(Let Georgia be a lesson for what will happen to Ukraine; My country’s ordeal in 2008 suggests Crimea’s referendum is a trick for Russia to cement its territorial and military grip – Mikheil Saakashvili, former President of Georgia – The Guardian – March 15, 2014)
Mikheil Saakashvili, former President of Georgia, writes in The Guardian about the crisis in Ukraine, in light of his experience of the Russo-Georgian War that resulted in the Russian occupation of separatist areas in Georgia.
Saakashvili predicts that Sunday’s illegal referendum in Crimea will result in a pro-Russia vote, followed by Russian President Vladimir Putin asserting a legal grounds for further armed invasion:
Crimeans vote tomorrow in an illegal “referendum” which will lock them into Russia’s embrace. After this vote, and the takeover by Russian troops of the southern Ukraine peninsula, Vladimir Putin will claim he has legal justification for further military build-up and direct armed attack. How do I know? Because of the many painful parallels and lessons from Georgia in 2008.
While Russia has claimed a need to protect pro-Russian residents of Crimea, the Russian presence there was bolstered in the first place by genocide and forced relocation carried out under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin:
In eastern Ukraine, Stalin’s regime killed 7 million people in an artificially created famine called Golodomor in the 1930s, to replace a restive population with a more loyal one. In Crimea, they deported the indigenous Tatars, increasing the number of Russians instead, and even though some have made it back to their ancestral lands, they haven’t regained the majority they enjoyed historically.
Saakashvili suggests that Putin was emboldened by the failure to include Georgia and Ukraine in NATO, and that a failure to stop Putin in Georgia led to his moves against Ukraine:
If the west had reacted properly to Georgia, Ukraine would never have happened. The invasion of Georgia was the first time since the cold war that Russia had tried to revise existing internationally recognised borders. …
Soon after the Russo-Georgian war … the Tagliavini Commision … enabled the EU to get back to business as usual with Russia.
Looking back, this gave Putin the sense he could get away with a similar adventure closer to Europe’s heartland, in a country whose population is 10 times greater than Georgia’s. … The longer the west’s wishful thinking lasts, the bigger this problem will become.