As we reflect on the 3rd anniversary of Georgia’s ill-fated invasion of South Ossetia, it is interesting to note how lobbyists for the Government of Georgia continue to perpetuate the myth that the war was started by the Russians. This high-powered, well financed group has launched a powerful campaign to derail the improved relations between the U.S. and Russia. They have enlisted many neo-con think tanks and politicians in their effort to rewrite history. Apparently these cold warriors are nostalgic for the days when every event was viewed as West versus East. It was this sort of dated vision during the Georgian invasion that produced hollow and silly neo-con slogans like “We are all Georgians now.”
A historical perspective is useful when analyzing complex geopolitical issues. In the 19th Century, the Russian Tsar administered his various territories in the Caucuses in a manner similar to the method employed by the British Raj in India: from the administrative center, each individual enclave was run separately. The people of South Ossetia spoke a Persian-based language and their religion was Orthodoxy. The people of Abkhazia were a Moslem people who spoke a Turkic-based language. Neither territory was ever part of Georgia.
In the 1930’s, Josef Stalin (formally know by his Georgian name, Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili), the Soviet dictator, rounded out that map of his native Georgia by annexing these two territories into Georgia. The natives of South Ossetia and Abkhazia thereafter considered Tbilisi to be their colonial master, not St. Petersburg Russia. When tensions developed in the early 1990s, eighty thousand locals sent hundreds of thousands of Georgians packing and invited the Russians in as peace keepers. No one has ever alleged that the Russians had any role whatsoever in fomenting these long simmering ill feelings between the locals and Georgia. Ever since, Georgia has been unable to re-claim “its” territories.
Even though the United Nations, the European Union and all objective analysts have concluded that hostilities were initiated by Georgia, many neo-cons and conservative commentators continue to peddle the line that it was the Russians who invaded Georgian territory. It’s ironic that a coalition of neo-cons is arguing for the continuation of one of Stalin’s forced annexations.
The U.S. and Russia have made great strides since the guns of August created a rift in U.S-Russian relations. Our two countries find ourselves cooperating in mutually beneficial areas like space exploration, anti-terrorism, drug interdiction, and supplying NATO troops in Afghanistan. We must not allow the dated perceptions cold war warriors to interfere with further cooperation between our two countries.