When Georgia was on the verge of joining Nato in 2008, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin stirred up bitter separatist tensions, made baseless claims of genocide, and carried out military exercises nearby.
His proxies fired pot-shots over the border, then evacuated civilians from areas under their control, on the bogus pretext of saving them from aggression.
There was a short war that ended with Russian tanks 30 miles from the capital Tbilisi and two chunks of the country breaking away as self-declared republics.
But the former KGB chief denied he had any imperial ambitions, insisting Russia had ‘no wish or grounds to encroach on the sovereignty of former Soviet republics’. …
So what can we deduce from the latest manoeuvres?
First, that Putin has effectively stolen another chunk of Ukraine and breached international law by undermining another nation’s territorial integrity — even if those in charge of the ‘republics’ have not yet asked to formally join Russia as I write.
However, they have signed a ‘friendship and mutual assistance’ treaty which means Putin can be asked to send in ‘military assistance’ or ‘peacekeepers’ — and last night, in an ominous move, it emerged he has already given an order to send his armed forces into the ‘republics’.
Given the forces massed on the border and his ceaseless lies about Ukrainian attacks and Nato aggression, this could lead to ‘defensive’ intervention elsewhere in the country.
Indeed, if full-scale war erupts, the start might be dated to last Thursday when the shelling across the border was massively increased — from an average of five a day to 60 – 66 on Friday, and more than 100 on Saturday.
Notice Putin was careful in Georgia, Crimea, and now Donbas to get the issue of self-determination on his side: the locals apparently asked to be rescued by the Russian Army. Putin thus rhetorically tries to stay on the correct side of issues like freedom and democracy, and to compete for the moral high ground.