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Tbilisi’s progress 11 years after Russia’s invasion of Georgia demonstrates what can be achieved despite an aggressive neighbor
Eleven years after Russian tanks crossed a mountain tunnel in the Caucasus and invaded neighboring Georgia, State Department officials admit that the United States underestimated the geopolitical implications of these events for all of Western Europe..
“What happened 11 years ago, when Russia invaded Georgia, was actually a return of war to Europe – and none of us expected that,” George Kent, deputy assistant Secretary of State at the European and Eurasian Bureau of the US Department of State.
“Russia, a member of the UN Security Council, invaded the territory of a neighboring country. She did this in Georgia in 2008 and repeated these actions in Ukraine in 2014. Looking back, the events that happened in Georgia 11 years ago have changed today’s geostrategic realities in Georgia and throughout Eurasia, ”says Kent..
On August 8, 2008, Russian forces invaded Georgia, occupying a large part of the country’s territory with the help of bombing. During the war, which lasted five days, Russia defeated the Georgian army, and the bloodshed was stopped only with the mediation of the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who at that time was also the head of the European Union..
After the war, Moscow recognized South Ossetia and another separatist enclave, Abkhazia, as independent states, placing its military bases there..
George Kent, who visited the Georgian embassy in Washington on Thursday, believes it is not too late to take the Georgian lessons into account in the ongoing war between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists..
According to Valeriy Chaly, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, the Russian invasion of 2008 heralded a new era in international relations, in which diplomatic strategy gave way to military power..
“We in Ukraine have realized this. When Georgia was attacked, we provided it with weapons, because we understood that after Georgia we could become the next target. And so it happened. The whole world will wait for a compromise, some changes in behavior, but nothing will change, ”Chaly says, adding that Ukraine has learned two lessons from the attack on Georgia..
“There are two things to do. Find a diplomatic solution based on strength, taking into account the capabilities of the armed forces – the Navy, Army and Air Force. And then you need to prepare for the fight for freedom and independence, ”says the diplomat.
A few months ago, five years after the annexation of Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree simplifying the procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship for residents of Eastern Ukraine, part of which is now occupied by separatists with the support of Moscow..
Although the Kremlin claims that this decree “protects human and civil rights” in the spirit of “principles and norms of international law,” Ukraine and Western countries called the move an illegal attempt to encroach on Ukrainian sovereignty..
Kurt Volcker, the US State Department’s special envoy for Ukraine, is optimistic, claiming that the US and Ukraine have learned well the lessons learned around the world over the past decade..
“Georgia was the first step, Ukraine was the second – but it radically changed the perception of Putin’s actions in the eyes of the whole world and [made adjustments] to what the US should do in response,” Volcker says..
Kent and Volcker say the US is determined to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
“Our commitment to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine remains unchanged, and we believe that Donbass and Crimea are part of Ukraine. This policy will not change, ”says Kent.
According to Volcker, Georgia in 2019 is an example of excellent work on mistakes – the country has learned well the lessons of 2008.
“Georgia is thriving right now. It is a democracy with a successful economy. They have made impressive progress in the fight against corruption. They have established close relations with Europe, with NATO, with the United States, “Volcker adds..
According to him, Georgia has achieved success even despite the fact that Russia occupied 20% of its territory. “I think this is the main lesson,” says Volcker..