Georgia and Russia ‘very close’ to war?

VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images Georgia’s State Minister today described the prospect of war with Russia as “very close” as more Russian troops poured into the breakaway region of Abkhazia. Meanwhile, Abkhazia’s “foreign minister” welcomed the troops and said his government favored Russia taking military control. Despite the inflammatory rhetoric, it still seems unlikely to me that ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
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595162_080506_georgia2.jpg

VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images

Georgia's State Minister today described the prospect of war with Russia as "very close" as more Russian troops poured into the breakaway region of Abkhazia. Meanwhile, Abkhazia's "foreign minister" welcomed the troops and said his government favored Russia taking military control.

Despite the inflammatory rhetoric, it still seems unlikely to me that Georgia would actually go to war with its much larger and militarily superior neighbor. Since Georgia is looking for NATO protection and Russia wants keep Georgia out of NATO at any cost, the war of words seems tailored for an audience in Washington and Brussels. Both sides have a vested interest in the rest of the world perceiving the threat of war as genuine.

VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images

Georgia’s State Minister today described the prospect of war with Russia as “very close” as more Russian troops poured into the breakaway region of Abkhazia. Meanwhile, Abkhazia’s “foreign minister” welcomed the troops and said his government favored Russia taking military control.

Despite the inflammatory rhetoric, it still seems unlikely to me that Georgia would actually go to war with its much larger and militarily superior neighbor. Since Georgia is looking for NATO protection and Russia wants keep Georgia out of NATO at any cost, the war of words seems tailored for an audience in Washington and Brussels. Both sides have a vested interest in the rest of the world perceiving the threat of war as genuine.

Still, as Russian web journalist Alexander Golts argued in today’s Moscow Times, a war of words can quickly become something more serious if both sides feel the need to save face:

And so we have a paradoxical situation. Nobody wants war, but both sides are doing everything to spark a military conflict. This is not the first time this situation has arisen. Recall how World War I began. States wanted only to protect their national pride and frighten their opponents. But at some point, the tensions escalated sharply and, coupled with mass mobilizations of their armies, the conflict in the Balkans spun out of control with tragic consequences for the entire world. This scenario could be repeated in the Caucasus.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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