Did Russia win in Georgia? The general perception is that Moscow won, big time. Russia “displayed its power to the world,” “proved that it’s a superpower that must be taken into consideration,” and all sorts of other strategic claims.
In my view, however, Russia did not win in Georgia. Indeed, Georgia lost this short war, but Russia also lost. I become more convinced of this the more I read and see what former Sovietologists have to say, Western experts who made colossal mistakes in overestimating the Soviet empire in the past, and now are again rushing from one TV studio to the next; again, they have something to talk about: The Russian threat.
The Russian threat? When a superpower needs to utilize brutal military force in order to punish a rebellious tiny neighbor, it does not prove its power – in fact, it proves its weakness. By invading Georgia, Russia proved that it does not even have the power to deter a tiny country from provoking it.
Those who think that Russia’s neighbors were scared by the sight of 50 airplanes and 100 tanks pushing the Georgian army out of south Ossetia and Abkhazia are wrong. “Conquering” Ossetia is not the same as conquering Ukraine.
Russia’s military victory is even less convincing. What we saw in Georgia was a frightened withdrawal by a local army that did not want to engage in a needless war of occupation. The Georgian troops were sent by their delusional president to Ossetia in order to sow fear among the population and suppress the region’s autonomic aspirations. The troops were sent on a blatant imperial mission, which they did not feel any sympathy with. It is no wonder they fled, after apparently committing quite a few horrific acts.
The Russian army entered those areas while facing little resistance, but this does not attest to its fighting abilities. This “war” did not see the utilization of complicated technological means, massive troops were not flown great distances, no headquarters were established, and there is no room for comparison between the “Georgia war” and the two American wars against Saddam Hussein.
No enthusiasm in MoscowOfficials at the Kremlin actually realized this full well, and were quick to end the fighting before Georgia prepared to truly defend itself; the Russians did not want to be dragged into battles whose results could be risky for Russian generals. The pressure to end the fighting came first and foremost from the Russian army itself. The French peace plan, accepted by President Medvedev, is a balanced agreement that erases a significant part of Russia’s military achievements within Georgian territory.
When the Kremlin ordered the fighting to stop Tuesday, many hours before the Georgian government did so, the Russians sighed with relief. The limited enthusiasm displayed by Russian newscasters and commentators was surprising. Moscow was not swept by a wave of patriotism and the masses did not hit the streets to protest against “the enemy.” Russia’s citizens wondered what their troops were doing there, at the cursed Caucasus, and feared escalation that would lead to yet another Chechnya war.
Moreover, it is difficult and virtually impossible to provoke anti-Georgian sentiments in Russia. Both peoples are very close. None other than Josef Stalin, one of Russia’s most admired historical heroes, was Georgian.
Georgia’s President Saakashvili showed bad judgment and blatant foolishness when he sent his army to embark on a dangerous imperialistic adventure in Ossetia, thus infuriating Russia’s leadership. The Russians responded nervously, yet should be credited with quickly realizing the limits of power and returning to the rules of the game common in the 21st Century.
Today, Russia has $950 billion in assets in the West. None of its elected leaders would be willing to risk this immense wealth by engaging in a border war whose economic and financial price could be huge.