Tbilisi-Moscow Conflict to Take Diplomatic Way

Azerbaijan, Baku, 12 August / Trend corr. E.Tariverdiyeva/ The conflict between Tbilisi and Moscow will gradually turn from military into diplomatic confrontation.

"The struggle will continue, but primarily in the field of international diplomacy," U.S. political scientist Henry Hale, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University Washington, said.

Large-scale military operations commenced in the unrecognized South Ossetia republic in the early morning of 8 August. Georgian Army was reported to enter Tskhinvali on 9 August. Russian troops occupied Tskhinvali and forced back the Georgian servicemen.

On 12 August, Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev said he had decided to complete the operations intended to constrain Georgia to peace, RIA Novosti reported.

According to Hale, Saakashvili will attempt to brand the Russians as occupiers on its sovereign territory who should be punished by the international community and forced to leave Georgia. Russia's leaders will continue to accuse Georgian forces of crimes like genocide and try to convince NATO that the country is unworthy of ever being a member.

"Most likely, neither side will win this public relations war decisively in the near future," Hale said to Trend .

The U.S. expert believes there are some indications that Russia is considering a broader military operation in Georgia that would go beyond South Ossetia with the goals of weakening Saakashvili politically and crippling the Georgian military. This would be extremely risky for Russia and could very well make Saakashvili more popular since he would become seen more clearly as the victim both within Georgia and the international community.

"My best guess is that Russian military operations will end relatively soon, after securing South Ossetia against any new Georgian moves (and possibly also after helping Abkhazia retake the Kodori gorge), he said.

"In regards to South Ossetia specifically, I expect the security situation there to stabilize following the events of the past weekend," British expert on Georgia Ksenia Skvortsova, analyst of Control Risks at London-based Cottons Centre, said.

"I think the real test now, for both sides, will be dealing with the aftermath - the recognition of the region (which is likely to be one of Russia's conditions) and its eventual reconstruction."

"Even with all the conflicting information coming out of South Ossetia over the past four days, I think everyone can agree that the region will be in severe need of humanitarian and financial aid," she said to News.

U.S. expert on Russia Mark Katz sees two directions of developments, with diplomatic settlement of the conflict being only one of them. "The best case scenario is that once the Russians have secured South Ossetia (and perhaps Abkhazia), they will stop attacking targets in the rest of Georgia."

"South Ossetia and Abkhazia will effectively become part of Russia, though Moscow itself may still acknowledge them as being part of Georgia," Mark N. Katz, Professor of Government and Politics at George Mason University, said to Trend New via e-mail.

According to Katz, the worst case scenario is that we are facing a situation similar to Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968, in which case the Russian army will overrun the entire country and replace the government.

"This new government will insist on greatly increasing the transit fees for Azeri oil going through the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. Russia will then turn its attention to reasserting control over Azerbaijan," political scientist said.

At the beginning of 1990, South Ossetia, having the status of autonomy within Georgia, proclaimed its independence with the support of Russia. A military conflict resulted in lost of control over the territory by official Tbilisi. The countries worldwide and international organizations have not recognized independence of South Ossetia. The peaceful negotiations lasting for over ten years have not yielded any results.

The correspondent can be contacted at trend@trend.az

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