The Guardian (Editorial), 9 August 2008
[…] there can be little doubt that Georgia's attack with assault troops, multiple-rocket launchers and artillery was a planned military operation. It was not just a reaction to Russian bombing the day before, or a ceasefire that somehow went wrong. The timing of the offensive, when Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, was in Beijing for the opening of the Olympic games, was also significant. Georgia may have calculated that Mr Putin might be constrained by the company he was keeping in Beijing, not to order an instant counterattack.
Anyone familiar with the history of the region could have predicted that Russia would hit back hard. First, the majority of the 75,000 Ossetians are pro-Russian, and have long been angling to join North Ossetia, which is part of the Russian Federation. Second, many Ossetians have now got Russian citizenship and passports. Third, this is a dispute that predates both the Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili, and the Putin era. Fourth, rushing to the aid of separatists was a precedent set by the west in Kosovo. Russia gave us fair warning of the consequences.
Rather than keep the dispute within a local compass, Mr Saakashvili has done everything in his power to internationalise it. He has banged loudly on Nato's door, and some US leaders have been taken in. The Republican candidate John McCain got a St George's Cross for visiting the Georgian part of South Ossetia last year. The Germans and the French on the other hand resisted Georgia's demand for a membership action plan at the last Nato summit in Bucharest. Georgia's actions yesterday show just how wise Berlin was.
Russia is far from blameless. Its official role as peacekeeper in South Ossetia is questionable. It has a history of destabilising independent countries and refusing to accept retreat from empire. But this does not mean that Nato governments should take everything they see at face value. This is not about plucky Georgian democrats versus Russian tyrants. The players in this drama are more devious than that.