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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Biden, Return Your Georgian Medal

The mandate of the European Union’s independent commission created to investigate the Russia-Georgia war in August 2008 stipulated that its findings should have been announced in July. But the report was unexpectedly postponed. Instead, July was marked by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Tbilisi, where Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili presented him with his country’s second-highest honor, the St. George’s Victory Order, in recognition of Washington’s unwavering support for Georgia.  

The findings of the report were finally issued on Sept. 30 with two main conclusions: First, Georgia triggered the war and, second, Russia’s military response to the attack was excessive and disproportionate.

The commission required nine months and 1.6 million euros ($2.3 million) to reach those conclusions. The first of the findings supported statements made by President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during the opening hours of the conflict. As for the truth of the second conclusion, “excessive and disproportionate” are endemic to Russia’s army. Recall the two Chechen wars, when images of mass destruction evoked memories of Stalingrad during World War II.

Unfortunately, Russia’s army is simply incapable of waging “proportionate” warfare. This is not because the generals are bloodthirsty or because the soldiers are excessively cruel. The problem is that the condition of Russia’s army has steadily deteriorated since the Soviet Union collapsed. Until only recently, nobody in Russia has put any serious effort into creating effective armed forces. The years of liberal economic reforms essentially destroyed the country’s military-industrial complex, and with it, any hopes of equipping our men with modern and accurate weapons.

Of course, we could tie Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and former President Boris Yeltsin to the whipping post for having neglected Russia’s vital interests. But when the shells start flying, you have to fight the best you can with whatever weapons and technology that you have.

Therefore, nobody was surprised when press reports emerged hot on the heels of the August war claiming that errant Russian bombs had fallen on civilian neighborhoods rather than on Georgian forces. And when investigative journalists later found that more Russian airplanes and helicopters might have been downed by friendly fire than by Georgian missiles, it was viewed as tragic, but not surprising.

The finding that Georgia triggered the war puts Saakashvili in a particularly bad light. He could not have had any illusions about what awaited Georgia if the huge Russian military machine were to descend upon it. Saakashvili’s irresponsibility and recklessness should have turned him into a pariah in the eyes of the international community.

Instead, Russia was the outcast for a full year — a fact that Biden did not fail to point out during his visit to Tbilisi. But all of that miraculously changed with the EU report. The conclusions incriminating Georgia made such an indelible impression on delegates at recent session of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly that they disregarded Georgia’s bid to deprive the Russian delegation of voting power. And if Heidi Tagliavini, head of the independent fact-finding mission on the war, had managed to publish the EU report in July, Biden would probably have flung the St. George’s Victory Order back into Saakashvili’s face.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of WAN-IFRA-GIPP magazine for publishing business professionals.