Tour guides in Georgia invariably ask how Stalin is viewed in the west, inviting suggestions that he was sorely misunderstood.
Tour guides in Georgia invariably ask how Stalin is viewed in the west, inviting suggestions that he was sorely misunderstood. He remains today almost revered by the local population as a great Georgian, albeit one with a slightly bloodthirsty past. In Tbilisi, such attributes may still be considered an advantage.
When Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion and occupation of part of Georgia he may have forgotten about those Georgians who served alongside him loyally in the KGB, and are now retired in Moscow. They represent a sizeable and influential minority within the Russian political elite and they are deeply resentful of the treatment meted out to their compatriots.
It may well be that the Russian incursion is nothing more than a manifestation of regained Russian pride after years of humiliation following the Soviet collapse. When the oil price reached $140 a barrel the Kremlin could finally afford to make such gestures and reassert itself as a world power and not, as it was once famously described, as “Upper Volta, but with missiles.”
Putin’s adventure may have been intended to send a message to the Ukraine as well as to Georgia and the Chechens, but the price has been a reawakening of ancient distrust and a reminder from some that the Kremlin is risking a new Cold War. The reality is that traditional Russian paranoia about NATO survives intact and the organisation’s expansion to Eastern Europe, the Baltic and the Caucasus is bound to rekindle smouldering suspicions.
Is expansion really worth the gamble or are Russia’s neighbours entitled to enjoy the new-found fruits of democracy?