Since this area may also seem less strategically important to Russia than Abkhazia, they might have expected that the Russians would not interfere to any great extent. But that was not the case. Russia launched a major counterattack in both South Ossetia and other parts of Georgia, and the Georgians suffered a crushing military defeat .
5: Declining support
Despite the defeat in South Ossetia, Saakashvili is relatively safe as president. It is not uncommon for external threats and war to create national unity. Saakashvili is also benefiting from this effect, at least for the time being. The war clearly had a negative effect on the Georgian economy, but at the same time large amounts of aid from Western countries were promised in the wake of the war. How much of the promised aid actually comes, however, is a question of uncertainty – especially in times of a global financial crisis.
Despite his declining popularity, there are no Georgian politicians who can compete with Saakashvili today. This is partly due to the Rose Revolution, which was a very special moment in the country’s history and which enabled Saakashvili to form an image of himself as Georgia’s natural leader.
This is partly due to the authorities’ restrictions on the media and the public discourse under Saakashvili, which has made it very difficult for rivals to emerge. Saakashvili, like some dictators in the post-Soviet area, has also made sure to replace members of the government at regular intervals, often with young and inexperienced people who cannot put themselves in the shadows.
6: Russian motif
Why did the Russians choose to counterattack the Georgians in South Ossetia so strongly? Despite constant interference in relations between ethnic Georgians and minorities, the Russians had formally always recognized Georgia’s territorial sovereignty. They had to understand that a military counter-offensive inside what is internationally recognized Georgian territory would be seen as an invasion of the rest of the world.
There may be several reasons why the Russians chose to do as they did:
- Russia had given the South Ossetians and the Abkhazians clear security guarantees . If the Russians now did not show that they could stand behind the guarantees, what other groups or countries could then rely on Russian security guarantees in the future?
- Russia already had peacekeeping forces in South Ossetia when the Georgians attacked (they formally represented the Commonwealth of Independent States, but were in practice Russian military units). These forces were disliked by the Georgians and supported by the South Ossetians, but the Georgians had not formally resigned either. When the Georgians attacked, these forces were also shelled. Russia has argued that the Russian counterattack was a direct response to the Georgian attack on Russia’s peacekeeping forces and a legitimate (legitimate) extension of the mission to these forces.
- The northern part of Ossetia is located on the Russian side of the border. The North Ossetians have long been loyal allies of the Russian authorities in the North Caucasus. Thus, there was a strong ethnic group within Russia that had an interest in defending the South Ossetians.
- Russia has for some time been on a declining front
in relations with the West. Among other things, all the countries in Central Europe and the Baltic states had become members of both NATO and the EU. The Russians perceive this as a breach of promise from the West, especially since central Western leaders had said that the West would not enter other parts of the former Eastern bloc when Germany was reunited. In the continued expansion of NATO to the east, the Georgians and Ukrainians were first in line. From the Georgian side, a NATO membership was perceived as a security guarantee against Russia. The desire for NATO membership became a major annoyance for Russia and contributed to the desire to crack down on Georgia.
According to ANSWERRESUME, there are two main views in the West regarding Georgia and NATO membership.
- Some believe that NATO should give membership to Georgia and Ukraine as soon as possible as this could lead to Russia no longer daring to interfere in the internal affairs of these countries. The United States is one of the countries that has promoted this view.
- Others believe that NATO membership will not necessarily deter Russia, and that it may instead help to draw NATO into local conflicts in the post-Soviet area. These also often emphasize that Georgia and Ukraine are neither militarily, economically nor politically mature for NATO membership. In Ukraine, moreover, a clear majority of the population is against membership, and Georgia remains a divided country with many major problems. These problems could become NATO’s problems if Georgia Norway is one of the countries that has wanted to proceed cautiously with offering Georgia promises of soon NATO membership.