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Expert: Russia's Pinpricks Caused Georgia's Military Intervention

Russia expert Joerg Himmelreich told DW-RADIO that Russia's escalating provocations led Georgia to enter a military conflict it cannot win.

Russian tanks in South Ossetia

Georgia may have started the war, but are Russians responsible?

Joerg Himmelreich is a Russia expert with the German Marshall Fund.

DW-RADIO: Mr. Himmelreich, why is this region so important?

Joerg Himmelreich

Joerg Himmelreich

Joerg Himmelreich: Local conflicts here have an effect on more global, geopolitical dimensions. The local conflicts consist of the establishment of an independent regime under the de facto South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity, which is not recognized by any country, not even Russia. But it affects Russian interests as it undermines the stability of Georgia, which South Ossetia belongs to territorially. In this sense, the local conflicts are welcome for Russian forces -- no one knows exactly what these forces are, whether it's the military, or the intelligence community, or the Kremlin itself -- that are inclined to endanger Georgia's security.

Which goals is the Russian president pursuing if he's getting so massively involved in the conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia?

The Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is a strong supporter of Georgia's integration into NATO. That's why he lobbied for a membership perspective at the NATO summit in Bucharest, which he did not receive. It's been postponed. He's also determined to become a member of the European Union.

The European Union and the German government in particular are holding back, mainly because of deficits in terms of democratization in Georgia. Saakashvili has been in power since the rose revolution, but the democratization that had been hoped for has not happened. All of this doesn't sit well with the Kremlin -- I'm not sure whether President Medvedev is really behind all of this, since he doesn't seem to be in a position of power yet to steer policy in this case in my opinion. Russia's overreaction in this case seems to bear Putin's signature, who emphasized this by personally visiting the conflict region.

Georgia is powerless against the Russian army. Can you explain why the Georgian president nevertheless sent his troops into battle?

It's a case of a Russian policy of well-placed, escalating pinpricks: a Russian plane flies over Georgian territory, individual Georgian soldiers stationed in South Ossetia as peacekeepers are shot at, Georgian villages in South Ossetia are shot at. And the Georgian president naturally is under enormous pressure to respond from his own people, who see these pinpricks as a great insult to their own national identity. He's made several attempts, both in Strasbourg and Tskhinvali, to propose a compromise, to offer great autonomy, also for the other conflict region, Abkhazia. But because of history, namely the independence wars in 1992 in this region, the South Ossetians are very skeptical as far as peace offers are concerned.

What does this war mean for Georgia's road to the West?

It threatens it. NATO has made it a prerequisite that these conflicts are resolved or a process to resolve them is underway. This now seems to be more difficult than ever.

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