All’s Not Quiet On The Eastern Front
Virtually everyone believes Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili foolishly provoked a Russian invasion on August 7, 2008, when he sent troops into the breakaway district of South Ossetia. “The warfare began Aug. 7 when Georgia launched a barrage targeting South Ossetia,” the Associated Press reported over the weekend in typical fashion.
Virtually everyone is wrong. Georgia didn’t start it on August 7, nor on any other date. The South Ossetian militia started it on August 6 when its fighters fired on Georgian peacekeepers and Georgian villages with weapons banned by the agreement hammered out between the two sides in 1994. At the same time, the Russian military sent its invasion force bearing down on Georgia from the north side of the Caucasus Mountains on the Russian side of the border through the Roki tunnel and into Georgia. This happened before Saakashvili sent additional troops to South Ossetia and allegedly started the war.
We should not be surprised that the conflict has roots that go back decades (conflicts between nations usually do). But we should always we cautious about the reports that emphasize an immediate spark without mentioning the arsonist.
How did the Russians provoke this latest conflict? In April, they began issuing Russian passports to residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This gave them a legal status as Russian citizens, and gave Moscow a pretense for protecting them with military force. It resembles nothing more than Hitler’s efforts in the Sudetenland in 1938, which ended in the collapse in Munich of the West. With this kind of backing, the separatists felt free to launch attacks on Georgian forces, and as early as May Saakashvili warned that Russia wanted a war in the Caucasus.
This deserves all the attention we can give it.