Russia: A Problematic Partner?

June 8, 2009

On 7 August 2008, Georgian military forces moved into South Ossetia, determined to stop cross-border shelling by South Ossetian separatists and retake the breakaway region by force. The same day, Russian forces poured across the border to reinforce their modest peacekeeping force and stop what Moscow described as genocide being committed by the Georgians. Russian naval forces landed troops in Abkhazia, which also rejects Georgian authority, and opened a second front there. Georgian forces soon retreated in disarray.

Russian air forces bombed Georgian military bases throughout the country. Ground forces occupied both breakaway regions and advanced several miles into previously undisputed Georgian territory. Although European leaders eventually brokered a ceasefire between the two nations, the outcome was clear—after ten days of fighting, the Georgians were soundly defeated and the Russians merely chose not to continue the fight. They withdrew back into South Ossetia and Abkhazia and recognized both as independent nations. The precise sequence of events is still in dispute, as is the ultimate responsibility for the short war. One verdict came swiftly, however, and was echoed in headlines around the world: Russia is back.