As an amateur chess player, I am always amazed for how this great and strategic game is played. After all, chess kept Andy Dufresne’s mind occupied while he concocted most brilliant escape the S hawshank prison.
The game is comprised of the begging, middle, and end. In the beginning players move their pieces based on the opening strategies to position themselves for a good and sustained defense. The middle is about developing an offense strategy. Finally, the ending is reaching the ultimate goal ‘checkmate’ – a term which is derived from an Arabic which translates a king is dead. In professional chess, opponents make serious of moves, the payer who makes first strategic mistake most likely to lose the game.
A former Soviet Republic of Georgia’s strategic mistake came last week when it moved its queen to an attacking position - Georgian authorities arrested four Russian military personnel on spying allegations. Russia counterattacked by moving queen forward to exert pressure on the Georgian king. Georgia pulls the king back by releasing the Russian military personnel. Russia advances pawns by imposing punitive and economic sanctions and establishes a complete blockade of the former soviet republic. Georgia moves next?
There can be no doubt Russia and Georgia are deeply involved in playing a political chess. The only difference is this time the wooden chess pieces are replaced with human lives, economic stability, and security.
The opening of this “grand game” started with the election of the current president Mikhail Saakashvili, who came to power via general election followed the Rose Revolution which deposed a long time Soviet hawk, Edward Shevardnadze. Saakashvili, a US educated lawyer, won the popular election with a 96% margin. He ran on an anti-corruption and poverty reduction platform. Needless to say not much has improved in Georgia since his reelection in January of ‘04. The inflation is rampant and ordinary people are reeling in the harsh economic grimness.
After coming to a power the baby-faced Saakashvili thrust with full force into the game which he did not understand from the start by “moving” his pawns into the full scale Russian political offense. His expectation of quick and easy fixes was quickly shattered by more experienced and strategic player, Putin. Georgian leader misunderstood the Russians and the Russians strategic imperatives.
Soon after the inaugurations the world newspaper headlines reflected on Saakashvili’s anti-Russian rhetoric and that he wanted his country out of Russia’s “orbit”, develop close relationship with the West, and joint NATO by 2008. This thrust of the pawn openings infuriated otherwise laidback and calculating Russia. Russia started taking defensive measures to economically punish the Caucasian nation. Russia temporarily stopped a flow of natural gas supplies to Georgia (it was blamed on terrorist acts, though), banned or restricted Georgian imports of agro-cultural products including wine and mineral water products. Georgia frustrated with poor miscalculated opening strategy moves its queen forward too soon by arresting the four military personal members in hope to increase its defense capabilities on the board. Russia blocks the Georgian queen by possibly threatening to use the military force and institutes economic and political blockades in Georgia. Saakashivilly, confused of the magnitude of the grand strategy, yields to pressure and pulls the queen back by releasing the arrested servicemen and revealing his weakness and political immaturity to his opponent. Russia “smells” blood and further advances its pawns by freezing banking correspondence, conceals electronic supplies shipment, and issues a moratorium on the business trade and transactions.
Sakashivili realizes of the miscalculations and immediately tries to remedy the situation by stating his desire for a good relationship with Russia and even getting the West involved in defusing the situation. Russia an expert chess player with an extra queen in its arsenal knows the outcome of this game unless the game is stopped and both players agree to attend the Dr. Phil show for a therapy session. The end game for Russia is obvious; Georgia is pushing itself to a brink of war. Putin comment about a “state terrorism” seems a logical precursor for a military justification. I am not sure how the West can prevent a Russian military attack if Russia uses Israeli attack on Lebanon over the abducted soldiers as a pretext for its own military actions. Russia may not be able to get the servicemen back, but it surely could do a tremendous economic damage to Georgia, with sustained energy flow stoppage it would leave Georgia in shambles. Saakashivili demonstrated his political immaturity and embarrassed himself by arresting and releasing the servicemen next day. His prestige is definitely hurt by his strategic miscalculation. Russia while not blameless was waiting for this strategic mistake, now it will try to use the Georgian missteps to achieve its end-state goal.