The EU report on the South Ossetia War has been released, and it apportions some blame to both sides. The Georgians started the war, but the Russians created the underlying tension in the area, and went too far in prosecuting the conflict.
There can be no question regarding the first element of the condemnation of Russia; Russian bad behavior enabled South Ossetian separatists to build their quasi-state, and created conditions under which tension between Russia and Georgia was inevitable. This doesn’t justify Saakashvili’s adventurism, but it does help to explain. On the second point I’m less convinced. It’s certainly true that by some construction of jus in bello Russian actions in Georgia were excessive. The invasion of Georgia was not strictly necessary, nor was the destruction of Georgia’s fleet, or the various air attacks across Georgia. At the same time, I think it has to be noted that the scope of Russia’s assault against Georgia was really trivial when compared to the scope of Israeli activity towards either Hezbollah or Hamas, or of US air attacks against Serbia during the Kosovo War. This is to say that the Russian attack looks positively restrained when compared with the intensity of the assaults against Serbia, Lebanon, or Iraq. Questions of moral equivalency aside, Georgia suffered far less, by any metric, in its war against Russia than Serbia suffered in its war against NATO. Now, it may be fairly argued that Russia is constrained by capabilities rather than intent; the Russian Air Force is simply not capable of carrying out a large scale assault of the same type that we saw in Kosovo or Lebanon, and as such Russia’s deserves no kudos for restraint. I’m not sure that I agree 100% with that, since it does seem that Russia was at least somewhat sensitive to international opinion during the war. Nevertheless, we’d do well to keep in mind that Russian “brutality” was in fact far less brutal in effect (if not intent) than has become the norm for military intervention in the last decade.
And no, I am not in the pay of the Russian government….