Georgia warfare hits home across region

MICHAEL P. MAYKO

Article Last Updated: 08/13/2008 01:12:47 AM EDT

The bombing is over.

Thousands are dead.

And U.S. relations with both Georgia and Russia may be colder for a while.

That's what Russian clergy and a Fairfield University professor believe will be the outcome of this five-day conflict.

On Friday, Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia's president and a New York-educated lawyer, launched a military offensive to regain South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two small pro-Russian provinces. He counted on help from the U.S. and NATO.

Russia responded with its military might and quickly sent the Georgian troops in retreat.

Meanwhile, the few in the area of Georgian descent, like Maiko and Nikita Cheremeteff, of Bridgeport, were trying to get information from relatives in the country, but phone lines were jammed or out.

"All we know is what we read in the papers," said Nikita Cheremeteff.

Miglena Koleva, a Bulgarian who studies business administration at Housatonic Community College, believes the Georgians were within their rights to reclaim those two territories.

"It's a very important territory for them in the transportation of oil," said Koleva, whose homeland is near Georgia. "This conflict has been going on for 16 years and now it's involving more and more countries."

Koleva, in the United States for four years, remarked about the contrast in coverage with the Bulgarian papers supporting Russia and the American papers supporting Georgia.

Others, like the Rev. Michael G. Roshak, pastor of Three Saints Orthodox Church in Ansonia; the Rev. Vladimir Horoszczak of St. Mary's Holy Assumption Russian Orthodox Church in Stamford; and the Rev. George Lardas of St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox church in Stratford, thought it was terrible that two Orthodox Christian countries would be killing each other rather than talking to each other to resolve their differences.

"I am heartbroken," said Horoszczak. "The people who are suffering the most are the simple people. The people who don't have enough food on the table. I hope they stop fighting yesterday, not today. Why the politicians are letting this happen is beyond me."

But none of this is beyond David McFadden, Fairfield University's director of Russian and East European studies.

"I think the major reason it happened now is because the focus of the world is on Beijing," said McFadden. "Both Saakashvili and [Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin saw this as an opportunity to restore frozen conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have been percolating since 1990."

He said the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia "are not Georgian. They are not connected to Georgia either linguistically or culturally."

But even McFadden wonders why Saakashvili would have thought either the U.S. or NATO would have responded with force to Russia's actions.

"He had to be delusional" McFadden said. "The cease-fire will go forward on Russia's terms. I suspect there will be some kind of settlement giving independent autonomy in Abkhazia or South Ossetia or both. Russia is back as a major power."

He said that power stems from the country's economic wealth drawn from its natural resources of oil and gas.

On Tuesday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proclaimed "the aggressor has been punished and suffered very significant losses. Its military has been disorganized."

Saakashvili countered that Russia "wanted to stamp on Georgia and destroy it."

The U.S. political outcry over Russia's response will cause another rift in the relationship between the two countries, which McFadden said were developing well until the Iraqi war and the acceptance of NATO by former Soviet Union states.

"Russia feels they are being surrounded," he said. "Now they are viewed as neither a friend nor an enemy but someone we have to deal with."

As for Saakashvili's future, McFadden believes Georgians will "rally around him. But this will hurt him. The Georgian community is not going to be happy with the U.S. response."

Instead of a military response, he sees the U.S. as providing humanitarian support, more foreign aid and refugee assistance.

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4, and U.S. Rep. Joseph Courtney, D-2, both blasted Russia's response.

"This threat on a budding democracy is a real threat to world peace," said Shays. "Russia's response was over the top and certainly not proportional to Georgia's actions. This was a Cold War response."

Courtney agreed.

"The incursion of Russian forces into the South Ossetia region of Georgia is a setback for democracy and self-determination in the Caucasus and across the globe," said Courtney, who sits on the House Armed Services committee. "This violation of international law must be unequivocally condemned by the U.S. and our European allies."

McFadden believes that will be done in the United Nation's Security Council.

"All parties need to talk," he said and suggested that French President Nicholas Sarkozy be used to mediate difference because of his relationship with Georgia and Russia.

Still McFadden anticipates the U.S. will condemn Russia, while Russia will exert its veto over any U.S. proposal and China will abstain.