Tank in South Ossetia, August 2008.

The August War, Ten Years On: A Retrospective on the Russo-Georgian War

August 17, 2018
Michael Kofman
This article originally appeared on the War on the Rocks blog.

The Russo-Georgian War, the August War, or for some simply the “five-day war,” was an important departure point in U.S.-Russian relations, and in European security. Although few understood it at the time, this war heralded an important transition in international politics. This brief conflict presaged the return of great-power politics and the end of the post-Cold War period. In 2008, Moscow demonstrated the will and ability to actively contest the U.S. vision for European security, veto NATO expansion in its neighborhood, and challenge Washington’s design for a normative international order where small states can determine their own affairs independent of the interests of great powers. Simply put, the historical significance of the Russo-Georgian War has been underrated.

Another war is still being fought over what really happened in the August War. Whereas the first war lasted mere days, this one is a decade old and still raging. Its most recent battle was launched by Robert Kagan in the Washington Post, where he treated readers to an ideological and ahistorical account of this conflict. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice quickly counter-attacked in an effort to set the record straight, at least on the policies of the Bush administration. Today’s context of U.S.-Russian confrontation over everything from Ukraine to Syria, to assassinations, to election meddling, adds even more heat to the debate. Questions over whom to blame, the chain of events leading up to open hostilities on August 7, and what the U.S. response should have been to Russia afterwards are not simply factual or historical. They are saturated with political and ideological concerns. This war remains the stuff of lively political debates as it is deeply intertwined with arguments on current Russia policy, the political ideology of leading Washington elites, and, of course, the careers of senior officials who were in charge at the time of this conflict.

Continue reading at War on the Rocks. 


Michael Kofman

Michael Kofman is a senior research scientist with the CNA Corporation and a global fellow at the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center.

Photo by Yana Amelina shared under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license.