Kornely Kakachia, Associate professor, Department of Political Science, Tbilisi State University (Tbilisi, Georgia)

I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

Winston Churchill

Background to the Conflict

The dissolution of empires is frequently violent, and the breakup of the Soviet Union was no exception. The collapse of the U.S.S.R. was marked by ethnically-based violence, especially in the Southern Caucasus. Since its independence, Georgia has been the most vocally independent-minded country in the former Soviet Union. As Georgias ambitions to draw close to Europe and the transatlantic community became clearer, its relations with Russia deteriorated.

After the Rose Revolution relations between Georgia and Russia remain problematic due to Russias continuing political, economic and military support to separatist governments in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In recent years, Moscow granted the majority of Abkhaz and South Ossetians Russian citizenship and moved to establish close economic and bureaucratic ties with the two separatist republics, effectively enacting a creeping annexation of both territories. Use of Russian citizenship to create a protected population residing in a neighboring state to undermine its sovereignty is a slippery slope that is now leading to a redrawing of the former Soviet borders.

Russias recent attack on Georgia followed several years of provocative acts engineered in Moscow to destabilize Georgia. In the summer of 2006, tension increased between Tbilisi and Moscow. The Georgian government conducted a police operation to eliminate organized criminal groups operating in the Upper Kodori Valley region of Abkhazia, which restored the rule of law and the governments authority over this portion of its sovereign territory. Georgia later arrested several Russian military intelligence officers it accused of conducting bombings in Gori. Moscow responded with a vengeance, closing Russias only road crossing with Georgia, suspending air and mail links, imposing embargoes against exports of Georgian wine, mineral water, and agricultural goods, and even rounding up people living in Russia (including school children) with ethnic Georgian names and deporting them. At least two Georgians died during the deportation process.

Russias provocations escalated in 2007. In March 2007, what is widely believed to be Russian attack helicopters launched an aerial assault, combined with artillery fire, on the Georgian Governments administrative offices in Abkhazias Upper Kodori Valley. In August, Russian fighter jets violated Georgian airspace, then unsuccessfully launched a missile on a Georgian radar station. In September, a Russian lieutenant colonel and major who were in command of..

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