At the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008, a few months before the war in South Ossetia, these two views on NATO enlargement clashed. Those in favor of Georgian membership subsequently believed that Russian interference in South Ossetia could have been avoided if Georgia had received clearer and more positive signals. Those who believed that Georgia should not become a member or that the process should at least be slowed down, believed that the war could theoretically at worst have developed into a nuclear war if Georgia had been a NATO member.
Some commentators have suggested that Western-controlled oil and gas pipelines in Georgia were one of the Russians’ motives for responding militarily. However, the Russians were careful not to damage these pipelines during the war in South Ossetia. Prominent Russian politicians have repeatedly stated that they distinguish between the extremely poor relations with Georgia and the more general economic competition with the West for energy resources in the Caspian Sea. They do not see this competition as problematic.
7: South Ossetian motifs
The South Ossetians, like several minorities in Georgia, have been alienated from the ethnic Georgian majority since the last years of the Soviet era. Then a chauvinistic Georgian nationalism emerged that made it possible to break Georgia free from the Soviet Union.
At the same time, this nationalism caused the many minorities in the country to react with counter-nationalism . The South Ossetians also have another important reason to apply to Russia – the bulk of the Ossetians live in North Ossetia, on the Russian side of the border.
According to COLLEGESANDUNIVERSITIESINUSA, Russia is an important destination for labor migration for all groups from the South Caucasus, including South Ossetians and ethnic Georgians. Thus, it is also attractive to obtain Russian citizenship based on economic motives . Last but not least: South Ossetian passports are not recognized in any way since South Ossetia is not internationally recognized as an independent state. Russian passports have thus become the only practical option for the South Ossetians.
From the Russian side, this has also been an easy way to continue the divide-and-rule policy in the South Caucasus, and to strengthen the pretext for intervening in the conflict between South Ossetians and ethnic Georgians. At the same time, one should not underestimate the importance of the North Ossetians and their desire to belong with the South Ossetians.
8: Georgian misjudgments
It seems that the Georgian leadership fundamentally misjudged both Russia’s and the United States’ reactions to the conflict in South Ossetia, and at the same time overestimated its own military strength. The United States supported Georgia verbally and with humanitarian aid during the war, but did not agree to any military confrontation with Russia. U.S. spokesmen have also assured that they did not call on Georgia to attack or promise Georgia military support.
The Georgians probably misinterpreted the Americans because of the close cooperation between the two countries. Saakashvili, who himself studied in the United States, had a very close relationship with George W. Bush and his government. Bush himself had visited Georgia and been hailed by the masses there. In Georgia’s capital Tbilisi, there is a separate street named after Bush, which is quite unusual for one of history’s least popular American presidents.
Georgia has also warmly supported the US invasion of Iraq. When the conflict broke out in South Ossetia, Georgia – measured by population size – had the second largest number of soldiers in Iraq, more than the British and almost as many as the United States. Against this background, the Georgian leadership had probably expected more support from the United States.
9: Solution – more distant than ever
The conflicts between South Ossetians, Abkhazians and ethnic Georgians now seem more insoluble than ever. After being served an easy-going and, from their point of view, just war on a silver platter, Russia made the mistake of recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Thus, they have forfeited their trump card to the Georgians, at the same time as they have painted themselves into a diplomatic corner from which it is difficult to get out.
With the exception of Nicaragua, no other country has recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and no Western country is likely to do so in the future. At the same time, it is difficult for Russia to withdraw its recognition, as it would lead to a dramatic loss of face.
The Georgians, for their part, have tried to resolve a minority conflict with massive violence. Together with the very poor treatment of the minorities who have remained in the Georgian-controlled area (primarily Armenians and Azerbaijanis), this shows that the Georgians still have an oppressive approach to these ethnic groups. This attitude makes it almost impossible to bring about reconciliation between the groups.