The Guns of August

War in GeorgiaThe guns of August: non-event with consequences

The political fallout of the Russia-Georgia war of August 2008 affects far more than the main combatants: it has had a profound impact on the post-Soviet space, the United States, the European Union, even China and Turkey. Ivan Krastev* draws up a balance-sheet of a toxic conflict, and looks ahead.

It took less than a hundred days for the Russia-Georgia war of 8-12 August 2008 to be eclipsed as a history-shaping event. The guns of August were silenced by the thunders on Wall Street. A war that seemed momentous at the time became subject to instant amnesia: a non-event. But it was a non-event with consequences.

A year on, a measure of these consequences seems appropriate. The post-war balance-sheets of the leading actors – Georgia and Russia themselves, but also the United States and the European Union – in many respects resemble those of the Wall Street financial institutions hit by the global economic crisis: undeclared losses and inflated profits.

Indeed, amid the fallout of this toxic conflict it is easier to see losers than victors. In August 2008, Georgia lost its dreams, the Kremlin lost its complexes, Washington lost its nerves and the European Union lost its sleep. But as the poet said, there’s no success like failure; and the messy aftermath also reveals collateral benefits for some of these and other powers.

Russia is at the centre of every calculation. The war was the occasion of Moscow’s first large-scale military operation outside the territory of the Russian Federation since the end of the cold war. The Kremlin’s subsequent recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was the first revision of inter-state borders on the territory of the former Soviet Union.

Russia emerged from the war as a revisionist power and broke the illusion of the existence of European order. The Russian analyst Sergei Markedonov is right to assert that August 2008 was also a “final reloading of conflicts in Eurasia.”

This assessment of the war’s outcome examines the role of all the main players, and looks at the war’s implications for the future of European order.

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* Ivan Krastev is chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria. He is visiting fellow of the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna.

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