Commentary

Preliminary Conclusions From The War In Georgia

It is already possible to outline some theses related to the conflict between Russia and Georgia.

  • The war was a spectacular provocation that had been long prepared and successfully executed by the Russian “siloviki” — those in government with connections to the military and security organs — that almost entirely repeats in another theater at another time the “incursion of Basayev into Daghestan” and the beginning of the second Chechnya war in 1999.
  • Under the new situation, the idea of legitimizing the de facto loss of South Ossetia and Abkhazia may gain traction in Georgian society.
  • Georgia’s military losses are greater than Russia’s. But Russia’s financial, foreign-policy, and moral losses are greater than Georgia’s.
  • The Russian leadership did not achieve its main goals — the ouster of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, a change of the political regime in Georgia, and Georgia’s renunciation of its ambition to join NATO. In fact, the opposite has occurred.
  • Russia has been recognized internationally as an aggressor that sent its military into another UN member state. Georgia has been internationally acknowledged as a victim of aggression.
  • Russia is now in nearly complete international isolation. Russia’s intervention in Georgia was backed only by Cuba. Neither Iran, nor Venezuela, nor Uzbekistan, nor even Belarus has said anything in support of Russia.
  • The political Group of Eight has de facto been transformed into a G7. The series of political defeats suffered by the Russian leadership, starting with the Rose Revolution in 2003, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 and continuing through the NATO summit in Bucharest in April, has been extended by a new failure.
  • The main achievement of the Russian leadership — which the modern world could not (or did not want to) believe — is the resurrection of fear of the “Russian bear.” The world will long remember its fear and (albeit temporary) helplessness.
  • Russian citizens, having no access to unofficial sources of information, found themselves in total informational isolation. The extent of the manipulation of public opinion and the extent to which society was brought to a state of mass hysteria are clear achievements of the regime and present an indubitable and unprecedented threat to Russian society.
  • An institutional catastrophe in Russia — which has already been much discussed — is continuing before our eyes. The main — but not the only — victims of this catastrophe are the citizens of Russia.
  • The war has revealed the real faces of the so-called liberals and democrats in Russia, people who once criticized “post-imperial syndrome” but who hurried to rally to the authorities once the fighting began and who urged “onward to Tbilisi,” and who are calling for bolstering the organs of the siloviki.
  • The only public organization in Russia whose members have been able to formulate diverse positions on the war — many of which I disagree with on principle — is the National Assembly. By doing so, even during a time of crisis, the assembly demonstrated that at the present time it is the best structure to fill the role of proto-parliament.
  • The war once again confirmed the correctness of the most important principles of the moral conduct of Russian citizens in relation to the current authorities in the country: Don’t believe. Don’t fear. Don’t ask. And don’t cooperate.
Andrei Illarionov, a former economic adviser to the Russian president, is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.