Main Image Credit Courtesy of Kober/Wikimedia Commons
August 2020 marks the 12-year anniversary of the Russo-Georgian War, but Moscow continues to violate Georgia’s internationally recognised borders.
On this day, 12 years ago, a six point ceasefire agreement between Georgia and Russia was mediated by then French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The agreement called for ‘the withdrawal of Russian forces to their lines of deployment prior to 7 August 2008’ and for allowing unfettered access for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Yet, a decade later, Russia continues to violate both international law and the Sarkozy-brokered agreement by continuing to occupy no less than a fifth of Georgia’s territory – Abkhazia and so-called South Ossetia – by recognising their supposed ‘independence’, by keeping a Russian military presence, and by pursuing its ‘borderisation’ policy which involves a further and creeping occupation of Georgian territory.
The five-day war, during which Russian military forces launched a full-scale land, air and sea offensive against Georgia, took the world by surprise. The war resulted in the displacement of over 150,000 citizens and the death of 169 servicemen, 14 policemen and 228 civilians. Kremlin propaganda attempted to legitimise its actions by claiming it was Georgia that started the war, but it is clear that the preparation for the military offensive started long before the August war of 2008, and was mainly due to the Kremlin’s inability to restrain Georgia’s pro-Western aspirations and foreign policy direction.
Yet, despite the human loss, economic destruction and the political implications of the war, Russia never managed to achieve its primary objective – to return Georgia to Russia’s orbit. Indeed, the one fact that the war clearly demonstrated to Georgia is the fact that there is no turning back. While the West offers the prospects for economic prosperity, a democratic future with strong institutions and a security umbrella, Russia has nothing to offer other than aggression and economic backwardness. Thus, in the aftermath of the war, the consensus among the society regarding Georgia’s future has been firm.
European and Euro-Atlantic integration is the key priority for Georgia’s foreign policy agenda: it represents a security guarantee for the Georgian state and a value-based choice of the overwhelming majority of the Georgian people. 12 years on, despite Russian attempts to employ a myriad of conventional and unconventional means to undermine Georgia’s sovereignty and internal stability, the country is closer to NATO then it has ever been. Reiterating the words of NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg ‘There is more NATO in Georgia now than ever’.
Georgia is committed to meeting NATO standards of spending 2% of its GDP on defence needs to enhance its readiness and interoperability with the Alliance. Deep and comprehensive partnership is reflected in regular joint multinational military exercises such as the Agile Spirit, Noble Partner and Sea Breeze.
Yet, Georgia is not only a consumer of the perks of partnership with NATO; it is an active contributor to NATO-led operations and international missions that serve the purpose of strengthening the global rules-based order. With its presence in Afghanistan, Georgia is the largest non-NATO troop contributor to the NATO mission. Thus, as we mark the 12-year anniversary of the war, Russia is perceived as an aggressor by the Western world, while Georgia advances on the path to achieve its strategic objective – European and Euro-Atlantic integration.
Russian Aggression Continues
Despite enhanced partnership with NATO and a strategic partnership with the US, Georgia faces Russian aggression on a daily basis, as ‘war’ is far from being concluded. Russia continues its growing militarisation on Georgian soil and is determined to further grab Georgian territories as demonstrated by its ‘borderisation’ policy.
The malign practice of closing the ‘crossing points’ along the occupation line, leads to further deterioration of the humanitarian situation on the ground. The ‘borderisation’ affects civilians living in the area on a daily basis, separates families and some even end up being detained or in the worst-case scenario killed by Russian-backed de facto forces.
Despite the fact that since the August war, by the standards of international law, Russia has been firmly identified as a party to the conflict, it still attempts to pretend otherwise, by claiming to be a peacekeeper and ‘humanitarian actor’ in this conflict. In fact, the Kremlin wants to normalise the term ‘new realities’, which entails establishing two new ‘independent’ states within the internationally recognised borders of Georgia. Furthermore, in violation of the ceasefire agreement, Moscow does not allow international monitoring missions such as the European Union Monitoring Mission to enter the occupied regions of Georgia.
From initially conventional means, Russia has increasingly switched to employing hybrid tools of warfare (such as exercising ‘manageable chaos’, financial and economic manipulation and spreading disinformation), all of which enables the Kremlin to seek its goals in a more cost-efficient and timely manner.
Georgia has also been a top recipient of Russian disinformation and regular cyber attacks targeted at government and non-government agencies. The primary target of Kremlin propaganda is to change public opinion regarding NATO and the West and portray Russia as the only cultural, religious, and value-based ‘true ally’. Yet, in the midst of such a creeping occupation, Russian propaganda is still failing to gain momentum.
Western Backing Needed More than Ever
Countries such as Georgia and Ukraine have been the primary targets of Russian aggression and need unwavering Western support more than ever. In 2014, the international community was shocked when the Kremlin annexed Crimea through hybrid means and military intervention in Eastern Ukraine, yet few remembered the lessons from the Georgian experience.
In fact, the underestimation of the Russian threat back in 2008 led to the events in Ukraine. The question is who will be the next victim of the Kremlin’s imperialistic ambitions? Russia’s continuing aggression is a dangerous trend in the post-Soviet space, in which the Kremlin is determined to defend its so-called ‘sphere of influence’. The August War is therefore a warning: if we forget the past, the next act of Russian aggression is only a matter of time.
Kakhaber Kemoklidze is the Head of the Office of the National Security Council of Georgia and a former Special Representative at Geneva International Discussions from the Georgian security services.
Natia Seskuria is an Associate Fellow at RUSI.
The views expressed in this Commentary are the authors', and do not represent those of RUSI or any other institution.