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How Not to Understand the Russian-Georgian Conflict

A new report from the Center for American Progress sides with the Kremlin over democracy.

11:53 AM, Feb 18, 2011 • By JOHN NOONAN
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"Georgia faces a stark choice between two mutually exclusive futures." That's how the Center for American Progress (CAP) kicked off a 70-plus page report on the divided former Soviet Union. Suffice to say, that sophomoric assessment is just the opening salvo in a report overflowing with inaccuracies. 

How Not to Understand the Russian-Georgian Conflict

CAP, a progressive think tank, isn't exactly known for their foreign policy prowess. The Obama administration indirectly lambasted CAP wonk Lawrence Korb's proposed cuts to the defense budget as "math not strategy," and their work on the war on terrorism and Afghanistan has largely been overlooked by the White House in favor of the Center for a New American Security's policy analysis. 


So serious foreign policy experts find CAP’s reports are rarely worth debating. But, given the deeply erroneous nature of CAP's Georgia screed and it’s broader influence on the left, they are worth correcting.

First, CAP argues that the United States, not Russia, worsened the conflict with a series of bad policy moves, while asserting the Russian occupation is "stabilizing." The idea of a growing Russian military presence as "stabilizing" is silly in its own right, but consider the role of the U.S. government since their Rose Revolution.

The United States has steadily worked to promote media freedom, good governance, and an open electoral system. The Georgians have wholeheartedly supported these efforts. Further, see Human Rights Watch's recent report, which drew a stark contrast between beneficial U.S. and EU aid and Russia's military obstructionism.

Second, the report seems to buy into the Russian notion that Moscow is not party to conflict and is absolved from obligations to work towards a solution to Georgia’s crisis. However, Moscow wants a Georgia that is divided, weak, and occupied. That Russia's continued occupation, in violation of the 2008 ceasefire, is preventing honest dialogue isn't controversial. It is a fact.

Further, Russia’s alleged “peacekeeping” role in South Ossetia  and Abkhazia was a farce – they were, as the invasion proved, a party to the conflict for years prior to 2008, not a neutral force. CAP ignores this, and places the conflict resolution onus squarely on American shoulders.

There are other aspects of the report that blatantly favor the Russian viewpoint. Moscow's perspective is amplified with little or no mention of their role in the conflict. It ignores praise of Georgian restraint and their constructive approach to resolution by Secretary Clinton. It abstains from mentioning devious Russian strategies to fuel ethnic tensions in the Caucasus region, nor does it mention Moscow's aggressive military build up in the occupied territories since the South Ossetia war.

CAP decries a “Berlin” situation for Georgia. No doubt they would have also seen the 1948 Airlift or calling for the wall to be torn down as needlessly provocative. Their report does not mention that Moscow displaced 10 percent of Georgia's population during the war, removing ethnic Georgians from the
occupied territories and creating a massive humanitarian crisis. And, perhaps worst of all, the report concurs with the Russian position that Moscow should not have to negotiate over the status of the territories, despite their continued presence in violation of an international ceasefire agreement.

Georgia wants to join the community of free and prosperous democracies. It has transformed itself from a failed state to a burgeoning, open republic in a few short years. Russia views open, democratic societies as a threat. They have demonstrated that they will mitigate that threat with force and occupation.

Yet in the Center for American Progress's estimation, this reprehensible obstruction of freedom and democracy is legitimate. 

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