Mikheil Saakashvili, the President of Georgia, told The Independent yesterday that attacks like Monday’s suicide bombing at a Moscow airport were “payback” for Russia’s policies in the North Caucasus, as he compared the country to a “crocodile ready to swallow you up”.
There’s no question that Russian policy in the North Caucasus is a contributing factor to the ongoing problem of terrorism in Russia. It is also interesting that Western observers are happy to provide this sort of analysis when it comes to terrorism directed against other nations, but most can’t quite seem to grasp that their own governments’ policies might have a similar relationship to terrorism. What is really remarkable here is that Saakashvili is making this point publicly just a few months after Georgia eliminated visa restrictions from the North Caucasus in what everyone could see was a calculated provocation on account of Russian security problems in the region. As Thomas de Waal wrote last fall:
Georgia, which also needs stability on its northern border, is also playing the irrational card. The Georgian government has embarked on a new policy of embracing the North Caucasus, which to Russian eyes looks like a strategy to divide it from the rest of Russia. President Saakashvili unilaterally announced a visa-free regime for the North Caucasian republics and made a speech at the United Nations about his vision of a “united Caucasus,” north and south. The sentiments would have been laudable from the mouth of a poet or even a businessman. Coming from the president of Georgia, they only stoked Russian paranoia and Russian-Georgian tensions.
Coming not long after the provocative decision on visas and just days after the horrible attack in Moscow, Saakashvili’s blunt words about “payback” seem designed to provide Moscow with an excuse to worsen relations and become even more inflexible in dealings with Tbilisi. In an even worse scenario, Saakashvili’s recklessness could provide the Russian government with a pretext for blaming Georgia for having some role in the Domodedovo bombing. I don’t expect a Georgian nationalist to have much sympathy for Russian victims of terrorism at this point, but I would expect a sensible head of state to have enough sense not to goad Moscow when it is responding to a terrorist atrocity. This is just one more reminder that Saakashvili is an irresponsible and reckless leader, and the U.S. indulges him and supports him at our and Georgia’s peril.