The sad end of the Rose Revolution
AFP/Getty Images With yesterday’s crackdown, Georgia became the second key U.S. ally to declare martial law this week. The autocratic tendencies of Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf have been evident for some time, but Mikhail Saakashvili’s decision to declare a state of emergency and brutally disperse protesters is particularly disappointing because of the excitement that surrounded the ...
With yesterday’s crackdown, Georgia became the second key U.S. ally to declare martial law this week. The autocratic tendencies of Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf have been evident for some time, but Mikhail Saakashvili’s decision to declare a state of emergency and brutally disperse protesters is particularly disappointing because of the excitement that surrounded the 2003 “Rose Revolution,” which brought him to power. The Columbia-educated businessman took office promising to put put his country on the path to reform and eventual NATO membership after years of corruption and Russian domination. Instead, the world is reading about scenes like this:
Georgia’s human rights ombudsman, Sozar Subari, told reporters that he was among those beaten by police. “Although I told them that I am a defender of human rights, they told me ‘This is precisely why the beating is so harsh,'” he said. […]
Earlier in central Tbilisi, police dressed in black and wearing balaclavas repeatedly beat and punched protesters, witnesses said. Clouds of tear gas filled the area, choking the crowds.
“Only a fascist power could do this,” Nana Abuladze, 56, said between bouts of vomiting.
As he has done in the past, Saakashvili is blaming the current agitation on Russian agitators. Georgia has recalled its ambassador to Russia and plans to expel Russian diplomats. While it is certainly possible that Russia has given support to the opposition, it seems absurd to suggest that Russia has the kind of influence in Georgia that would allow it to keep thousands of people on the streets of Tbilisi for weeks at a time. (Ironically, similar accusations were aimed at the United States during the Rose Revolution.) And it doesn’t exactly bolster Saakashvili’s case that the Tbilisi TV station that has been supporting the protests—and has now been shut down—is owned not by Russian siloviki but by … Rupert Murdoch.
That said, Russia stands to gain from a divided Georgia. My old boss Ivan Safranchuk of the World Security Institute’s Moscow office suggested to the Moscow Times that the Kremlin is likely biding its time waiting to see who comes out on top. “If there is a split and multiple centers of power emerge, then Moscow can play on this, supporting one or another,” he said.
Saakashvili, until now, has maintained international legitimacy by betting that his anti-Putin, pro-American foreign policy would trump whatever shady dealings were going on at home. So far it has worked. But in this latest move, he has plunged his country into chaos and uncertainty. And the Russians couldn’t be more pleased.
Joshua Keating is a former associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating
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