Russia, Georgia remain in distrustful deadlock on anniversary of 2008 war
The US Senate this week called on Russia to stop its 'occupation' of two breakaway enclaves that were once part of Georgia. But both sides appear to be hardening their positions.
Tbilisi, Georgia; and Moscow
The war that erupted between Russia and its little post-Soviet neighbor Georgia three years ago this weekend was unexpected, extremely violent, and brief, much like the sudden summer storms that descend upon the Caucasus Mountains at this time of year.Skip to next paragraph
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But instead of refreshing the landscape, the August War has led to an extended period of frozen relations, deepening bitterness, and hardening narratives in both countries. Georgia, which has shifted toward the West since the 2003 Rose Revolution, sees itself as a harbinger of democracy in the post-Soviet sphere. Russia, however, sees it as a renegade state on its flank led by an illegitimate president.
The tensions have largely played out in a fight over two ethnic enclaves, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which broke away from Georgia in the 1990s and have since been supported by Russia. But what was for years merely a regional spat became a conflict of global concern in the 2008 war, when Moscow unilaterally granted both statelets independence to crown its swift military victory over the US-trained Georgian army.
Now, Georgians maintain, Russia is striving to undermine their country's credibility as a model for democracy.
"The root of the Russian-Georgian antagonism is that Georgia has shown that creating a liberal democracy in this part of the world is possible, and that Georgia can be an example for other countries in the Russian sphere," says Tornike Gordadze, Georgia's deputy foreign minister. "The objective of the 2008 war wasn't to recognize the breakaway regions, but to change the regime in Georgia. Since that hasn't happened, they have failed. The Russian objective is now to discredit the government [by other means]."
How the war started
Though Tbilisi still officially maintains that Russia started the war in an effort to unseat its pro-Western president, Mikhael Saakashvili, there seems no doubt that the war began on the night of Aug. 7 with a massive Georgian bombardment and armored assault on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali. The attack resulted in the death of several Russian peacekeeping troops stationed there under international accords.
Russia reacted the next day with a major armored onslaught that quickly drove Georgian forces from S. Ossetia and occupied a wide swath of Georgian territory.
Western powers, stunned by Russia's rapid overrunning of a tiny neighbor, backed Georgia. They mediated a cease-fire and negotiated a pull-back of Russian forces from Georgian territory into the two breakaway regions. But that unity has broken down over the past three years as the US has embarked on a controversial "reset" of relations with Moscow, and European countries, beset by their own troubles, have divided over how to press for a regional peace settlement.
A US Senate resolution this week reaffirmed American support for Georgian sovereignty and called on Russia to end its "occupation" of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. That triggered a harsh response from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who said in an interview Friday that the US Senate was feeding what he called a growing "revanchist mood" in Georgia.