Russians feel they have been denied from abroad since the collapse of the Soviet Union - that they had hoped it might. They said that liberals took extremely seriously the fact that Russia's use of force against Georgia was the first time military force has been projected abroad from Soviet/Russian territory since the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. They are acutely aware that the new dynamic in relations with the EU and with the US will need to be managed, and worried about the long-term consequences. Their hopes that Medvedev would be able to distinguish himself from Putin and begin to make policy and personnel changes have now been shelved. They also noted that, with strong public opinion behind them, they will need to carefully calibrate how and when they begin any assessment of the Russian "victory" in South Ossetia. 
16. (C) Both also spoke of their deep concerns over the clear isolation of Russia as a result of its military campaign. In particular, they noted the total absence of support from CIS countries and China. While both argued that, in the short term the isolation, and retaliatory steps contemplated by western nations would have little effect on decision-making of Putin and Medvedev, Lipman expressed concern that this isolation over a prolonged period was not in Russia's interest. Svanidze went further, arguing that the isolation would play to the benefit of the siloviki and the advisors around Putin. They would paint internal and external critics of Russia's Georgia policy as enemies of the country, and use the crisis as an opportunity keep Putin the man calling the shots. MOSCOW 00002414 004 OF 004 17. (C) Golts said he did not think that the GOR wanted to worsen relations with the U.S. ("if it's possible for them to get any worse," he quipped), but believed it depended on the U.S. response. He said Russia would certainly seek to split Europe (at least Germany, France, Italy and such) from the U.S. and play to their concerns and sympathies. 18. (U) Sergey Kortunov, Deputy Chairman of the Expert Council of the Federation Council Committee on International Affairs, told military journal Krasnaya Zvezda that the importance of the crisis for Russian-American relations should not be exaggerated. "One should certainly not think that, because Russia used force to compel Georgia to make peace, the Americans will resort to a serious exacerbation of relations with Moscow which would, for example, be characterized by major sanctions of some type - trade, economic-political-diplomatic sanctions. The point is that Russia and the United States have strategic interests and neither Russia nor the United States is in any position to ignore those interests." He argued that there were too many issues that could not be resolved without the participation of Russia. 

19. (C) Trenin contended that Lavrov's statement reflected Medvedev and Putin's views. They believed the number of casualties was half the number the U.S. had lost on 9/11, and the army that had inflicted those casualties had been trained and equipped by the U.S. He said he had been struck by the "restraint" with which the Russian leaders had not commented on the role of the U.S., but he suggested, as the U.S. criticism of Russia mounted, the Russian response would get harsher and louder. 20. (SBU) As for international leverage, Remchukov downplayed the prospect of international pressure on Russia. With oil and gas sanctions not on the table, Remchukov said the U.S. was limited to "only cursing" Moscow. Sanctions, he argued, only work when the populace can be rallied to oppose the policies of their leadership. With Putin/Medvedev enjoying the "total" support of Russian elite and public opinion, Remchukov predicted an unswerving insistence that Abkhazia and South Ossetia were lost to Georgia forever, and pointed to the tough August 14 comments by Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov on BBC as proof of the new Russian bottom line. He predicted that the U.S. would be unsuccessful in maintaining trans-Atlantic unity, pointing to the "schism" already evident between Old and New Europe. Remchukov stressed that his personal view, and the view of the Russian public was that Russia's "moral position" was strong. Referring to Israeli attacks on Lebanon, and U.S. actions in Belgrade and Baghdad, Remchukov underscored that Russia wasn't going to be lectured to about international law. The failure of a working international forum, given the gridlock at UNSC and dissension in Europe, could make the crisis in Georgia a catalyst for fundamentally changing the international landscape. 

Comment ------- 21. (C) The consistently strong support for Russian military actions, and the defiance of Western criticism across the political spectrum, will likely define the domestic political and diplomatic environments for some time to come. RUBIN