UK professor discusses Georgia

When the United States recognized the former U.S.S.R. republic of Georgia as an independent nation in 1992, University of Kentucky professor Carey Cavanaugh set up the U.S. Embassy.

Cavanaugh, 53, had a good relationship with Eduard Shevardnadze, Georgia's first president, and helped bring international assistance and a new hospital to the country. He went on to be a U.S. mediator for conflicts in the region under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

During the past week, the Lexington resident and director of the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce estimates, he has given more than 20 interviews about the conflict between Russia and Georgia to major news organizations in the United States, Europe and Middle East.

In an interview Tuesday with the Herald-Leader, Cavanaugh said Georgia's leaders made a “miscalculation of enormous impact.” Russia's r eaction raises serious questions about how it will act in the future with not only its neighbors, but on the international stage as well, the former diplomat said.

The Russia and Georgia relationship: “With the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was very hard for many people to see Georgia break away. Parts of Georgia resisted (the collapse) and said they wanted to remain aligned with Russia and those regions were Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgian authorities have actually not had control of those areas since the early days of the Republic of Georgia.”

Not a big place: “I think it's surprising for many people to think that South Ossetia, which has maybe 70,000 people, and is the size of Luxembourg or a couple of Kentucky counties can become so prominent on the world stage. ... Georgia only has a population about the size of Kentucky — about 4.5 million people. And the thought that within a country of that population you have two regions that are not under your control is a little hard to fathom. It's as if the western edge of Kentucky, Paducah, was a separate entity and Harlan County was also and a conflict had broken out in Harlan County with the world's attention being focused on it.”

Who is to blame?: “I think we saw this past week mistakes made by a number of players. The Georgian government responding to provocations of artillery attack and maybe a thought that here was the time to solve this problem militarily … and also a mistake by the Russian government responding with clearly a disproportionate use of force to stop this fighting.”

What fed Russia's response?: “I think it's very much tied to the question of Georgia's security ties to the West and its western orientation. (Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin has made clear that he found it unacceptable to have NATO at Russia's doorstep in the case of Ukraine and in Georgia. The decisions made at the Bucharest summit that both would be given future NATO membership riled the Russians and upset them. I think they have also been upset by the very strong attitude of the Bush administration regarding security in general. There has been a push to put missile defense systems in the Czech Republic and in Poland. Russia has been very upset about this.”

On a cease-fire: “You can talk about returning to the status quo antebellum but, in effect, that doesn't exist. War changes things on the ground. Sadly, if you can bring about a cease-fire today, the freshness of this conflict on all sides is too intense. To get a peace process moving forward again will be very hard.”

U.S. diplomacy efforts: “I don't think anyone anticipated the United States or the West would get involved in a military conflict like this, but I was surprised to see the gravity of the statements from President (George) Bush (on Monday) and Vice President (Dick) Cheney the day before on the importance of this, ‘this is the defining moment' and then matching that with the fact that our diplomacy was basically being done by telephone. ... The president, while he spoke to Putin at the Olympics, then proceeded to go watch beach volleyball and swimming. ...

What it raises now for the United States is the question, how are we going to engage Russia? ... It's not a question for the Bush administration, but for the next administration of the United States. What will our Russia policy be? What priority will we place on advancing peace efforts in these frozen conflict regions? What priority will we place on working with allies very closely to ensure this type of situation doesn't develop? ... Russia is a major player. It counts. ... The end lesson of this week is the need to engage more effectively on peace efforts in this region, engage more effectively with Russia and engage more effectively with our partners to make sure these conflicts remain frozen and don't become hot.”