Russia vs Georgia in War – what’s the deal?

I like to stay up on current events.  The last couple weeks though I’ve been preoccupied with the Olympics and Tropical Storm Fay among other things.  I knew that there was a war with Russia and Georgia but I really didn’t get what was going on.  It seemed Russia invaded Georgia just for the heck of it.  I know that can’t be (fully) true, so I did some reading this morning and think I’ve got it kinda figured out.  It’s more complex than this, but here’s how I’m understanding it now.

First let’s get out the map:

Okay, see that part in the middle called South Ossetia?  The people group living there are mostly Ossetians, a group of Iranian descent.  They are a people divided to the south and the north.  This map doesn’t show it, but in Russia, just north of S. Ossetia is an area called North Ossetia.  The land in the north is Russian.  The land in the south is confusing.  But the first thing I realized is that this is a people group divided by border.

In the 80’s there were no problems (wink).  Georgia, Russia, Ossetia, and also Abkhazia to the west of Georgia were all part of the USSR.  But when the USSR split up, Georgia got it’s independence.  In fact, both Abkhazia and Ossetia wanted theirs also but they became part of Georgia.

Where it gets funky is that over the last 15 or so years, both have been given special autonomous government while still a territory of Georgia.   But the Russians say that 90% of the South Ossetians (in Georgia remember) have Russian passports and protection from the Russians.  Georgians say that the Russians helped to install a Russian government and is fueling the Ossetian rebellion.

So a few weeks ago South Ossetia launched a small attack on Georgia. (see edit at end of post) Georgia decided to retaliate with more force.  Russia, feeling they have a responsibility to protect S. Ossetia, launched an even stronger attack on Georgia.  S. Ossetia was almost completely destroyed from the fighting.  Russia also can claim that Georgia was attempting genocide since relatively no Ossetians live in Georgia proper and they were attacking a place filled with the ethnic Ossetians.

Meanwhile Abkhazia decided they’d take the opportunity to launch against Georgia also and drive out any remaining Georgians in Abkhazia.  The Russians came to assist the Abkhaz to ‘establish peace’.  In this case, peace means no more Georgians in Abkhazia.

Today Russia announced that they believe that both Abkhazia and South Ossetia are independant nations.  Georgia is insulted along with the EU and the US. Meanwhile the Abkhaz ethnic group and the Ossetia ethnic group are elated.

Sources: Wikipedia: 2008 South Ossetia War, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Russia defies west by recognising Georgian rebel regions

EDIT: it’s unclear who was responsible for starting the war because there were “ongoing occasional skirmishes [that] escalated to a war early in the morning of 7 August 2008, with an attack by Georgia into the break-away region of South Ossetia” (source wikipedia).  It does seem that Georgia was the aggressor, not South Ossetia as I originally wrote.

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  • “So a few weeks ago South Ossetia launched a small attack on Georgia.”
    Can you give me a source from where you got that information?

  • rob

    @Seraphiel – When reading this morning I was under the impression South Ossetia “started” it. When going back to where I read it, I realized I misspoke. I’ve corrected it more accurately in an edit at the bottom of the post. Thanks for pointing that out.


    Interesting viewpoint on “Who started it”

  • @Sheldon – you know, I read that last night after posting this in the morning. Really, I don’t think it matters who started it. They’ve been fighting back and forth for a long time. This isn’t the easiest thing to wrap my head around that’s why I wanted to type up what I found

  • From my reading, this whole thing actually started in Feb 08 when the West (US and Europe) supported Kosovo independence. Kosovo independence was the first time since WWII that European borders have changed, and it was in direct contradiction to policies the US and Europe had previously established and abided by. The justification by NATO for interference in Kosovo was “genocide”, a claim Russia rejected. Secondly it was a slap in the face for both Serbia and Russia, both defenders of the Slavic peoples. So Russia was ‘faced’ and needed to respond in some way otherwise it would be obvious to the world that it was, as the West supposed, powerless.

    So the Georgian events provided the perfect context. You can see in the rhetoric of Putin and other spokesman for Russia that the issue was, indeed, Kosovo and how the West said one thing but did another. C.f. and note the specific language of “genocide” that Russia used.

    Here is an excerpted quote from Russian president Medvedev in which he spells out the correlation exactly:
    “In an interview with the BBC at his residency in Sochi, on the border with Abkhazia, Mr Medvedev later said Russia had been obliged to act following a “genocide” started by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili against separatists in South Ossetia in August.

    “The president compared Russia’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to the West’s recognition of Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in February 2008.”

    This was tit for tat in the world of global geopolitics and a statement by Russia that it is back in power.