The collapse of Soviet Union has ignited a number of ethnic conflicts in various parts of former Soviet Union. Georgia, a tiny hilly republic in Caucasia, with various ethnic and religious groups was no exception. South Ossetia and Abkhazia were two autonomous republics within Soviet Georgia. Upon declaring independence from Soviet Union in March of 1991, soon the then ultra nationalist Georgian president Gamsakhurdia decided to abolish autonomous statuses of South Ossetia and Abkhazia igniting an outrage within the majority inhabitants of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Subsequently, both of these enclaves declared independence from Georgia. In response Georgian army and paramilitary invaded both of the breakaway enclaves starting a massive ethnic cleansing campaign.
The Georgian atrocities of those days were of monumental level! 100 thousand Ossetians were drove away from their homeland. Thousands were killed, tortured and mutilated. One example was Zar Massacre, where a full bus load of Ossetian refugees were shot and killed point blank including a 3 years old child. Eventually, the aggression sparked a civil war and soon a defeated Georgian army had to capitulate.
The chances that Georgia will lose the breakaway provinces forever became a reality. The only option left for Georgia at that time was to request Russian mediation to sign a truce with the rebel regions. A peace deal mediated by Russia between rebels and Georgia did not resolve the underlying problem but managed to bring some sorts of stability in the region. The treaty signed in 1992 required Russians to stay as peacekeeper in those enclaves. Crumbling with economic chaos, anarchy and internal political crises Russia’s participation as mediator at that time was essentially humanitarian.
Apart from minor skirmishes a de facto status quo was maintained for next 14 years. However, scuffles and violence started to escalate dramatically ever since Saakashvili became the president of Georgia in 2004 as he made bringing back the separatist regions under Tbilisi’s control his primary election agenda. Same year he tried futile military attempts to take over South Ossetia buoyed by his success in Azharia, another breakaway region.

After two weeks of confrontational provocations, while all eyes were on Beijing last week, Georgia launched a full blown assault on Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia in an attempt to regain control of the territory. The result of this massive artillery attack and consequent two days seizure of the town of Tskhinvali was devastating! Over 1500 civilians died, 25 Russian peacekeepers got killed and 30000 refugees fled to Russia. Most surprisingly, Georgia started its all out attack just couple of hours after the South Ossetians agreed to a Russian-brokered cease-fire deal.
The attack took Russia by surprise! Although from a recent military exercise in a nearby location the army was quite prepared; it took almost 12 hours for Russia to take offensive counter measures. Moscow finally moved tanks and troops into South Ossetia to repel Georgian offensive and prevent deaths among a Russian peacekeeping force in the province.
Now the question is was it a mere miscalculation in Saakashvili’s part or was it a clever strategic move?
Four different possibilities are there:
Firstly, Georgia really believed that a blitzkrieg will allow it to destroy separatist stronghold and drove rebels away. An unprepared and surprised Russia will not be able to react quickly and will be forced to seek a political arrangement. This, however, looks unlikely as an immediate Russian retaliation was too obvious.
The second possibility - Saakashvili was fully aware of a potential Russian disproportionate backlash and he went for a deliberate gambit to score big with West screaming foul. It is not difficult to depict a big and authoritarian country bullying a small pro democratic country. Considering the reaction from many western commentators it seems that he was pretty successful in it!
Thirdly, it could be a well-planned maneuver organized by Pentagon to discover tactical and strategic capabilities of Russia’s rapid action force due to present deteriorated and strained relations between Russia and the West.
Finally, the whole scenario could have been masterminded by McCain’s foreign policy adviser Randy Sheunemann, who is happened to be a registered lobbyist in Washington for the Georgia government, with the support of Dick Cheney and other ultra conservative members of Republican Party. The goal is to portray Russia as an imminent threat to America’s allies, inflict paroxysm of fear among American electorate which in turn will boost popularity of McCain, a war veteran.
Whatever was the reason for irredentist Saakashvili’s impetuous decision to invade South Ossetia, the unfortunate civilians of Georgia had to pay the toll. Russia’s objectives are very clear: destroy military capabilities of Georgia as much as possible, create a buffer zone within Georgia near the borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and seek independence for both of the enclaves at a later stage.

Author's Bio: 

Nowshade Kabir: An independent political observer based in Europe.