Georgia: Pawn in the New Great Game

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Per Gahrton, Pluto, £17.99

In 2008 the small Caucasian republic of Georgia suddenly became the centre of attention for much of the world. What appeared to be an insignificant dispute with a small splinter region developed into full-scale war. Russia invaded, inflicting a swift and conclusive military victory. This book attempts to analyse the events leading to war, as well as assess what Georgia's prospects are for the future.

As the title, Georgia: Pawn in the New Great Game, may suggest, Gahrton does not attribute the recent events to causes specific to the region, but argues that Georgia "is caught in a political struggle between East and West". Georgia was once part of the USSR and, along with other former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, has since 1991 been of extreme importance to both Russian and US imperial policy. After the collapse of the USSR the US aimed to increase its influence in countries which were formerly part of the Eastern Bloc, while Russia attempted to maintain its waning influence. Georgia therefore became caught in a wider battle for hegemony between Washington and Moscow.

Gahrton draws a parallel between the current geopolitical struggle in central Asia and the "Great Game" of the 19th century, when the British Empire and Tsarist Russia both struggled to control the region. Then, as now, the centre of the conflict was Afghanistan, which Britain made several failed attempts to occupy using military force, while it was in this period that Russia asserted itself in the Caucasus for the first time.

It is in this context that Gahrton views the recent events in Georgia. The Rose Revolution of 2003, which installed the pro-US Mikheil Saakashvili, is discussed in some detail. The question of whether the revolution was a popular uprising or a US coup is well argued. Gahrton recognises that the uprising had popular support, but at the same time acknowledges that US influence ensured that the revolution was dominated by a pro-Western elite. The events and causes of the war in 2008 are viewed in a similar light. While Gahrton does not in any way condone the actions of Russia in the conflict, he does what few Western analysts have, which is to lay the blame mostly on US expansionism, and the Georgian regime it supported.

Gahrton's book is not a detailed history of Georgia, but rather a short introduction. Although he is correct to be equally critical of the Russian and US governments' interference in Georgian affairs, he fails to provide a strong argument for a solution to this problem. The author, a former MEP who works for a European NGO, seems to have an overly sympathetic opinion of the EU, and more than once suggests that Georgian membership of the EU may solve all its problems.