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Georgia: Crisis of State (2008)                                   

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Articles And Documents

n August 7, 2008, President Saakashvili, responding to a number of provocations, ordered Georgian forces to attack Tshkinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, a breakaway ethnic region that since 1992 had been governed under a cease-fire agreement placing the capital and much of the province outside Georgian control. He pledged to put an end to the "criminal South Ossetian regime," which had been installed by the Russian Federation, and to fulfill his promise of fully restoring South Ossetia to Georgian sovereignty and governance.  South Ossetian and Russian provocations had been multiple over the previous months. But what lay behind the thinking of the Georgian president is unclear [see "I Am Afraid the Final Information Will Be Dreadful," an interview with Ivlian Haindrava]. The Russian Federation had pledged to respond to any use of force and its response was immediate and massive. Russia's armed forces, backed by large numbers of tanks and artillery, took military control not only of Tshkinvali but subsequently over all of South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and crossing into undisputed Georgian territory.  Russian aircraft bombed military targets on Georgian territory as well as Tbilisi's civilian airport and its tanks massed from Gori as if they would move on the capital. The invasion itself and its advance was clearly well planned. Russian defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer stated in the aftermath of events that it had been prepared since at least April, waiting only for a convenient pretext to act. Georgia's military was no match against such superior force [see, for example, Eurasian Daily Monitor on June 19 and August 7].

The brutality of Russia's military invasion was appalling. Russian forces engaged in a clear campaign of ethnic cleansing of Georgian areas. Human Rights Watch has released a number of satellite photos revealing the systematic nature of Russia's campaign. Images from before and after the Russian military action show razing of buildings and homes and forced evacuation and killing of whole communities (see link). HRW has also investigated the widescale abuse of prisoners in custody (see link). The humanitarian crisis is movingly described in a letter to IDEE on August 21 by Julia Kharashvili, director of the IDP Women Association "Consent," Tbilisi, Georgia. Additional reports have come out by the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner.

The intent and the result of the military action has been the de facto annexation of Georgian territory, including the other "breakaway" province, Abkhazia, under claims of supporting and recognizing "independence" and protecting a pro-Russian ethnic community from "genocide." The cynicism of the Russian claims is bald-faced. It militarily supported the breaking away of the regions and has sponsored separate governments for more than 15 years. After stubbornly opposing independence for Kosova, Russia is now claiming equivalant international rights as the United Nations itself in recognizing South Ossetian independence and threatening to assert its further military dominion --- already exercised economically through its control over energy supplies --- over the entire "near abroad" or post-Soviet territorial space.The exagerated and aggressive claims of Russian officials and their reneging on cease fire agreements brokered by EU President Nikolas Sarkozy and then U.S. Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice are reminiscent of the Soviet Union's behavior and false claims of providing "fraternal assistance" to Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Afghanistan.

The geostrategic implications are stark and are described in analyses by Charles Fairbanks in the Weekly  Standard ("Georgia: On the Brink of Losing Its Independence"),  Walter Laqueur ("Russia and the Middle East"). Ivlian Haindrava, a leader of the liberal Republican Party, discusses both the geostrategic consequences of the invasion as well as the implicationis for Georgia's own politics, as he analyzes the country's own responsibilities for what has happened and for the future of the country ("Eyes Wide Open" page 6 in the latest issue of Russian Analytical Digest, No. 45, September 4, 2008). More recent articles explore the situation in Georgia itself and the precarious practice of democratic governance.

IDEE will continue to bring information and analysis on the situation in Georgia and more broadly in the Caucasus through its country pages and Articles and Documents sections.

Recommended Articles and Documents

Centers for Pluralism Letter of Solidarity to Georgian Friends (August 19, 2008)

Images of War: A Polish Journalist's Photographs from Gori

Pavel Felgenhauer, Eurasian Daily Monitor, June 19 and August 7, 2008]
Walter Laqueur: "Russia and the Middle East," Middle East Strategy at Harvard, August 17, 2008.
Ivlian Haindrava: "I Am Afraid the Final Information Will Be Dreadful," an interview in Resonance, August 18, 2008
Peter Finn, "A Two-Sided Descent Into Full-Scale War" The Washington Post, August 5, 2008
Charles Fairbanks: "Georgia: On the Brink of Losing Its Independence", Weekly  Standard, August 22, 2008
Washington Post Editorial, "Russia's Delusion", August 28, 2008
Human Rights Watch: Georgia Page and especially "Georgia: Satellite Images Show Destruction, Ethnic Attacks" (August 29, 2008)
Ivlian Haindrava: "Eyes Wide Open," page 6 in the latest issue of Russian Analytical Digest, No. 45, September 4, 2008
E. Wayne Currey, "U.S., Georgia Face 'Grim Realities' Going Forward," Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, September 5, 2008
CoE Human Rights Commissioner: Human Rights and Humanitarian Principles Have Been Seriously Violated (Sept. 5, 2008)
Jackson Diehl, "The Trouble With Saakashvili" The Washington Post, September 8, 2008
HRW: EU Mission Must Protect Civilians (September 16, 2008)
Human Rights Watch: Investigate Russian Abuse of Detainees (September 21, 2008)
Newsweek: Georgia Is Hailed As a Democracy: But Is It One? (September 29, 2008)
NYT: News Media Feel Limits to Georgia's Democracy (October 7, 2008)
RFE/RL: The Human Cost of the War in Georgia (October 07, 2008)
RFE/RL: Eyewitnesses Recount First Days of Russia-Georgia Conflict (November 14, 2008)

For further background on the situation in Georgia see also Articles and Documents of the page: Georgia: Crisis of Democracy.


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