Berlin angst about Georgia’s U.S.-backed leader

August 19, 2008

merkel.jpgThere was an awkward moment on Sunday, when Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili stood next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Tbilisi and thanked her for having “initiated” plans to bring his country into NATO.

Anyone who followed NATO’s last summit in Bucharest back in April knows that it was Merkel who broke with Washington and spearheaded opposition to such a move.

Shifting uncomfortably, Merkel couldn’t help but interject: “Give credit where credit is due,” she said curtly, taken aback by Saakashvili’s strange distortion of her stance.

The moment was instructive, underlining one of the main reasons why Berlin remains opposed to giving Georgia a seat in the military alliance anytime soon.

Merkel continues to view Saakashvili and his U.S.-backed bid to join NATO with a good dose of scepticism — a view reinforced by the Georgian president’s actions and rhetorical eruptions since his violent showdown with Moscow began earlier this month.

Last week, the Georgian president drew parallels between Europe’s reaction to the conflict and its appeasement of Hitler in the run-up to World War Two — not the best way to win friends.

Merkel did offer Saakashvili some of her most encouraging language to date on his NATO aspirations, saying Georgia was on a “clear path” to membership. But it would be wrong to read too much into that.

One senior German official told me that Merkel warned President George W. Bush repeatedly last year about relying too heavily on Saakashvili. 

“Don’t tell me you told me so,” Bush sheepishly told the German chancellor, this official recounted, after the Georgian leader declared a state of emergency in November and cracked down on opposition protesters.

That challenge to Saakashvili faded and he was reelected to a new term as president in January in a vote deemed broadly fair, but that did not allay German concerns about his fitness to lead. Some officials in Berlin and other capitals may be quietly hoping Georgians rise up against Saakashvili again in the wake of his brief but bloody war with Russia. 

Perhaps NATO can avoid another embarassing public spat over Georgia’s bid when it meets in Brussels at the end of the year. By then, tensions in Georgia’s breakway provinces may have eased somewhat, along with Moscow’s readiness for confrontation.

More likely, NATO will struggle again to paper over its divisions on Georgia, particularly if Republican John McCain — a friend of Saakashvili and ardent supporter of his government — wins the U.S. election one month before the summit.


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Well I do have to agree with Merkel, even if they are a democracy, Saakashivili is not fit to lead a country in an area where your leader needs to have a bit of survival instinct…

Posted by BW | Report as abusive

[…] a great observation about something he said recently: There was an awkward moment on Sunday, when Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili stood next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Tbilisi and thanked her for having “initiated” […]

Posted by Can We Believe Saakashvili? « The Jack Bauer of Search Engine Optimization | Report as abusive

saakashvili is a fool and any one who listen to him needs too be careful he remind me of CHicken little .

Posted by thedukeof66 | Report as abusive

Chancellor Merkel seems far wiser than Bush on Georgia, Russia, and NATO and I hope Merkel will soon visit the US to explain her views more fully. I would guess most Americans would prefer to leave Georgia and Saakashvili to Merkel and the EU to straighten out. Also it’s likely most Americans agree with Merkel that admitting Georgia and Ukraine to NATO right now is out of the question.

As usual the biggest problem regarding Georgia is the US Congress, which tends to be most corrupt in the area of foreign aid and foreign military assistance. The biggest unknown is Barack Obama’s policy toward Georgia and Russia, since that will have an impact on Congress. However it appears the Russian army has clearly blundered by stealing US Humvee’s.

Posted by Chris Baker (US) | Report as abusive

What an ally to have? Would you’ve expected a vain, deluded, autocrat to thrust the great nations, which have generously given him the benefit of doubt, into a mortal conflict that could have touched off WWWIII? You bet, with as much bluster as he could muster. Where are our leaders’ minds? Perhaps, one good thing to come of this is that Georgia will come to see that it can play a powerful and constructive role by being a vitally needed bridge to rapprochement between East and West. If only Nato could accept it limitations and recognize that it cannot pacify every Near Eastern aspirant.

Posted by Jopan (US) | Report as abusive

Saakashvili made a big blunder and Bush is an idiot, but that doesn’t change the fact that Russia was thrilled when Georgia launched their attack. Regardless of what happened in little old Georgia, Russia got to show the rest of the CIS that they’ll be there to smack them when they get out of line. It has all the former Communist countries in total panic and Russia is laughing at everyone jumping like mice. That’s the danger we have to pay attention to. We can’t shake that off just because the conflict started with a stupid move by Saakashvili.

Posted by Brian | Report as abusive

If Russia tried to take Turkey from behind, would Greece help?

Posted by cariboolean | Report as abusive

10 interceptor missiles in Poland by 2012, another 10 by 2015, then a few years later the site manned by 100 US servicemen may conceal nuclear missiles. Who in their right mind would trust republican neo-con after they invaded the sovereign country of Iraq under false pretenses with no UN mandate and caused the deaths of over 100,000 civilians??? The US has almost 750 foreign military war bases around the world controlled by GW Bush a man with an IQ of 92. The president of Georgia was trained by the US CIA and came to power through the so called Rose revolution instigated by US billionaire George Soros. Russia basically would like to live in peace and not be encircled by US missiles or US militiamen in Georgia. I believe that’s a fair call, especially considering the US feels the same way. But now we are going to witness a massive unstoppable nuclear arms race. Russia will install nuclear missiles in Kaliningrad, Belarus, Syria and Iran. What if Al Qaeda gets hold of some atom bombs & sends suicide bombers all across Europe and with no border security European countries will be sitting ducks. That is the war of the future and no missile site in Poland will be able to stop it. Has anyone actually noticed that every country in the world is threatened except for the USA. I believe the US is deliberately creating these problems hoping NATO, China, Russia & South America will blow themselves to pieces so they can take over. “God Bless America” What about “God Bless the World” instead

Posted by Bob Bennett | Report as abusive

Merkel’s face on the Reuters picture is priceless. It really encapsulates the actual feelings and foreign policy views of the protagonists.

What we don’t have a view of is the internal dynamics that are at play in forming these positions.

If it was just down to her, Merkel might have taken a tougher line against Russia and might have pressed her EU partners for greater overtures to Georgia… after all, it already is a recipient of the EU’s “Neighborhood policy” which encompasses financial aid, technical assistance, bilateral cooperaiton agreements (including some joint security measures)… But Germany is run by a coalition and Chancellor Merkel’s is far from the deciding voice in German decisions, as the Social Democrats hold the Foreign ministry and a blocking vote in the Federal parliament, and they are certainly adamant that nothing must be done to alienate Russia one bit, which gives Moscow a great deal of leverage over Germany, and by ricochet, much of the EU (we see this in energy matters). Hence the German opposition to Georgia’s membership. Naturally, there are also some geopolitical justifications to such a stance, but the weight of simple pro-Russian feelings among many Germans must not be underestimated.

On the other hand, in Georgia, one might also consider that there is more to understanding Saakashvili’s decisions than his personal desire to be in synch with Washington. It’s not inconceivable that Georgians were exasperated by the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia that was left to fester untreated since 1992, and this may have led some to conclude that to ensure their security and independence, a bid to become a NATO member would seem like a wise thing.If Russia has done everything to scare Georgians (or Ukrainians for that matter) about losing control of their own affairs, then the Georgians can be expected to act on their fear… even unreasonably. Again, from that point of view, there is nothing unnatural about it apart that it annoys Moscow… which is a completely different point of view. Now, the way the conflict has run its course it is doubtful that all of a sudden Georgians will be “reasonable” and forget about NATO and will become all chummy with Russia again, will eject Saakashvili to replace him with a later day Shevardnadze who won’t cause any trouble for anybody by letting Moscow rule the Caucasus again.

Once we understand that domestic opinions and perceptions hold the key to the origins of this conflict, rather than the simple machinations of a couple of well known individuals, we might be able to cook up some solutions.

Posted by Paul Vallet | Report as abusive

The picture speaks!

Posted by Shaan | Report as abusive

I thought you need a choice of parties to have democracy !
Georgia has only one party because Saakashvilli destroyed his opposition and parties . I call that dictatorship !

Posted by Steve | Report as abusive

The “world” & “the international community” is disapointed with Germany! We EXPECTED NATO Germans troops to fight alongside the Georgians against “Nazis” Russian & Hitler son Putin!

Posted by Boris | Report as abusive

You are all missing that fact that Georgia was PROVOKED. South Ossetian seperatists, who are backed and funded by Russia, provoked a military reaction from Georgia, just as Russian troops began amassing at the border. Saakashvili’s response was indeed stupid because he allowed himself, and thereby his country, to fall into Russia’s trap.

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive

It is rather amusing that anyone would criticise Georgia’s democratic record and fail to mention that of Russia. In certain regions of Siberia the government got 115% of the vote…interesting eh! Putin and his merry gang of KGB thugs are the real reason for this conflict. They have managed to inspire a strange neo-nationalism in the Russian people thanks to the constant propaganda on the state controlled media.

Also, moving away from Russia’s sphere of influence was the best thnig that ever happened to Georgia (until this month). Under Saakashvili the situation in the country had improved immensly. Old buildings were renovated, roads built, the education system reformed, police curroption all but illiminated, pensions raised, cafes and restaurants began to appear as tourists finally began to visit. The great tragedy is that all this progress is in danger of being destroyed.

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive

I have never seen a single picture of any destroyed Georgian building. A few that were shown on TV have appeared to be either fabricated photos or pictures of Tskhinvali wrongfully introduced as pictures of Gori. Been caught lying several times, – who would believe you? I don’t want to take sides, just hate being lied to.
ps To someone named “Kate”, – please take geography courses and learn that Serbia and Russia are different countries. A blunder like this one makes the rest of your rhetoric worthless.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

Ukraine may not be Georgia, but Russia has shown time and time again that it does not honor western political or diplomatic logic. Russia was interested in “participating” in NATO in order to find out how far NATO is willing to go. With that knowledge they made their tentative plans and proceeded as situation in Georgia developed. Consequently, do not expect Russia to behave toward Ukraine any different, because everything they have done in Georgia was from their point of view a total success. The criticism of invading South Ossetia’s as well as that of Georgia remains as criticism only. They withdrew from interacting with NATO and from their perspective they can sacrifice being included in G7 or even WTO. They and we know that possession is 100% ownership, at least those are our laws and the Russians are banking on it. You remember very well what the Russian generals were saying during the first days of the invasion and what their final action became! That is a chess game Russian style.

Now Russia has declared that they will keep part of Georgia, a sovereign country, as “buffer” area to “protect” South Ossetia, and thus annexing part of Georgia. Is that not what Hitler did when he annexed Austria, Sudeten Deutsche, Schlesien, Lorraine etc? And what has Russian action done to Georgia as a nation by seizing strategic portion of their land and thus interfering with the operation of their oil pipe line and other economic activities? In Ukraine you have the same situation where the pipe line that is supposed to operate from Odessa to Brody is being run in reverse to satisfy the Russian government right now! So what is going to stop Russia from annexing part of Ukraine and protect their “near abroad”? Our criticism?

And what a charade “near abroad” represents! Our politicians are explaining, that Russia is looking at their “near abroad” as we would at Mexico, Canada, etc. In other words, we can not expect Russians to sit quite when we set up antimissile system in Poland, just as we would not like to see such antimissiles and warheads set up in Cuba. But such comparison is deeply flawed. European powers relinquished their power in all their colonies but not Russia. Russia’s colonies were countries that they conquered all around themselves. This included Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan , Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan etc. Oh, yes! Where would you place Chechnya? Regardless, how can the West sit back and allow Russia to haul in all the colonies that received their freedom? Is it because Russia calls these places “near abroad”? What moral right does Russia have haul in their former colonies? What moral responsibility does the West have to protect these democracies? If the Free World is afraid of doing something unconventional that Russia has not foreseen on their chessboard, then let us go home and crawl in a hole, hoping that Russia will treat us gently.

It is pathetic that Germany, which was to a great extend saved from Russian exploitation by US and British forces, and France, which was liberated by US and British troops, did not have the guts to accept Georgia and Ukraine into NATO at the Bucharest meeting to avoid the current upheaval. It was obvious as to the consequences of their action. Of course Georgia and Ukraine are not militarily ready, but Germany and France could have helped to getting these countries ready instead of having the US do all the heavy lifting. There may be some choices that US has to save the day, such as signing a “major non-NATO alliance” with Ukraine and perhaps even Georgia, as NY Times has suggested. And thank you Germany and France, thank you for nothing!

Posted by Bohdan Slabyj | Report as abusive

I said SIBERIA not serbia!

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive

Also, i’m afraid that your comments Alex are a perfect demonstration of the Russian government’s propaganda machine at work.

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive

I’m sorry, Kate, – I need to see an eye doctor. :)
Anyway, the statement about 115% is absolutely false. Please, name the district. I am not a big fan of Putin, but I don’t like lies. Putin’s party has win the election fare and square. Although, they did use all governmental resource for propaganda. But so do republicans in the US. I believe all this rhetoric about cold war is one of their tricks. All talks about provocation from South Ossetia do not have any proof, and the speed with which Saakashvili lunch so a massive attack indicates that that was prepared planned ahead. I just use simple logic, I don’t fall for propaganda.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

Sorry, instead of “lunch”, please read “launched”. Stupid check speller. :)

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

Read Amnesty International’s reports on the previous Russian election. They are an independent organisation, you might find it interesting.

Also, speaking of logic, do you honestly believe that this is about 133 Ossetians(that is Moscow’s new casualty estimation…HRW think it was even less)?

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive

Also, you are right in that Republicans are of course pushing their own agenda. The difference between most of the western media and all of the Russian media is that CNN, the BBC etc…, present both Russia’s view and that of the west. The above blog is a demonstration of this. Whereas Russian media only present Russia’s view and demonise Georgia, the west and the western media.

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive

As I said, Kate, “according to Russian officials”, – that might be lies too. And yes, I think that killing even 133 (although I believe this number is much bigger) civilians is a punishable crime.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

To Bohdan Slabyi:
A history 101, – all these countries that you have listed were part of Russian Empire for centuries. Some of them joint voluntarily (including Georgia in 1801 and Ukraine in 1654!). When communists backed by the west concurred Russia from inside, they created republics (e.g. Belarusian language was resurrected and taught in schools). After USSR has collapsed, all these republics broke away, taking with them parts of Russia which have never belong to them (e.g., eastern Ukraine and Crimea given to Ukraine by Khruschev in 1950-th). Russia had suffered from communists more than anyone else in the world. Especially from two Georgians, – Stalin (Jugashvili) and Beria (the bloodiest head of KGB). By the way, they forcefully gave Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgia, – these two countries were never under Georgian jurisdiction. And I would not be surprised if Crimea gains independence from Ukraine next.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

to Kate:
“The difference between most of the western media and all of the Russian media is that CNN, the BBC etc…, present both Russia’s view and that of the west.” (by Kate)
Could you give me a ref, please? And they should represent both sides, for they are the third party. I just don’t see that.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

I give up Alex…this discussion is futile, we shall never agree. It doesn’t matter anyway…there is absolutely nothing we can do!

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive

Why shan’t we? I agree with you, that Russia should have never crossed Georgia-S.Ossetia border and that the response was too excessive. But defending Tskhinvali and supporting peacekeepers was justified. I just disagree about objectivity of western mass media. As a proof – watch this klip from youtube: os
The rest, – history will tell.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

Alex…this war has never been about Ossetia. The Kremlin claimed that Georgia killed 2,000 Ossetians in a ‘genocide’…it has since emerged that the real figure is under 50 (HRW estimation). Doesn’t that atleast make you question their reliability?
If you insist on demonising the western media then read
They are an independent RUSSIAN publication…one of the last remaining not be under the control of the government.

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive

Also…that clip is itself an example of Russian propaganda…the journalist allowed the girl to speak (praising Russian soldiers) after a commercial break, the clip is cut so as to make it appear that the west is conspiring against Russia. However, Fox news is one of the less impartial news channels….i was referring more to CNN or BBC news.

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive

I also read several articles praising Russia in Le Monde in France. I disagreed with them but they demonstrate that the Russian view point is not being censored.

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive

No, it was not edited in any way. Fox’s journalist has really shut the girl up, like Fox’s guys always do whith their apponents. I speak mainly about the US and GB’s mm. French channels are more independent.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

read the bbc website…

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive

To back up my words, – here is the whole version of the interview: hQ&NR=1
And yes, maybe bbc is less biased than cnn, but still is far from being balanced. As for the number of victims, – let us calm down and see the “final score”, however that might sound cynically. I’m sure that the russian officials blew the number up, as well as pro-saakashvili sources belittled it.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

HRW is not a pro-Saakashvili source. But tell me, if speeking of unbiased reporting…what do you make of the Russian news’ take?

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive

And I mean mainstream Russian news…not novaya gazeta or, which few people read.

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive

I am watching occasionally Russian TV. Well, it makes me sick to death, espaecaialy RTV channel 1. Kate, I have no argument with you about main-stream Russian news, – they suck. I am talking about our “free” mass media. It looks like they can give serious competition to Russia’s mms in sucking up to the mighty of this world. I grew up in Soviet Union and, like everyone who did so, have a particular repugnance to propaganda and lies.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

Well so did I Alex…but you are believing them! Less than most people admittedly, but your dislike/distrust of western reporting and willingness to take the reasons for war at face value are all exactly what they want you to think.

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive

I do recognise (and remember!) how hard it is not to form a biased opinion when all you hear is the Kremlin’s propaganda…it breaks my heart that it is happening again.

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive

Well, Kate. Au contraire, all I hear is Georgian propaganda. Maybe because of that I am inclined trusting Russian sources more.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

It’s all very sad…

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive

Also, where on earth do you hear Georgian propaganda??

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive

Here in the USA.
Since aug.8 all I see is hysterical Saakashvili’s speaches about Russia’s bombing Tskhinvali and interview with some woman from Tbilisi, who complains that her son is so scarred, that he might acquire some mental problems… Almost none in american TV even mention ossetians, like they do not exist. The impresiion is like Russians encroached Georgia, bombed Tskhinvali, conducted ethnic cleansing … If you had an access to american TV or newspapers you would be suprised. It is sad, indeed.

Posted by Alex | Report as abusive

Well I have access to CNN…which is nothing like you say. And they did conduct ethnic cleansing…they removed all the Georgians from Ossetia…and before that Abkhazia. Also, if you have heard Putin’s latest speeches, I think he is begining to go insane!

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive

And Saakasshvili IS a hysterical idiot, that’s what caused him to react to provocations in the first place.

Posted by Kate | Report as abusive