Ukraine crisis: Shades of Georgia lurk in Putin’s actions

 

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The Crimea crisis has brought back memories of 2008, when Russia went to war with Georgia over  break-away territory.

Ukraine’s own acting president, Olexander Turchinov, has compared the crisis to that war. “Russia has sent forces into Crimea... they are working on scenarios which are fully analogous with Abkhazia, when having initiated a military conflict, they started to annex the territory,” Mr Turchinov said.

In that case, two regions – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – had been functioning for 15 years outside Georgian control, their de facto independence guaranteed by Russian peacekeeping troops.

Tensions grew high that summer and, perhaps after some provocations, Georgia attacked posts in South Ossetia. Russia threw its troops into the fight and in five days they were approaching Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. French mediation brought the conflict to an end. The two regions are now virtual sections of Russia. A key factor is that Georgia moved first. Ukraine has been careful so far not to give the Russians any excuse to open fire.

Georgia had also been flirting with Nato, which drew the ire of Vladimir Putin, who was at that time Prime Minister of Russia, but the real leader of the country. For him, it was a victory against Nato almost as much as one against Georgia.

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Later assessments suggested that the Russian military did not acquit itself well against a tiny Georgian army. That led to sweeping reforms in the Russian defence establishment, which have greatly angered Russian generals but have gone over well with junior officers. Analysts believe the Russian military is in better shape than six years ago, but Ukraine’s army is more of a factor to be reckoned with than Georgia’s was.

The war against Georgia broke out while Putin was at the Olympics in Beijing. This war, if it comes, follows on the heels of the Sochi Games. 

© Washington Post

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