U.S. Examined Beginning of War
// But didn’t overhaul its relations with Russia
The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives held hearings on the recent war in Georgia. During the debates high-ranking State Department and Pentagon officials actually admitted that it was Tbilisi that started the hostilities attacking South Ossetia. This said, Washington virtually acknowledged the chronology Russia regards real. However, it would be untimely for Moscow to triumph. American military and diplomats still consider Russia’s reaction “disproportionate” calling on to counter the Kremlin’s “imperial reach”.
First the developments in the Caucasus were thrashed out in the Senate Standing Committee on Armed services. Eric S. Edelman, the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (Department of Defense), and Daniel Fried, the Assistant Secretary at Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (Department of State) were invited to participate in the discussion. Mr Edelman’s address was the most surprising. “Although much is still unclear, it appears the Georgians conducted what they thought was a limited military operation with the political aim of restoring Georgian sovereignty over South Ossetia,” he told the Senators. “The Georgian leadership’s decision to employ force in the conflict zone was unwise. The use of artillery fire and multiple launched rockets into urban areas and into the proximity of Russian peacekeepers is lamentable, and we do not condone this activity.”
It’s the first time the U.S. recognized at the high level that Georgia unleashed hostilities in South Ossetia. Earlier only U.S. Ambassador in Moscow John Beyrle made this the point in his August interview with Kommersant, “Russia’s troops reasonably responded to the assault on the Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia.”
However, admitting Georgia’s attack on Tskhinvali, Washington doesn’t renounce its view of Russia’s line as “aggressive”. “The U.S. shows support for Georgia’s security, independence, and territorial integrity. U.S. policy is to demonstrate to Russia that its aggressive actions do not serve its national interest, will not be tolerated, and will not be cost free,” Mr Edelman stated.
The debate in the House Committee on Foreign Affairs was even more heated. In his opening statement, Chairman Howard L. Berman lashed out at the Russian government, which “over the last few months sought to provoke Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili through an escalating series of questionable legal and military actions”. “Russia established official ties with the separatist government in Abkhazia, issuing passports and citizenship to its residents. Then Moscow deployed railway troops to Abkhazia under dubious pretenses,” the Congressman said adding, nonetheless, that “President Saakashvili’s decision to take Russia’s bait and to engage militarily was a terrible blunder”.
Then Daniel Fried took the floor. “Russia sent its army across an internationally recognized boundary, to attempt to change by force the borders of a country with a democratically-elected government and, if possible, overthrow that government – not to relieve humanitarian pressures on Russian citizens, as it claimed,” that’s how the diplomat described the cause for the conflict. Passing on to the measures the U.S. may undertake to influence Russia, the Assistant Secretary dropped a hint that Russia might have problems with international organizations. According to him, the U.S. with its European allies should put “pressure on Russia to adhere to the Ceasefire”. One of the U.S. objectives “is to prevent Russia from drawing a line down the center of Europe and declaring that nations on the wrong side of that line belong to Moscow’s “sphere of influence” and therefore cannot join the great institutions of Europe and the transatlantic family”.
Dana Rohrabacher, Rep., disagree with such an approach. “All intelligence sources I contacted confirm that the recent hostilities in Georgia and its breakaway provinces were started by Georgia,” he stated. “Russians hold true. Georgians started it all. Russians put an end to it.” From the Congressman’s viewpoint, “The U.S. contrived to represent Russia as a foe throwing it in Iran’s arms.”
After it Daniel Fried was asked a multitude questions whether the U.S. possesses data revealing the chronology of the conflict. He had to acknowledge that he didn’t have accurate data. “Georgians thought Russians were in the Roki Tunnel as they took the decision to attack Tskhinvali. As far as I understand, Georgians thought they told us the truth,” he replied cautiously. “But I can’t say that I know it from independent sources that the Georgian party’s statements are trustworthy.”
Howard Berman summed it up to Kommersant after the discussion was over, “I can’t get it right – why no Washington bigwig went to Moscow.”