Lessons of Russian aggression in Georgia in 2008. 15 years ago, Russia dared to remove the mask and officially become a participant in the conflict

Unveiling Russia’s role in the 2008 Caucasus War

What was the uniqueness of the 2008 Caucasus War? Above all, it was the fact that Russia, for the first time, took part in it as a real side of the conflict. Until 8.08.08, the Kremlin had more or less successfully tried to conceal its role in various “hotspots” within the former Soviet Union’s territories. War in Moldova? Well, those are the Transnistrians resisting the “criminal” regime in Chisinau. War in Abkhazia? Naturally, the Abkhaz assert their right to independence — all in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution on the right of nations to self-determination. Armenian-Azerbaijani war? Oh, we have no involvement there — just the old territorial disputes between Baku and Yerevan. And so on.

For thoughtful people, it was clear that all these military actions were “heated up,” inspired, and directed from the Kremlin. Russian ears were sticking out everywhere. But officially, Moscow pretended to be uninvolved. It used its “proxies” everywhere while sticking to its denials and asserting that it was “not us.”

And 15 years ago, Russia finally decided to drop the mask and declare: yes, we went to war with Georgia to “force it into peace.” Although even here, “proxies” were involved, namely the same Ossetians whom Russians compelled to shell Georgian villages in order to provoke Tbilisi into a counterattack. Ultimately, even the then-President of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, was a “proxy.” Because an open secret was that the actual orders for invasion were given by Vladimir Putin himself, despite officially holding the position of Prime Minister at that time.

Therefore, it was precisely then that Russia decided it could step out of the shadows and loudly proclaim its imperial plans for the restoration of the USSR. In Putin’s version, it was about correcting the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” Although in reality, his plans were much more ambitious: to dismantle the global order built over decades after World War II, the entire international security architecture. Instead, he aimed to construct a new system that, as he thought, would better serve Russian interests, and most importantly, his personal interests. It’s all like in the song:

“We’ll destroy the whole world of violence

Down to the foundation, and then

We’ll build our new world…”

Interestingly, this call for the complete destruction of the world is present only in the Russian translation of “The Internationale.” Neither the Ukrainian version nor the original French version contains such words. But this is a lyrical digression; let’s return to the far from romantic Russian-Georgian war, in order to gradually transition to parallels with the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war.

Now we tend to complain in every way possible about the world’s indifference to Ukrainian tragedy, about inadequate assistance, and some even justify Russia. But let’s recall the societal, political, and media attitudes in August 2008. After all, the war wasn’t happening somewhere in the Falklands, Cambodia, or Nigeria; it was taking place in Georgia, which is geographically quite close to Ukraine. Even more so, it’s mentally close. Just a few years before the Caucasus War, similar events occurred in two countries — the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine — which terrified the Kremlin. They still speak with horror about the possibility of “color revolutions” in Russia itself. At that time, corrupt governments were peacefully overthrown, and systems of honest elections with broad societal control were restored. In Ukraine, Mikheil Saakashvili was welcomed like a rock star from the highest league, and in Georgia, during the visit of Ukrainian then-President, a crowd of thousands chanted “Yushchenko!” In any case, two countries were the closest friends at that time, living on the same wavelength. Or so it seemed.

Media narratives and societal attitudes

However, what media trends did we observe around the Caucasus War, for example? They were far from straightforward. Many times, we had to read texts written by seemingly reputable and not at all pro-Russian publicists, where the blame for the war resolution was placed on the Georgian leadership, primarily Saakashvili.

Let’s recall how 15 years ago, the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) voted on a dozen resolutions regarding the Georgian-Russian war but couldn’t pass a single one. The quarreling coalitions — Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc and Our Ukraine — seemed more focused on tripping each other up politically rather than condemning Russian aggression. Thus, resolutions condemning the military intervention of the Russian Federation in Georgia’s territory, statements about Russia’s military aggression against Georgia, and condemnations of Russia’s aggressive act against the sovereign state of Georgia garnered only a few dozen votes. In this way, among other things, the victory of Viktor Yanukovych was being brewed, but that’s a completely different story.

And what societal attitudes did the sociology of that time record? According to a public opinion survey conducted by the Razumkov Center at the end of August 2008, the largest group among Ukrainians (30%) considered Georgia to be the aggressor in that war. Only 25% blamed Russia. Additionally, 20% claimed that both sides were equally responsible for the conflict.

Why should Ukrainians, remember these figures? Perhaps to understand why, five years after those events, Germans, French, Italians, and others will turn a blind eye to the Russian invasion of Crimea and Donbas, why they will “fall for” Kremlin propaganda about “protecting the population from fascists,” and why they might view anti-Russian sanctions imposed by their governments with skepticism.

In September 2008, the author of the article had the opportunity to have a chat with the then-Deputy Prime Minister of Georgia, Giorgi Baramidze. The author couldn’t help but ask him a question that was bothering the most in the context of that war: “Didn’t Saakashvili realize that provocations along the Georgia-South Ossetia demarcation line were intentionally being carried out to lure him, to push him into armed retaliation, so that later they could ‘legitimately’ invade?”

The answer was: “Of course, both Saakashvili and the entire Georgian leadership understood such a threat. But did we have a choice? We endured as much as we could, and even more. We appealed to international institutions, their representatives came on-site and simply shrugged. So, in the end, we had to resort to tough measures.”

In the light of current events, only a very naive person could think that the Russian invasion of Georgia could have been avoided, for instance, by showing more restraint in Tbilisi. Because, for example, the annexation of Crimea wasn’t prevented by the fact that all the military units stationed there decided to play pacifist. Just like the Minsk agreements, troop withdrawals, and bans on shooting back didn’t save Ukraine from a full-scale invasion.

And 15 years ago, Russia brazenly invaded Georgia and came close to reaching Tbilisi. And then the Kremlin managed to negotiate international indulgence and de facto rights to additionally occupied territories. The West agreed to a rather toothless plan by Medvedev-Sarkozy, which Russia still hasn’t fulfilled, particularly in the aspect of returning its troops to the strip that existed before the hostilities. The international investigative group, which was examining the conflict and trying to determine “who fired first,” cautiously stated the blame on both sides.

Ukraine, on the other hand, will hope that the world has learned lessons from the Caucasus War, the occupation of Crimea, and Donbas. That now neither Washington nor Brussels will fall for Russia’s bluff. They will clearly realize that diplomacy, patience, and half-measures won’t be able to contain the Kremlin’s aggressive plans.

Originally posted by Lyubko Petrenko on Zaxid.net. Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

See also: Georgia is open to enemies. Why are flights and the visit of Russian Foreign Minister’s family not the last steps toward Russia?

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