The course of history is determined by the decision of political elites, through the nature of their leadership which affects the structure of domestic and foreign policies. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s statement “there is no history, only biography” encapsulates precisely this view. Nowadays’ relations between Georgia and Russia remain complicated, despite cultural and historical ties between the two countries and their people.
In order for a state to act coherently, it must necessarily identify its national interest and assert its goals in economic, military and cultural terms. Both domestic and international policy becomes relatively straightforward to formulate when it aligns itself with the pursuit of the country’s identified national interest. In practice, this is only the case when leaders of state act accordingly by succumbing their self-interest according to that of their country.
Hostility between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Georgia is no extraordinary occurrence, since precedent of conflict between the two states can be identified. Nonetheless, the latest confrontation between Russians and Georgians took a different turn. Political and cultural differences have been brewing ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union and precipitated ethnic inter-state clashes. Hence the conflict emerged due to leaders of ethnic regions within successor states demanding instant autonomy from the new governments of former satellite states.
Semi-autonomous regions like South Ossetia and Abkhazia put forward demands that were regarded reasonable at first. However calls for independence soon turned confrontational and pushed the political limits set by the established government. The resulting conflict between Georgia and the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia saw constant influence on behalf of the Russian Federation, which persisted in offering its support to separatist minorities. Russia’s involvement finds roots in a 1992 law which allowed former Soviet Union citizens to apply for Russian citizenship. It is important to note that at the time of the referendum in Georgia in 1991, 90% of population participated and over 89% voted pro-independence. The same referendum was held in Abkhazia and saw a rate of 60% of participation, out of which nearly 100% consented to Abkhazia finding itself under Georgian sovereignty. The current situation sees constant Russian involvement in negotiations, complicated by the Kremlin’s financial aid to the region. The latter also sent small military peacekeeping forces to both Abkhazia and South Ossetia after violence broke out in the early 1990s. Ever since then, tensions have been running high.
August 2008 saw an unprecedented Russian invasion into South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Prior to the invasion, several signs already pointed to potential escalation in conflict. The Georgian government under the leadership of Saakashvili rapidly strengthened Georgian military capabilities, a measure which triggered antagonism between regional factions.
As relations between parties deteriorated, both Russia and Georgia adopted pro-active measures in anticipation of conflict escalation. 8000 Russian troops and heavy military hardware were already found on Georgian territory in summer 2008, even after the ending of the so-called military exercises. Indeed, coalition forces of Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia were prone to earlier political action than the Georgian forces were. The facts speak for themselves.
On the night of the 7th of August, Georgian forces drove across the border of South Ossetia, a secessionist region which has been operating as an independent entity since the fall of the Soviet Union. The forces drove on to the capital, Tskhinvali, then got bogged down while trying to take over the city. The following day, Russian forces entered South Ossetia, using armored and motorized infantry forces; this was at a time when South Ossetia was informally aligned with Russia, and the latter did its best to prevent the region’s assimilation by Georgia. The Russian counter attack was carefully planned and competently executed over 48 hours and by the 10th of August, the Russians had consolidated their control of South Ossetia.
The war was a short-lived one and international support for Georgia soon ended it, if only nominally. It is now clear that Russia did not want to reconstruct the remnants of the Soviet Union but instead it attempted to re-assert political influence in the region. In order for this pursuit to be successful, two elements required completion. The first included granting renewed credibility to the Russian army. The second was establishing futility of Western protection granted by organizations such as NATO, when faced with Russian hegemony.
National interest and ideological differences play a pivotal role in clashes between Georgia and neighboring states. According to Ronald D. Assmus, the main reason for the Russo-Georgian conflict was the country’s affiliation with NATO. This was further precipitated by Kosovo’s recognition by Western powers as this contextualized geopolitical interests in the region. It is up to government representatives to establish and maintain a constructive relationship with the opposite side and compromise, in order for the Russo-Georgian conflict to reach a solution. Globalization merely acts as a catalyst in theprocess.