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How a Five-Day War With Georgia Allowed Russia to Reassert Its Military Might



At the beginning of August 2008, after the Georgian president [19659006] Mikheil Saakashvili sent troops into the rebel province of South Ossetia, Russia came to his defense, starting a five-day conflict that ended with the Russian troops a short distance from Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.

Moscow's aggressive reaction to its long tensions with Georgia announced the resumption of Russia as a military power and paved the way for its controversial relations with another former Soviet republic, Ukraine, starting in 2014

Separatist Issues in Georgia [19659009] The roots of the Russia-Georgia conflict date back to the early 1990s, when both Russia and Georgia were newly independent nations after the dissolution of the USSR . The civil war broke out in Georgia, located south of Russia, on the east coast of the Black Sea, when two provinces, South Ossetia in eastern Georgia and Abkhazia, on the northwest coast, tried to declare its independence.

"We can trace [the 2008 conflict] from the beginning of the independence of Georgia, when Abkhazia in particular separated and the Russians supported Abkhazia", ​​he says Mark Galeotti senior non-resident resident at the Institute of International Relations Prague and an expert on modern Russian history and security affairs.

A ceasefire in 1994 put an end to the worst fighting, but tensions continued to simmer in the two separatist provinces, which remained technically part of Georgia. Home to various ethnic groups, the Ossetians and Abkhazians, they had been autonomous at the beginning of the 20th century, after the Russian revolution and wanted to regain their autonomy.

  Mikhail Saakashvili and George W. Bush

Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili met US President George W. Bush at the White House in February 2004. The United States began training 5,000 Georgian soldiers a few months later . (CreditL Tim Sloan / AFP / Getty Images)

Georgia and the West

Beginning at the end of the years & # 39; 90, European Union and Organization of the Treaty of the North Atlantic (NATO) expanded their influence in Eastern and Central Europe, formerly a Soviet stronghold. Russia and its new president, Vladimir Putin (elected for the first time in 2000), strongly regrets the loss of this buffer zone between Moscow and the West.

For its part, Georgia was moving further west, although it joined the US-led coalition in the war in Iraq in 2003. This process intensified after the election of pro-Western president Mikheil Saakashvili in 2004.

clearly started a process of trying to get out of the sphere of influence of Russia, "says Galeotti." And as far as Russia was concerned, this was a top priority. He had to keep his sphere of influence and if he let Georgia go, then who could be next? "

  Russian troops

A convoy of Russian troops making its way through the mountains to the armed conflict between Georgian troops and separatist troops of South Ossetia on August 9, 2008. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has declared a "state of war" while its troops clashed with the Russian forces against the separatist province of South Ossetia. (Credit: Dmitry Kostyukov / AFP / Getty Images)

The tensions of long boiling erupt in war

Sakaashvili also tried to repress separatism in Georgia, which again brought back the long-standing conflict in South Ossetia. Georgia's ever tense relations with its northern neighbor worsened towards the end of 2006, when the Sakaashvili's government accused Putin, who at the time was the Russian prime minister, of supporting the separatist cause after Georgia arrested four Russian military officers er suspected espionage, Russia responded by closing down Georgian companies and deporting Georgian citizens .

With Georgia about to join NATO, but not yet subject to the collective defense agreement of the organization Russia saw an opportunity to curb its neighbor and demonstrate its military strength in the region. As Galeotti says: "The Russians built their plans, built their forces, and ensured that their local prosecutors in South Ossetia needed Georgians so much, knowing that Sakaashvili … would be at the same time. ;height."

On August 8, 2008, after months of accusations and provocations between the two parties, and a series of clashes between South Ossetian militia and Georgian military troops, Sakaashvili ordered to his troops to conquer the capital of South Ossetia Tskhinvali. Russia reacted quickly by moving its troops to the border and carrying out air strikes on Georgian positions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

With the United States, Great Britain and NATO calling for a cease-fire, the conflict continued for five days, when Russia quickly took control of Tskhinvali and rolled the tanks and troops through the Ossetia in Georgia, stopping about 30 miles from Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.

  War between Russia and Georgia

Georgian troops riding a civilian vehicle like an armored ship carrying Georgian personnel lie destroyed on the road on August 11, 2008 near Gori, Georgia. Russia has denied reports of Russian troops advancing during a fragile ceasefire declared in the region. (Credit: Cliff Volpe / Getty Images)

Conclusion and last legacy of the war

In addition to diplomatic efforts and humanitarian aid, the international community has done little to stop the conflict. "Nobody was willing to go to war for Georgia," emphasizes Galeotti. "This was a time when nobody really wanted to provoke Russia. [Dmitry] Medvedev was president, and in particular American politics was essentially hoping that this could be exploited in something more positive. Georgia was left alone. "

After Russia stopped its advance in Georgia, a ceasefire on August 12 ended the Russia-Georgia war. According to an official report of the EU inquiry in 2009, about 850 people were killed during the five-day conflict, while about 35,000 Georgians were left homeless. The same investigation report concluded that although Georgia had started the war, Russia had provoked its neighbor for a long time and reacted exaggeratedly to that initial artillery attack.

  Georgia after the War

A Georgian woman holds her head as she walks past a bombed building on August 23, 2008 in Gori, Georgia. (Credit: Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)

Although Russia has formally recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states after the war, few other countries have joined them in doing so. Meanwhile, Georgia has moved away from Russian influence in the aftermath of the conflict and signed an association agreement with the EU in 2014.

Perhaps the most enduring consequence of the war between Russia and Russia Georgia can be seen in what happened six years later, in Ukraine. With Putin back as president (and Medvedev as prime minister), forces supported by the Kremlin took control of the Crimean peninsula and parts of the Donbas region in 2014. Russia had embarked on a "reform program" military more serious, "In the wake of the war in Georgia, explains Galeotti," which led to the much more competent forces we have seen in the annexation of Crimea. "

In addition, not coming to the defense of Georgia in the conflict lopsided in 2008, the community had shown the Russians that "essentially lacked the will to support his beautiful words," says Galeotti. "With hindsight, he wonders, the Crimea and the Donbass wars would have happened if the West had been more robust in its response to Georgia?"


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