By MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI FEB. 12, 2014
NEW YORK — As the Winter Olympics begin in Sochi, a close Russian ally in Ukraine is suppressing and shooting pro-democracy protesters.
One could be forgiven for thinking that the hour of triumph for autocrats and the retreat of democrats is at hand as the world gathers to celebrate the shining rule of Czar Vladimir.
But do the Sochi Olympics really prove that President Vladimir V. Putin’s model of oil-fueled authoritarianism is the only one that can bring happiness and prosperity to Russia and the region?
Though my country, Georgia, has almost no oil, it might hold the answer....
When Russia was bidding to be host of the Olympics, it had enthusiastic Georgian support, as we believed holding the Games in Sochi would enhance chances for peace and improve relations. Instead, several months after the Kremlin won its bid to host the Olympics, Russia invaded Georgia.
Up to a point, Lord Saakashvili. You started the 2008 war, in the fundamental sense of sending your tanks in a sneak invasion across the de facto boundary, after which you were promptly whomped by the surprised Russians.
You could argue that since the South Ossetian territory you invaded was part of the Republic of Georgia under the USSR, that you had the right to do that. But that would be like Anwar Sadat arguing that when he started the Yom Kippur War in October 1973 by crossing the Suez Canal and invading the Sinai, which Israel had occupied in 1967, he was being invaded by Israel. Instead, Sadat's view was, "Hell, yes, we started this war. We're proud of it."
Of course, the big difference was that Egypt's feat of arms in winning the first battle of the Yom Kippur War -- getting across the heavily fortified Suez Canal and destroying hundreds of Israeli tanks -- really was an impressive feat of arms. The national pride that beating the Israelis in one battle engendered in Egypt, even if it the war went badly for them after that, gave Sadat psychological space to make a deal with the Israelis at Camp David and get the whole Sinai back.
In contrast, the initial Georgian invasion against the small South Ossetian militia and a couple of dozen Russian "peacekeepers" was unimpressive and failed to achieve all its objectives. The subsequent flight back home when the real Russian army arrived through the Roki Tunnel under the Cacausus was humiliating. [I go over the underlying geographic realities behind this war in my new Taki's column.)
... As a result, Mr. Putin’s fate might well be decided in the cold streets of Kiev rather than on the balmy slopes of Sochi.
Mikheil Saakashvili was president of Georgia from 2004 to 2013. He is now senior statesman at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.