The August 2008 events in South Ossetia did more than just interrupt Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s trip to the Beijing Olympics. They ushered in a new low in Russian-American relations, perhaps the worst in the post-Cold War era. Reverberations were major and felt both regionally and globally – the conflict catalyzed (practically within hours) Poland’s agreement to host a US-run ballistic missile defense system; European leaders led by French President Sarkozy entered into frantic diplomatic efforts to end the crisis; the Russian Parliament (and then Nicaragua) recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.
Through this all, reactions have been quite polarized, if one compares those generally found in the West and those from Russia. In Moscow and indeed throughout Russia there has been almost universal, even emotional, support of the steps taken by the Russian government. The contrast could not be starker with Western attitudes toward the crisis. Why is this, and what is behind the Russian thinking on these matters? Why do they consider themselves so justified in acting as they did and continue to do? Is there any common ground at all in the positions of both sides?
Here at East View, the war in Georgia presents a perfect occasion for us to do our job and live up to the raison d’être we have maintained throughout the nearly 20 years of our existence. As our name suggests, we are concerned with making available key source materials from the “East,” traditionally from Russia, but these days from a much larger geographic region – essentially from everywhere that does not consider itself the “West.”
So our staff has worked rapidly to produce what may be the first book-length treatment on the subject in the aftermath of the war, and in doing so we have drawn directly from key publications that we have either long-published as English-language editions or otherwise monitored and distributed. This is what has allowed us to put this publication together so quickly. Our hope is that it can be useful in making Russian views on this long-developing crisis more accessible to interested outsiders. We think that’s important. As strongly as someone outside of Russia may feel about any aspect of these matters, it nonetheless is essential, in our opinion, to try to see things from the perspective of all sides, including the Russian or “East” view in this case.
The present publication, Countdown to War in Georgia: Russia’s Foreign Policy and Media Coverage of the Conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, covers the period from 1989, when tensions in South Ossetia began to boil over as Gorbachev relaxed the iron fist of Soviet control, to late August of 2008, when the situation degraded to open warfare and an entirely new situation presented itself.
The articles in this book come from three different sources. Part One includes newspaper articles published in English in The Current Digest of the Post-Soviet Press. These have been carefully translated without commentary from the original Russian newspaper articles. In some cases, these articles have been condensed or excerpted for the sake of brevity or to avoid repetition with other articles on the same subject. Any material cut from these articles is indicated by the use of ellipses. Each article is followed by the volume, issue number, date and page(s) of the Current Digest issue in which it appeared.
Part Two includes articles that were originally translated into English and published in the journals International Affairs and Military Thought. These articles provide commentary from Russian foreign policy elite and military experts on foreign policy, security issues and peacekeeping operations in Georgia and the Caucasus. The translations of these articles have been revised for the purposes of this book.
The Appendix to the book includes photographs of key political figures involved in these events, as well as an index.
I would like to express our appreciation to the many people who contributed to this book. The team at East View deserves much credit, especially Dima Frangulov, Ana Niedermaier, Len Hoffman, Jessica Brau, Xenia Grushetsky, Elizabeth Squires, Barb Volker and Nick Nazarenko. I am also very grateful to Deborah Hunter, Gordon Livermore, Anne Mills and Leslie Scott for their assistance in press selections, editing, translation and other production work.
Special thanks are due to our partners in Russia, the publishers and editors of the newspapers and journals listed below, for their permission to translate and reprint the relevant articles from their publications.
Mezhdunarodnaya zhizn (International Affairs)
Voyennaya mysl (Military Thought)
Kent D. Lee
President and CEO
East View Information Services
October 2008, Minneapolis
"An invaluable compendium that makes for stimulating reading, not only because of the blow-by-blow coverage of the conflict, but because the analyses of it are paradoxically clear and informed while also written as history's first draft, thus reflecting the misinformation and conflicting versions of things that represented the actual information context in which the actors themselves had to make decisions."
--- Michael Urban, Professor of Politics, University of California-Santa Cruz
"A country not always on the headline of the news is being torn apart. "Countdown to War in Georgia: Russia's Foreign Policy and Media Coverage of the Conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia" is a look at this former Soviet state's problems and conflicts since the dissolution of the Soviet Union nearly twenty years ago. Covering the spiral of the conflict from 1989 to 2008, it focuses heavily on the major events, with much commentary throughout further explaining the significance of each event and its impact on the conflict today. With heavy emphasis on Russia's involvement and how it may ultimately be up to Russia to stop the chaos or end it quickly, "Countdown to War in Georgia" has several commentaries from Russian military as well as their foreign affairs experts. A complete and comprehensive guide to Georgia's problems, "Countdown to War in Georgia" is a must read to any who want a complete understanding of this civil conflict."
--- Midwest Book Review, Small Press Bookwatch: March 2009
The August 2008 events in South Ossetia ushered in a new low in Russian-American relations and forced the rest of the world to reevaluate how they view Russia and their policies toward it. While world opinion, especially in the West, tended to take a negative view of Russia’s actions, throughout Russia there has been almost universal, even emotional support of the steps taken by the Russian government. Why is this, and what is behind the Russian thinking on these matters? Why do they consider themselves so justified in acting as they did and continue to do?
Countdown to War in Georgia sheds light on these important questions by providing in-depth coverage of Russian perspectives on this long-developing crisis. Covering the period from 1989 to late August 2008, this book includes articles from some of the most widely read newspapers and foreign policy and security publications in the Russian Federation today.
The first section of the book includes hundreds of Russian newspaper articles originally translated into English and published in The Current Digest of the (Post-)Soviet Press. The second section includes articles on foreign policy, security issues and peacekeeping operations originally translated into English and published in the journals International Affairs and Military Thought. All of these articles have been carefully translated from the original Russian and presented without commentary in order to render an accurate picture of Russian views and policy regarding the Caucasus.
This is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in gaining a perspective on these events other than those seen in the Western media, and is also an important tool for understanding Russia’s overall policy toward Georgia and the West.
Includes an index, two maps of the region and photographs of key political figures.