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Georgian and Russian analysts debate August 2008 conflict

By Mzia Kupunia
Tuesday, September 28
August 2008 conflict was “provoked” by NATO, Russian analyst Anatoly Tsyganok said on Monday during a Tbilisi-Moscow video conference. The Georgian and Russian analysts discussed Tsyganok’s newly published book “Russia in the South Caucasus - Georgian-Ossetian war of August 8-13 2008” at the video conference in the Tbilisi and Moscow offices of RIA Novosti news agency.

The Russian-Georgian relations before the August war were “very bad”, the Russian analyst stated, adding that the Georgian government “was to blame” for the deterioration of relations between the two countries before the August conflict. Tsyganok said the Georgian side was preparing for war, citing the alleged withdrawal of the Georgian population from Georgian villages close to the Tskhinvali region prior to the start of the military actions.

“At the same time, in June 2008 ahead of the conflict NATO-Georgia joint military trainings were held in Georgia. Russia also started Caucasus military trainings in June 2008. By demonstrating its military force in the Caucasus during the trainings, the Russian administration was trying to make Saakashvili change his mind about starting military actions,” the Russian analyst said.

Tsyganok outlined the strengths and weaknesses of the Russian and the Georgian armies. According to Tsyganok, the Georgian army was “well prepared” for night military activities in 2008. “Generally, the Georgian army was better prepared for military actions than the Russian one,” he said, adding that the problems of the Georgian army included the inexistence of united leadership and not being prepared for defensive military actions.

Tsyganok named a lack of precise bombers as one of the shortcomings of the Russian army. “The bombers were targeting military aerodromes of Georgia, but there were cases when they would hit residential houses instead,” he noted. Russia lost the information war, the analyst noted, adding that in his book he gives specific recommendations to the Russian government on how to tackle that problem. “Some steps should be necessarily taken in this respect,” he stated.

Unlike the Russian analyst who said that the Georgian army was well prepared for war, the Director of the Caucasus Strategic Studies, Mamuka Areshidze stated that the Georgian army was not ready for the conflict in August 2008. “There were some organizational problems. And they were not equipped well enough for night clashes,” Areshidze noted.

He suggested that the pre-August war situation in the conflict zone and the adjacent territories should be taken into account when talking about the August 2008 conflict. The Georgian villages were constantly shelled from the territories controlled by the de facto authorities, Areshidze noted. “When saying that the Russian peacekeepers shot from the Georgian side you should not forget that two Georgian peacekeepers died during those shootings before August 7,” the Georgian analyst told his Russian colleague “However, I agree that all sides were preparing for the conflict,” he added.

The situation in the Caucasus region changed significantly after the August war, the head of International Center for Conflict and Negotiation, Giorgi Khutsishvili said. He suggested that the conflict was caused by several factors, including Russia’s concern over Georgia and Ukraine’s NATO prospects. “Since the beginning of 2008 Russian officials had been sending signals to Georgia that this would end badly and indeed, so it happened,” the analyst stated “the fact that during the August conflict Russian troops went beyond the conflict zone and entered the regions of Georgia which had nothing to do with the conflict, catastrophically deteriorated the relations between Tbilisi and Moscow,” he noted.

The title of Tsyganuk’s book “Russia in the South Caucasus. Georgian-Ossetian war of August 8-13 2008”, caused discontent among Georgian analysts. Answering The Messenger’s question whether the title represents the real sides involved in the August conflict, analyst Mamuka Areshidze said that “it was a Russian-Georgian conflict.” “If it was a Georgian-Ossetian war, the situation would have been totally different from what we have today,” he noted “On August 7, 2008 the Ossetian population in the Tskhinvali region villages were told to flee in order to entice Georgian troops. Later on August 8 they were expecting the Russian troops to enter from Java. So it was not a clash between the Georgian and Ossetian forces, but a war between the Georgian and the Russian troops.

The author of the book refrained from getting involved in the discussion about the title of the book, saying that the title of the next edition of his book about the August war will be called “War in the Caucasus”.