Russian military triumph leaves pro-West Georgia uncertain
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's failed attempt to retake South Ossetia may cost him dearly in Georgia, one of the strongest US allies in Russia's backyard.
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Georgian officials disputed that, however, saying that Russian forces were still shelling villages near South Ossetia, and there were reports of Russian planes bombing sites within Georgia proper, including Gori. An official of Georgia's other breakaway statelet, Abkhazia, said its Army would continue its offensive against Georgia in the disputed Kodori Gorge regardless of Medvedev's decision.Skip to next paragraph
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"We aim to eliminate the Georgian threat," said Maxim Gujia, Abkhazia's deputy foreign minister, reached by telephone in Sukhumi. "This is our operation, and it is not affected by Medvedev's words."
Few Russians appeared in any mood to criticize their government for what seemed an efficient operation that brought big geopolitical rewards.
"If Russia had hesitated, that might have been taken as weakness of the new president," says Sergei Mikayev, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies, a Moscow think tank. "It seems like Russia took a decision that may not have been completely irreproachable, but it looks like there was no alternative."
Though Russian and Georgian casualty claims diverge wildly, the main United Nations refugee agency weighed in Tuesday with the sobering estimate of 100,000 persons displaced by the fighting, including up to 80 percent of the population of tiny South Ossetia.
'Saakashvili is finished'
In the Georgian capital of Tbilisi Tuesday, thousands of demonstrators waved anti-Russian placards and shouted defiance against Moscow. The war, which began with a Georgian offensive aimed at retaking South Ossetia, ended with the Russian Army in control of the breakaway statelet and much of Georgia's military infrastructure in ruins after five days of intensive Russian bombing.
"I came to support my nation and show we are all still strong," said Irakli Shonia, a manager. "I supported this war. In the end, Russia showed the world its true face."
But beneath the defiance, there were suggestions that Mr. Saakashvili, who appears to have miscalculated Russia's response to the Georgian offensive, may pay a political price. In the 2003 "Rose Revolution," Georgians embraced Saakashvili, a US-educated lawyer who pledged to reunite the fractured country of 5 million and lead it into the NATO alliance.
"What we see is a total collapse of Georgia, and the responsibility is all Saakashvili's," says Kakha Kukava, an opposition parliamentarian. "It was his personal decision to use force and the results were disastrous."
Some people in the street echoed those sentiments. "[Saakashvili] is finished," says Nestan Nijaradze, a freelance writer in Tbilisi. "But now is not the moment to talk about that. We love Georgia."