News

Lessons Learned from the 2008 War in Georgia

Multimedia

Audio

One year after Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war over the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia, much of the debate has focused on who was to blame. But regional analysts are asking other questions, too. Specifically, they are talking about what lessons can be learned from the conflict and how those lessons relate to today’s challenges.

Both Russia and Georgia blame each other for starting the conflict last August. Eurasian expert Paul Goble says both sides are culpable. “The Georgian government acted foolishly, but the Russian government acted criminally.”

Goble says Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s decision to introduce Georgian troops into South Ossetia provided Russia with an opportunity to intervene. “When he did so, the Russian government of President Dmitri Medvedev used that as a casus belli to introduce Russian troops into Georgian territory in the name of supporting Russian peacekeepers,” said Goble. South Ossetia was recognized as part of Georgia under international law. Thus, Russia’s deployment of troops there, he said, constituted an act of war.

Despite the facts of the invasion, Goble says Russia’s propaganda machine has done an effective job of convincing many people in Europe and in the United States that President Saakashvili caused the war last August.

A Russian Perspective

As might be expected, Russian television has focused on Georgia as the aggressor in the conflict. But as Russian journalist Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Moscow Center notes, that is not what matters most. 

“I don’t think it makes sense today to look at who was first to attack,” said Lipman.  “We still have this fog of war veiling what happened a year ago – details provided by both sides – that make it impossible to figure out exactly what happened.”  In the eyes of Russians, however, Lipman said, the defense of Russian citizens in South Ossetia and the safety of peacekeepers there made the Russian incursion an entirely legitimate military and diplomatic move.

A Georgian Perspective

In Georgia, what counts now is concentrating on Georgia’s current military, economic, and political challenges. That’s the view of Levan Tsutskiridze, president of the Association for International Relations in Tbilisi. “Today’s security situation is very unstable. Georgia’s capital sits within artillery range of Russian forces,” Tsutskiridze observes.

Like the rest of the world, Georgia’s economy needs to be recharged. Politically, it now appears the internal political struggle between President Saakashvili and the leaders of Georgia’s opposition has leveled off, and the months of protest in the heart of Tbilisi are over. Tsutskiridze suggests that President Saakashvili is poised to remain in power until the end of his term.

Lessons for the West

What lessons can Washington glean from reviewing what happened in Georgia last year? “The United States has to realize that it has to deliver its messages far more clearly and in a single voice than it has up until now,” said Paul Goble. “I do not believe Saakashvili would have done what he did, had he not thought – on the basis of comments by the former U.S. President and the former Secretary of State – that Washington would have no choice but to support him.”

Goble says, by not being more emphatic, Washington may have inadvertently encouraged the Georgian President to believe that NATO membership was a realistic goal and that the promise of eventual membership implied western protection. It didn’t. Russia was not going to allow NATO bases in another former Soviet republic on its border.

“The United States and the West Europeans have got to realize that the government in Moscow has not accepted the dissolution of the former Soviet Union in 1991 as the final settlement of the Cold War,” Goble cautions. He calls Russia a “revisionist power” that would like to rewrite history.  In that sense, he says, Moscow constitutes a threat around the whole periphery of the Russian Federation.

In fact, shortly after the war with Georgia, President Medvedev laid claim to what he called a “privileged sphere of influence” in the region. He said that sphere included not only the states adjacent to Russia’s border but also Russian citizens and commercial interests – wherever they might be. As if to underscore that position, this week Prime Minister Putin visited the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, which Moscow also recognizes as an independent country, pledging to strengthen Russia’s military presence there.

------------------------------------

Goble, Tsutskiridze, and Lipman appeared on the Thursday, 13 August edition of VOA’s International Press Club radio program with host Judith Latham.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs