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Saakashvili eats own tie

Saakashvili might have lost the war against Russia, but, scant consolation perhaps, he is widely seen to have won the propaganda battle. Big bad Russia against plucky little Georgia. Accurate or nonsense, thanks to “Misha’s” Brussels-based PR men, it is the picture that’s dominating the world media.

Saakashvili has waged a one-man battle for public opinion, popping up daily on TV screens as if his words can make a difference against the might of the Russian army. The appearances are short but never fail to yield a sound bite for the world’s media.

Today, the American-educated Saakashvili sounded almost Churchillian. No matter how much Russia tries to undermine us, he said, we will never surrender. His rhetoric was even starker when he accused Russia of trying to “murder a small country”.

So far, Georgians have rallied in support of their leader in the face of the Russian onslaught, but once the dust has settled, they might well decide that having a man all too ready to take risks on their behalf is not such a good idea. Moreover, despite his self-portrait as a democrat, Saaskashvili, who succeeded Eduard Shevardnadze in the so-called rose revolution in 2003, has an authoritarian streak.

Although Saakashvili and his small circle of young advisers have won kudos for battling corruption in Georgia and boosting the economy, political opponents have been thrown into jail under his presidency. Last year, he surprised his American backers by declaring a 15-day state of emergency after battles between riot police and demonstrators protesting against the postponement of parliamentary elections. Those critics are quiet for now. But once the crisis subsides, it should come as no surprise if the knives come out once more following Saakashvilis’s misadventure in South Ossetia.

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