Deterrence in the Twenty-first Century

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Deterrence in the twenty-first century - Air University Press

CASE STUDY—THE AUGUST 2008 WAR BETWEEN RUSSIAN & GEORGIA

an ill-considered Georgian decision to shell Tskhinvali, including

civilian-populated parts of the city. Georgian troops entered

South Ossetia and killed some Russian peacekeepers. The

Georgian action provided Russia with its justification for a massive

military attack and the occupation of South Ossetia and

most of the northern part of Georgia itself, including the strategic

port of Poti. The evidence is clear that Georgia had not

planned to take back South Ossetia in an August coup. Why

were 2,000 of its best-trained troops still in Iraq? Why was its

government—from the prime minister down—on holiday leave

and unaware that anything was happening? And why, above

all, was there no attempt to close the Roki tunnel, the only land

entry point from Russia? Russian troops met little resistance

from a Georgian army quickly put in disarray. Russian troops

then advanced to within 10 kilometres of the capital, Tbilisi,

where they stopped. One can only speculate whether this was

the result of President Sarkozy’s negotiations in Moscow, a diplomatic

intervention from Washington, or a realisation that an

occupation by Russia of Georgia and putting in power a pro-

Russian president would have been a step too far.

It is too early for a full assessment of the Russia-Georgia war

because there is no prospect of a settlement between the parties,

and a tense situation continues on the new borders that

now comprise territory never previously occupied by the separatists

but currently manned by Russian border troops. For

some in the Kremlin, Georgia remains unfinished business.

Saakashvili continues to hold power in Tbilisi, Georgia’s aspirations

for NATO and EU membership are undiminished (even

if it is more unlikely to be achieved in the foreseeable future),

the southern route for oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian

Sea to Europe remains outside Russian control, and as for the

rest of the near abroad, far from being intimidated, they have

become increasingly wary of their large former master. What

has not been fully understood is that the war was neither about

territory nor the independence of Abkhazia or South Ossetia

but was fought, more than any other reason, to prevent Georgia

from going West and bringing NATO to Russia’s backyard.

Russia’s failure to gain control over Georgia has wider consequences

for Putin’s stated designs for the near abroad. An independent,

successful Georgian state, not friendly to Russia

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