THE RUSSO-GEORGIAN WAR ONE YEAR LATER: AN APPRAISAL
"The question of who started the war may not matter much in Moscow. Russia has changed the facts on the ground: its troops are in control in the two enclaves, and it has shown that it is still the only power that matters in former Soviet space.
For the benighted people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, however, there has been little improvement in their lives. Tskhinvali is still a bomb site. Russian aid appears to have vanished into a notoriously corrupt bureaucracy. Both territories are dependent on subsidies from Moscow.
Georgia may have seen its pride sorely dented, but the economy has held up much better. American and European aid has flooded in. Tbilisi appears to have lost the war, but it is winning the peace".
Quentin Peel, "Tbilisi looks like winning the peace." 6 August 2009, in www.ft.com
The issue of who did or did not start the Russo-Georgia War of last year, is not my concern, nor do I believe that it merits a great deal of attention. The origins of the conflict date back to the very early part of the Putin era, if not in fact earlier. What my concern is what can we analytically, historically and strategically take away from the conflict per se? First: that in essence Russia did in fact 'win'and Georgia 'lost', the war. For Russia of course its victory was a Pyrrhic one, since the mere fact of its having to wage such a war, means that its attempt to re-establish its hegemony over the Kavkaz nation peacefully had failed. Its military victory was a substitute, albeit a second-rate one, for the failure of Russia to use other, more Gramscian means to bring Georgia back into Moskva's hegemonic fold. A failure which points up to a larger problem of Russian foreign policy in the Putin era: its failure to attract other states into its fold, using other than coercive diplomacy of a most primitive variety. `A la its interaction with Ukraine and Georgia. Leaving aside that long-term issue, Russia did most definitely obtain the goals that it probably set-out to acquire when the war began: a) retain and strengthen its hold on South Ossetia and Abkhazia for the foreseeable future; b) defeat as an operational and active force the Georgian military; c) render impossible Georgia's entry into NATO for the immediate and medium-term future; d) and, finally to some extent demonstrate to the other countries in the former Sovietskaya Vlast that falling afoul of Matushka Russia, is something which cannot be done with mere impunity.
And, for all of the reasons mentioned above, Georgia, the other party in the conflict was its 'loser'. And, while President Saakashvili was not overthrown as a result of Georgia's military defeat, the fact of the matter, is that the end result of the conflict is that: i) Georgia's chance of entering into NATO anytime soon has been completely destroyed; ii) Georgia has been both de facto and de jure dismembered; iii) Georgia's independent role, as a diplomatic force and anti-Russian gadfly in both the Kavkaz region and in the CIS has also completely disappeared. While difficult to remember now, the fact was that in the glory years of the 'Rose Revolution' (2004-2007), that Saakashvili emerged as an independent diplomatic force in both the immediate region and in the greater, ex-Sovietskaya Vlast space. With much thinking that where Georgia and Ukraine had gone, Belarus and Russia itself were bound to follow. All of which is now merely past-tense and post-facto. The fact that Saakashvili was not overthrown, either immediately or in the months after the conflict ended, may count as a 'moral victory' of sorts. But, the fact is that 'moral victories', are by definition, poor substitutes for the real article. Something which I am quite sure the Georgia leader would be the very first to admit.