I remember the conversation so clearly, as if it happened yesterday. I was meeting with Alex Rondeli, a tall, smart, well-connected Georgian involved in the formation of the country’s foreign policy. Everyone interested in the foreign policy of the region, I was told, who traveled to Tbilisi, had to meet with him. So I did. Obviously I don’t have my notes of the interview with me, as they are in storage back home in America, but I remember when the conversation turned towards NATO and America helping Georgia. Alex was clear that he thought, from a rational, realpoplitik perspective, that Georgia’s best hope was in joining the West and all its institutions. But he was also realistic enough to realize that Georgia had to find a way of living with its giant northern neighbor.
And I asked him, point blank, “what makes you think the US will keep its promise to Georgia in the event of war with Russia? Can you really trust the US?” And then I made it clear, before he answered, that I thought it was folly to trust the US, that Georgia’s best course was to find a modus vivendi with Russia and develop its economy on its own terms because the Russians aren’t going away. They haven’t. Now they are attempting to split the country. And Georgians are wondering, where is NATO? NATO isn’t coming. Deal with it. Saakashvilli staked his presidency on it and failed. Find new leaders, leaders who will find a way of satisfying Russian demands. Otherwise, nothing will ever get better or change in Georgia.
Alex told me, “the Russian military, they’ve cooked up this bloody dish. But now they don’t know who to serve it to.”
Looks to me like they have found someone to serve it to the Georgians and his name is Saakashvilli. He provoked this fight–just as he did the one with Abashidze in Adjaria–but without realizing one critical difference: the Russians were, for once, prepared. They weren’t going to get caught flat footed like they did in Adjaria. And as they continue their drive to Gori it’s clear that when this is over and the time to make peace arrives Russia will be in a position of strength for a change.
How will Bush and Condi, his Russian expert, deal with the man whose soul he looked into this time?
As for Major Georgi, I would answer his thusly: “democracy, Sir, is not a means to an end, or a means to having powerful allies. It is an end in itself. And that end is in having the freedom of holding your leaders accountable in your hands, not in the hands of powerful allies. If you remember that you may yet keep your democracy.”
It’s a lesson we need to remember here in America too.