Who Caused the Russian-Georgian War?

A comprehensive EU report has the blogosphere arguing over who to blame

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Ever since last year's five-day conflict between Russia and Georgia, pundits have debated whose fault the war was. The European Union has just released its much-anticipated report on the causes of the five-day war. The findings have been interpreted in vastly different terms with neither side wholly satisfied. Here are the smartest takes on who bears the brunt of the blame:

Who's to Blame?

Georgia, writes Matthew Yglesias: "The reality, as we can see in this report, is that Georgia very unwisely chose to launch a war with its obviously-much-larger neighbor." Michael Stott at Reuters adds, "The findings...are likely to hurt Tbilisi more than Moscow. The mission firmly rejected the main justification for the attack offered by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, saying flatly that 'there was no massive Russian military invasion under way, which had to be stopped by Georgian military forces shelling Tskhinvali.'"

Russia, writes Michael Totten: "Georgia didn't start it on August 7, nor on any other date. The South Ossetian militia started it on August 6 when its fighters fired on Georgian peacekeepers and Georgian villages... At the same time, the Russian military sent its invasion force bearing down on Georgia from the north side of the Caucasus Mountains."  The EU report blames Russia for creating a hostile environment.

Everybody, sighs Heidi Tagliavini, leader of the EU-commissioned report. Her op-ed in the New York Times blames all sides and emphasizes the lasting human wreckage: "Today, everybody has lost: Georgia is divided; the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are recognized only by a handful of countries; and most importantly, more than 35,000 people are in forced displacement for an indefinite future. In the case of Georgia, the involvement of outside powers unfortunately served to harden positions rather than to build common ground. There was no attempt to recognize the genuine concerns of each party to the conflict." 

Who Has Egg On Their Face?

Saakashvili, writes Michael Stott: "Overseas, Tbilisi's carefully nurtured image of a pro-Western democracy pursuing NATO and EU membership lies in tatters ... Saakashvili had traded on a personal friendship with former U.S. leader George W. Bush and some of his officials to pursue a close alliance with the West, confident that he could weather Russia's anger at his stance with Washington's support. That policy has now left Georgia looking isolated."

Europe, writes Eistein G: "Can the EU accept that Russia has occupied a sovereign country, violated international laws by ethnic cleansing, recognized two rebel republics, and not honored the cease-fire agreement negotiated by French President Nicholas Sarkozy/EU? Yes they can. This report will not change anything... Putin got his sphere of influence when he invaded Georgia in 2008."

McCain and Palin, says John Cole: "It is  probably worth remembering that Randy Scheunemann, a long time lobbyist for Georgia and agitator against Russia, was whispering in McCain's ears during the crisis as one of his key advisors, and he has now moved on to position himself as the next Turdblossom in a future Palin administration. Remember, being wrong about everything is a key qualification for promotion in the current Republican party." 

Was the Report Fair?

Yes, writes Kevin Drum: "That's my kind of report: one that resolves nothing. But in fairness, how could it? Its conclusions were pretty obvious to everyone aside from hardened ideologues long ago: Russia spent years trying to goad Georgia into war, and in August of last year Georgia finally took the bait. In a situation like that, who you blame is almost entirely a matter of who you feel like blaming."

No, writes The Atlantic Council's James Joyner: "The European Union's moral equivalency and blatant disregard for the basic notions of international relations...is simply astounding," charges Joyner. "If sovereignty means anything, it means that leaders of a state have license to take actions within the confines of their borders as they see fit, so long as they don't create adverse spillover effects for their neighbors. Saakashvili's actions against internal groups conducting illegal activities within the borders of his country, while unwise and perhaps even provocative, are simply no justification for an illegal invasion of its sovereign territory by another member of the United Nations. Period. End of story.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.