In my Moscow Times piece this week, I wrote about how it’s been 4 years since the Georgia-Russian war and we are no closer to a solution because there is a major communication disconnect. Call it the blame game. Many Russians still believe it was a US proxy war against Russia and the Kremlin states they were protecting South Ossetians. Yet, when you see how far Russia over reacted and how South Ossetians “cleansed” the territory of its Georgians, it is another picture. Russia says that US backed Georgian military is a threat to the region, but Russia hasn’t issued a non-use of force pledge and has 10,000 troops on what 95% of the world considers Georgian territory and ballistic missiles pointed at Tbilisi, from 50 miles away. Where is the threat? Whatever side you are on, you see an increased threat instead of a discussion on how to reduce the threat so that people can return home.
Unfortunately, my editor picked up a different message from the piece and titled it “4 years After The War, It’s Still Georgia’s Fault,” which wasn’t my point at all.
The unedited story is below:
On August 8th, 17,000 Georgian refugees will look north towards the mountains where they once lived and recall how they fled under a Russian barrage four years ago with North Caucasus marauders on their heels. Their villages, Tamarasheni, Kekhvi, Kurta, Eredvi and others, exist in memory only because after the marauders looted their homes, they razed them so nobody could ever live there again.
Relate this to the winners of this war, they shrug their shoulders and say action brings reaction. They point at the destruction of Tskhinvali, although when the smoke cleared it was hard to discern what damage was inflicted by the Georgian offensive and which by the Russian counter attack. It’s Georgia’s fault anyway, they say.
In the big picture, first blood is irrelevant. When the world looks at the war, they don’t see Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili making an irrational decision to strike, they see Russian overkill. Russians invaded deep into Georgian territory, bombed targets in Tbilisi and blasted civilians in Gori and Poti on the Black Sea. The Kremlin wasn’t defending South Ossetia. It was trying to destroy Georgia’s capability to wage war. On Capitol Hill, “the occupation of Georgian territory” is now a catchphrase.
Russian hardliners believe the conflict was a U.S. proxy war waged against Russia, reflecting cold war mentality. The truth is, Georgia is a “partner,” not a US vassal state. Washington makes suggestions; some are considered, others are not.
Since 2002, when the US began training Georgian soldiers to contain its terrorist threat and prevent Russian incursion into its territory, the message was clear. “Do not try to take on Russia.” George Bush reiterated it twice on his 2005 visit by telling Saakashvili that “the U.S. cavalry won’t be coming over the horizon” should Georgia go to war with Abkhazia or South Ossetia. Bush was good on his word.
Nevertheless, the Kremlin still sees American military support as a threat, even though the US has been transparent with its aid and does not provide Georgia with heavy weaponry. Meanwhile, Russia, the only party to not issue a non-use of force commitment, maintains that its 10,000 troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and tactical ballistic missiles aimed at Tbilisi guarantee peace in the region.
It’s been four years and we are still debating who the biggest threat is instead of asking how to reduce it so people can return home.