Georgia/Russia: When France negotiates with Putin, it sucks to be Georgian

A dynamite article by Arnaud Leparmentier in Le Monde gives the tick-tock of France’s participation in ceasefire talks between Russia and Georgia. The article makes it obvious that Mikheil Saakashvili had to make huge concessions in return for almost no gains against the Russians. Substantial excerpts, translated by me, follow:

The presence in Tbilisi of the Polish and Ukrainian presidents and the heads of the Baltic states, who had come to support him against Russian imperialism, changed nothing: Mikheil Saakashvili has lost his bet against the Russians.

The text (presented to Saakashvili by Nicolas Sarkozy) had been negotiated in the afternoon in Moscow by the French president with his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev, and the prime minister, Vladimir Putin…

The discussions had begun Friday, August 8 in Beijing, during the meeting between Sarkozy and Putin at the Olympic opening ceremonies. The French leader asked for 24 or 48 hours to organize a truce. Putin, violent in his manner of expression, didn’t want to hear about it. He would press his offensive to the end. His anger was aggravated by George Bush who insisted to him it was the South Ossetians who had unleashed hostilities…

In the end it is Bernard Kouchner who attempts a mediation on Sunday, Aug. 10, beginning in Tbilisi. Already on Monday morning, the French foreign minister got Saakashvili to sign a draft agreement without difficulty. But as the hours went on, Kouchner would have to accept humiliating Russian conditions to arrive at the essential goal in French eyes: an end to combat.

In a major concession, the final text does not mention the principle of Georgia’s territorial integrity. The Russians refused outright. …Medvedev raised the Kosovo precedent Tuesday to justify his position. ‘Do the Ossetians and Abkhazians want to live in Georgia? Ask them. They will answer loud and clear.’ Bernard Kouchner isn’t far from sharing this view, just like Nicolas Sarkoy, who judges it legitimate for Moscow to ‘defend the interests of Russian-speakers abroad.’

As early as Sunday night, Medvedev had given Sarkozy his demands: the Georgians must renounce the use of force and Saakashvili must resign. Paris estimates that it is not up to the Russians to designate Georgia’s president, but gives in on the first point. Saakashvili relents and sends to Paris a fax in which he makes this promise…

The reticence of the French side with regard to Moscow is such that the text Kouchner had Saakashvili sign was never sent along to the Russians. On the negotiating table there was only the very tough document of the Russian foreign minister, Lavrov. Sarkozy began negotiating at the Kremlin with Medvedev, soon joined by Putin.

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