The war in South Ossetia broke out nine years ago, on the day of the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and even though that five-day war looks like a distant past through the prism of the last years’ cataclysms, it was a kind of a moment of truth in the post-Soviet history.
Without going into the details of Georgian-South Ossetian relations, we can say that the South Ossetian conflict, just like most of the post-Soviet conflicts, was not an accident but had a long background. Simply, at that moment, it was the best “battering ram” against Russia, whose president appeared with open criticism of the United States’ global hegemony in February 2007.
Today, former Speaker of the Georgian Parliament Nino Burjanadze is free enough to admit that the war was started by the then Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili – something she would hardly dare to do a couple of years ago.
The past nine years have seen lots of debates on whether the attack on Tskhinval was a planned action or Saakashvili’s personal initiative? There are a number of proofs that Saakashvili had such a scenario on his mind from the very first day as the Georgian president. Simply, he was unable to implement it on his own.
Committed to take his country into NATO and the European Union, Saakashvili enjoyed serious diplomatic support from the West and military contributions from the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Israel and even Ukraine.
Under the Train and Equip and Sustainment and Stability Operations programs in 2002-2007, American and British instructors trained and equipped over 4,000 Georgian servicemen, while the Georgian army was receiving up-to-the-minute rifles and armored vehicles from the United States.
The Americans also helped Saakashvili with propaganda: in Aug 2008, when Russia had not only to force the NATO-trained Georgians to peace and to save Russian citizens from a genocide but also to confront a large-scale information war – something it was not ready for.
And the victory was due not only to Russian warriors but also to brave journalists, who came face to face with a huge western propaganda machine.
It was then that American and European mass media first tried to put the label of an “aggressor” on Russia. It was long before Syria and Ukraine. And were it not for our military correspondents, the consequences of that war would have been much worse.
Incredible as it may seem, there was one more factor that helped us to stop the conflict in South Ossetia: the western powers were not unanimous on the matter. Quite unexpectedly for his western colleagues, the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared with a peacemaking attitude.
An ardent advocate of Euro-Atlantic integration as a presidential hopeful, he suddenly showed the independence his successor Francois Hollande would never even think of – and this might well have been the key reason why he lost his office to the latter.
Whatever, in the autumn 2009, the EU’s Special Commission led by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini published a report, where it disclosed an open secret - Georgia was the first who used force in that war. But despite this fact, the EU has not blamed Saakashvili in any way so far. Even more, the United States and NATO still term those events as “Russian aggression against Georgia.”
In any way, each side has drawn its conclusions from what happened in Aug 2008. The Russians have revised their basic diplomacy, defense and security policies and have begun to pay more attention to information security. Over the last years, the Russian army has turned into one of the strongest in the world.
The West also analyzed the situation and applied new methods in Ukraine in 2014.
In Ukraine, it set a new goal for its information war – to demonize Russia.
Now, they in the West are applying a system approach: propaganda based on a whole system of myths – from “Russian hackers” and “support of dictatorship in Syria” to “an interference in elections in the United States” and “a military threat to the Baltics.”
This approach ensures unanimity with the EU leaders and insures against “new Sarkozys.”
So, our response must also be a system. We must stop trying to justify ourselves on some specific episodes.
However, we will not be able to oppose external pressures unless we first neutralize our internal threats. The first step has been taken: on June 14, the Federation Council set up a committee on the protection of state sovereignty and the prevention of interference in domestic affairs. The chairman of the committee is senator Andrey Klimov. This structure is meant to lay the basis for Russia’s future achievements on the world arena.
Assistant Professor at the International Security Department of the Russian State University for the Humanities Yevsey Vasilyev specially for EADaily