Setting the Record Straight: Ossetia and Russia Started it!

Ace journalist Michael Totten, reporting from Georgia, confirms what we reported some time ago and sets the record straight on just who started the armed conflict that led to the Russian invasion.  Hint:  It was not Georgia.

Virtually everyone believes Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili foolishly provoked a Russian invasion on August 7, 2008, when he sent troops into the breakaway district of South Ossetia. “The warfare began Aug. 7 when Georgia launched a barrage targeting South Ossetia,” the Associated Press reported over the weekend in typical fashion.

Virtually everyone is wrong. Georgia didn’t start it on August 7, nor on any other date. The South Ossetian militia started it on August 6 when its fighters fired on Georgian peacekeepers and Georgian villages with weapons banned by the agreement hammered out between the two sides in 1994. At the same time, the Russian military sent its invasion force bearing down on Georgia from the north side of the Caucasus Mountains on the Russian side of the border through the Roki tunnel and into Georgia. This happened before Saakashvili sent additional troops to South Ossetia and allegedly started the war.

Regional expert, German native, and former European Commission official Patrick Worms was recently hired by the Georgian government as a media advisor, and he explained to me exactly what happened when I met him in downtown Tbilisi. You should always be careful with the version of events told by someone on government payroll even when the government is friendly as democratic as Georgia’s. I was lucky, though, that another regional expert, author and academic Thomas Goltz, was present during Worms’ briefing to me and signed off on it as completely accurate aside from one tiny quibble.

Goltz has been writing about the Caucasus region for almost 20 years, and he isn’t on Georgian government payroll. He earns his living from the University of Montana and from the sales of his books Azerbaijan Diary, Georgia Diary and Chechnya Diary. Goltz experienced these three Caucasus republics at their absolute worst, and he knows the players and the events better than just about anyone. Every journalist in Tbilisi seeks him out as the old hand who knows more than the rest of us put together, and he wanted to hear Patrick Worms’ spiel to reporters in part to ensure its accuracy.

“You,” Worms said to Goltz just before he started to flesh out the real story to me, “are going to be bored because I’m going to give some back story that you know better than I do.”

“Go,” Goltz said. “Go.”

The back story began at least as early as the time of the Soviet Union. I turned on my digital voice recorder so I wouldn’t miss anything that was said.

“A key tool that the Soviet Union used to keep its empire together,” Worms said to me, “was pitting ethnic groups against one another. They did this extremely skillfully in the sense that they never generated ethnic wars within their own territory. But when the Soviet Union collapsed it became an essential Russian policy to weaken the states on its periphery by activating the ethnic fuses they planted.

“They tried that in a number of countries. They tried it in the Baltic states, but the fuses were defused. Nothing much happened. They tried it in Ukraine. It has not happened yet, but it’s getting hotter. They tried it in Moldova. There it worked, and now we have Transnitria. They tried it in Armenia and Azerbaijan and it went beyond their wildest dreams and we ended up with a massive, massive war. And they tried it in two territories in Georgia, which I’ll talk about in a minute. They didn’t try it in Central Asia because basically all the presidents of the newly independent countries were the former heads of the communist parties and they said we’re still following your line, Kremlin, we haven’t changed very much.

{Click here to read the voluminous remainder of this excellent analysis, and consider making a donation to support Michael’s excellent reporting}

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5 responses to “Setting the Record Straight: Ossetia and Russia Started it!

  1. It seems like Russia’s focus on the issue of “The Georgians did it! ” would have brought more articles like this one into the mainstream media arena to counter attack Moscow’s pack of lies. After all, it wreaks of the wretched truth and makes for a much more compelling story than Putin’s “America Started it” blubbering rantology featured on the BBC and CNN.

  2. Of course it was all in the Eurasia Daily Monitor from day one: http://www.jamestown.org/edm/article.php?article_id=2373298

  3. These are hardly unbiased sources – neither this nor the Eurasia monitor article. Of course the Russians have been involved in the conflicts concerned, but other powers have also been involved. But regarding the escalation of this into full-scale war, I think the rest of the media did get it right – it was Georgia that started it.

  4. Pingback: Recent Faves Tagged With "started" : MyNetFaves

  5. Given that, as Pavel Felgenhauer has pointed out, the four-mile long Roki tunnel only allows for one-way circulation, there is no way the Russians could have beaten back the Georgian army’s opposition to their invasion if the bulk of their tanks and artillery hadn’t already been in place BEFORE the Georgians moved towards Java and the tunnel’s exit.

    Besides the evidence offered by the Georgian side to that effect, to deny that the Russian invasion had already started when the Georgian army moved into south Ossetia involves an inability to understand the military situation.

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