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Georgia VS Russia BBC Documentary Movie

Forreign Affairs - The Five-Day War

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‎Tata Shengelia

Russia - Georgia War 

A Premeditated Russian Aggression

After the War in Georgia, Vaclav Havel and other prominent personalities, wrote an op-ed in which they argued that “a great power always finds pretexts to invade a neighbor whose independence it does not accept. Let us remember: Hitler accused the Poles of being the first to have opened fire in 1939 and Stalin held the Finns responsible for the war he started against them in 1940. The fundamental question is to know which the occupied country is and which is the occupying country, who has invaded whom, rather than who has fired the first bullet.” We should keep these words in mind when analyzing the events which took place in Georgia in August 2008.

A FIVE-DAY WAR?

The Russian version of the war in Georgia is as follows: on the night of August 7, 2008, Georgian troops entered the breakaway province of South Ossetia and launched a surprise attack on its capital, Tskhinvali. During the attack the Georgian troops killed two thousand civilians: a clear case of genocide. Many of the victims were Russian citizens. In addition, Russian peacekeepers, stationed in South Ossetia, were killed. To stop this genocide Russian troops started a “humanitarian intervention.” They entered South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the other breakaway province, to drive the Georgian aggressors back. This version of the facts was not only broadcast nationwide by the Russian media and disseminated by Russian diplomats abroad, it was personally explained by Vladimir Putin to US President George W. Bush, who were both attending the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing on August 8.

This official Russian narrative, however, was a prime example of active disinformation, a deception method of which the Russian secret service is the unrivaled champion. When the war began the Kremlin immediately launched cyber attacks against Georgia and effectively blocked the websites of the Georgian government and the Georgian media. In so doing it was able to impose its own version of the events from the very start of the conflict. It even managed, with considerable success, to influence Western public opinion. Most correspondents of Western media in Moscow accepted uncritically the Russian narrative “that the war started with a Georgian attack, which was followed by a Russian response.” The only criticism to be heard was concerning the “disproportionate” character of the Russian response, a euphemism for the massive attacks outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia on the Georgian heartland and the destruction of the military and economic infrastructure of the country. The Russian disinformation campaign was very successful.

It is telling that even Pavel Baev, an analyst who could never be accused of being naïve vis-à-vis the Putin regime, wrote on August 11-one day before the ceasefire: “[the Russian] surprise was so complete that Putin, according to those who saw him in Beijing, was pale with barely controlled rage, which he tried to convey to U.S. President George Bush and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.” For this interpretation of the facts Baev referred to a Russian source. A similar version of the facts could be found in a report by a European think tank, published some weeks after the war. In this report it was stated that “Moscow has responded to Saakashvili’s military attack on South Ossetia by escalating a conflict over a secessionist region into a full-scale interstate war with Georgia.”

Does this interpretation of the Russian war against Georgia as a Russian response, provoked by a Georgian aggression that led to a genocide, stand up to the facts? No, it does not. This war, far from being-as most media at the time wanted to believe-a reckless act, initiated by an impulsive Georgian president, was a carefully planned operation. It had been prepared by the Russian leadership since 2000 through a process of gradual and purposive escalation. Step by step this process was implemented and brought to its final dénouement in August 2008. If we want to analyze this war and the factors that led to it we should, therefore, analyze its complete history and this history does not start on August 7, 2008, but in the year 2000. That we take this choice of start date is no coincidence, because it is the same year in which Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was elected president of the Russian Federation. From this point Russia’s Georgia policy changed radically, although not particularly in terms of its objectives. These remained generally the same as at the beginning of the 1990s. These objectives were to divide Georgia and undermine its viability as an independent and sovereign state. The active military support given by Russia to separatist movements during the civil wars in South Ossetia (1991–1992) and Abkhazia (1992–1993), as well as its support for the corrupt autocrat Aslan Abashidze in Adjara (Southwest Georgia) until his forced resignation in 2004 had no objective other than to weaken Georgia. Plans to incorporate Abkhazia into Russia already existed in the 1990s, as became clear from a remark made by Pavel Grachev, then Russian minister of defense, who told Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze: “We can’t leave Abkhazia, because then we’d lose the Black Sea.” Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote shortly after the civil wars: “In Georgia, military intervention gave Moscow the pretext for political mediation. In the course of it Georgia learned . . . that Russia as an umpire is not very different from Russia as an empire.”

With the arrival of the new strongman in the Kremlin it was the strategy, not the objectives, that changed. This strategy was no longer based on ad hoc initiatives and on blocking solutions aimed at reintegrating the breakaway provinces into Georgia. From this point on there was a well organized long-term planning. Every single step was deliberately calculated in advance, and a war with Georgia became an option. After the war with Chechnya, the war with Georgia became Putin’s second war of choice.

Contrary to the official Kremlin version that insists on calling the war in Georgia a “Five-Day War,” three different phases in this conflict can be discerned:

The period of a Russian-Georgian cold war (December 2000 to spring 2008)

A period of a lukewarm war (spring 2008 until August 7, 2008)

 The hot war (August 7–August 12, 2008).

THE RUSSIAN-GEORGIAN COLD WAR: THE PASSPORT OFFENSIVE

The Russian-Georgian Cold War started in December 2000, when the Russian government imposed visa requirements for Georgians who worked in Russia-an unfriendly measure that was directed against the thousands of Georgian citizens who worked in Russia and sent remittances to their relatives at home. Georgia was the first and only CIS country for which visas were introduced.

Moscow said the measure was necessary to prevent Chechen rebels from entering Chechnya via Georgian territory. This decision, taken in the first year of Putin’s presidency was the first sign of a more aggressive stance toward Georgia. In 2002 this anti-Georgian policy entered a new phase when the Russian authorities started distributing Russian passports on a wide scale to the inhabitants of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This “passport offensive” made it clear that Moscow’s intention was to “thaw” the frozen conflicts in Georgia and then resolve them in a way that suited Moscow’s interests. By creating a majority of “Russian citizens” in the two breakaway provinces Russia seemed to be preparing these provinces for some form of integration into Russia. Ronald Asmus wrote: Russian passports were welcome as a way to travel although in reality few residents ever left the country except to visit Russia. For Moscow it created a fake diaspora and another lever of control. Having handed out thousands of passports to individuals living on what it still recognized as Georgian territory, Moscow would subsequently claim the right to defend its newly minted “citizens.” . . . [That] doctrine was reminiscent of what Nazi Germany had done in the Sudetenland in the late 1930s, using the German diaspora to agitate in favor of unification with Germany and then justifying the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia with the need to protect ethnic Germans suffering persecution in Prague.

Some observers dubbed this policy “re-occupation through passportization.” The EU sponsored “Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia,” headed by the Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, was also very clear on the illegal nature of Russia’s passport policy, reporting that “the issuance of passports is an act based on governmental authority. To the Mission’s knowledge, the passports were in many cases distributed on the territory of the breakaway entities. To the extent that these acts have been performed in Georgia without Georgia’s explicit consent, Russia has violated the principle of territorial sovereignty.

But it was not only Russian passports that were distributed. The de facto deputy minister of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia, Maksim Gvindzhia, declared on September 6, 2006, that at that point roughly 80 percent of the population held a dual Abkhaz-Russian citizenship. This means that the Abkhaz government had already started to distribute its own-illegal-passports two years before its independence was recognized by Russia. Because holders of Abkhaz passports could obtain a dual Russian-Abkhaz citizenship (which gave Abkhaz citizens the right to receive Russian pensions and to travel to Russia without restrictions), it became clear that from 2006 Russia was conducting a double track strategy, leaving both options open: either the independence for Abkhazia, or its incorporation into the Russian Federation. The extent to which these options even remained open after the August 2008 war, emerged from declarations by the presidents of the two breakaway provinces on September 11, 2008. According to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, “South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity said his republic planned to merge with the neighboring Russian province of North Ossetia, and become part of Russia, a statement he later withdrew [apparently under pressure from the Kremlin, MHVH]. Meanwhile, Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh said Abkhazia would not pursue to obtain ‘associated territory’ status with Russia, but would seek to join the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States and the Russia-Belarus Union State.”

In December 2001 Eduard Kokoity replaced the more moderate South Ossetian independentist President Lyudvig Chibirov. Kokoity was Moscow’s man. A former Komsomol apparatchik and ex-Soviet professional wrestler, Kokoity was accused of links with organized crime. As a member of Aleksandr Dugin’s revisionist International Eurasianist Movement that propagated the reintegration of former parts of the Soviet Union into the Russian Federation,  he was never interested in any negotiated compromise with Tbilisi. For Moscow, Kokoity was the right man in the right place to block, definitively, the eventual reintegration of South Ossetia into Georgia, opting for a solution that would make the secession of the region permanent.

It is important to note that this aggressive strategy by Russia toward Georgia started in the years 2000–2002. It was, therefore, neither a reaction to the Rose Revolution nor to Georgia’s aspirations for NATO membership: during those years the Georgian president was Eduard Shevardnadze and not Mikheil Saakashvili, and the Rose Revolution had not yet taken place. Also a Georgian NATO membership was not on the political agenda. After the Rose Revolution in 2003, however, the relationship rapidly deteriorated. When, on September 27, 2006, Georgia arrested four Russians diplomats suspected of espionage for the GRU, the Russian military secret service, and extradited them some days later, the Kremlin launched a full-scale economic and diplomatic war. It was a case of pure and deliberate overkill. Russia suspended all air, rail, and road traffic between Russia and Georgia, including the postal services. It stopped issuing visas to Georgians and imposed import bans on Georgian wine and mineral water. Putin declared “that Georgia’s home and foreign politics was similar to that conducted by KGB during Stalin’s times,” which is a surprising remark for a former KGB agent who has never hidden his deep personal pride in being a Chekist. The economic blockade was accompanied by a vehement anti-Georgian campaign within the Russian Federation, targeting the approximately one million Georgians who lived and worked in the country. Georgian businesses in Moscow were raided; illegal immigrants were hunted and expelled. The Russian action clearly constituted a “racist campaign,” wrote Salomé Zourabichvili, who was Georgian foreign minister from 2004 to 2005. “[It was] apparently supported by the official authorities, [and took] the form of a “hunt for the Caucasian” in the streets of Russia’s main cities.” The Moscow police asked schools to provide lists of children with Georgian names in order to check out their parents. The government sponsored raids on Georgian migrant workers and market traders soon started to give off a whiff of ethnic cleansing, which led the independent radio station Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow) to start a campaign asking their listeners to wear a badge with the slogan Ya Gruzin (I am a Georgian).

References:

NEO-EURASIANIST ALEXANDER DUGIN ON THE RUSSIA-GEORGIA CONFLICT <http://old.cacianalyst.org/?q=node/4928/print> accessed on February 13, 2015 Акция Я – грузин <http://www.echo.msk.ru/doc/281.html>  accessed on February 13, 2015

 Professor Dr. Jorge Rodrigues Simao

 President of Academy of Public Policies

and

 Dra. Tata Shengelia

 

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