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Russian imperialism, then and now

By Messenger Staff
Monday, February 27
Moscow continues to aggravate the existing tension between Russia and Georgia. Recently, Russian leaders have made several statements regarding Georgia, criticizing its military growth and referring to its “aggression”. They also felt the need to “warn” the United States away from military cooperation with Georgia, all while extending a false olive branch to Mikheil Saakashvili’s successor.

Georgia, meanwhile, held a series of events in commemoration of the Bolshevik occupation in 1921, as well as the Russian invasion of 2008. Since 2010, the country has observed Soviet Occupation Week, this year taking place from February 20-25. February 25, 1921 was celebrated by the Communists as the anniversary of Georgia’s “Sovietization”. Since independence, Georgia has commemorated this day, too, but as a black one, and a day that has had special meaning since the 2008 war – when Russian continued its imperialist policies against Georgia.

Moscow continues to repeat the line that they were merely supporting the sovereign right to self-determination of the “nations” of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Russian military presence exists therefore on the territories of two “sovereign countries”, an explanation that neither Georgia nor the international community at large accepts.

Within Georgia, the commemoration of the Soviet occupation is taking place within a charged political atmosphere, one marked by an increasingly heated conflict between the ruling United National Movement and the opposition coalition centred on Bidzina Ivanishvili’s Georgian Dream. UNM has labeled Ivanishvili as pro-Russian, as his party has said that they are interested in restoring diplomatic relations with that country. No matter how clear Georgian Dream is about its Western orientation, it is the wrong week to be accused of Russian sympathies.

Moscow, for its part, has been sending hypocritical and contradictory messages, in classic Soviet style. The first figures of Russian politics, President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, claim that they love the Georgian people – it is the Georgian leadership with whom they have a problem. They also express their hope that friendly relations will be re-established, while defending their actions in 2008 as a humanitarian mission for the Ossetian and Abkhaz peoples.

Political analysts in Georgia believe that this is little more than a public relations stunt in the run-up to both Russia’s and Georgia’s elections. Putin and Medvedev are trying to influence the political situation in Georgia, by telling the Georgian people that it is Saakashvili’s fault that relations are so poor. They assume that any new Georgian leadership will accept the Russian “reality”, and recognize the breakaway regions as independent states. Of course, no Georgian leader, Saakashvili, Ivanishvili, or anyone else, will accept these terms.

Russia needs to realize – and to accept – that the election of political parties and leaders is the exclusive domain of a sovereign Georgia, and that outside interference is unwelcome. Russia has enough of its own problems to keep it busy, and its leaders should concern themselves with keeping their own aggression in check rather than bullying Georgia.