HOW THE AUGUST WAR AFFECTED THE CAUCASUS

Nikolai SILAEV


Nikolai Silaev, Ph.D. (Hist.), senior researcher at the Center of Caucasian Studies, Moscow State Institute of International Affairs (Moscow, Russia)


The August war had a paradoxical effect on the Caucasus. It turned the region into the main arena of the biggest international crisis in recent history. Russian-American relations had not reached such a critical point since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Some observers harked back to the Caribbean crisis of 1962. The test launching of Russias Topol-M ballistic missile in response to the appearance of American war ships in the Black Sea; the turning point in the seemingly irreversible process of NATOs enlargement that became evident after Georgia and Ukraine were refused Membership Action Plans in December 2008; and the new tone of the latest American administration in its dealings with Moscow all indicate that global security issues were placed on the map in August and that we should appreciate the fact that this local and short-lived armed conflict helped to resolve (although not entirely) such acute and far-reaching contradictions.

For the Caucasus, however, the situation looks different. Of course, the external changes, primarily the appearance of two new independent states, reflect the scope of the crisis. But the old contradictions have not been resolved, while several new ones have appeared. Soon after the Russian presidential decree on recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states was signed and publicized, Russian diplomats began talking about the successful settlement of two ethnopolitical conflicts. There are technical grounds for such an opinion. But only technical. Suffice it to say that nothing has been done to accommodate the Georgian refugees who left their homes in South Ossetia or the Ossetian refugees who cannot return to the republic because their homes have been destroyed and are still in ruins. Abkhazia and South Ossetia (particularly the latter) risk repeating the fate of Northern Cyprus, which was recognized by Turkey but has been unable to rectify its economic underdevelopment or emerge from foreign political isolation.

There can be no doubt that such a fate is preferable to the ethnic cleansing that would threaten the Abkhazians and Ossetians if they found themselves back under Tbilisis jurisdiction. But can such a fate be considered enviable?

In August 2008, Georgia underwent a defeat comparable to the collapse of statehood it experienced in the first half of the 1990s. Loss of a large portion of its territory, the blatant incompetence of its political and military leadership, and its disillusions about receiving any kind of significant assistance from the U.S. all gave rise to the national-state project that was being carried out in the country before. The Georgian Way, which many in the region considered exemplary, turned into a complete fiasco. Whereby in Georgia itself the disaster was merely expressed in an emotional reaction and did not lead to reassessment of the previous strategy. The Georgian political elite is largely sticking to its former rhetoric and declaring its previous goals.

In August 2008, Russian-Georgian relations reached the lowest point in their entire history. After bottoming out, it would be logical to..


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