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What did Georgia do wrong?

Thursday, September 4
As time passes we can see more clearly what happened in Georgia in August 2008.

The results of the Russian aggression have become significant not only for Georgia but for the whole world. The entire existence of Georgia has been put in question. The “to be or not to be” of Georgian statehood has become a vitally important issue for the country.

When the war broke out an immediate parallel was drawn with 1921 when Bolshevik Russia occupied and annexed Georgia. The world speculated about a new Cold War. The developments in Georgia were unexpected for everyone. Neither the Georgian leadership nor the civilized world, and probably not even the Russian elite, expected that the world would unanimously take the side of democracy.

Right on the eve of the aggression Moscow was trying to aggravate the situation in the conflict zones. Extra Russian forces, some in the guise of peacekeepers and others designated as “railway troops,” held military exercises right on the border with Georgia. Persistent provocations in the conflict regions, kidnappings, killings of civilians and many more mechanisms were used to keep the situation boiling. The signs of creeping annexation were evident. Analysts predicted attacks by Russian supported secessionists against Georgian villages in either the Kodori Gorge in Upper Abkhazia or somewhere near Tskhinvali. But nobody thought that the attack would be on such a scale, proceeding much further than the conflict zone and even threatening the capital. Nobody expected that Russia would not keep to “the rules of the game”!

The Kremlin’s irritation with Georgia’s aspiration to join NATO was the main driver of Moscow’s activities. It should be noted that Georgia did not even dream of NATO membership when Russia inspired and armed the separatist forces against Georgia in the 90’s of the last century. But it appeared that the Putin/Medvedev tandem was not satisfied even with the old scenario of separatist forces occupying Georgian territory under Russia’s protection. They launched an immediate and ruthless assault designed to overthrow the legal government and put a puppet regime in its place. This would resolve the problem of NATO-energy transit and EU-focusing Georgia once and for all. It would also show the world who the master of ceremonies in the Caucasus region was. The Anti-Georgian operation was thoroughly planned and prepared.

Alas, Socrates is my friend but the truth is dearer. Russia had “good “models to follow and try to justify its conduct. Kosovo, Serbia, Iraq! I agree that these cases were exceptions to the pattern seen in those conflicts, unique Kosovo, aggressive Serbia, Iraq-nuclear threat to the world and so on. But is not Russia repeating these names again and again? The Russian propaganda machine unleashed an anti-Georgian campaign, provoked the exchange of fire and sacrificed poor “Russian citizens” like pawns. The forceful implementation of peace would lead to the Georgian leadership being overthrown and possibly arrested and punished by the courts, as those of Serbia and Iraq were. Everything is legal, everything simply repeats the previous precedent Russia claims other countries have established.

Think tanks in Moscow spent hours and days brainstorming about the best way to punish disobedient Georgia for trying to join the West. Their provocations eventually persuaded the Georgian leadership to take a risky step – trying to restore constitutional order in Tskhinvali. Thus the Russian war machine started moving. In the beginning Moscow managed to convince world opinion that everything was Georgia’s fault. In just a couple of days however the truth was out. The whole world now sees who is the aggressor and who is the victim.

It is a bit premature to draw conclusions about what happened in the first days of the conflict, who made which mistakes and how things could have gone differently. Not all the details are yet known. Maybe the Kremlin thought that North Caucasian mercenaries and Cossacks would be enough to beat Georgian troops, but the latter showed serious resistance and moreover advanced quickly and freed Tskhinvali from the separatists in just a day. That was probably the reason why the Moscow attack was so fierce and merciless. It activated tens of thousands of regular troops and thousands of tanks and armoured vehicles, artillery and warplanes. Georgia did not expect this as its national security concept, adopted in 2005, said that direct military aggression against Georgia is unlikely. It considered the possible violation of Georgia’s borders. But even if Georgia had been ready to fight a full scale war against Russia, it would have had no chance!

Georgia has received great losses: human lives, lost territories, the environment, infrastructure, roads, railways, transit capacity, image and so on. It also has to address the needs of thousands of IDPs. But the mask came off the Russian face and the world saw the muzzle of an aggressor. Now Russia has met resistance from the international community, which has stopped the violence and prevented an attack on Tbilisi. Georgia has paid high price to persuade the world to take this courageous step. Now the world, in its turn, has to prove its real commitment to supporting democracy.