Russia-Georgia: Behind the war on South Ossetia

By Tony Iltis

August 16, 2008 -- On August 7, after a week of border clashes, Georgia's pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili launched a military attack against South Ossetia.

South Ossetia, while internationally recognised as part of Georgia, has been predominantly under the control of a pro-independence administration since Georgia separated from the former Soviet Union in 1991. Since a 1992 ceasefire, the South Ossetian statelet has been protected by Russian peacekeepers.

Within 24 hours, Georgian troops had taken the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, after destroying much of it with artillary. More than 30,000 refugees (out of a population of 70,000) fled across the border to the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, which is part of the Russian Federation.

Using this, and the killing of 20 Russian peacekeepers, as pretexts, Russia intervened in full force: bombing targets throughout Georgia, driving the Georgians out of South Ossetia (including territory not previously held by the South Ossetian administration) and crossing into Georgia-proper to take the town of Gori.

At least one Georgian naval vessel was sunk by the Russian Black Sea fleet. In the face of the Russian offensive the Georgian army melted.

On August 12, the pro-independence administration of Abkhazia (another unrecognised statelet that separated from Georgia after the dissolution of the Soviet Union) took advantage of the situation to dislodge Georgian forces occupying 17% of its territory.

The fighting has killed thousands of civilians, the majority South Ossetian. According to Russia, 2000 Ossetian civillians were killed by the Georgian shelling of Tskhinvali.

Russian airstrikes against populated areas, including in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and the assault on Gori, has also resulted in high civilian casualties. Reports have emerged alleging atrocities by all sides.

US role

Saakashvili came to power in the so-called “rose revolution” in 2003, a combination of a mass movement against the corrupt former government and covert US-instigated regime change.

Under his rule, Georgia has become a close ally of the West, with the US and Israel providing arms and military advisors.

The US has hailed Saakashvili as a “model democrat” (rigged elections notwithstanding) and has promised to defend Georgian sovereignty — supporting Georgia’s claims over Abkhazia and South Ossetia and pushing for Georgia to be accepted as a member of NATO (something Russia is resolutely opposed to).

Saakashvili demonstrated his commitment to this alliance by dispatching 2500 Georgian troops to Iraq, the largest contingent after the US and Britain.

The expectation that the US and other Wester powers would provide support, including military, to its attempts to reclaim South Ossetia is the only explanation for Georgia’s move to provoke a war with Russia. Georgia has a population of just 4 million compared to Russia’s more than 140 million. The Russian army dwarfs Georgia’s and Russia has the world’s second-largest nuclear arsenal.

Russia’s powerful military retaliation was predictable. Russia already feels its interests are threatened by the expansion of NATO right up to its borders and was unlikely to take an attempt to further erode its sphere of influence without responding.

Western hypocrisy

The hypocrisy of Western leaders and media in condemning Russia’s actions is striking. It is justified largely by claims that Georgia is a “new democracy” — a code word for “pro-West”. The brutality of the US-led occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan leaves the US and other Western powers with no moral high ground from which to deliver lectures to Russia.

However, the failure of US military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan makes going to war with Russia in support of Georgia’s claims over South Ossetia and Abkhazia far from an ideal option for Washington, and the Georgian government has largely been left dangling by its erstwhile allies.

The only military support so far given by the US has been to transport the Georgian forces back from Iraq.

On August 15, US secretary for defence Robert Gates stated that US involvement would be restricted to humanitarian aid, declaring, “I don’t see any prospect for the use of military force by the United States in this situation. Is that clear enough?”

While US leaders (and presidential hopefuls) have been full of praise for Georgia and condemnation of Russia, the only demands they have put on Russia have been to refrain from overthrowing Saakashvili’s government and to withdraw troops from Georgia-proper, although not from South Ossetia or Abkhazia.

Furthermore, the US has deferred to a peace initiative by current European Union head, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, despite France having a less confrontational stance toward Russia. In April, at the meeting of NATO heads of state in Bucharest, France and Germany blocked US attempts to gain Georgia NATO membership.

Russia's goals

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has reponded that the overthrow of Saakashvili is not a Russian objective and that Russian forces would be withdrawn from Georgia-proper. However, on August 15 a third of Georgian territory was still under Russian control, including the main port, Poti, where the Russian troops are reported to be systamatically sinking Georgian naval boats. Russia seems intent on destroying Georgia’s military capability before it withdraws.

While thousands of Georgians have rallied in Tbilisi in support of Saakashvili, Western media have also reported growing anger against the president by Georgians blaming him for bringing the destructive wrath of Russia upon the country.

“Why did [Saakashvili] take on Russia with 10,000 soldiers? Maybe he was thinking somebody would help us. But nobody did … We hope Saakashvili disappears from Georgia … because he’s a bastard”, the August 13 Guardian quoted a 24-year-old student as saying.

Such sentiments have been particularly strong among refugees fleeing the advancing Russian forces.

US global power weakened

While Russia has been politically and militarily strengthened by Saakashvili’s adventure, the US has had the limits of its global power demonstrated.

US President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have appealed for Russia to respect international legality, prompting Russian leaders to justify their war with reference to the Bush administration’s justifications for its own military adventures.

“Of course, Saddam Hussein ought to have been hanged for destroying several Shiite villages … And the incumbent Georgian leaders who razed 10 Ossetian villages at once … these leaders must be taken under protection”, Putin responded sarcastically.

Bush’s August 15 comments that “Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century”, is unlikely to provoke anything but laughter.

The Bush administration must bear much of the responsibility for this war, especially for its diplomatic support for, and military aid to, the ultranationalist Saakashvili, both directly and through its Israeli proxy.


However, it seems unlikely that the US directly authorised Saakashvili’s attack on South Ossetia. The main economic significance of Georgia to the West is the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline that takes natural gas from the Caspian Sea to Turkey’s mediterranean coast.

This pipeline does not run through Abkhazia or South Ossetia and no Western interests are threatened by Russian control of these territories.

The current fighting, however, does have the potential of threatening the pipeline. Furthermore, Saakashvili’s recklessness has vindicated Franco-German opposition to Georgia’s NATO membership.

On August 15, Saakashvili agreed to a US-supported EU-initiated ceasefire that would leave Russia in effective control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia while Russian troops withdraw from Georgia-proper.

While he insisted that this arrangement was not the basis of a permanant peace settlement, Saakashvili is not in a position to affect the final outcome.

Russia has drawn parallels with the Western-supported independence of Kosova from Serbia (which has left Kosova under Western “supervision”) and hinted that it may end its opposition to Kosovan independence if the West recognises a similar Russian-supervised independence arrangement for Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Unification between South Ossetia and North Ossetia-Alania is supported by most Ossetians.

However the current conflictis eventually resolved, it is clear that the division of the world according to the needs great powers on behalf of competing economic interests is the source of permanent instability that constantly threatens to, and regularly does, explode into warfare. As long as this system remains, the threat of wars like the one that has broken out between Russia and Georgia hangs over humanity.

[From Green Left Weekly issue #763, August 20, 2008.]

Morning Star

August 16, 2008

PEACE campaigners accused the US of “aggressive provocation” and raising war tensions in Europe on Friday after a deal was reached to place US soldiers and missiles in Poland.

The Pentagon claims that the weapons are to protect Poland from attacks by “rogue states.”

But campaigners fear that the “missile defence shield” will allow the US to attack other countries without fear of retaliation and will draw European countries into more wars.

The deal was struck at a time of increased tension sparked by Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia and Russia’s response.

Russian General Anatoly Nogovitsyn said that placing US missiles in Poland would exacerbate already tense relations between Moscow and Washington and warned that Poland now risked being attacked.

Stop the War Coalition convener Lindsey German said: “The events in Georgia have shown how dangerous the world is becoming and the idea that the US can even think of siting missiles and soldiers in Poland without antagonising Russia is at best wishful thinking and at worst deliberately provocative.”

CND chairwoman Kate Hudson added: “There could not be a worse time to escalate tensions further. Russia has been extremely concerned over the development of missile defence in central Europe, fearing that it is the target. The rejection by the US of Russian offers to co-operate with it only serves to compound this fear.”

There has been strong opposition to a US military presence in both Poland and the Czech Republic, where radar installations for the missile defence shield are being built.

Anti-war campaigners in Warsaw and Prague believe that this will put their countries on the front line in future US wars.

Ms German highlighted the angry protests across the continent against the prospect of foreign forces taking up positions in eastern Europe, saying: “If we want peace, we must stop this Western interference.

“We must also be aware of the connections between the US raising tensions, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and its ‘war on terror.’ All these are part of a strategic attempt by the US to impose its power and control over increasing parts of the world,” she said.

The US deal will see batteries of Patriot missiles stationed in Poland and manned by US soldiers as part of the Pentagon’s missile shield, which is claimed to be purely defensive.

However, military analysts have pointed out that the defence shield could be used offensively and is clearly capable of shooting down Russian SS-21 missiles.

“The rapid expansion of NATO, including within the former Soviet Union, together with this missile defence expansion, has set alarm bells ringing in Moscow,” Ms Hudson pointed out.

“But, in the space of a few days, the world has not only been fully plunged into a new cold war but Europe has been involved - by the US - in an increasingly dangerous situation that is not of its own choosing.”

Submitted by Georgian Peace… (not verified) on Wed, 08/20/2008 - 10:58


Declaration of the Georgian Peace Committee

Once more Georgia was launched into a situation of chaos and bloodshed. A new fratricidal war exploded with renewed strength on Georgian soil.

To our great disappointment, the alerts of the Georgian Peace Committee and of progressive personalities of Georgia on the pernicious character of the militarization of the country and on the danger of a pro-fascist and nationalist policy had no effect.

The authorities of Georgia once again organized a bloody war, feeling the support of some western countries and of regional and international organizations. It will take decades to cleanse the shame poured by the current holders of the power over the Georgian people.

The Georgian army--armed and trained by U.S. instructors and using also U.S. armaments--subjected the city of Tskhinvali to a barbaric destruction. The bombings killed Ossetian civilians, our brothers and sisters, children, women and elderly people. Over 2,000 inhabitants of Tskhinvali and of its surroundings died.

Hundreds of civilians of Georgian nationality also died, both in the conflict zone as well as on the entire territory of Georgia.

The Georgian Peace Committee expresses its deep condolences to the relatives and friends of those who have perished.

The entire responsibility for this fratricidal war, for thousands of children, women and elderly dead people, for the inhabitants of South Ossetia and of Georgia falls exclusively on the current President, on the Parliament and on the Government of Georgia. The irresponsibility and the adventurism of the Saakachvili regime have no limits. The President of Georgia and his team, undoubtedly, are criminals and must be held responsible.

The Georgian Peace Committee, together with all the progressive parties and social movements of Georgia, will struggle to assure that the organizers of this monstrous genocide have a severe and legitimate punishment.

The Georgian Peace Committee declares and asks broad public opinion not to identify the current Georgian leadership with the people of Georgia, with the Georgian nation, and appeals to all to support the Georgian people in the struggle against the criminal regime of Saakashvili.

We appeal to all the political forces of Georgia, the social movements and the people of Georgia to unite in order to free the country from the Russian-phobic and pro-fascist anti popular regime of Saakashvili!

The Georgian Peace Committee
Tbilisi, Aug. 11, 2008

Submitted by Langalibalele (not verified) on Fri, 08/22/2008 - 07:22


Were the Russian Federation an Imperialist (read: aggressor) it would have not only destabilized Saakashvili's govt but done it long ago. It would have preserved the Warsaw Pact, the Russian Federation's status quo and not lost any ground to NATO.

It doesn't add up to take a pro Imperialist stance. As these military forces clashed, the US pressed Poland into signing up to place the US missile shield on its territory, which one commentator said was 'part of Poland's history of looking for friends abroad while making enemies nearby.' The Russians said that 'Poland will bear 100%' of any military action needed to neutralize the shield. The Poles had no comment.

I like and admire the Russians, and found it perplexing how they dissolved the Soviet Union, because there is no room in the world for Imperialism. Of course, I mean that rhetorically. But the Russians have a difficult time buying into capitalism, and cannot do it without joining Imperialism, which cannot be done. Europe will see more wars in the future, and the spillover will ultimately threaten Germany, France, Greece and Italy. We will see how well NATO remains seated then.

Russia is Very Sick Today With Xenophobia and Nostalgia for the Soviet Empire!

Since beginning of August 2008, the Russian “Peacekeepers” together with Ossetian illegal militia have been ethnically cleansing Georgian villages and killing innocent civilians! Just think about this…

Many experts and diplomats wondered whether the Russian government is sick with xenophobia and with the nostalgia of "good, old Soviet Union" is trying to revive the forgotten empire. Or maybe they are just playing a very stupid game that will have extremely severe consequences to the future of Russia and its citizens.

It is not a new fact that the people from Caucasus republics are constantly being discriminated in Russia, are targets of Russian neo-Nazi groups and live second class citizens lives. The Russian government never tried to understand the mentality, culture and social norms of the people from the Caucasus region. Throughout history the Russian empire or the Soviets or Putin's regime have been applying one rule to the Caucasus region in order to maintain control over it: divide and conquer! Putin successfully fueled ethnic tensions between various Caucasus nationalities, so they all had to look up to the Russians for help and the roots of this policy date back to Tsar's Russian Empire, when the Russians were only able to take control over Caucasus with the help of Caucasus nations, primarily the Georgians. The Georgians thought they were doing a favor and Tsar would leave them alone to govern their own lives, but the Georgians were wrong.

After the collapse of Soviet Union the Russian government successfully fueled ethnic tensions between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, Georgians and Ossetians, Georgians and Abkhazians, Ingushis and Ossetians, etc… This was the only strategy and the only game the Russian rulers played by: fuel hatred, divide the territories, resettle and arm the people so there will be no peace until the Russian soldier places his foot in the region. And of course, the Russian army is known for their outstanding performance in "peacekeeping" missions that have carried out, being involved in genocide, ethnic cleansing (Georgians in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Chechen civilians), rape, murder, torture and the list goes on. At the end it seems that the Russian "peacekeeping mission" is not that peaceful at all.

It is evident that the Russian political system always been in shape of a Pyramid, where all the political and economic control spheres of country is divided between a leader (Czar, or Secretary General or Prime Minister) at the top, who has a direct control and right hand support of secret service at one angle and military at the other. This is the heart of the Russian political life and everything else develops around it. With a strong propaganda machine, complete control over Russian citizens is assured, as well as "democratic" elections where one candidate always receives the vast majority (if not all) of the votes and there never seems to be opposition to the candidate. And what about the President Medvedev? He is just another toy in Putin's closet…

Putin decided to send a strong signal to the world and wished to overthrow the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, but he failed. He strongly believes that the fate of the Georgian people depends on his wishes and is determine to shape the borders of another sovereign country. This move directly threatens the World Order established after World War II. The current World Order is not perfect, but so far, with its deficiencies it is working.

After the brief war with Georgia, the Russian government tried to justify its move by saying that the Georgians started the war. Here is the first lie! The Georgian government has been saying since beginning of August 2008 that the situation in South Ossetia is escalating and the Russian "peacekeepers" are staging provocations together with illegal armed forces of South Ossetian separatist regime. They started killing Georgian police officers and firing artillery shells at the Georgian villages located in South Ossetia, but the world was preoccupied with getting ready for the opening ceremony of Beijing 2008 Olympics.

When the Georgian government officials told the Europeans in Brussels that we were at the brink of war, the Europeans politely warned the Georgians not to use the word "war" in the city of Brussels, because they do not like the word "war." It seems that old Europe is getting older each day and with the age, because numerous warnings and cries by the Georgian officials fell on the deaf ears of old Europe. Never mind the fact that it took Hitler conquering Poland and Czechoslovakia, before the Western Europe realized this was a war.

And what about the Americans? The American society is in the midst of elections, the Democrats want to see Europe take more responsibility for security in Caucasus region, the Republicans are divided and worried about gay marriage and abortion rights… The friends of Georgia in new Europe are trying everything to force the old Europe take harsher approach towards Russia, but Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.
Giving up on a young democracy does not seem plausible for the Europeans, but the old Europe is scared of the new Russian bear. The new Russia is controlled by a xenophobic psychopath who has decided to break all the rules of the game, in order to change those rules. And the question comes: how can you stop a bully? Everyone can keep condemning the Russian government, but that paper will wind up in Putin's toilet again… The only way to stop a bully is bully up against the bully – simple rule of life.

With the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the Russian government has proven the world that they will violate international laws whenever they feel like it and they will use aggression in the name of peace as they did in Prague 1968. If the world would not stand up for Georgia, who will be the next prey of the hungry Russian bear? Maybe Ukraine? Or Moldova? Or who knows… The Russian government is as unpredictable as the weather in England…

The Georgian people are united and stand united, we have survived the onslaught by Mongols, Persians, Arabs, Turk-Seljuks throughout the history and we have still survived and we are not scared of the Russian bear either.

Just last question to Mr. Putin. Mr. Putin, if you are so concerned about the freedom of small minorities, why not recognize the independence of Chechnya? Then Daghestan? Then Ingushetia? And then all the other autonomous republics where the citizens do not even speak Russian? Think about that at first and then lets discuss the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, after 300,000 Georgian refugees return to their own homes.
And to my fellow Abkhazian and South Ossetian brothers and sisters. Yes, there will be dancing and celebration in Sokhumi and Tskinvali. Yes, you will be smiling and waving flags - Georgian flags of course….

Submitted by Steven (not verified) on Fri, 09/12/2008 - 22:52


I think Saakashvili brought this upon himself by flirting with NATO. After all, he is just a puppet brought to power by the west in the so-called "Rose revolution", much like the "Orange revolution" brought Yushchenko to power. This has nothing to do with democracy. It has got everything to do with money and global US-interests.

Do you really think policymakers in Washington care about Georgians?

Obviously, if you think Russia is going to just sit there while the US expands their military capacity at it's borders: think again. Europe's position should be firmer allright: since there is no longer a Warsaw-pact, NATO is no longer required.

And letting the US install a so-called rocket shield in Poland can hardly be seen as a step towards a peacefull future.