With a one-year anniversary of the August War coming up and with Georgia claiming that Russia is shifting the border of South Ossetia farther into Georgian territory, everyone wants to know whether hostilities are going to renew. I suggest that another August War is highly unlikely, since neither side sees it as beneficial to attack first.
In case of Georgia, neither domestic public nor international community will stand for another offensive. Last year’s military move into South Ossetia was not only heavily criticized by NATO countries such as Germany and France, it was also heavily discredited at home. In retrospect we can see numerous reasons for which Saakashvili made the first move (1.fulfilll election promise of retaking lost territories 2.provoke disproportionate retaliation which would damage Russian reputation) and these reasons seem rational. Having this same step repeated again, however, is another matter and the prospects of a pay off from another offensive are now significantly lower.
Russia’s offensive into Georgia will also make little sense. Russia has already scored a significant victory over Georgia last summer. It was not only able to move into Georgia’s proper, it was also able to pretty much get away with it. Saakashvili’s name is discredited, South Ossetia and Abkhazia are under Russia’s control, and Russia-NATO, Russia-US, and Russia-EU relations are steadily moving past last year’s incident.
Most importantly, both countries would be thrilled to have the other make the first offensive move. This way Georgia will be able to say “told you so” to international community in terms of Russia’s imperialist tendencies and Russia will be able to reinforce its point that South Ossetia and Abkhazia need protection from Georgia.
Therefore, both countries might try to provoke an offensive by getting on each other’s nerves. This would explain why Georgia has been so vocal in its request to get American troops as part of EUMM (european peacekeeping mission in Georgia.) Similarly, Russia has raised the level of combat readiness of its troops in South Ossetia. Both sides also exchanged accusations of firing across the de facto Georgia-South Ossetia border.
The bottom line – watch out for provocations on both sides. Other than that, another August War is unlikely. Both countries are better off with the status quo and making overt offensive moves would be irrational.