Academic journal article Military Review

Georgia: The War Russia Lost

Academic journal article Military Review

Georgia: The War Russia Lost

Article excerpt


The views expressed here do not represent those of the US. Army, Defense Department, or the U.S. Government.

THE RUSSO-GEORGIAN WAR that broke out in August 2008 already shows all the earmarks of being a watershed event in world affairs. It is already reshaping policies and governmental calculations throughout the world. The most striking aspect of this war is Russia's unrelenting, aggressive unilateralism. By early September 2008, less than a month since the war began, Russia had refused to abide by its own cease-fire, expanded its occupation zone, looted Georgian territories under its control, demanded an arms embargo and regime change in Georgia, unilaterally recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and issued repeated ultimatums to America to not rearm Georgia and to stop providing humanitarian assistance. Russia has also threatened Poland with nuclear strikes, told America it may suspend its cooperation with regard to Iranian nuclear nonproliferation and preventing Iran's purchase of air defense missiles, announced its intention to complete Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor, and threatened Turkey with retaliation for keeping the Bosphorus Straits open for humanitarian relief shipments.

In addition, on 31 August President Dmitn Medvedev announced that Russia would fight American unipolanty, adopt a Nazi-like doctrine that states Moscow has the right to protect ethnic Russians as well as those to whom it grants citizenship beyond its borders, and claim a Russian sphere of influence encompassing the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and other nations beyond the CIS with which it has "privileged relations." (1) Thus, Moscow seeks to challenge the entire structure of contemporary international relations. These stated political principles are hallmarks of a regime that is out of control, consumed by its own arrogance and swagger, and a clear and present danger to all of its neighbors and interlocutors.

Yet, while Russia won the war in tactical and operational terms, it is fast becoming clear to Moscow--as it should have been before the war--that Russia's strategic losses are mounting and will in time eclipse the gains Russia obtained through the use of force. In spite of operations with an estimated cost of $2.5 million a day, Russian leaders profess lack of concern about the economic impact of the Georgian campaign. (2) Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has dismissed concerns about possible sanctions against Russia. (3) Prime Minister Vladmir Putin, unlike President Medvedev, believes that the potential cost to Russia will be negligible and that the financial crisis currently afflicting Russia has little or nothing to do with Georgia. (4) Putin is unwilling to accept the fact that the war in Georgia and the ensuing international anger with Russia are in any way connected to the Russian stock market crash or the ruble's weakness. (5) Such strategic unrealism imitates that of the Georgian leadership. (6) Russia also does not seem upset that it has now lost any possibility of joining the World Trade Organization and thus millions of dollars in revenues and investments. (7) Yet, closer examination suggests that here again Putin's, President Medvedev's, and their officials' confidence is misplaced.

There is no doubt Russia's drastic, unilateral military operations have triggered these negative economic events. A limited Russian peace enforcement operation (to use U.S. terminology) to expel Georgian forces from South Ossetia would have sufficiently proven Russia's point, thwarted Georgian policy, discredited the Saakashvili regime, and provoked little response. Instead, blinded with a desire to show the world who is boss in the CIS, to humiliate and overthrow Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, and to demonstrate that Russia is still a great power not to be trifled with, Putin went for broke. His personal hatred for Saakashvili and his revanchist and resentful feelings against America are the underlying causes of the invasion--and prove who is the real power behind the throne. …

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