The armed conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia / Russia in August 2008 was a dramatic high point in Georgia’s recent history and a low point in relations between Georgia and Russia.
- What is the background to the conflict over South Ossetia?
- Who started the war in August 2008?
- # # What were the motives of the parties in the war between Georgia and Russia in 2008?
- What are the prospects for a solution?
The previous war in South Ossetia took place in 1991–1992, while a parallel war took place in Abkhazia in 1992–1993, the second breakaway republic in Georgia. The two wars in the early 1990s split Georgia as a state; the Georgian authorities lost control of significant parts of the country. The escalation of the conflict in South Ossetia in 2008 was a result of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s attempt to reunite the country.
2: The start of the war
There had been minor clashes between the South Ossetian militia and Georgian forces in the weeks before the Georgian attack, but such episodes have been common on a regular basis since the first war in South Ossetia ended in 1992. However, the war in August 2008 was a planned, broad military offensive. from the Georgian side .
Heavy artillery was used systematically to weaken South Ossetian positions, and Saakashvili and other Georgian politicians delivered victory speeches while Georgian forces captured South Ossetia’s capital, Tskhinvali. OSCE observers then leaked information to the New York Times that it was the Georgians who attacked first.
3: Saakashvili – two main priorities – the shine fades
Why did Saakashvili choose to carry out a major attack on South Ossetia? A look back at his presidency may provide some of the answer: Saakashvili overthrew his predecessor, Eduard Shevardnadze, through the Rose Revolution , a series of demonstrations that took place in the fall of 2003 (see HHD).
After a brief transition period, Saakashvili was elected president in January 2004. Turnout was 83%, and Saakashvili won with 93% of the vote . Such landslides are rare in democratic elections, but in this case most international observers agreed that the election result was not due to cheating. Saakashvili was simply extremely popular (see below).
- to fight the extreme corruption Georgia, and
- to unite the country into one kingdom again so that it was not divided into more or less independent units.
When it came to corruption, he had great success, especially when it came to everyday corruption, which affected most Georgians. The corruption in the traffic police, the education system and the health care system almost completely disappeared.
When it came to the second election promise, to unite the country, it went well to begin with. Local leader Aslan Abashidse was expelled from the Republic of Adjara after a dramatic but non-violent confrontation, and Saakashvili put his people in his place. The Panki Valley , where Chechen refugees and Islamist fighters had been more or less freely rented, eventually came back under Georgian control. The central authorities in the capital, Tbilisi, also gained greater influence in other minority areas.
But the two most important separatist areas, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, remained completely out of Georgian control. At the same time, the splendor of the Rose Revolution began to fade . In the autumn of 2007, the opposition organized demonstrations against the Saakashvili government, which resembled those who had brought him to power during the Rose Revolution.
The demonstrations were crushed with extensive violence. The main opposition TV channel was taken off the air by force, and a state of emergency was declared. This weakened Saakashvili’s popularity and democratic reputation. In January 2008, he was pressured to call new elections and won with only 53% of the vote and 56% turnout. He retained power, but it was clear that he did not have the support of the people to the same degree as before.
4: Attacks and counter-attacks
The solution seemed obvious: go to war and regain control of the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Then he would have fulfilled his second major election promise and regained his popularity as Georgia’s savior. He would also be remembered as a historical figure, as the leader who reunited the country.
According to ANSWERMBA, Abkhazia is the most important of the breakaway republics, beautifully situated on the Black Sea and with great potential for agriculture and tourism. That was probably precisely why the Georgians instead opted to take the less significant South Ossetia first. They wanted to address the strategically least important and attractive breakaway republic first, so that Abkhazia could be completely isolated and eventually taken.
South Ossetia is a patchwork of ethnic Georgian and South Ossetian villages that have largely lived in peace with each other since the 1991-92 war. For the Georgians, it seemed like a narrow matter to take over this area, especially since the Georgian defense had received large amounts of weapons and training from the United States, Israel and several other countries in the years after the Rose Revolution.