Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a year on
by George Hewitt, OpenDemocracy
11 August 2009The Georgia-Russia war of August 2008 has altered calculations about the future of the two territoriesthat were central to the conflict. The scholar of Abkhazian linguistics and history, George Hewitt, offersan assessment from Sukhum.A little over a year, on the morning of 8 August 2008, those of us in Abkhazia who had not stayed up towatch the late-night news awoke to reports of the Georgian militaryassaulton the centre and theenvirons of Tskhinval (Tskhinvali), the capital of South Osssetia. It was not entirely unexpected: therehad been reports of Georgian plans to attack Abkhazia itself in spring 2009, and overall tensions hadbeen high. But it was still a shock, and we speculated on the consequences for Abkhazia and theregion if Russia did not swiftly move to repel the Georgian advance across the demilitarised zonearound South Ossetia.The sense of Abkhazia's potential vulnerability was increased by awareness that the Georgianpresident, Mikheil Saakashvili, had in 2006 broken the terms of the Moscow accords of 1994, whichformalised the ceasefire in Abkhazia after the brutal war of 1992-93 that had ended in a shatteredAbkhazia securing its freedom from Georgian rule. Saakashvili had done this by introducing acontingent of military personnel into the one part of Abkhazia (the upper Kodor [Kodori]valley) that hadremained under Georgian control after the war. This illegal act - which Georgia's western partners alltoo typically chose to ignore - was accompanied and followed by frequent boasts that Tbilisi wouldsoon "recover" South Ossetia and Abkhazia.The outcome, in what turned out to be five days of intense combat on 8-12 August 2008, was verydifferent. The Russian military responded to the Georgians' initial assault with overwhelming force of its own, including the destruction of Saakashvili's arsenal stored at the military base in Gori (thusensuring no further Georgian military advances in that area for the foreseeable future).InAbkhaziaitself, the authorities both forestalled any possible action from Georgia and tookadvantage of the situation by launching anoperationin the Kodor valley; this was retaken over twodays, with no loss of life on the Georgian side or amongst the localSvanpopulation. The Georgiantroops stationed there duly fled without offering any resistance, abandoning their equipment in theprocess. Indeed, a staggering amount of weaponry and munitions were uncovered in the aftermath;Mikheil Saakashvili's hubris was reflected in the presence in the Kodor of a "NATO InformationCentre". The operation extended to military stores in Senaki and the port of Poti (both inneighbouring Mingrelia), thus protecting Abkhazia from future land-incursion or seaborne-assault.
The cost of misreading
The decision byMikheil Saakasvhilito activate his battle-plans against South Ossetia on the night of 7-8 August 2008 was extraordinarily stupid - so much so, that it is hardly surprising if many in the westinstantly embraced Tbilisi's charge that Russia must have made the firstmove. This rush to judgment