In response to David J. Smith’s piece “Russia Was First” (JRL/2009/53/34) allow me to just add a few things that may have escaped his attention.
This from the testimony of Erosi Kitsmarishvili, Georgia’s former ambassador to Russia and a one-time close ally of President Saakashvili. Reference at http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=20026. The whole thing, covering relations with Moscow related by someone who was intimately involved, is worth reading.
“But an incident took place between Okruashvili and Kokoity [Kitsmarishvili did not specify] and escalation started to raise in the region; a special operation was then carried out in South Ossetia, which was led by Okruashvili; on that day Okruashvili announced [on August 19, 2004] that [the Georgian troops] killed eight Cossacks fighting on the South Ossetian side. But eventually it turned out that only one person was killed.”
“During that meeting, President Saakashvili asked the question whether to launch a military assault on Tskhinvali or not? Vano Merabishvili, Irakli Chubinishvili and Zurab Adeishvili were against of launch of this operation; then we asked Gogi Tavtukhashvili whether there were enough capabilities to secure control over the region in a next few days in case of the military operation; Tavtukhashvili failed to give us a positive answer on that question; We were very close to taking a decision in favor of the operation, because Okruashvili, who was in favor of the military operation, was at that time very close associate to President Saakashvili;”
“In the second half of April, 2008, I have learnt from the President’s inner circle that they have received a green light from the western partner to carry out a military operation; When asked to specify “the western partner” Kitsmarishvili said: after a meeting with the U.S. President George W. Bush [the meeting between Bush and Saakashvili took place in Washington on March 19], our leadership was saying that they had the U.S. support to carry out the military operation; In order to double-check this information, I have met with John Tefft, the U.S. ambassador in Tbilisi and asked him whether it was true or not; he categorically denied that;”
“The military operation should have been undertaken in direction of Abkhazia; military instructors from Israel were brought here in order to prepare that military operation; Kezerashvili also said at that meeting that the operation should have started in early May, or at least before the snow melted on the mountain passes; This decision was not materialized;”
In short, according to one of the insiders, an attack by Tbilisi was always in the cards. And, as Mr Smith appears to have forgotten, but Mr Kitsmarishvili has not, there actually was an attack in August 2004 (which resulted in another defeat for Tbilisi).
Moscow’s taking preparations is hardly proof of aggressive intent.