Just a quick post to highlight an article of mine on the war (and especially Mikhail Saakashvili's bizarre decision to attack South Ossetia) that was published today in The Globe and Mail. There's also an audio slideshow.
As fighting raged all over his tiny former Soviet country this week, a CNN anchor asked Georgia's brash and unpredictable President Mikhail Saakashvili whether he had believed his country could actually win a military showdown with Russia. "I'm not crazy," the President answered in his American-inflected English.
Others weren't so sure. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev charged that Mr. Saakashvili had acted like a "lunatic" in provoking the conflict and said he needed to be removed from office. A French diplomat suggested Mr. Saakashvili had been mad to take on Russia, and American officials wondered how he could have so badly misread their signals calling for restraint in his efforts to reclaim the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Many of his own people are shaking their heads at how "Misha," as he is affectionately known, could have backed their country into such a dangerous corner.
It was on Monday afternoon in the tree-lined city of Gori that Mr. Saakashvili came face to face with the scale of the error he made in attacking South Ossetia and triggering war with Russia, Georgia's giant neighbour to the north.
Sporting a green camouflage flak jacket, he was preparing to address the international media when Russian jets suddenly roared overhead. Someone in his entourage shouted, "Air! Air!" and Mr. Saakashvili looked at the sky, then broke into a sprint. Eventually he dove for cover, his bodyguards piling on top, hoping to shield their President from shrapnel.
Many bombs fell in and around Gori — the geographic heart of this strikingly beautiful country on the southeastern edge of Europe — and none came close to hurting him.
But the video of him ducking and running may prove to be the bookend to a tumultuous political career that began five years ago with another famous image: Mr. Saakashvili striding into Georgia's Soviet-era parliament building clutching a rose, at the vanguard of a democratic revolution that was supposed to remake not only his own tiny country but the entire former USSR.
Even if he remains in office after this crisis, the era of hope, democracy and pro-Western reform that Mr. Saakashvili — still boyish-looking at 40 — was supposed to herald has ended. The moment he ordered his troops to attack the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali a week ago, Georgia once more became a failed state, a place where wars, coups and instability are the norm and one that Western investors would be wise to avoid.
Georgia's loss is Russia's gain. Moscow is once again emerging as the regional hegemon, on the verge of pushing the U.S. back out of the former Soviet Union, an area Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin calls "the near abroad." The leaders of Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, all former Soviet republics, rushed to stand with Mr. Saakashvili in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi this week in what was as much a demonstration of fear as it was of solidarity. They were joined by the President of Poland, another country that remembers when the Red Army regularly ranged far beyond its borders and thus fears Russia's resurgence.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko is probably the most concerned member of the quintet. While Poland and the Baltic states are under the protective umbrella of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Ukraine is not. Along with Georgia's, its application to join NATO was shelved back in April for fear of offending Russia, which considers both states to be properly part of its "sphere of influence."
It all makes Mr. Saakashvili's decision to attack last Friday — while the world was distracted by the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games — extremely difficult to understand. In the name of "reuniting" Georgia, which has never been united since it gained independence in 1991, hundreds of people are dead (each side accuses the other of ethnic cleansing) and Georgia's sovereignty is under renewed threat.
As the sound of gunfire recedes, questions about Mr. Saakashvili's judgment — and his ability to continue governing — are growing louder.
Read the whole article here, and let me know what you think.