‘Withdraw the troops.’ Russia is required to cancel the results of the ‘five-day war’

Galiya Ibragimova

Seven countries, including the United States, Great Britain and France, appealed to Russia with a demand to withdraw the recognition of the independence of S-outh Ossetia and Abkh-azia, as well as withdraw troops from there. This was timed to coincide with the next anniversary of the events of August 2008. Then, in order to stop the Georgian aggression, Mo-scow carried out a peace enforcement operation in the region. RIA Novosti figured out whether the Kremlin would listen to “good advice”.

Phantom Pain

The territorial integrity of Georgia in early August has traditionally become a central theme in the West. Every year at this time, the US and Europe recall the “five-day war” of 2008, when Georgian troops tried to break into Tskhinvali, shelling the city and Russian peacekeepers. With the help of force, Mikheil Saaka-shvili wanted to return the breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which had broken off in the early nineties, to Tbilisi’s control.

It didn’t work out. The advance of the Georgian military was prevented first by peacekeepers and militias, and then by the 58th Army of the North Cauca-sus District. To stop the m-assive shelling of Tskhin-vali, Dmitry Medvedev l-aunched a peace enforcem-ent operation in the conflict zone on August 8. Russian troops entered the region and, together with South Ossetian forces, drove out the Georgians. After the war, Russia recognized the independence of Tskhinval and Sukhum. The West interpreted the situation differently. Saakashvili convinced the US and the EU that it was not he who unleashed the hostilities, but Moscow. Georgia, accordingly, did not attack at all, but defended itself from “Russian aggression.” The world mass media still frighten the audience with the fact that the Kremlin then allegedly sent tanks to Tbilisi. Although the EU report on the events of those years said directly: Georgia started the war. Russia was not going to attack its neighbors. The views of the Ossetians and Abkhazians, who have demanded independence since the end of the eighties, were ignored in Tbilisi, and even more so in the Western capitals. Washington and Brussels explained their unwillingness to listen to the opposite side by the inviolability of the territorial integrity of Georgia. On the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of the “five-day war,” the West criticized Moscow for supporting South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Moreover, Alba-nia, Ireland, Norway, Esto-nia, France, Great Britain and the United States circulated in the UN Security Council a statement calling on Russia to withdraw rec-ognition of the independence of Tskhinvali and Suk-hum. “The Russian presence in the republics is illegal. Moscow should immediately withdraw its troops from the Georgian territories,” the document says.

Dmitry Polyansky, Russia’s representative to the UN, called the statement “phantom pains” and the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia “a reality that cannot be ignored.”

Moscow also reminded that the West itself has rep-eatedly neglected the concept of the territorial integrity of a state. “Look at your” eye “, you have Kosovo there. You recognized the independence of this Serbian land without any referendums. But then you spoke about the right of peoples to self-determination. We will never withdraw the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” said Russian Senator Sergei Tsekov.

Integrity or self-determination

The Kosovo precedent comes up every time it comes to the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But Western politicians constantly convince Belgrade and Moscow that these are different situations. The independence of Pristina is allegedly due to the fact that the Serbian authorities infringed on the rights of the Kosovars and eliminated their autonomy. In addition, in the late nineties, Kosovo came under the tutelage of the UN. The arguments of Russia that the events around Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia since the end of the eighties have developed approximately according to the same scenario – infringement of the rights of small peoples, attempts to eliminate autonomy – do not convince the United States and the EU. In relation to Georgia, according to the logic of the West, the principle of the territorial integrity of the state operates. As for Kosovo, the priority is the right of peoples to self-determination.

However, the anti-Russian vector of Tbilisi was encouraged in Washington until August 2008. The Americans supported Georgia’s right to self-determination even before the collapse of the Union. In April 1989, residents of Tbilisi went to a rally in front of the Government House and demanded the republic’s withdrawal from the USSR. Members of the Communist Party dispersed the meeting by force, a stampede began, and people died. It is still not clear who exactly gave the order to bring the paratroopers into the city. But even then Washington sided with Georgia. Moscow, on the other hand, tried not only not to quarrel with Tbilisi, but also to reconcile the Georgian authorities with the Ossetians and Abkhazians: relations between these peoples worsened in the late seventies. But Moscow’s actions were perceived as pressure.

As a result, the Caucasus became a new field, first for the US-Soviet, and then for the US-Russian confrontation. The West supported Tbilisi in everything, Russia both during the Georgian-Ossetian conflict in 1991 and in August 2008 tried to prevent the expansion of the conflict. With the coming to power in 1992, Eduard Shevardnadze, relations between Moscow and Tbilisi seemed to normalize. Georgia became part of the CIS, political and economic contacts have intensified between the countries. Long-term cultural and religious ties also contributed to this. The main thing is that under Shevardnadze, Tbilisi established contacts with South Ossetia and Abkha-zia. Transport links were resumed, residents of Tskh-invali and Sukhum were given the opportunity to stu-dy at Georgian universities and receive free medical tre-atment throughout the country. Trade resumed, joint bu-siness projects were outlined. In parallel, Georgia also developed relations with the West. At the same time, the republic was one of the first in the post-Soviet space to proclaim a course towards joining NATO and the EU. In 1994, Tbilisi joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, but the country has not yet received membership in the alliance.

There is no certainty ab-out the EU either. In 2009, Georgia joined the Eastern Partnership, a European pr-oject designed to accelerate the integration of post-Sov-iet countries into Western structures. Four years later, Tbilisi signed an association agreement with the EU. But all these steps have not yet helped to become a member of the common European home.

The opposite result

The rapprochement of Georgia with the Western world, as a rule, is accompanied by anti-Russian rhetoric, but not only. In 2003, America and Europe supported the so-called Rose Revolution, which led to a change of government and a serious split in relations between Moscow and Tbilisi. The reason was the suspicion of rigging the parliamentary elections. The opposition, led by 35-year-old American university graduate Mikhail Saaka-shvili, burst into parliament. There Shevardnadze spoke at the podium. He was accused of stagnation and demanded to resign. To prevent bloodshed, the president announced his resignation, and Georgia was headed by Saakashvili.

With the coming of M-ishiko (Saakashvili’s nickn-ame) to power, a serious discord began between Tbilisi and Moscow, Tskhinvali and Sukhum. The new president provoked his neighb-ors in every possible way. S-o, in 2004, through a dem-onstration of force, Saaka-shvili returned control to A-djara, which also claimed i-ndependence. Moscow then took a neutral position, and Saakashvili regarded this as a carte blanche to pacify other uncontrolled territories as well. In the same year, Georgia made the so-called humanitarian march to Tskhinval, but failed to return autonomy. This time Moscow criticized Tbilisi’s actions and called for an end to the provocations. But Saakashvili believed that the Western world was on his side, and therefore Tskhinvali and Sukhum would sooner or later be under Tbilisi’s control.

Saakashvili’s belligerent rhetoric found supporters in the US and Europe. But even there they did not expect the Georgian leader to move from words to deeds and start a war with his neighbors. The events of August 2008 caught most of the world’s leaders by surprise. Although many supported him in words, they admitted that the president’s actions were too risky. The result is exactly the opposite: instead of returning the territories, Georgia finally lost them. At the same time, Moscow, which had been trying for a long time to reconcile Tbilisi with the autonomies, agreed to recognize their independence.

Keys in Moscow

“Until recently, tourism remained one of the few areas where contacts developed. But three years ago, Moscow stopped direct flights to Tbilisi. The reason was anti-Russian demonstrations in Georgia, provoked by the arrival of Russian MP Sergei Gavrilov. Saakashvili’s supporters urged people to go out and resist.” the hand of Moscow, “recalls Archil Sikharulidze, a political scientist and founder of the Georgian scientific research center SIKHA foundation.

He says that travel companies in Tbilisi are still interested in attracting Russians, but they can only enter through third countries. “At the same time, in the internal political life of Georgia, the” Russian threat “emerges every time the opposition begins to sort things out with the ruling party. Politicians accuse each other of having links with the Kremlin,” he notes.

As for the situation around South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Sikharulidze ad-mits: Georgians hope that the territories will return to Georgia. At the same time, he emphasizes: “the keys to solving the problem are still not in Tskhinvali and Sukh-um, but in Moscow.” Hence the conclusion: Georgia will have to look for points of contact with Russia.

Abkhazian political scientist Akhra Butbaia is sure that the return of Tskhinvali and Sukhum to Georgia is out of the question. “The countries that demand to revoke the recognition of our independence have nev-er understood, and were not fully interested in what the residents themselves think. None of the Western politicians have been in our shoes when the war was going on.” He emphasizes that the statements of the West are nothing more than populism on the eve of the next anniversary of the events of August 2008.

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