Georgia - After the conflict between Georgia and Russia

Jan/Feb 2009

The article below first appeared in issue #115 of the journal "Lutte de Classe" (October 2008) published in France by our comrades of "Lutte Ouvrière".

On August 7, 2008, a new war broke out in the Caucasus. This time, the conflict was between Georgia and Russia. When Georgia launched an attack to recover South Ossetia which had been a de facto independent country since 1992, but was still considered as a Georgian province by Tbilisi's government, Russia hurried to the rescue of its Ossetian protégée. The war only lasted four days, but left behind a defeated Georgian government, around a thousand dead mostly civilians and thousands of refugees. Refugees were often Georgian villagers who had left their homes under the threat of local Ossetian militias or Ossetian victims of Georgia's military operation called "Clean Field" which burned to ashes part of South Ossetia's capital Tsinkhvali.

Shadows from the past

Roughly two decades ago, the USSR started crumbling, before finally imploding. In the Caucasus, a region inhabited by a patchwork of peoples belonging to dozens of mixed and intertwined nationalities, there remained four countries: Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The disappearance of the USSR was a social and economic catastrophe for the inhabitants of these four big countries. But things were worse in the Caucasus where people have had to live with the permanent fear of violence.

Today, the area seems to have reverted to the past. As was the case under the Czars, or even before Czarist rule, it is once more plagued by inter-ethnic confrontations. These are a modern version of the massacres that mountain tribes carried out against each other and that local feudal lords (sometimes Georgian potentates) and the great powers used, to bolster their control over the Caucasus.

Russia must be singled out among these great powers. Throughout the 19th century and in the early years of the 20th century, it constantly tried to expand its territory at the expense of its southern neighbour and rival, the Ottoman Empire. Great Britain stood in ambush, coveting the same territory, especially the oil-rich regions that had just been discovered. In order to counterbalance its rival's influence, it secretly fuelled the rebellions and insurrections stirred up by Russia's colonial surge. Obviously, the interests of the local population played no role in the big and small manoeuvres of both Empires. In August 1918, while civil war was raging inside the Czarist empire, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, whose repressive policy in Ireland had earned him the nickname "Bloody Balfour", made the following comment: "The natives can cut each other to pieces for all I care. The only thing which interests me in the Caucasus is the railway line which delivers oil from Baku to Batumi" (on the Black Sea).

Nearly a century later, the big powers apparently watch with the same indifference as the Georgians and Ossetians come to blows, aided by US arms and military advisors on one side and by the Russian army on the other. Despite the ultra-rapid defeat of their Georgian protégée, the US government was reassured on a point of major importance: the Russian troops that invaded Georgia, cutting off all its main roads and occupying the country's main port, Poti, did not even come close to the BP-operated crude oil pipeline that crosses Georgia to deliver oil from Baku to the Turkish shore of the Black Sea, or the natural gas pipeline that runs parallel to it for that matter. Big powers mention peoples' rights only when it will help them cover up their crimes. But when they have no such need, as in the Caucasus, they flatly ignore them.

Ossetians and Abkhaz have repeatedly shown that they did not want their respective countries to become part of Georgia, including after the official end of the USSR in December 1991. However, the leaders of the big imperialist countries, especially those of the United States, did not take any notice. A few years back, they chose Georgia as their ally-to-be in the region and, at the same time, decided to support Georgia's annexationist policy.

As for Russia, it presents itself as the defender of the Abkhaz and Ossetian people's rights. The Kremlin's pretense could be dismissed with a smile, if it was not a known fact that the Russian leaders who recently recognised Abkhazia's and Ossetia's "independence" (amid protests from the other big powers) are the godfathers of the political mafiosi they themselves have put at the head of these regions. And then, who could forget that the Chechens and other people living in the Russian Caucasus have seen their human rights violated time and again by Yeltsin's, Putin's and Medvedev's military thugs?

What October 1917 meant for the people of the Caucasus

The Soviet state created by the October 1917 revolution set itself the task of putting an end to the deadly games great powers played at the expense of peoples. It did its utmost to achieve this goal. From the outset, and in spite of its lack of means, its poverty and the civil war imposed by its enemies, the Soviet state recognised the right of the peoples of the Caucasus and other regions formerly under Czarist rule, to decide what regime they wanted for themselves - and this included independence from Soviet Russia.

The great majority of them finally chose to rally around the young Soviet state. They were allowed the greatest freedom in organising their national life and their relationships with other nations. The necessary institutions were freely set up, following no set plans. Nothing was imposed from above. All the forces that the soviet central power could muster had to be sent to fight the civil war. The Soviet state had to try to survive until there was a victorious revolution in the industrial countries. Most of the time, the soviet central power merely endorsed the decisions taken locally by the different nationalities, which partly explains why they took sides with Soviet Russia.

This was a most democratic way of functioning, but precisely for that reason, it implied a lot of trial and error, as well as inevitable compromises between different or even contradictory national interests. Decisions were taken on a case-by-case basis and, as time passed, were occasionally overturned to rectify a mistake or fine-tuned because they seemed unfair to local people.

This is how Soviet power dealt with the national question during its early years. Abkhazia, for instance, which is now accused of being "secessionist" by the Georgian authorities, was at the outset a full-blown Soviet Republic. In 1922, it decided not to become a member of the neighbouring Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (SFSR).

This situation lasted for almost a decade. Then, in 1931, Stalin forced Abkhazia to join the Transcaucasian SFSR which he dissolved into its main component parts (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) in 1936, attaching Abkhazia, against the will of its inhabitants, to Georgia.

... and what Stalinism took back from them

By then, Soviet power was no longer what it had been under Lenin and Trotsky. Workers' democracy had been replaced by the bureaucratic arbitrariness that reigned supreme under Stalin's dictatorship. Let us not forget that Stalin first became known to the public when he intervened on the question of the Caucasus. In 1922, the drafting of the Soviet Union's Constitution raised the question of the future relationships between each and every Soviet Republic and between all of them and Russia. It was on this issue that Stalin and his clique showed, for the first time, the depth of their tendency to Great-Russian chauvinism.

Lenin and Trotsky wanted the relationship between the USSR's populations and Soviet Republics to be based on the most flexible type of association and the smallest possible number of constraints. They were logically against an imposed, exaggerated centralism, against anything that could be seen as an unequal relationship between a Russian centre and peripheral, non-Russian nations.

But it was subordination of these regions that Stalin wanted to establish. He had recently become the party's Secretary General and, as such, controlled the party's apparatus and, consequently, the state machinery and its all-pervasive bureaucracy. He more and more consciously pushed himself forward to become the bureaucrats' mouthpiece and "defender" against the rest of the population and against the Bolshevik old guard. Not only that, but he used the fact that he was Georgian by birth specifically to take over Caucasian affairs. It was in this dual capacity that he tried to impose subordination to the central power on the communist militants and leaders of the Caucasian republics, and in particular those of Georgia - in the context of a Soviet Union where the Russian bureaucracy had more and more weight compared to all other soviet republics.

Failing to either convince or constrain Georgia's Communists, Stalin slandered them, punished and persecuted them. Lenin, who was not present during these developments due to his illness, discovered the problem too late. He was horrified by Stalin's and his followers' "intrinsically nationalist campaign in favour of Great-Russia" aimed at Georgia's Communists. He reacted boldly. On the opening day of the Congress that was to create the USSR, he dictated one of his last texts. He accused Stalin of acting like an agent of "Great-Russian chauvinism" against "Communists who refused to acknowledge the hyper-centralised functioning of the Soviet Union".

Stalin may not have known that Lenin was fighting the last battle of his life, both against him, Stalin and the illness which finally killed him. He pretended to give in. However, the Caucasian peoples and Georgian Communists were not rid of Stalin's Great-Russian chauvinism. It was no accident if so many Caucasian members of the Communist Party, especially in Georgia, joined the ranks of Trotsky's Left Opposition which remained true to the ideals of Bolshevism. Stalin eventually had all of them eliminated.

As for the Soviet peoples, those of the Caucasus were probably the hardest hit victims of bureaucratic arbitrariness. Long before Stalin deported them (the Karachai, the Kalmuks, the Chechens, the Ingush, the Balkars, the Tatars, etc.) for having purportedly collaborated with Nazi Germany, he had remodelled the area, moving the borders that separated the Republics and national districts of the Caucasus, without consulting the local population.

Ossetia, which had been attached to Russia in 1774, lost its southern half to Georgia. The bigger and more populated territory of Abkhazia was also handed over to Georgia. Beria, Stalin's fellow Georgian and head of the political police, shut down Abkhaz schools and, because he felt the Abkhaz were a bit too independent, encouraged an influx of immigrants, in order to reduce their relative importance in the area. It is a fact that, during the civil war, the Abkhaz had taken sides with the Russian "foreign" power of the Bolsheviks against Georgia's legal authorities. The official government was then headed by Georgian Mensheviks who, in keeping with the tradition established by local princes (and Czarist vassals), hunted down revolutionaries and all those who rebelled against the authorities in Tbilisi.

Not surprisingly, under Brezhnev, and long after Stalin's death, the Abkhaz started reclaiming the right they once enjoyed: the right to be independent from Georgia. To no avail. The bureaucrats feared like the plague any demand that could subject their fragile power to the smallest danger. Agreeing to the wishes of the Abkhaz would have meant, sooner or later, opening up the way for other peoples to raise their demands and eventually for the demands of other layers of Soviet society to be raised.

To establish their regime, the Stalinists had muzzled the working class, destroyed its revolutionary vanguard and trampled on peoples' rights. However, despite the fact that it was the reactionary negation of Bolshevism, the USSR's bureaucratic power maintained a framework which allowed a hundred or so different peoples to cohabit. The so-called borders separating the Soviet Republics were not genuine borders for Soviet citizens, who were allowed to travel freely (which was not the case of Kolkhozians, for instance). The USSR's array of Republics, Autonomous Republics, National Districts, etc. was merely a collection of administrative subdivisions in a huge country inhabited by numerous minorities and a Russian majority that, officially, had no privileges over the rest of the population. The truth is that the majority's rights were as limited as those of the rest of the Soviet population, with the exception of the bureaucrats of course.

In view of the state of the country today, one can only make a statement of fact: that all of these many peoples managed to live together for decades, albeit under the heavy hand of the bureaucracy, but still, they lived together without being at each others' throats. On the other hand, the society in which they lived, strove to develop within a framework designed to operate on a quite different scale than is the case today, which is narrow, inward-looking and confined to one specific nationality or another.

When today's bureaucrats cash in on nationalism

In the early 1990s, as soon as the local chieftains and bureaucratic cliques started dismantling the common framework, nationalism was resurrected with a vengeance, in all its forms, together with xenophobia. This was due primarily to the fact that, in order to consolidate their own power against the "centre" whose authority they now rejected, the leaders of the 15 Soviet Republics rekindled the nationalistic ideology of the local ethnic majority. Nationalism under all its hideous forms was now legal and encouraged by the authorities of each little fiefdom. This about-turn could only be rejected by the minorities living in the new independent states built on the ruins of the USSR. The situation quickly became explosive in the Caucasus, where countless nationalities were now dispersed over a number of mutually hostile states and were oppressed wherever they happened to be a minority group.

The leaders of the former Soviet Republics wanted to build genuine nation states - that is, states with a statistically and legally dominant national majority, in whose name they could force the minority groups to conform. But, not surprisingly, the new countries, big or small, inherited the USSR's variegated population pattern and are more often than not a patchwork of nationalities. Smallish Georgia, for instance, has Azeri, Armenian, Tatar, Jewish, Ossetian, Abkhaz, Adjar, Laz and Russian minority groups.

In May 1991, Georgia's ultra-nationalist bard Zviad Gamsakhurdia was elected President. He had campaigned on the slogan "Georgia for the Georgians", a genuine declaration of war on the Turkish-speaking Tatars who "work up the Armenians in this corner and the Ossetians over there", etc. He went on raving: "Let's get rid of all non-Georgians and liquidate the traitors."

He declared that Ossetians were "ungrateful scum" that Georgia had to "get rid of" because they disagreed with Gamsakhurdia's decision to suppress the autonomous status they had enjoyed until then. And when they organised protests, the poet-president sent them the police. Hundreds were killed and the ensuing police crackdown forced tens of thousands more to take refuge in North Ossetia, on the Russian side of the Caucasus mountain chain.

Tbilisi applied the same treatment to the Abkhaz, with the same, predictable result: the local people armed themselves to impose their independence from the Georgian state.

Some time later, the government distanced itself from the president's blatant xenophobia. The Attorney General even accused him (but only after he had been dismissed!) of having "organised a genocide against the people of Ossetia". But the government has not given up the idea of conquering the "Georgian rebel provinces" of Ossetia and Abkhazia, just as it conquered Adjaria in 2004. Today, a quarter of the country's budget goes on arms. The authorities boast their agreement with the way that Georgia's princes used to crush the peoples of the area. And they make references to the country's short-lived "independence" (May 1918 to February 1921) and its record of nationalist massacres under German and, later on, British protection. Let us not forget Stalin. Georgian nationalists have always proudly called themselves his heirs. Today's president, Mikhail Saakashvili, symbolically began his march to power in Stalin's birthplace, Gori, at the foot of a monument representing the city's "great man".

Antagonistic nationalisms after the end of the USSR

Nationalism did not flare up only in the smaller Soviet Republics of the Caucasus. The collapse of the USSR opened a new era of violent confrontations between the leaders of the Russian Federation and many southern Republics that were tempted to secede. First, there was Chechnya. Yeltsin and Putin waged two wars against this small country, devastating it and bleeding its population dry. Slowly, Chechnya's problems were carried over into the neighbouring areas which are now also in a state of (latent, for the moment) war.

Under Yeltsin and even more so since Putin's election, the Kremlin's warmongering has been the main vector of the development of "patriotism" or rather of Russian nationalist ideology promoted by the authorities.

This ideology easily infected all aspects of social life after its transformation into a state-sponsored religion, supported by the state's "administrative resources" in other words, by the whole state apparatus, its personnel, institutions and finances. The authorities, opposition parties, media and all kinds of "opinion makers" started whipping up nationalism. They tried to convince Russians, who had been deeply shocked by the collapse of the Soviet society they were born and grew up in, that this was the way to a recovered dignity. Another factor that was played upon to encourage nationalism was of course the significant fall in people's living standards.

In Russia's big cities, Yeltsin and Putin asked the police to hunt down "people of Caucasian descent" (according to the official terminology) while the army swooped down on small Chechnya. In a sense, this was a way of establishing a bond between the state and a Russian population that had every reason to hate their new leaders who were seen as a bunch of thieves, "nouveaux riches" and bureaucrats. Russian people were submitted to an orgy of patriotic pep talks and TV films that rehabilitated the "Great Russia" of the Czars with the benediction of both the Kremlin and the Orthodox Church. For the country's leaders and wealthy, this seemed to be the most effective way of diverting workers' attention from those who were the real cause of their misfortunes - the bureaucracy and the reborn bourgeoisie.

During the period of collapse of the USSR, while the bureaucracy was riven by in-fighting, inter-ethnic riots flared up in a number of Central Asian Republics. This allowed rival bureaucratic cliques to take advantage of the situation created by the unrest, which they had, in some instances played a role in initiating.

Anti-Armenian pogroms were organised in Baku, with the complicity of Azerbaijan's government. Then there was an outright war between Azerbaijan and Armenia for the control of Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave situated inside Azerbaijan, but inhabited by Armenians. Nagorno-Karabakh was one of the Autonomous Territories of the USSR. When the USSR imploded, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh refused the rule of a government that had condoned the Baku pogroms. They set up their own independent mini-state, and placed themselves under the protection of Armenia, which was armed by Russia. In order to have a common border with Armenia, the leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh annexed a territory that was inhabited by Azeris. This created an influx of refugees who were used by the Azeri authorities in Baku as an argument to further their own secessionist policy.

Generally speaking, the rulers of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Abkhazia or Ossetia do not hesitate to parade their respective "refugees" in front of TV cameras, pretending they are concerned by the violation of their rights. But their priority is obviously not to get them out of the camps where hundreds of thousands are trapped. Caucasian refugees are victims at the same time of a situation that totally escapes their control and of their "own" leaders who would like them to remain "displaced persons" forever, in the interest of their nationalistic, warmongering propaganda.

Of course, these shady games invited retaliation. In late 2003, one of Shevardnadze's former ministers, Saakashvili, stirred up the discontent of Abkhaz refugees whose problems still had not been addressed ten years after the war. He used them to overthrow Shevardnazde, but the Abkhaz soon realised that if Saakashvili received huge sums from his Western sponsors, there was nothing left for the great majority, after the military and the president's clique had taken their cut. Towards the end of 2007, the Abkhaz decided to withdraw their support and accused Saakashvili of the same crimes which he had lain at the door of Shevardnazde: trafficking, and doing nothing for the refugees or the rest of the population, for that matter. Hundreds of people demonstrated against Saakashvili. But unlike his predecessor, he had under his orders special troops, trained by US military advisors. They came to Saakashvili's rescue, using the full range of their recently acquired skills against their own people. Shortly afterwards, Saakashvili was voted in for a second term in an election that was tainted by fraud.

The "international community" (just another name for the big imperialist powers) did not react. For all they cared, Saakashvili could do what he wanted to rally Georgia's population around himself including launching war against South Ossetia.

Georgia under Saakashvili and his US sponsors

The final outcome of Saakashvili's venture was a military and political defeat. This is why the opposition (a loose bunch of politicians who nearly deposed him last year) might be tempted to give it another try. Their problem is that they have little in common, except for the fact that they are all barred from political power and try to use the deep and enduring popular discontent to their advantage.

But Russia's President Medvedev is being overhasty when he pretends that, since his August defeat, Saakashvili has become a "political corpse". Saakashvili has obviously been weakened, but his position is not yet as weak as that of Shevardnadze on the eve of his overthrow in 2003.

Shevardnadze, ex-member of the Politburo and ex-Foreign Affairs Minister under Gorbachev, was also Soviet Georgia's former "boss" when he was called back to the head of the country, in 1992. His mission consisted in reestablishing a bit of order in the chaos that followed the struggle for power of countless bureaucratic, feudal clans. Because of President Gamsakhurdia's behaviour, three provinces had opted for secession which gave Russia the opportunity of appearing as a mediator between the secessionist provinces and Tbilisi. Shevardnazde had no choice but to join, willy-nilly, the Community of Independent States, made up of a dozen or so ex-Soviet Republics which had rallied around Russia in an attempt to maintain the relationships that existed between them at the time of the USSR.

Later on, he played a role in setting up GUAM (a Washington-sponsored alliance of former Soviet states). Most participants were former Soviet Republics that wanted to distance themselves from Russia. The United States considered him not so much as "our man in Moscow", but as a "man of the (Soviet) past", even when, after September 11, he welcomed the "green berets" sent by Washington to help him "fight against terrorism".

However, the level of discontent was so high in the country and the president so destabilised that the ambitious young men around him, notably Saakashvili, decided time had come to reshuffle the cards. They had the opportunity to do so at the end of 2003 during Georgia's so-called "Rose Revolution". In a period that saw the mobilisation of a dramatically impoverished population, Shevardnazde was ditched by whole sectors of the state apparatus with the discrete, but very efficient, approval of the United States. Under the pretext of encouraging the "development of democracy" Washington supported Saakashvili, whose "democratic" models were "Georgian strong men like Stalin and Beria" his wife declared to the press. In keeping with the tradition, he sent dozens of opponents to jail simply because they denounced his systematic use of electoral fraud.

As the candidate of "tradition" as well as "democracy", Saakashvili had the ideal profile to reassure the local privileged layers and the West's leading circles. His career path is characteristic of many non-Russian leading politicians of the ex-USSR. Trained in Western countries, this new generation of leaders have few ties (or none) with the Soviet past or with post-1991 Russia. He is the grandson of a Soviet General, was a student in Ukraine in the years that saw the collapse of the USSR, studied in the West and even became a licensed attorney in the United States. After his marriage he returned to Georgia and started his political career in the shadow of Shevardnazde who gave him a ministry. He then turned against his former protector.

Since his coming to power, Saakashvili has had many opportunities to show the strength of Georgia's commitment to Western powers, especially the United States. He would like Georgia become a member of the European Union and, more importantly, of the North-Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). France, Germany and Italy are a bit reticent. For political and commercial reasons, they do not want to offend Russia, one of their biggest clients and main supplier of gas. However, in August, they unanimously took sides with Georgia at least in the early phase of the war. They closed their eyes on Georgia's aggression against South Ossetia, which reduced the non-aggression agreements signed under the aegis of the United Nations and the EU, to shreds.

The shadow of US weapons over the ex-USSR

No one knows for sure whether the United States encouraged Georgia to attack South Ossetia or not. But we do know for sure that it has massively armed Georgia since the 2003 "Rose Revolution" with the help of the Baltic countries, Poland, Israel, Ukraine, etc. In four years, Georgia's military budget has grown fourfold. In 2007, it nearly doubled within 12 months, finally representing a quarter of Georgia's total budget. Maintaining a military contingent in Iraq is very costly, as it is costly to buy state-of-the-art armoured vehicles, missiles and artillery pieces by the hundreds or to build military bases in the north of the country (near the Russian border). Who is going to believe that Saakashvili developed Georgia's military power solely to put down the rebellion in South Ossetia, a tiny enclave of 35,000 inhabitants with 2,500 men in its army? Obviously, what was really aimed at was Russia. Since the United States' entire policy in the area has for years consisted in increasing the pressure on Russia and even in trying to encircle it with NATO forces. Saakashvili had good reason to believe that his powerful Western sponsors would support his move. And they did, on a diplomatic level. Thanks to their support, Georgia's capital was not occupied by Russian troops. However, given the context, Georgia's protectors did not seem ready to go any further. They acted as if they saw the Georgian situation as a real-life indication of how far they could go before upsetting Russia.

Reporting on the London meeting of NATO Defence ministers, in September, Le Monde wrote: "According to many diplomats, the attitude prevailing among NATO countries since the end of the Georgian conflict in August is: let's cool the game down with Russia."

But was it just a "game" when, a few days before Georgia attacked South Ossetia, the US organised joint military manoeuvres called "Instant Response 2008" with Georgia's military? It looked more like a dress rehearsal. And as soon as Russia and Georgia signed the 12 August cease-fire agreement, why did a US naval vessel stationed in the Mediterranean Sea head for the port of Poli, occupied by Russian troops, to deliver "food aid" according to the official storyline. After these events, Tbilisi's military expenditure was increased further - and certainly not to buy food (though that's exactly what a lot of people needed). Also in August, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in Warsaw, where she solemnly signed a US-Poland anti-missile shield agreement to base 10 interceptor rockets in that country. She declared that the US rockets were only aimed at long-range threats from "rogue" states like Iran and North Korea. But the states in question are a long, long way away while the rockets are on Russia's doorstep.

A never-ending Cold War

During the Brussels emergency summit on the Caucasus crisis, Sarkozy, speaking as holder of the rotating EU presidency, declared: "The return to zones of influence is unthinkable(..) Let's not start a Cold War like this, let's not show our muscles".

It's the old story of the thief crying, "stop, thief!". NATO, created in 1949 by the United States as the imperialist camp's military organisation against the Soviet Union, has not been suppressed, nor been told to lie dormant after the USSR's collapse. On the contrary, it has been expanded and now counts 26 member states. It is even considering membership of two new states bordering on Russia: Ukraine and Georgia.

James Baker, Secretary of State under George Bush senior, had promised Gorbachev, who was about to recall all Russian troops based in East Germany, that NATO would never try to make headway in the ex-GDR. Twenty years later, all the former "People's Democracies" have become NATO members. Among them, Romania and Bulgaria play host to four NATO bases each. These are the biggest bases recently built by NATO, with 5,000 men each. Obviously, US leaders have not kept their promise not to expand their zone of influence (and military threat) to countries that were considered as "buffer" states by the USSR. In fact, they have opened NATO's door to the three Baltic Republics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) which are a few hundred kilometres away from Moscow and less than a hundred from St Petersburg!

But that's not the end of the story. In 2003, NATO had 737 bases in 50 different countries (outside the United States). In 2007, it had over 1,000 bases that it either owned or rented - a one-third increase in four years. The new bases are situated mostly in Central Asia, near the borders of the ex-USSR (in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Khirgizstan). In the Caucasus, the ambition of the US is to replace Russia as the main supplier of military aid to Armenia, and to strike a military agreement with Azerbaijan. And then of course, there is Georgia. During his recent visit there, NATO's Secretary General declared: "The doors of the Atlantic alliance are wide open to this country". American forces have been present in the country for years, taking the place of one Russian contingent after another, as they pulled out of their old bases.

Sarkozy has no objection to the existence of a zone of influence, placed under the authority of the military bloc led by the United States and surrounding Russia more and more closely. For him, the "unthinkable" is the fact that Russia, which had every reason to feel targeted, tried this summer to set limits to this aggressively expansionist policy.

In the end, after approving the policy of the United States and its Georgian ally, Sarkozy and some of his European counterparts tried to take their distance. The fact is that US imperialism is not afraid of taking advantage of each and every opportunity to weaken Russia, which US leaders still see, despite what it has become, as the heir to the USSR. But European imperialists have to be much more prudent, be it only because they are physically closer to Russia.

Ossetia and Georgia are, after all, European countries, even if they are on Europe's south-eastern boundaries. As for Poland and the Czech Republic, where the United States has installed its "anti-missile shield", they could hardly be closer.

Then there is what European diplomats call the "frozen conflicts", which can be reactivated at any time (like the Georgia-South Ossetia strife) and entail the risk of drawing the rest of the world into a military escalation. These so-called "frozen conflicts" are not limited to the Caucasus.

For instance, there is a tug-of-war between Russia and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The latter is theoretically within the Ukrainian state, but has a Russian-speaking population and is home to the Russian fleet of the Black Sea. Its president wants it to become a member of NATO, but Russia is dead set against the idea. Last summer, when Ukraine's president took sides with Georgia and tried to impede the departure of the Russian warships based in Crimea, Moscow made it clear that it could retaliate by supporting the wishes of the people of Crimea for their country to rejoin its Russian "motherland".

Back in 1954, Khrushchev had detached Crimea from Russia to "give" it to Ukraine. At the time, this was only a symbolic gesture since they all belonged to the same country. But now that the USSR has disappeared, the same kind of gesture could destabilise the whole area. The inhabitants of eastern and southern Ukraine are Russian-speaking people of both Ukrainian and Russian descent. They could well be "invited" to choose between Ukraine and Russia. Of course, that would imply far-reaching changes to the balance of forces in Central and Eastern Europe, where the disappearance of the USSR has meant that important Russian-speaking minorities living on former Soviet territories that are now independent often find themselves discriminated against.

There is also the "frozen conflict" of Transnistria, a breakaway Republic that has a Russian-speaking population and, since 1991, a strong contingent of Russian soldiers. It is not far from EU member states. It has a common border with the Republic of Moldova (which currently aspires to join the EU and which itself borders on Romania, its "elder sister" state and a member of both the EU and NATO).

As we can see, the Caucasus is not the only area that could be the victim of ticking time bombs left behind by the USSR's collapse. The regimes that sprung up on the ruins of the Soviet Union all bear a heavy responsibility in the barbaric situation which exists in the ex-USSR. However, this barbarism is further aggravated by the rivalries between the imperialist powers and by their eagerness to extend their zones of influence, that is, their domination, regardless of the cost for the populations.

The USSR no longer exists. But imperialism is still alive and kicking. Today, all imperialist countries take their cue from US imperialism, whose perspective has remained unchanged since the 1940s, when it launched its "containment" policy. That marked the beginning of the "Cold War", the stated aim of which was to combat the forward march of "Communism" in the world. US leaders knew very well that the Russian bureaucracy had nothing to do with communism and in fact was communist only in name. Today, twenty years later, imperialism no longer has the pretext of this "communist" label for its power games. But in the Caucasus and elsewhere, it is still trying to play one population off against another, so that "the natives(..) cut each other to pieces" in order to guarantee the flow of profits to the big capitalist conglomerates and the perpetuation of their monstrous world order.

In October 1917, the Bolsheviks showed that it was possible to get rid of this barbarism. The path they started tracing towards a socialist, communist and fraternal future, free of exploitation, wars and ethnic strife was abandoned by Stalinist bureaucracy. But today, like yesterday, it remains the only hope for mankind.