Russia’s stated motives for intervening in Georgia were that it was acting to end Georgia’s use of military force to retake the autonomous territory of South Ossetia and to challenge U.S. efforts to dominate regions, including former Soviet-bloc countries, which Russia considers to to be within its own sphere of influence. Russia’s stated reasons for invading Georgia have thus been relatively candid as far as pretexts for military interventions go.
Russia has not been negligent to point out, for instance, that the U.S.’s stated pretext for invading Iraq was a false one. This is not to say that Russia’s military action was not without the use of false propaganda. It declared, for example, that Georgia had been guilty of “genocide” against South Ossetians. But this claim was never intended to be taken seriously. Rather, it was a transparent jab at the U.S., which waged an intense bombing campaign against the former Yugoslavia stating for a pretext, after the fact, the escalation of violence that followed as a result of the bombing, as predicted by the perpetrators of the crime.
Russia had criticized the U.S.’s support for Kosovo’s independence from Yugoslavia, warning that it would set a precedent for other regions to declare their autonomy and break away. Declaring its support for the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was not only a means of furthering the goal of bringing the regions more into Russia’s limited “sphere of influence”, but also a means by which to demonstrate its earlier point about Kosovo to Washington.
The message to the U.S. did not stop there. The U.S. has provided substantial military aid to Georgia and has sought to bring the country into NATO, the U.S.’s European military alliance. It has also sought to implement a “missile defense” system in Europe strongly opposed by Russia. The U.S. has declared that the system is intended to protect Europe from “rogue states” such as Iran, but this explanation, like Russia’s claim of “genocide”, is not expected to be taken seriously. In one reply to Russia’s invasion, the U.S. closed the deal with Poland to install the missile system.
The U.S. bitterly condemned the Russian intervention – rightfully, but not without hypocrisy. President Bush stated, “Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century.” Republican presidential hopeful John McCain said that “in the 21st century, nations don’t invade other nations.”
It is quite an achievement that American political leaders are capable of making such comments with a straight face. The U.S. has been only too willing to look past Georgia’s act of aggression while condemning Russia’s response. Russia’s invasion of Georgia was an act of violence rightly criticized, but its stated motives were nonetheless credible and unusually candid for nations engaging in military interventions against other states.