Russia, Georgia at “potential conflict” one decade after war

Russian Armed Forces of the North Caucasus Military District in South Ossetia during the 2008 War. Image used with permission from Yana Amelina.

Exactly ten years after Russia and Georgia engaged in a brief yet bloody war, tensions between the two nations are once again at boiling point.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has threatened “potential conflict” if the Caucasus nation continued along its path to membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Speaking on Monday to state newspaper Kommersant, Medvedev gave a stark warning to both Georgia and its NATO allies. “It is an absolutely irresponsible position. It is just a threat to peace,” he said.

“This can undoubtedly lead to a potential conflict because we consider Abkhazia and South Ossetia independent states. We have friendly relations with these states. Our military bases are located there.”

The Russian Prime Minister’s comments came as Georgia and its allies commemorated the 10-year anniversary of the Russo-Georgian War on Tuesday.

The five-day battle in 2008 concerned the self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia inside of Georgia, both of whom were backed by bordering Russia.

About 350 soldiers in total died in the war, along with at least 400 civilians in South Ossetia and Georgia. An estimated 192,000 civilians were displaced by the conflict.

A peace deal brokered by the European Union brought an end to the war but Russia continued to occupy Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The country subsequently recognized the two regions as independent states and established military bases there, but only four other countries worldwide followed suit in recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Tuesday marked the war’s 10-year anniversary and foreign ministers from Latvia, Lithuania and Poland visited the Georgian capital of Tbilisi in show of support.

Radio Free Europe reported the ministers as urging Russia to withdraw its troops from the disputed regions. “Nowadays no country can change the borders of another country by force,” Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said.

Furthermore, the European Union also reiterated its “firm support to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders” and lamented the Russian military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia on Tuesday.

According to reports, Russia continues to encroach on territory which is internationally recognized as Georgian. Since 2011, there have been at least 54 instances of “borderizaton” on the border separating South Ossetia and Georgia, according to the Heritage Foundation .

The “borderization” process “includes constructing illegal fencing and earthen barriers to separate communities and further divide the Georgian population,” the think tank noted in a recent report.

Russian military and its allies currently occupy about 20 percent of Georgian territory.

For its part, Georgia has actively supported the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Business Insider reports the nation has sent more troops to Afghanistan per capita than any other US ally. In exchange the US provides Georgia with $100 million in annual aid.

This relationship has signaled alarm from Medvedev, who was the Russian president during the war in 2008. He stated that an attempted embrace of Georgia into NATO could trigger another conflict.

Nonetheless, Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili maintains his nation’s right to sovereignty.

“This is a war against Georgia, an aggression, an occupation, and a blatant violation of international law,” he said during a meeting attended by the foreign ministers on Tuesday. “The aggressor’s appetite has only increased after the invasion.”

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