Political factors of the Russian-Georgian war
13/09/2010 12:31
Jemal Gakhokidze

From the outset, we should note that the phrase "Russian-Georgian war" as a name of the events of August 2008 is controversial. At this stage International organizations, governmental leaders, Georgian and foreign experts call this event in different ways. For example, "the August events" , "the war between Georgia and South Ossetia," the August military conflict", "Russian-Georgian war", etc.

A large number of names is due to the fact that today it is impossible to unambiguously answer such questions as: what was the nature of this war? Which countries were directly involved in it? Was it a civil war, or a war for restoration of territorial integrity, or war for seizure of foreign territories? And so on.

But I do not think that the question of name is unimportant to answer this question. In the first place, because the name reflects essential characteristics of a war, its objectives, names the parties involved (states), etc. Therefore it would be wrong to first though of a name and only after that investigate the above-mentioned issues of the war.

Our approach is justified by the fact that the history of humanity "remembers" a lot of wars, and each of them has an appropriate name. These names vary but they were not given accidentally or spontaneously. As it is clear, even in ancient times, chroniclers relied on certain methodology and a general paradigm. For example, names of some wars were developed based on countries participating in it (war) (the war between Rome and Carthage, III-II BC; the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-1878; Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905 .; Iran-Iraq war and so on). Some of the wars received the name of the place of engagement (Didgori battle in 1121; Basiani battle in 1205; the Crimean War 1853-1856; The Vietnam War etc.). There are even names that indicate the nature of war, for example, civil, patriotic, "Cold War", etc.

Time will pass, and the 2008 war will "receive" an appropriate name. But at this stage, the task of researchers is deep and multifaceted analysis of the war that not only will lead us to the choice of the name, but will help us to make an objective and realistic conclusion. That is the purpose of my humble work.

In this regard, I think, it is important to analyze political factors of the war in 2008, objectives of the parties involved, causes and results of military conflicts in general.

Preparation for a military conflict between Georgia and breakaway region of South Ossetia had been taking place for the past 17 years. If one does not take into account local military conflicts that took place between the parties, we can say that the August conflict in 2008 that developed into large-scale war was due to the following factors:

Opposing geopolitical orientation and so-called "war of laws". This was one of the most important factors, which generally stimulated the conflict between South Ossetia and Georgia (the same can be said with regard to Abkhazia).

The end of the bipolar world and fundamental change in the global structure put many states, nations or ethnic groups before extremely difficult task - to get maximum, or at least more or less guaranteed, safety in this new geopolitical era. A similar problem arose before the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. It proved to be particularly relevant to ethnic minorities. The situation of the period and, most importantly, Belovezh Accords gave the status of an independent state only to the former Soviet republics. As to ethnic minorities, the question of them was not on the agenda at all, it could not even be discussed. All, and especially Russia, were well aware of impossibility of making another decision. Sovereignization of ethnic minorities, of course, would have caused chaos in the entire post-Soviet space. Russia was very good at the art of controlling the chaos, regardless of time and space.

It is clear that formally ethnic minorities have no choice. But if we try to generalize conflicts that exist in post-Soviet space, it will turn out that the source of all conflicts is alogical system of state-territorial structure of the USSR. This was not once mentioned, but I repeat that artificial creation of the South Ossetian Autonomous District by the Bolsheviks in 1922 was a time bomb and it, unfortunately, exploded (the same can be said with regard to Abkhazia). Ethnic and historical factors of the conflicts in the territory of our country are quite clear, but the fact remains that the separatist process became more obvious and precise after Georgia's independence.

And we failed to convince the breakaway regions that within Georgia they would be ensured maximum and guaranteed security. Work in this direction should have been started in eighties of the XX century, when the national liberation movement in Georgia reached de facto legalization. But it is a fact that during this period the emphasis has shifted to the question of the independence of Georgia (which itself was correct), and mood, interests and needs of the population of Abkhazia and South Ossetia remained outside attention (it caused a backlash). To say plainly, we failed to evaluate the situation and did not take into account that Georgia's aspiration to independence would have automatically raised a similar desire in autonomies within Georgia. All the more, the so-called "war of laws" had been already started between the central authorities of Georgia and leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In addition, Moscow has already engaged ideological machine, which cleverly manipulated with such delicate feelings and issues as ethnic identity, oppression of ethnic minorities, etc. All this contributed to the development and activization of the political rhetoric of independence in the autonomies. Political leaders of Georgia of the time believed that the main and primary task was to gain independence, and only after that take care of territorial-administrative structure of the country. Moreover, political decisions (such as: Georgia as an unitary state .., the decision to abolish the autonomy of South Ossetia and other hasty, thoughtless, irrational slogans) willingly or unwillingly contributed to separatization of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

I consider it necessary to discuss in more details the so-called "war of laws" waged between the central authorities of Georgia and Abkhazia and Ossetia.

On December 11th, 1990 the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia passed a law to abolish South Ossetian Autonomous District. The leadership of the Republic of the time believed that it undoubtedly made a significant step in restoration of historical justice. For objectivity's sake it should be noted that shortly before that - in November and December of that year - Ossetian separatists have usurped local authority, announced the creation of so-called "Soviet republic" and held parliamentary elections, which effectively meant secession of the autonomous district from under the jurisdiction of Georgia.

Despite this, on December 14th 1990 the Presidium of the National Congress of Georgia made a statement that the abolition of South Ossetian autonomy until the end of deoccupation of Georgia is fictitious and for Georgia itself it was a disadvantageous step from a political point of view. I believe that the decision of the central authorities of Georgia of December 11th, 1990 to abolish South Ossetian Autonomous Distict was a hasty step, ahead of its time. Although some scientists and politicians believe that the time will come when the history itself - the fairest judge - will answer the question of advantage or disadvantage of this step of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia. As for the "war of laws" between Georgia and Abkhazia a dramatic situation developed here.

On August 25th, 1990 the Supreme Council of Abkhazian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic adopted a declaration "on the sovereignty of Abkhazia". According to the document Abkhazia was actually declared a sovereign Soviet republic and its state and legislative relations with Georgia were to be based on treaty principles. The Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Georgian SSR rightly cancelled this declaration as a document that has no legal force, and the day after that, on August 26, 1990 declared it invalid. Though, in all fairness it should be noted that the decision of the Abkhazian Supreme Council decision was taken in flagrant violation of rules. Neither Georgian representatives, nor some of the members of the council of Russian and Greek nationality and a representative of the Gali district of Abkhazian nationality participated in the process. And, besides, there was no quorum to hold the session. Five days later the Georgian delegation held a separate meeting and recognized the decision adopted by the Abkhazian members as invalid.

On February 21st, 1992 adopted a declaration Military Council of the Republic of Georgia adopted a document which abolished the Constitution of the Georgian SSR of 1978 and restored the 1921 Constitution (which at that time was very irrational, unrealistic political decision). The 107th article of the latter Constitution considered the status of Abkhazia as an autonomous body represented by the Sukhumi region. The Supreme Council of Abkhazian Autonomous Republic took advantage of this fact and by the decision of July 23rd, 1992 abolished the effect of the Constitution of the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic of 1978 on the territory of the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic and restored the Constitution of the Abkhazian Soviet Socialist Republic of 1925. Thus, Abkhazia, in fact, was declared one of the member- republics of the USSR.

Several episodes of the so-called "War of laws" show how Ossetian and Abkhazian separatism gradually gathered momentum and Georgia increasingly estranged itself from the autonomies that existed in its indigenous land.

Based on elementary logic, it is clear that in such situation, Sukhumi and Tskhinvali faced a dilemma: Russia or Georgia? Who would provide them with greater security? The choice fell on Russia - a strong state and a favourable geopolitical country.

According to the same geopolitical logic, there was convergence of political interests, on one hand, of Sukhumi and Tskhinvali, on the other hand of Russia. However, the main interest of authorities of the separatist regions, of course, was to achieve military and political security with the help of Russia.

There are a lot of evidence of political and legal nature, indicative of special state interests of Russia in the Caucasus, in particular, in Georgia. But in this case it suffices to recall the political testament of Emperor Peter I (1712) and "modern testament" of Russian president Dmitry Medvedev made almost 300 years later.

Peter I: "It is possible to move up closer to Constantinople and India. To this end, to bring permanent wars against Turks and Persians; to do as much as possible for Christian Caucasian brothers. Then provide them with protection, to bring Russian troops there and temporarily leave them there until opportunity arises to leave them there permanently. "

Dmitry Medvedev: "We will not retreat from the Caucasus. ... There are things you cannot give up, there are things that need to be fought for and win. This is something that is dear to you, dear to me, dear to us all. Something without which we cannot imagine our country".

Thus, for centuries the main and constant interest of Russia in the Caucasus was preservation and enhancement of its geopolitical, geo-economic and military influence. We believe that it is simply unacceptable for Caucasian states not to take this into account. Unfortunately, such aspirations of large states with respect to neighbouring small states are age-old problem.

It would be wrong to think that indigenous population of any separatist region understood the geopolitical system, comprehended it and acts according to it. Of course, the choice of the population of these regions was due to purely pragmatic factors. Orientation to a large state – Russia - was advantageous for South Ossetia and Abkhazia. For the population of these regions Russian market was the only way to overcome severe social crisis. From this perspective, the introduction of economic blockade against Sukhumi and Tskhinvali by Georgian authorities, of course, was a political mistake and greatly accelerated alienation of the population of the breakaway regions of Georgia. Though the blockade, as such, really was not there. It were certain restrictions and requirements in order to allow the Georgian side to exercise control over goods coming into the region. In addition, it was not Georgia that enacted an embargo. It was introduced by the resolution at the CIS summit of January 19th, 1996.

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