So I'm sure you've all heard about it and read about it, but I thought I'd boil it down to a few essential points, sorting out blame and teasing out the causes of the war.
- South Ossetians and Abkhazians definitely do want to secede from Georgia, without a doubt. If it came down to being with Georgia or being with Russia, and independence weren't an option, they'd take Russia in a heartbeat. Apparently bitterness over what Stalin (a Georgian native of Gori) did to the place is placed on the Georgians, not the Russians.
- It's debatable who made the first "move," but it seems pretty obvious that Russia set a trap for Georgia, and they fell for it. Russia began signaling in the beginning of the year that it was going to press the issue of Abkhazia (another pro-Russian de facto independent region within Georgia), intervening more heavily in the affairs of the two breakaway republics, and in April shot down an unmanned Georgian drone over Abkhazia. Russia started building up its forces in Abkhazia beyond the limits set out in a UN treaty, and before you know it, the war was on. Georgia really blundered when it shelled the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali – whether or not they committed atrocities against civilians is debatable, but regardless of the truth, it gave Russia a propaganda tool, and an ostensible excuse for further action against Georgia.
- The Russians way overplayed their hand by attacking Gori – a city without a pro-Russian secessionist movement. They further proved (as if it needed to be said) that the war wasn't about preventing the Georgians from massacring civilians when they headed for Tbilisi (it remains to be seen if they'll reach it) and occupied about half the country along the way. To make matters worse, the Russians are still denying that they've moved outside of South Ossetia, a tacit admission that it would be illegitimate to take the war any farther.
- None of this would have happened had Georgia been let into NATO. As a NATO member, the US would have been obliged to defend Georgia against a Russian invasion, and Putin isn't suicidal enough (unlike Georgia's Saakashvili, apparently) to go to war with the US. Regardless of whose side you're on, it's tough to deny this.
- Ultimately, it's all about the oil. The Georgian military as it relates to possible atrocities committed in South Ossetia has no stake in the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline that the Russians have been bombing, and same deal with the port of Poti, through which a lot of oil flows. In attacking these targets, the Russians have proven that everything else was a pretext, and what they really wanted was to ensure that Russia continued to have a monopoly on delivering energy resources to Europe from the east. Make no mistake: Russia does not care about the South Ossetians or the Abkhazians, and is only using their plight as an excuse to further its energy interests. If they truly cared, they would have been careful not to touch Georgia's energy resources so as to prove to the world that they were interested only in the welfare of the Ossetians. Compare what's happening in the Georgian secessionist republics to the lack of action in Transnistria, a pro-Russian enclave in Moldova. The reason? There's no oil, or oil pipeline, in Moldova.