Kremlin behaving toward Ukraine now the way it did toward Georgia before 2008 invasion, Portnikov says.

Moscow’s propaganda campaign against Ukraine and its dislocation of troops near the Ukrainian border echo the propaganda it deployed against the Republic of Georgia and the troops it moved up to the Georgian border before invading that country in 2008, Vitaly Portnikov says.

Vitaly Portnikov, Ukrainian political analyst and writer

Vitaly Portnikov, Ukrainian political analyst and writer

Because Moscow invaded Ukraine seven years ago in a hybrid fashion, the Ukrainian analyst says, most people are comparing what happened in advance of Moscow’s moves then with what it is doing now. But a far more instructive comparison is provided by what Moscow did in Georgia in 2008.

Vladimir Putin and his representatives constantly accuse Ukraine of being aggressive and unpredictable and of preparing to invade the Donbas. Viewed from Kyiv, these claims look like Russian paranoia. Not only have Ukrainian leaders denied what Moscow is accusing them of, but Ukraine has not made any preparations, unlike Russia which has beefed up its forces.

In reality, Portnikov continues, what Moscow is showing is not paranoia but cold calculation. It is behaving exactly as it did before the start of the Russian-Georgian war in 2008. Then, South Ossetia shelled Georgian territory and Russian “peacekeepers” did nothing to stop it. Instead, Moscow blamed Tbilisi for causing the problem – exactly as Moscow is doing now in Ukraine.

“And therefore, when Russian forces appeared first on the territory of self-proclaimed South Ossetia and then in Georgia proper, few were surprised not only in Russia but in the world.”

Western leaders had been “psychologically prepared” by the Kremlin’s attacks on the Georgian leadership.

Battalion of Russian army on a way to Georgia, 9 August 2008

Battalion of Russian army on a way to Georgia, 9 August 2008

Repeating the same approach in Ukraine gives Moscow three advantages:

  • It allows the Russian government to block negotiations and blame that action on Kyiv.
  • It destabilizes conditions in Ukraine.
  • And “in the event of the start of a real war, it can always explain that by the aggressive actions of Ukraine, about which the Kremlin had warned.”

To be sure, few believe what the Kremlin is saying. But even Western recognition of the possibility of a new war opens the way for something else the Kremlin wants: Western efforts to negotiate with Putin directly. “They will demand from him that he remove his forces, and he will demand from them that they make Zelenskyy ‘reasonable.’”

“And then if a war starts,” Portnikov concludes, “the Kremlin will blame the West” for encouraging Ukraine in its aggressiveness toward Russia and failing to pay attention to Russian warnings, again just as happened in Georgia in 2008.

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