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Russian aggression: lessons of the past

By Messenger Staff
Thursday, February 25
On February 23 the Georgian people and their authorities commemorate the cadets who died in the struggle for the independence of Georgia in 1921. Two days later on February 25 we commemorate the occupation of Tbilisi by the Soviet Red Army, the thing these cadets were trying to prevent and the culmination of a military campaign designed to overthrow the Social Democratic (Menshevik) Government of the Democratic Republic of Georgia and install a Bolshevik regime. Commemorating these two events is still very relevant today, as Russian aggression then and now is still affecting Georgia.

On February 13, 1921 Soviet Russian forces attacked the Democratic Republic of Georgia without declaring a war. This conflict lasted until the middle of March. Georgia was also attacked by the Turkish Army and as a result of this dual aggression the Georgian Government of Noe Zhordania fled the country. Georgia thus lost its independence in a variety of ways: Georgians during Soviet times had to go out of their way to tell the rest of the world that they were citizens of the Soviet Union, but were not and never would be Russian.

Some forces struggling for Georgian independence during Gorbachev's time, in the 'perestroika' period, thought that Russia would ultimately recognise its past aggression and have good relations with its southern neighbour after independence. But Russia has never recognised that Georgia was a victim of Bolshevik aggression in 1921. On closer examination this is not surprising. Only those states which have given up being aggressive now are able to recognise their aggressions of the past. Russia has not abandoned aggression and Georgia has been its continual victim. First Georgia's separatists were actively encouraged and given military assistance, then the Russians became 'peacekeepers' in the areas they had provoked the conflict in and then we had the Russian-Georgian war of 2008. Given the statements coming out of Moscow now, a non-aggressive Russia is about as likely in the foreseeable future as a non-aggressive Siberian tiger.

During the August War in 2008 frequent comparisons were made with the events of 1921. Saakashvili and his Government continually repeated that the difference between then and now is that Russia has not occupied the whole of Georgia and the country has remained independent. However this is more to the credit of the West than the Georgian authorities. Although in 1921 the West calmly accepted Georgia’s occupation, it did not allow Russia to do the same in 2008. Although their support has not turned out to be much help in neutralising the Russian aggression and its consequences it has still taken a practical form. Saakashvili has also frequently said that his Government did not run away when the Russians invaded, unlike that of 1921, but again this is largely because the West made such an action unnecessary this time round.

Currently 1/5 of Georgian territory is occupied by Russia and Georgia's major task is to nullify the effects of the 2008 aggression. This will take a long time and will require strategic patience. However it also requires everyone realising that Russia will not play ball with anyone just because you hope it will.