Nobody should doubt that the aggressions of 2008, 2014 and 2022 are part of the same strategy of Russia to redraw the borders in Europe, and the target is the collective West
Sunday (7 August) marked the 14th year since Russia launched full-scale military aggression in Georgia, testing the targeted country for its democracy and European and Euro-Atlantic choice and the collective West on its ability to defend the principles and rules-based international order. Reflection on this war is even more important now as the world is witnessing Russia’s unprovoked, continuous aggression in Ukraine.
The pattern of military invasion of independent countries was set in 2008 when Russia launched a massive attack against Georgia by land, sea, air, and cyberspace. The scale of this short war was remarkably large for the small Eastern European country.
Dozens of cities throughout Georgia were bombed, and over fifty Georgian villages around Tskhinvali were fully burnt. Russia took control of more than five additional valleys and continued the illegal occupation of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali regions.
The human toll of the Russian invasion was no less devastating, taking hundreds of lives – mostly of peaceful civilians – and leading to another wave of forcible displacement of ethnic Georgians. This brought the total number of IDPs and refugees expelled from their homes since the early 1990s due to ethnic cleansing to half a million.
The long-awaited verdict of the 2008 invasion came out only last year when the Strasbourg Court established the responsibility of Russia for severe human rights violations during the war and in the period of further occupation of the Georgian territories.
The violations include killing, torture, rape, inhuman treatment, arbitrary detention, ethnic cleansing, looting and burning of Georgians’ houses. Besides, the ECHR recognised Russia as the state effectively controlling Georgia’s occupied regions and confirmed that Moscow remains in breach of the EU-mediated 12 August 2008 Ceasefire Agreement.
Since this war, Russia has reinforced its illegal military presence in the Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali regions and intensified the steps towards their de-facto annexation, projecting power in the wider Black Sea region. The occupation forces continue regular military drills, along with the kidnapping and illegal detention of Georgian people. The erection of small “Berlin Walls” in the form of barbed wires or tall fences in the middle of courtyards and gardens of locals has become an everyday nightmare for all of Georgia.
The vulnerability is particularly tangible in the villages adjacent to the occupation line. These people continue to live in their homes at high risk of their lives.
Amid the daily provocations at the occupation line, many cases have risked leading to further open hostilities, including those of torture and murder of D.Basharuli, G.Otkhozoria and A.Tatunashvili on the ground of ethnicity, as well as the creeping occupation – Russian security forces capturing additional hectares of Georgian controlled territory by silently moving forward the occupation line.
Against this background, the escalation of a more significant armed conflict has been prevented only because of the well-established peace architecture facilitated by the EU, such as the formats of the Geneva International Discussions and Incident Prevention and Response Mechanisms, as well as the presence of the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia.
On its part, Georgia has been firmly pursuing a sustainable, peaceful conflict resolution policy. Throughout the years, the Government of Georgia has not spared any effort to advance its peace policy in two main directions — the de-occupation of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali regions, on the one hand, and fostering engagement and confidence building between the communities divided by the occupation line, on the other.
If 14 years ago some sceptics could see an “argument” of “understanding Russia” for its invasion of Georgia in 2008, today, nobody doubts that the “exercises” of 2008, 2014 and 2022 are parts of the same strategy of Russia to redraw the borders in Europe and establish the new so-called zones of influence, undermining the independence and the European aspirations of sovereign countries. And the target here is the collective West per se.
This dangerous adventure makes the whole world realise what is at stake and what might be the price if the free world and nations like Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are defeated in their struggle for freedom and European choice. In the end, it is about Europe, international security, and the future of all of us. And this makes it a time of choice.
Either we want to preserve the rules-based order – where principles work and peace prevails, and all of us do our utmost to safeguard the system – or we risk losing and waking up in a “might makes right” world, where nuclear weapons determine the rules and a big military power decides for small independent countries. I think the choice is clear and doubtless.
Georgia, on its part, stands strong where it has to and, despite detrimental security challenges, joins the civilised world in undertaking international measures to stop this aggressive war. I am proud that Tbilisi has been a supporter or co-author of all resolutions or decisions that have been adopted in New York, Geneva, Vienna, Strasbourg, The Hague or Brussels in support of Ukraine and condemnation of Russia’s invasion.
From the perspective of a person working on EU-related topics for 20 years, I shall say that in these difficult times, the European Union has demonstrated an unprecedented sense of unity and the ability to take strategic decisions quickly.
The latest bold steps of the EU have sent an important signal to the world that the international community will not accept the practice of using force to gain political domination over the free world. The 23 June Decision of the European Council to grant the European Perspective to all three Associated Partners – Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – has probably served as the most decisive strategic stance of the EU in the last decade, illustrating that Brussels indeed has become a global geopolitical player.
The return of Georgia back to the European family was an aspiration of the government of the 1st Democratic Republic of Georgia in 1918-1921 (later occupied by the Soviet Union) and has been a dream of many generations of the Georgian people.
This strong desire and unity of more than 80% of Georgians around the European choice made the country – with 20% of its territory occupied and 10% of its population being forcibly displaced – able to move forward relentlessly and take concrete steps towards a democratic transition and European and Euro-Atlantic integration.
For years, Georgia has been in the leading positions within the Eastern Partnership, successfully implementing its democratic reforms in good governance, the rule of law, anti-corruption, media pluralism and freedom, human rights, gender inclusiveness and protection of minorities, and performing well with high-professional public service, strong institutions, and civil society.
This overall positive track record has laid the grounds for the historical decision of the EU, recognising Georgia’s perspective for EU membership and expressing readiness to grant candidate status once the country addresses the priorities specified by the European Commission.
Despite difficulties, the Government of Georgia is strongly committed to implementing the recommendations by the EC. The work has already been launched, and Georgia will do its utmost to advance all the provisions, further consolidating its democracy, strengthening the rule of law, and inclusiveness.
While talking about the lessons learnt from 2008, as well as 2014 and 2022, I have to say, as it is my firm belief, that the consistency and action along with a strategic vision for the Trio – Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, the Black Sea and enlarge