Part III of Our III-Part Series of News, Review & Analysis
[continued from Part II appearing on 11 August 2021]…
by Miceál O’Hurley
Russian Casus Belli Met With Georgian Resolve But Tepid International Response
Following passportisation efforts, Russia’s 2008 unilateral withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Arms & Economic Embargo of 1994 spoke volumes about their hostile intentions. By March of that year, Russia rapidly escalated the integration of their formal ties with the illegal regimes they had created and nurtured in the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions. First, Putin dispensed with Russia’s participation in the key arms embargo and CIS sanctions regime that had kept the ever-simmering hostilities they unleashed on the people of Georgia from boiling over. In April, Russia established ‘formal ties’ with their pawns – the illegal Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regimes they already controlled. For Putin, Passportisation was only his overture. The curtain was about to be lifted on Putin’s Georgian opera, Act I – The Invasion. Part II – Occupation would be followed by Integration and attempts at Annexation.
Conquering Georgia and teaching all the former Soviet Republics about Russian superiority was to be Putin’s Opus Magnum. For more than 13 years the Georgian people and the democratic government they erected have proven they weren’t the wilting flowers for which Putin hoped.
By 2008, even the blind could see that Russian claims of ‘plausible deniability’ for the invasion and occupation of Georgia they had planned, led, orchestrated, executed and sustained was farcical. The idea that the conflict in Georgia was a local insurgency was forever undermined when the United Nations’ confirmed that prior to the acts that Russia claimed necessitated their intervention in Georgia, one of Russia’s most advanced fighter jets downed a Georgian aircraft over sovereign Georgian airspace. The so called ‘insurgents’ didn’t have an air force. But everyone knew this was no insurgency – nor was it the work of rebels hoping to form a ‘break away republic.’ The invasion and occupation of Georgia by Russian forces was a well crafted military operation authored by Moscow in 2006 and deployed in 2008.
Russia’s invasion and occupation of almost 20% of Georgia was not an assistance operation for ethnic Russians in Georgia but pointedly territorial in its ambitions. Putin admitted as much, “The General Staff of the Armed Forces prepared the plan of military action against Georgia at the end of 2006, and I authorised it in 2007.”
For their part, the European Union, United States, OSCE, Georgia and others called for Russia to immediately reverse their invasion and occupation – a remarkably tepid response to an enflamed annexation attempt unilaterally carried out by Russia through force of arms against Georgian civilians. Unsurprisingly, such calls fell on Russia’s conveniently deaf ears. Sadly, this pattern would later be repeated in the temporarily occupied Eastern Ukraine and Crimea always accompanied by Putin mimicking Stalin’s sarcastically dismissive response to Pope Pius’ calls for peace, “How many divisions has the Pope?” Putin simply perceived the European Union’s lack of armed services as making them toothless and laughable and was undeterred.
Russia continues to demonstrate that appeals to reason or recourse to law are meaningless unless they are self-serving. Russia is as apt to engage in the use of ‘alternative facts’ that marked Trump’s pattern of lying in the hopes of serving their increasingly implausible propaganda narratives. Putin has never cared what the world thinks – the Russian narrative is all about internal Russian consumption to keep the home front placated.
Russian Ruse of Military Exercises to Strengthen Occupation
By July 2008, Russia had deployed more than 8,000 combat ready troops, including some 700 pieces of military hardware, into what would become occupied Georgia for what they euphemistically called, “Special Peace Enforcement Operations.” Marshaled in the Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions of Georgia, Russia’s “Special Peace Enforcement Operations” included Psychological Operations (PSYOP) complete with leaflet drops with the anti-Georgian propaganda missives, “Know Your Enemy.” By July, when the Russians refused to recall their troops to base inside of Russia, it was evident that the exercise was a mere ruse to pre-position Russian combats troops to further their campaign of terror and occupation against Georgia. Russia’s a priori designs on Georgia are now a part of the indisputable public record.
What is baffling is why and how the world fell for this ruse again when Russia invaded and illegally occupied parts of Ukraine in February 2014. As if hitting rewind on their invasion of Georgia, in 2021 Russia deployed over 100,000 combat troops on Ukraine’s border in in another “exercise. Once again the world merely winced and voiced “concern.” And again, despite Putin announcing a withdrawal to lower tensions (as occurred in Georgia 13 years before), almost 68,000 Russian combat troops remain within striking distance on the Ukrainian frontier. Russia’s effective use of Hoffman’s theory of hybrid warfare by which combat actions are employed in combination with cyber operations and media manipulation for effect. Exploiting social media and media outlets alike, the Russia authored media release “Russia Ends Exercises, Withdraws troops from Ukrainian Border” permeates popular thought. Like Stalin before him, Putin knows the value of propaganda being almost as valuable as combat troops. As we see from Putin on RT News daily, his axiom is always the same, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
As the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) concluded, Russia only feigned to withdraw their troops as per multilateral agreements, essentially confining the withdrawal to the ‘buffer zone’, excepting the village of Perevi (Sachkhere district). In a testament to the meticulous work of Amnesty International Civilians in the line of Fire: the Georgia-Russia Conflict report, augmented by other proofs and evidence, the Grand Chamber accepted that “… even after the ceasefire had been brokered, the Russian Federation continued deploying troops on territories situated outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia.” In RE: Georgia v. Russia (II), the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) concluded what European parliamentarians have failed to admit, Russia continues to violate the European Union’s brokered ceasefire of 12 August 2008, perpetuating the conflict without any end in sight. This serves Russia’s myriad goals, including expansion their regional hegemony, destabilising their neighbours and undermining the democratic decision of the people of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine to integrate into the European Union and/or the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
The philosopher George Santayana’s 1905 assertion “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” should serve as a klaxon alarm to civilised nations when contemplating their relationships with Russia. Historians will undoubtedly ask how, in the face of so much information and repeated instances of Russian aggression, why the United Nations, European Union and others remained willfully ignorant, demonstrating repeated lapses in judgment, when it came to believing Putin’s Russia can be trusted.
Perspective is Everything
A thunderous roar of outrage arose across Europe (ok, maybe not in Hungary) when then Presidential Candidate Donald Trump proposed building a physical barrier, a wall and fences, across the Mexico-USA border. Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, was harshly critical of Trump’s plans, and “Those who wish to build walls rather than bridges.” Mogherini continued her remarks with a strong appeal to recall recent European history, “In Europe, we have a history that has told that every time one invests in divisions and walls you might end up being in a prison if you build all walls around you. We have a history and a tradition that we celebrate when walls are brought down and bridges are built.”
Here European leaders would be both well entertained and instructed by booking tickets for the next showing of director Toma Chagelishvili‘s 2015 documentary, I Didn’t Cross the Border – The Border Crossed Me.
In the face of Mogherini’s condemnation of “Those who wish to build walls rather than bridges” one finds themselves revisiting an exhausting theme in Europe’s relationship with Russia. The readmission of Russia to the Parliamentary Council of Europe (PACE) following their expulsion for invading and temporarily occupying parts of Ukraine, coupled with Germany’s fierce lobbying for the completion of the Nord Stream 2 project, run askew of Mogherini’s rhetoric and remain antithetical to the very purposes for which the European Union was created. Europe once valued unity, cooperation and multilateralism yet today, too often embraces Russia as a reliable partner and friend. In bowing to Putin’s interference with the self-determination of the Eastern Partnership trio of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, European policy might well be adjudged to Trump’s border wall by failing to make the continued induction of new and evolving States into the European Union.
Creeping Borders – Dividing Families – Strangling Communities – Perpetuating Conflict
Since 2008, Russia has built endless physical barriers across Georgia in an illegal attempt to create an ever more expansive occupied territory. At the expanse of repairing critical water, electrical, sewage, roadways and other critical infrastructure they destroyed during their invasion and occupation, Russia seems to have deep-pockets for walls, barriers and landmines – but not for civil society rehabilitation. Russia never seems to have heard of the Marshall Plan to rebuild war torn territories but seem to have made the 3-volume set of “How to Build the Berlin Wall and Divide Europe and Demoralise Populations” required reading.
Not content with the territories they invaded and occupied after their full-scale invasion 13 years ago this week, Russian forces have periodically and arbitrarily acted to unilaterally moved their barriers forward. Made of a combination of imposing reinforced fences, razor-wire and in places even landmines, Russia’s use of an illegal ‘creeping border’ that gobbles up more of Georgia by the year runs contrary to its claim that it simply occupies Georgia for the protection of ethnic Russians or those who they claim want to be Russians. Russia’s creeping borders have acted to divide families, strangle communities, create barriers to accessing farmland, transportation routes, access water and worse – created extreme danger where Russian landmines have been laid – killing and maiming innocent civilians on their own lands.
It remains a matter of extreme irony that in the context of the misery unleased by Russia across Georgia, those whose families and communities that have been, and continue to be divided by Russia’s border barriers, count themselves fortunate by comparison.
Following Russia’s attacks upon 9 of Georgia’s 12 regions (which included land, sea, aerial and even cyber attacks), including the civilian population centres of some 30 separate cities, 53 distinct Georgian villages around the Russian occupied Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia were fully subjected to ethnic cleansing and destroyed in their entirety. In 5 valleys and 125 villages, family homes, places of worship, businesses and farms that once marked the landscape for centuries have vanished under Russian occupation. Today, too often all that remains are either the ruins of Russia’s war on the Georgian people or derelict fields of weeds and grass where those villages once were. Except for satellite photos, having been wiped from the face of the Earth almost without a trace, it would be easy to think they never existed.
Russian Destruction and Evisceration of Georgian Historical, Cultural, Historic and Other Artifacts
Apart from family and community life, and the ever looming threat of loss of life or limb by unexploded ordinance and landmines, being subjected to arbitrary detention or kidnappings, or death, Georgians have also had to contend with Russia’s attempt to destroy their very identity. The scale of the destruction confirms that it was planned and orchestrated and not simply the errant sua sponte acts of individuals that sometimes occur during warfare. Russia’s widescale destruction of the Georgian people’s ancient, historical, cultural and artistic artifacts and traditions was, like passportisation, another step in depriving a people of their identity in preparation for inflicting a new one upon them against their will.
The Office of the High Commissioner of the United Nations received a report and testimony from Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights, Ms. Karima Bennounce, detailing the devastating impact Russian forces and their agents have had on Georgian historical, cultural, artistic and archeological artifacts. The destruction, desecration and looting of Georgia by Russian occupation forces and agents (in their initial full-scale attack upon Georgia as well as throughout the 13 years of brutal occupation), included the damage or destruction of irreplaceable monuments of historical and artistic importance.
Russia’s wanton attempt to destroy the Georgian identity was widespread. To name only a few, the villages of Sveri, Kekhvi, Kurta, Achabeti, Tamarasheni, Kemerti, Dzartsemi, Kheiti, Disevi, Eredvi, Avnevi and Nuli seemed to have been particular targets of Russia’s attempt to destroy or erase evidence of Georgia’s ancient culture and heritage. Russian acts of vandalism and destruction included everything from the site of 19th Century writer, Georgian patriot and cultural icon, Ivane Machabeli’s House & Museum to the ancient Tskhinvali Cathedral and the 12th Century Ikorta Church of the Archangel. What Russia has not destroyed it has attempted to eradicate from the Georgian cultural record. To the disgust of the world community, the distinctly Georgian features of the historic Achabeti Fortress (a structure worthy of being a protected UNESCO heritage site) were eradicated by Russian ‘rehabilitation works.’ In its assessment of Russia’s cultural vandalism by experts, Russia’s criminal conduct proved remarkably similar to the acts of the Taliban in destroying the Buddhas of Bimyan or the Daesh (ISIL) bulldozing the artistic reliefs and Palace of Ashurnasirpal II in Nimrud. It seems neither Russia, the Taliban or the Daesh will tolerate any identity or history other than that which serves their own false narratives.
Of course, the true extent of the destruction and devastation continues to be difficult to assess. Russia’s remains steadfast in their refusal to grant access to international observers and blocks the Government of Georgia from accessing their own sovereign territories occupied by Russia. Nor is the damage and destruction limited to pubic, historic or ecclesiastic properties, monuments and artifacts alone. The wide-scale destruction of private property, including ancient icons handed down in families from generation to generation, or artistic works in private homes and collections, or even public museums, has been nothing short of devastating. Given the ferocity of the Russian onslaught against Georgia, even inventories of cultural, historic, artistic or archaeological sites have been destroyed or taken possession of by Russia and its illicit occupation regimes.
Beyond all this, as if from pages ripped out of the script of Raiders of the Lost Ark, instead of goose-stepping Nazis searching for the lost Ark of the Covenant, Russian ‘shadow-world archaeologists’ are looting Georgia’s heritage in conspicuous excavations ignored if not condoned by Russian occupation forces. These ‘black-market’ archeological treasures of Georgia, accessed by bribes and concealed with the assistance of the Russian occupation regimes, have even been acquired by the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Evidence abounds that the Hermitage Museum had full knowledge they constituted looted treasure forbidden for sale and acquisition under international law. The network of shadow-world, black-market archeologists has been assessed to operate incredibly sophisticated operations, often looking for particular items in specified locations.
Following the Russian State’s post-invasion/occupation acquisition of newly excavated Georgian artifacts the world’s academic, museum, artistic and research communities collectively raised serious questions as to whether the looters are actually being pre-contracted by the Russia State and its museums to carry out the illegal digs. What remains inescapable is that Russia has continued to flout the Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Heritage in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954). As with so very many items that later emerge on flagrant display in Russian State museums (or the private collections of Putin’s oligarch cronies), the real owners of these items, and the Government of Georgia are kept from recovering them because Russia refuses to cooperate with investigations or lawsuits seeking their return as provided for in law. Between the Hermitage Museum’s acquisitions, items appearing in the collections of Putin’s oligarch friends and targeted archeological operations, all evidence point to State sanctioned operations and indication that these shadow-world archeological treasure looters have access to the missing inventories or research. The world has been deprived of ever knowing the extent of what has been lost to the human record and Georgia’s irreplaceable artifacts.
Peace Proposals from Georgia, OSCE, UN & EU Fall on Russia’s Conveniently Deaf Ears
From Russia’s invasion onward, all peace proposals to bring their occupation of Georgian territories to an end were flatly rejected. No real consideration was made on Moscow’s part. Indeed, Russia’s attempt to copper fasten their hold on occupied Georgian territories has only intensified. As far back as 2005, Putin began seconding Russian military, civilian and technical ‘advisors’ to Georgia. Invariably, they exceeded their supposed advisory roles and after Russia’s full scale invasion 13 years ago become the de facto Government in Russian occupied territories in all but name. The charade that Ossetia and Abkhazia were engaged in a local rising with a desire to re-join ‘Mother Russia’ proved as unconvincing as Germany’s false flag Überfall auf den Sender Gleiwitz (Gleiwitz Incident) which started World War II. The very pretext for Russia’s invasion and occupation of Georgia was the fruit of their own hands. Indeed, ‘peace negotiators’ with authority to engage with Georgia have always been Russians, not Georgian Ossetians or Abkhazians. True, the others may well sit at the table, but make no mistake, it is Moscow that speaks.
Russia has spared no effort in solidifying their occupation grip over Georgian territory. In 2004, in a lead-up to their 2008 invasion, Russia reinforced their position by building an illegal military base near Tskhinvali in the Java district. So sophisticated was the Russian base that even American coalition forces at Bagram Air Base (Afghanistan) or Ayn Al Asad Airbase (Iraq) voiced their envy after reviewing satellite photos and intelligence reports. With a capacity for more than 2,500 soldiers, substantial fuel-storage depots, significant armoured vehicle and tank maintenance yards as well as appreciable logistical and medical facilities, Russian plans clearly staged for the long-haul. The passage of year-upon-year of occupation has only served to prove true the obvious – Russia pre-planned their invasion and occupation of Georgia and has never contemplated leaving or allowing Russian occupied territories of Georgia to become self-governing or ever return to Georgian control
Human Consquences of Subsidising Russia’s Aggression
While the world engaged in faint condemnation, by mid-summer 2008 things became desperate in Georgia. On 7 August, Russian commanded and supplied forces in Ossetia deployed machine guns and grenade launchers against an un-armed, local Georgian population in a repeat of the ethnic cleansing that so often marked Russia’s previous military exploits in the region. Russia’s 58th Army used the conflagration Russia instigated as a pretense to cross the sovereign border of Georgia with 300 tanks through the mountain pass known as the Roki Tunnel. Russian Air Force assets then commenced a coordinated bombing campaign against 30 Georgian cities and villages. Russia’s unwarranted, deliberate and indiscriminate use of aerial bombing and missile attacks against Georgia’s civilian population centres was the likes of which had not been seen since in Europe since the Luftwaffe bombed Warsaw in 1939.
Of note in the Russian bombing of civilian population centres in Georgia were the types of munitions chosen by the Kremlin. The most lethal of bombs and missiles were unleashed on civilians from the most advanced weapons systems and aircraft, including Russian SU-24s, SU-25s, SU-27s, MIG-29 fighters and TU-22M strategic bombers. Russia, it was shown, was using Georgia to improve its air force’s operational effectiveness the way Nazi Germany used the civil war in Spain as a testing ground prior to World War II. Unsurprisingly, given the overwhelming sophistication of Russia’s weapons platforms and munitions a significant portion of Georgia’s military infrastructure in the region was quickly put beyond use. Russia’s assault on Georgia was right out of Heinz Guderian’s blitzkrieg handbook.
Georgia’s military storage, munitions, supply and maintenance facilities were quickly destroyed. Even the civilian Hospital in Gori was targeted for Russian bombing runs. Russian tanks drew to within binocular distance of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. After-Action reports indicate that “9 out of 10 Georgians” were bombed, even by what the international organization Human Rights Watch confirmed were prohibited Russian ‘Cluster Bombs’ deployed against civilians. The savagery of Russia’s assaults against civilian populations was unique in the European experience, at least since the horrors witnessed in World War II.
All this was no mere strategic strike. In military terms it was a ‘decapitation strike’ designed to interrupt Georgia’s command and control thus ensuring Russia would be effectively unopposed in the region. The ferocity of Russian attacks upon Georgia’s civilian populace effectively cowered them into submission or flight into Georgia’s interior for their safety. This was warfare at its worst (and in gross violation of international law). As proven time and again in Chechnya, Georgia, Donbas, Crimea, Syria or wherever Russia or its ‘Wagner’ henchmen step foot – civilians were and remain fair game to be terrorised in their efforts to subdue and destabilise any region or State Putin covets.
Russian Occupation Antithetical to Europe’s Core Values – Rape, Kidnapping for Ransom and Looting of Civilian Property
It goes beyond saying that Russia is the only country in Europe that has invaded its neighbours since World War II. This is true of its illegal occupations in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Russia’s murderous ‘Wagner’ mercenaries and Russian military advisors in Syria, Sudan, Libya, Central African Republic, Ngorno-Karabakh have engaged in heinous crimes against civilians in support of rogue regimes. Moreover, Russia’s use of banned nerve agents and assassination squads to eliminate its enemies on European soil marks them as particularly violent and wholly defiant of the rule of law and civility. Russia’s occupation of Georgia was, however, particularly noted for several aspects which are especially repugnant to the international community and the human condition.
Beyond the rape and abuse of the elderly, women and children, kidnappings and extortion have arisen as a sinister menace in Georgia. Russian FSB or Russian controlled assets in the illegally occupied territories cross the contact line to conduct kidnappings for ransom of Georgians (they often do the same within the occupied territories). Owing to the poor economy, the ransoms demanded can be a little as hundreds of Euros. However, given the poverty that accompanies war and occupation, such amounts are often beyond the means of most Georgians. Ransoms, when paid, not only support the criminal elements that conduct the kidnappings with the Russian occupation authority’s tacit approval and the funds are invariably diverted to fund illegal paramilitary operations against Georgia. Those who engage in kidnapping do so with the with the knowledge of their Russian masters thus the dividing line between criminal gangs and armed combatants in occupied territories under Russian control rarely exist.
Russian controlled forces have also been found to have engaged in widespread looting. Where Russian forces have entered captured Georgian military or police buildings they have been so meticulous in their rapine that even toilet fixtures and electrical wiring have been removed. Frequently, the damage to properties, both owned by the Government of Georgia as well as private property, has been so profound the buildings are rendered beyond rehabilitation. Indeed, in an eerily reminiscent repeat of how Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler carried out Hitler’s order that the quaint rural village of Lidice (in former Czechoslovakia) be wiped from the map in 1942. Where many Georgian villages once thrived, as captured by Google Maps satellite images, the Georgian landscape after 2008 shows them having disappeared without any trace of human habitation having ever existed. Russia’s plans and actions effectively deprive civilians of resettling in their homes as provided for in international law and leaves them without any adequate remedy in law. The Nuremberg prosecutors faced the grim reality of such crimes with Nazi Germany and today the world faces it again with Putin’s Russia.
Defiant and Strong Georgia Continues to Integrate into Europe – Russia is Obdurate in its Occupation Illegality
If one had even paid scant attention to the news from Georgia from 2008 onward, Russia’s invasion and illegal occupation of Ukraine’s Donbas and Crimea will have seemed startlingly familiar. And, as with the Spanish Civil War, Russia (like Nazi Germany before them), used Georgia as a testing ground for weapons, tactics and civilian population control techniques it later used against Ukraine. Russia’s military operational plans are as muscular, domineering, brutal and calculating as they are predictable, deadly, insidious and criminal. This is the ‘Russian Playbook’ at work. Moscow perfected it during their ‘proof of concept campaign’ against Georgia 13 years ago. Despite the world’s foreknowledge of what transpired in Georgia, it was allowed to happen yet again in Ukraine. One can only reflect on the mirrored events of both Chamberlain and Stalin having read Mein Kampf and yet thinking peace with possible with Hitler. The world was well acquainted with the Russian playbook but did nothing to stand in the way of Putin. Even when dictators and tyrants have shown their hands the world somehow is lulled into believing, if be self-delusion if nothing else, that the worst won’t happen. I did in Georgia, It did in Moldova and Ukraine. It will happen again if Russia is not effectively countered.
Today, little has changed since the height of Russia’s full scale military campaign against Georgia. But make no mistake. The Russo-Georgian war is no ‘frozen conflict’ as is too often assumed.
Action across the contact line is constant requiring Georgia to stand defiant at the ramparts without relent. Russian military aggression continues in all the forms of hybrid warfare. Casualties are routinely added to the rolls of Georgians who have died in this conflict. Russia continues to deploy minefields that will threaten civilians, agricultural operations and re-development of Georgia for generations. Unexploded ordinance from their ruthless bombing campaigns still kill and maim indiscriminately. Children, farmers, women – ordinary people – are still dying because of the ordinance Russia dropped on them some 13 years ago and planted in the ground yesterday. Russia’s creeping border moves ever forward threatening more of Georgia daily. Kidnappings still occur with frightening regularity and lawlessness pervades. The human suffering of the Georgian people continues unabated – even if the fatigue of the ongoing tragedy has removed it from the evening news broadcast.
Acutely aware of the fatigue, Russia refuses to engage in constructive peace negotiations in the hopes of completing the earlier efforts of population transformation by passportisation and territorial conquest by force. This have been evidenced by Russia continuing to move forward to attempt the de facto annexation of the sovereign Georgian territory they temporarily occupy. In 2014, Russian diplomats moved to Act II of their Georgian opera by attempting to give further legitimacy to their stooge regimes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia by signing a so called “Treaty of Alliance” or “Treaty of Alliance and Integration” with them. Where formal treaties are not yet concluded, as in the occupied Abkhazia region, so-called “Joint Information and Coordination Centre of the Agencies of Internal Affaires” has been instituted (locals are fond of calling it the “KGB Light”). Further legitimisation efforts by Russia include having their puppet regimes in the illegally occupied territories attempt to hold referenda for the sake of appearances. Nobody is convinced. The outcomes are seemingly tabulated before the voting even commences. None of it really matters, however, it is mere ‘wallpaper over broken plaster’. As the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found in their 2021 decision – Russia has effective control and is therefore responsible. Sham referenda or elections won’t change that fact.
Any continued attempts to carry-out the charade that there are locally erected governments supported by the occupied civilian population are laughable. Only three years ago, Russia attempted to rename the ancient Tskhinvali region of Georgia as the “State of Alania.” Except for Russia (and possibly Belarus), so absurd was this act that mapmakers kept the ink in their pens and refused to redraw or rename maps. In all, Russia’s heavy-handed occupation policies would seem more apropos to a whimsical episode of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, replete with antagonist arch-villains like Natasha and Boris Badinov, were Russia’s actions not so brutal, murderous, destructive and deadly in reality.
Putin Has Bought-in to the Cold War’s Discredited Domino Theory – Relying on Europe’s Reluctance to Stop Him Building a New Russian Empire
Beyond its geography, abundant resources, modern infrastructure and access to the Black Sea, Georgia holds singular significance to Putin and his Russia. For Putin, Georgia is the battleground where he seeks to prove Russia can stop any nation’s exercise of self-determination by Russian use of force. Just as the West was caught in the grips of believing that if one country went communist the next would fall then the next, Putin fears that if peace, prosperity, reform and democracy breaks out in former Soviet republics he will never be able to rebuild a new Russian Empire with himself crowned Czar. After occupying parts of Georgia, Putin had relied on Ukraine having been cowed from taking its place in Europe (it wasn’t, nor will it ever be). By invading Ukraine and illegally occupying Donbas and Crimea, Putin remains determined that the Baltic States take notice of how Russia can thwart the natural evolution of burgeoning democracies, invade and occupy at will all in the hopes of drawing them back into the Russia sphere of influence.
Indeed, Putin counts on Europe continuing with its tepid responses to his invasion and occupation of Russia’s neighbours, the millions of people that become internally displaced with each invasion, or thousands killed with Russian AK-47s, BUK missiles, landmines or MIG fighters with the passing months and years of each deadly occupation. Putin relies upon the ‘Russian Playbook’ chapter on ‘Whispering platitudes in Europe’s ear until she falls asleep again’ continuing to work. After all, it has to date. Having Europe’s significant sanctions against Russia blunted by being rewarded with increased revenues and control over Europe’s energy security once Nord Stream 2 is opened by Germany insistence (over Europe’s stated opposition) only serves to reassure Putin that he can have his way.
Georgia Will Endure and Prevail – But Europe Can Reduce the Time and Cost
Georgia will survive this ordeal. Their strong sense of national identity has been forged to be indelible (ironically because it has been tested by Russia’s illegal occupation of parts of its territory). What continue to elude Putin’s grasp is that democracy is not the will of the Government of Georgia the way Putin’s will and that of the Kremlin are synonymous. Although a nascent democracy, (having been deprived of their natural development and democratic aspirations for almost a century at the point of Russian guns) the Government of Georgia is ardently democratic because the people want it to be so. For Putin, a Government erected by, and functioning at the sometimes precarious, but necessary consent of the people, is anathema to everything that he is and Russia has become. Because democracy is now the fruit of the will of the people of Georgia, and no mere mechanism of governance imposed upon them, Georgia will thrive far more than Putin believes possible and far longer than he can imagine.
The same is true for each of the Eastern Partnership countries.
Georgia’s determination not to succumb to the overwhelming force unleashed by Moscow has been as extraordinary as has been their endurance. Tiny Moldova has stood up to Russia like a lioness protecting her brood. This is not because Chișinău wants this for the people, but because the people want this of their Government in Chișinău. The same is true of Ukraine.
When Russia invaded eastern Ukraine and Crimea, Kyiv was left in chaos and its military deeply disorganised. But like the American farmers, shopkeepers and youth that rose up to confront their British colonial masters in 1776, in 2014, Ukrainian women and men rose in defiance of Russia’s invasion, volunteered by the thousands and proved with unparalleled valour that they would remain free, democratic and yes, European.
Putin will only understand the rudimentary response mechanism of a creature subjected to outside stimuli. Putin will never understand the esprit de corps and fidelity to a national cause that wells-up in the chest of women and men who desire freedom, independence, democracy and a descent future for their children. Because of this, taking their rightful place in Europe is, and will remain, the destiny of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – despite Russia’s attempts to control their future by use of force.
Europe and the World Must Make a Stand to Help Georgia and their Compatriots in the European Partnership Trio
For Putin, the faint condemnation of Europe is taken as permission for him to continue to send the Russian military, its cyber-sabotage units, the FSB and even its mercenary Wagner units and death squads to undermine Russia’s neighbours, Europe and the civilised world beyond. Only once Putin refrains from thwarting free and independent nations, and the European Union itself, allowing States and associations to evolve naturally, without Russian interference dictating the future of free nations that choose democracy over dictatorship, can Europe truly be capable of embracing its most cherished values that in large part, because of Russian aggression and occupations, remain unfulfilled. The European Union must embrace the idea that it is more than an economic mechanism to impede the chance of war, sustained for the comfort of those fortunate enough to have been liberated by the awesome sacrifices of prior generations. The European Union must become a dynamic incubator and generator of freedom, democracy and liberality that has always been the best deterrent towards intolerance, fascism, dictatorship and war. Only then will peace and prosperity grace all of Europe and light the way for emerging nations everywhere.
Russia’s aggression against members of the Eastern Partnership (EaP) – the European Union, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine continues, unabated. Russia’s hostility is not confined to them alone which only serves to reinforce the wisdom of the European Union’s slogan, “We are Better Together.” Russia has attacked the Czech Republic, attempted to assassinate the Prime Minister in Montenegro and undermine each and every European nation in some way. Russian efforts to dominate freedom of navigation on the Black Sea should also serve as a clarion call for all of Europe to take notice.
Should Russia be allowed to continue to determine the natural progression of civil societies like Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine and thwart their integration into the European Union or the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), Europe’s core values and existence would be rendered meaningless. The world cannot, must not, allow Russia to exploit violence to cower its neighbours and restrain their freedom. Europe and the Eastern Partnership must be free to make their own choices free of Russian interference. If they are not, the Eastern Partnership countries will not be the last in Europe to see little green men cross their frontiers to be awakened to a Russian flag flying high above their heads ‘for their own protection.’
Arugably, Europe’s continued freedom, has in large part been sustained through the Eastern Partnership countries’ unceasing sacrifices. With Europe’s support for further and accelerated domestic reforms, continued social evolution reflective of European civil society, the Eastern Partnership countries will be able to fully integrate into the European Union sorority. It is as much for the European Union’s sake as it is for Georgia, Moldova and Ukraines. The European Union and the EaP countries are natural allies who share cultural and political values with a strong commitment to democracy. The Trio must be speedily included in the continuing bold experiment for peace and prosperity that has in the past been, and continues to be, the European Union.
Tomorrow’s Supplemental Post – Multimedia and other resource links to information on the 2008 Russian Invasion and Occupation of Georgia