See No Evil, Hear No Evil. What Did The U.S. Know About Georgia’s 2008 War Plans?

(A version of this post appeared on Russia Beyond the Headlines)

On the eve of the third anniversary of the August 2008 Five-Day War between Russia and Georgia, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave an interview to Russian and Georgian journalists covering a broad range of topics was covered: from the events preceding Georgia’s assault on South Ossetia to Medvedev’s views on the future of Russian-Georgian relations.  The president also reflected on what the U.S. government did or did not know about Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili’s military plans. 

Medvedev recalled that up until July 2008, he and Saakashvili met regularly and that the latter appeared genuinely interested in finding a negotiated solution to the conflict between Tbilisi and the two breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Everything, however, changed after then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Tbilisi: following his meeting with Rice, Saakashvili abruptly cut off all communications with Moscow.

The objectives of Rice’s July 9, 2008 trip to Georgia still remain a mystery.  The stated goal of the visit was the discussion of the prospects of Georgia joining NATO; Rice also used the opportunity to publicly call for upholding Georgia’s “territorial integrity.”  At the same time, the State Department officials insisted that privately, Price urged Saakashvili not to provoke Russia.  Really?  If so, Saakashvili’s nearly perfect English failed him miserably.

To be sure, cautious and professional Rice would have never explicitly suggested to Saakashvili bringing South Ossetia and Abkhazia back to Georgia’s fold by force.  And she didn’t have to.  All she had to do was to remind him that a country that has no control over one-fifth of its territory can’t become a NATO member; restoring Georgia’s “territorial integrity” would therefore have to become a prerequisite to joining the alliance.  The smart and attentively listening Saakashvili would guess out the rest by himself.  The Madam Secretary could have returned home and simply ignore satellite images of Georgian troops concentrating on the border with South Ossetia.  See no evil, hear no evil…   

It appears that Rice was not the only high-profiled American to huddle with Saakashvili in the run up to the August war: three days after Rice’s trip to Tbilisi, the Georgian president met with Karl Rove, a confidant of then-U.S. President George W. Bush.  This came after multiple calls of support Saakashvili received from then-Republican presidential candidate John McCain, whose foreign policy advisor Randy Scheunemann worked as a paid lobbyist for the Georgian government.  Are we to believe that the message that Messrs. Rove and McCain conveyed to Saakashvili was one of patience and restraint?  Or was it more along Winston Churchill’s famous line: “History is written by the victors?”

Neither Rove nor McCain is legally obliged to disclose the content of their conversations with Saakashvili; both can claim that they spoke to him as private citizens.  But Ms. Rice can’t: she was in Tbilisi on official mission, and her conversations with Saakashvili must have been properly recorded.  If U.S. Congress is really interested in getting to the bottom of things, it would subpoena Rice to testify under the oath, adding the transcripts of her talks with Saakashvili as evidence.  In her turn, if Ms. Rice has nothing to hide, she would only welcome the opportunity to highlight the attempts of the Bush administration at preventing the August 8 bloodshed. 

Unfortunately, U.S. lawmakers have shown little interest in the facts on the ground: a resent resolution on Georgia unanimously passed by the U.S. Senate on July 29, called Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions of Georgia “occupied by the Russian Federation.”  It appears that many senators sincerely believe that both territories were forcefully taken away by Russia as a result of the 2008 war.  This is simply not true: Abkhazia and South Ossetia won their de facto independence from Tbilisi in 1991-1993 following armed uprising.  The conflict that keeps burning in this part of the South Caucasus is not a conflict between Georgia and Russia, as the Western supporters of Saakashvili would like us to believe; it is a conflict between Georgia and two independent countries, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, that had refused to live under Tbilisi’s oppressive rule.   

President Medvedev’s interview was a long-awaited articulation of the Russian position vis-à-vis this conflict.  Much more needs to be said, but this was a move in the right direction.       

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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11 Responses to See No Evil, Hear No Evil. What Did The U.S. Know About Georgia’s 2008 War Plans?

  1. Luis Alcalá says:

    Very interesting, unfortunately if we ask the western average citizen on this war, I bet my salary of one month that most of the answers will say that Russia initiated the war, as many North American senators think still.

  2. Eugene says:

    Thanks Luis,
    Well, it’s not my intention to make this blog a betting site. Yet, I’d double your bet with my monthly salary:)
    Best Regards,

  3. Thanks Eugene.
    Relates to Saakashvili’s ties with some folks in the West prior to his becoming prez.
    No surprise whose funeral he chose to attend:
    The deceased in question, Otto von Habsburg, was noticeably negative about Russia, as well as Serbia:
    His geopolitical line was stated clear years ago, on a PBS aired Firing Line show, hosted by Bill Buckley.
    During the Cold War, Buckley’s National Review was noticeably selective in what it chose to highlight from Solzhenitsyn. His anti-Communist views were highlghted over others like the one against the anti-Russian Captive Nations Committee.
    In her book “Fools’ Crusade,” Diana Johnstone noted von Habsburg’s activist anti-Serb role in the 1990s.
    There were/are anti-Communist/anti-Russian/anti-Serb advocates in contrast to anti-Communist, but not anti-Russian/anti-Serb observers.
    On a related note:
    Certain kinds of ethnic political upbringings play a role in the biases out there. At the same time, ethnicity alone doesn’t automatically determine how a given issue is viewed.
    Regarding Georgians, this poll is in line with my experience, which differs from what Saakashvili has suggested:
    Likewise, many Ukrainians don’t buy into the gist of what Viktor Yushchenko’s wife wrote, when she headed the anti-Russian Captive Nations Committee:

  4. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Mike,
    The influence that political wives have on their husband’s decisions is an interesting question. In this particular case (i.e. Yushchenko vs. Saakashvili) I’d argue that Chumachenko’s influence was greater — simply because Yushchenko was a weak leader. No matter what Roelofs may say or do, she simply can’t make Saakashvili more a hothead than he already is.

  5. You’re welcome Eugene.
    As previously expressed, Yu’s wife reflects a certain kind of Ukrainian diaspora influence in North America, which isn’t as popular among the masses in Ukraine. Moreover, I’ve run into know my share of Ukrainian born ethnic Ukrainians in the US who don’t share the former’s views towards Russia/Russians. At play are influential media, academic and think tank groups showing preference for one side over the other and at times a bit of intimidation – the latter taking the form of diatribes upon expressing a view that isn’t as critical of Russia.
    There’s much irony in some of the criticism levied against the current Ukrainian education minister. I see him as an imperfect flip side to the kind of bias that has been evident the other way.
    As detailed to some others, here’s one such sample:
    Note the comments at the end.
    The entity in question was known as “Rus”. “Kievan Rus” is a latter day term. “Ukraine Rus” is another latter day term that some use.
    In answer to the thoughts at the end of the above link, the northern area of Rus became the strongest and most independent of Rus territory following the Mongol subjugation. In Rus, there was evidence of a northern shift of influence before the Mongol occupation period.
    A friend of mine gave this reply:
    This kind of PhD work is questionable – like the “piled higher and deeper” line towards the end. What immediately caught my eye is the take on Kazan. The Kazan Khanate carried on like the Tartar-Mongol rule, in the form of raids on Slavic lands – cutting off trade routes that challenged the economic development of Russia. Ivan the Terrible’s war to neutralize the Kazan and Astrakhan khanates were a matter of national survival. Of course, some will casually refer to this as “Russian imperialism” – creating a gleam in the eyes of followers of this slant.
    Still waiting for RT to do a half hour show on global anti-Russian sentiment along the lines of the half hour RT show done on global anti-Jewish sentiment (a valid topic). If done, RT will hopefully use some erudite source material that it has yet to utilize.

  6. Volgar says:

    Тупость – как можно планировать войну, направлять военных “тренеров”, снабдить за счёт США вооружением и завалить боеприпасами и вдруг не знать для чего всё это делается?

  7. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Ну, тупость не тупость, но это примерно то, что администрация Буша нам говорила: отговаривали, ничего не знали, как гром с ясного неба и т.п. Ну, а уж потом диспропорциональный ответ, агрессия и все такое…

  8. danny says:

    What was the Soros Foundation’s role in financing the war? Do you anticipate something similar playing out in Azerbaijan in light of Soros’ recent discussions with finance minister Samir Sharifov and his encouragement for Sharifov’s appointment to be prime minister? How powerful is Soros in these revolutions and is Aliyev’s presidency at stake? Thanks

  9. Eugene says:

    Thank you for your comments. Unfortunately, I can’t answer your questions: I’m largely unfamiliar with the operations of the SF and never heard anything about Soros’ activities in Azerbaijan.
    That said, I always felt that Soros’s influence in the world affairs is grossly overestimated. He’s simply not THIS wealthy to launch a revolution or war.
    Best Regards,

  10. donnyess says:

    Don’t worry, by 2014 NATO will have perfect political cover for boycotting the winter olympics, Gazprom will be bankrupt, and Medvedev will be long forgotten having all the fur kicked off his tail by Obama/Zbig.

  11. Hi Donnyess,
    On the matter of advocating such boycotts, note the recent violence in Britain and the scheduled 2012 summer Olympics in that country.
    In 1978, Argentina was apparently a humane enough place to host a major event like World Cup, whereas others had issues with the 1980 summer Olympics in the Soviet Union.
    Unless something really dramatic happens from the present, I sense that the scheduled 2014 winter Olympics in Russia will not face any noticeable boycott. Offhand, perhaps Georgia might stay away.

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