In an intense but releaving interview published in Kommersant, John Bayrle, U.S. Ambassador to Russia, took tough questions but showed optimism for future Russia-U.S. relations. Overall, the exceptional interviewer showed just how difficult it is to defend the United States’ Georgia policy on logical grounds.
Here are some of the more interesting exchanges (translated):
– No one in the upper reaches of the American administration including Bush and Secretary of State Rice has ever criticized the [Georgian] bombardment of Tskhinvali. Does this mean that the United States supports such actions?
The fact that we consistently attempted to persuade the Georgian side not to take this step, clearly speaks to the fact that we did not want all this to occur. We worked for many years with Russia in international mechanisms like the U.N. Secretary-General’s Group of Friends of Georgia in order to solve these frozen conflicts on Georgian territory. And we did not want a return to violence and use of force — the United States clearly took this stance. We see that Russian forces responded soundly to an attack on their peacekeepers in South Ossetia. But then these forces crossed into Georgian territory, and the territorial integrity of Georgia appeared at risk.
– Meaning, Russia’s reaction to the attack on Russia’s peacekeepers was legal, but Russian forces leaving the conflict zone was illegal?
We saw destruction of civilian infrastructure, and also calls by some Russian politicians to replace the democratically elected government of Georgia. Some also called Georgia’s territorial integrity into question. That’s why we think Russia went to far. And we aren’t alone in thinking so — this position is shared by many members of the international community.
– Condoleezza Rice has said that Russia acted improperly. What, in your view, would be the proper course of action for Russia?
What is important now is for Russia to adhere to the six-point peace plan, proposed by the French president and signed by all sides in the conflict. And the sooner Russia withdraws its forces to points occupied before the conflict, the sooner we can bring international observers to the conflict zone, and then, possibly, international peacekeepers to work in resolving these conflicts.
– What does the United States see as a resolution through the six-point peace plan? Russia is convinced that the only way of assuring the security of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is a change in their status.
The process should begin with recognition of Georgia’s territorial integrity and limits of its international borders. The resolution must also take into consideration the principle of self-determination of ethnic groups. That is the point from which the dialogue should begin, with the involvement of Russia, Georgia, countries like the United States, European Union and the governments of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But all must begin with the acceptance that the territorial integrity of Georgia is recognized by international law.
– Your aforementioned principles contradict one another.
It is impossible to ignore that emotions are very heated after this tragic conflict. It will be difficult to begin this process and difficult to bring it to an end, but we must view the resolution of this conflict as a tangible and possible goal.
Full article (in Russian) here.
No matter which side of the fence you sit on, it’s hard to say that this was not a fascinating exchange.
My comments: The position of the United States, and subsequently the position of its ambassador, is contradictory. If we believe we can solve this conflict with absolute adherance to the priciple of sovereign territorial integrity and the self-determiniation of peoples then we are going to be in this same place twenty years from now. Abkhazians and South Ossetians have already held numerous referendums, all overwhelmingly in favor of breaking away from Georgia. Also, the inclusion of “democracy” in this dialogue is a bit absurd. We recognize the sovereignty of the semi-democratic government of Georgia, but not the democratic referendums of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia agreeing to break away from Georgia. And as far as international borders go, we didn’t respect Serbia’s territorial integrity when dealing with the break-away of Kosovo — basically we pick and choose our principles on a case-by-case basis.
It was also interesting to see Ambassador Bayrle meander around the question of what exactly the United States was against in the conflict. Georgian bombardment of Tskhinvali: bad, but we won’t denounce it, Russian counter-attack: sound, but we declared it an invasion, further incursions into undisputed Georgian territory: unacceptable and illegal.