Ten Years After Short But Costly War, Russian PM Warns of ‘Terrible Conflict’ if NATO Admits Georgia

By Patrick Goodenough | August 8, 2018 | 4:19 AM EDT

Russian tanks in Georgia’s Abkhazia region in August 2008. (Screen capture: YouTube)

(CNSNews.com) – As Georgia and its supporters mark the tenth anniversary of Russia’s invasion, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned Tuesday that any move by NATO to admit the former Soviet republic “could provoke a terrible conflict.”

Medvedev told the Kommersant daily that NATO leaders’ recent decision reaffirming that Georgia will someday become a member of the transatlantic security alliance was “an absolutely irresponsible position and a threat to peace.”

Russia invaded its small neighbor on August 7, 2008, after Georgia’s government tried to rein in the pro-Moscow separatist region of South Ossetia. The brief war ended with some 850 people dead, Georgia having lost one-fifth of its territory, and with Russia recognizing South Ossetia and another breakaway territory, Abkhazia, as “independent.”

Noting that Georgia still believes that the two territories “belong to it,” Medvedev said in the interview, “it is an unsettled territorial conflict, whatever anyone’s positions. Can you imagine what would happen if Georgia were to join a military bloc? This could provoke a terrible conflict.”

Medvedev pointed out that Russia has military bases in the two regions.

“If any other country claims that they are part of its national territory, this may have severe consequences,” he said. “Therefore, I hope that the NATO leadership will have enough sense not to take any steps in this direction.”

Georgia's national flag flies at half-staff over the presidential palace in Tbilisi to mark the 10th anniversary of the Russian-Georgian war. (Photo: Presidency of Georgia)

Medvedev was Russia’s president during the 2008 conflict, although then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was generally viewed as the true authority in Moscow. Putin, who had been president from 2000-2008, returned to the Kremlin in mid-2012, and recently won a fourth six-year term.

The Georgia-Russia war broke out four months after NATO leaders failed to reach consensus on a proposal, backed by the George W. Bush administration, to set both Georgia and Ukraine on the path to admission, by approving “membership action plans” (MAPs) for the two aspirants.

Opposition came from Western European members including Germany, which were reluctant to anger Russia, a key source of energy supplies. Rather than approve MAPs, Georgia and Ukraine were told that they would be able to join at some unspecified future date.

NATO summits since then have repeatedly reaffirmed that position, most recently in Brussels last month when President Trump joined his colleagues in doing so. The document also called on Russia to withdraw forces from Georgian territory and to “reverse its recognition of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions of Georgia as independent states.”

In Tbilisi on Tuesday, the office of Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili said he spoke by phone to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who reaffirmed unwavering U.S. support for Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The U.S. Embassy in a statement noted that the 2008 war “resulted in hundreds of casualties, displaced thousands of civilians from their homes, and marked the start of a devastating occupation of 20 percent of Georgia’s territory.”

“Georgians displaced by the war have never been able to return to their homes, and residents of the occupied territories have been cut off from the country’s remarkable economic and political progress of the past decade,” it said.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday that South Ossetia and Abkhazia “are part of Georgia, they are not part of Russia, and the United States continues to support Georgia’s sovereignty, its independence, and also its territorial integrity within the internationally recognized borders.”

In a further show of solidarity, the foreign ministers of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia – all NATO members with strained relationships with Moscow – and the vice prime minister of Ukraine visited to mark the anniversary.

Another joint statement of support came from those four countries, joined by the U.S., Britain, Canada, Czech Republic, Estonia, Romania and Sweden, collectively known as the Group of Friends of Georgia.

Since the end of the Cold War NATO’s eastward expansion has seen former Soviet constituent states and former Warsaw Pact allies join the western alliance, to Moscow’s dismay.

“Whatever our colleagues from NATO countries may say, they do regard Russia as a potential adversary,” Medvedev said in the interview. “As the circle around Russia draws tighter and the number of NATO members continues to grow, this naturally worries us.”

NATO’s expansion, he declared, was clearly a threat to Russia.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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