As Georgia remembers the Russian invasion of Georgia that took place in August 2008, leading to the death of hundreds of people and displacing about 200,000 civilians, TVP World looks at how that conflict came to be recognised as “Europe’s first 21-century war”.
The hostilities in Georgia began in early August 2008. In the beginning, it was an exchange of fire between Russian-backed separatists from Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the Georgian military.
Later on, the Russian military rolled into Georgia on August 8, 2008.
While the conflict was still ongoing, a special delegation headed by then Polish President Lech Kaczyński reached the Georgian capital of Tbilisi to show the Georgians that they are not alone.
Along with late President Lech Kaczyński, leaders of Ukraine and the Baltic States descended on Tbilisi to speak in front of an audience of 150,000 Georgians.
“Today it is Georgia, tomorrow Ukraine, the day after tomorrow the Baltic States, and then perhaps my country, Poland,” President Kaczyński said, as bullets whizzed just hundreds of metres away. “We were deeply convinced that membership in NATO and the EU would end the period of Russian appetite, it turns out that it is a mistake. But we can resist it,” he added.
But the fighting in Georgia was only a warm-up for Russia, whetting its appetite for more conflict in the years that followed.
Although the war in Georgia wound down within a matter of days, its repercussions continue to be felt 14 years on due to a “slow and weak” reaction of the West, as John Herbst, Director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center put it in 2021.
“The Kremlin learned that the West preferred to ignore or at least minimize Russian bad behavior in the so-called Near Abroad,” he said.
Not only did many western leaders, apart from the Polish President, and the leaders of Ukraine and the Baltic States, not respond with sufficient resolve to the Russian aggression but the ceasefire they pushed for appeared to favour Russian interests. “The US under the new Obama administration was soon calling for a reset in relations with the Kremlin,” the Atlantic Council wrote.
Following the conflict, Russia recognised the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia – a decision that the western world has condemned and stressed it was against international laws.
But Russia’s victory also emboldened it to annex Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 and outrightly invade the country on February 24, 2022.
“The 2008 Russo-Georgian War is now widely recognised as a landmark event in the transition from the era of post-Soviet cooperation between Russia and the West towards today’s Cold War climate,” the Atlantic Council wrote.