Georgia Emerges “Biggest Tormentor” Of Russia; Putin Trains Guns On Ex-Soviet State During Carlson Interview

In a rare interview given to US journalist Tucker Carlson on February 8, Russian President Vladimir Putin went on an oral offensive regarding the Ukraine war. He took a dig at the ex-Soviet state Georgia, with which it continues to remain at odds even after a decade since the 2008 conflict.

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After talking about US assistance to Ukraine and how that may have contributed to the unwarranted dragging of the war, Putin urged the United States and Ukraine to think of peace while simultaneously iterating that his country was ready for a dialogue. Kremlin published the full transcript of the interview.

While answering Calrson, Putin mentioned that mercenaries from Poland, Georgia, and the United States were fighting for Ukraine. This may be the first time that the Russian President has taken such a belligerent and unapologetic approach against Georgia ever since the Ukraine war began in 2022.

A few months into the invasion, reports in the media suggested that several Georgian citizens who were agitated by the 2008 crisis traveled to Ukraine to take up arms against Russia. It is widely known that both Russia and Ukraine have employed thousands of mercenary soldiers in the war.

The organization that Russia has accused is called the ‘Georgian Legion,’ which was established in 2014 after Russian troops annexed Crimea following the Kremlin-incited unrest in Ukraine’s Donbas region. It was reportedly founded by 10 Georgian officers who volunteered to fight and train Ukrainian forces since the early stages of the conflict with Russia.

Reports published last year indicated that the legion had been incorporated into the Ukrainian military forces and was estimated to consist of between 800 and 1,000 soldiers, with an equitable distribution of ethnic Georgians and a mix of other ethnicities.

“It is the same fight for us; the enemy is the same in Georgia and Ukraine,” said a former Georgian civil servant turned combatant called Giorgi to Sky News. There are hundreds of similar stories, with Georgian people sharing the same sentiment as the embattled Ukrainians.

The Russian Interior Ministry put the commander of the Georgian Legion fighting in Ukraine, Mamuka Mamulashvili, on a wanted list in October last year. The ministry said, “Mamulashvili, who was prosecuted in absentia in Russia as part of the case of recruitment and participation of mercenaries in hostilities on the side of the Ukrainian armed forces, is wanted under a criminal article.”

In Russia, more than 70 Georgian Legion soldiers were charged in absentia. The fighters from the Georgian Legion were accused of crimes against Russian forces by the Russian Investigative Committee, which also concluded that Mamulashvili publicly stated his aim to kill and torture Russian servicemen.

The legion has refuted these findings. In January this year, there were reports that the Commander of the legion was eliminated.

The Commander of the Georgian Legion, Mamuka Mamulashvili (via Platform X)

Georgian citizens are also one of the largest groups of foreigners killed in Ukraine fighting Russians, despite Polish and Americans making up the highest number of foreigners fighting alongside the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

It is worth wondering why Georgians are so keen on risking their lives and fighting Russia even as the government has not taken any drastic action against Moscow since the Ukraine war. The answer lies in history and precisely in a conflict that the country had to endure at the behest of Russia in 2008.

Why Are Georgians Fighting Russia?

The war in Ukraine is, for many Georgian fighters, just another chapter in their long-running conflict with Russia, which they fought a war against in 2008 and which still provides military support to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway regions of Georgia.

Russia has had a profound influence in South Ossetia, where it supported a separatist movement. When the Russian Army invaded Georgia in the early 1920s, South Ossetians were charged with supporting the Russian government.

Consequently, it became an autonomous territory inside Soviet Georgia, whereas North Ossetia remained a part of Russia on the opposite side of the Caucasus Mountains.

In the early 1990s, Georgia gained independence from Moscow following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. After violent outbursts, South Ossetia declared its independence from Georgia in 1992.

That year, following intermittent hostilities, Russia, South Ossetia, and Georgia concluded a ceasefire deal that resulted in the deployment of a three-way peacekeeping force in the region. There was peace up until Mikhail Saakashvili, who aimed to reintegrate South Ossetia, got elected as the President in 2004

However, the South Ossetians rejected the notion in a referendum. The separatists in South Ossetia allegedly received consistent support from the Kremlin, further angering the Georgian government.

In the summer of 2008, Georgia, a former Soviet state, said it wanted to join the European Union, which it discerned could be followed by membership of the anti-Russian North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This is where it all started.

In NATO’s Bucharest Summit of 2008, the alliance declared it would grant membership to Georgia and Ukraine, provoking the Kremlin. With Russia’s disapproval of any such thing happening in its neighborhood, tensions started escalating between Moscow and Tbilisi.

Georgian soldiers during the Russo-Georgian War of 2008: Wikimedia Commons

Shortly after, both sides started to accuse each other of a military build-up. Russia had recognized South Ossetia and another rebel province, Abkhazia, as independent states by this time. Russia was believed to support these oblasts to allow them to assert their independence from Georgia.

At the beginning of August 2008, there were speculations that Russia was looking to invade the country and had rolled its military equipment to South Ossetia. There were also reports of shelling by the Russian-backed forces.

A war broke out between the two sides on August 7 when the Georgian Armed Forces entered South Ossetia, according to international investigations.

“In the Mission’s view, it was Georgia which triggered the war when it attacked Tskhinvali (in South Ossetia) with heavy artillery on the night of 7 to 8 August 2008,” said Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, who led the investigation conducted by the European Union.

Russia accused Georgia of committing genocide against the South Ossetian people and launched a counter-operation on August 8. Russian soldiers reportedly advanced well into Georgia, seizing control of the major east-west route, the port of Poti on the Black Sea, and the vital garrison town of Gori. Around 100,000 civilians were displaced on both sides as a result of Russian jets bombing army bases and the military airport.

For several days, Georgian forces were attacked by Russian and South Ossetian forces in and around South Ossetia until the Georgian troops withdrew. The Georgian army defended the Kodori Gorge, which Russian and Abkhaz forces attacked, creating a second front.

Russian naval forces blockaded a portion of Georgia’s Black Sea coastline. The Russian air force attacked targets outside and inside the conflict zone.

On August 26, Russia acknowledged Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s independence from Georgia, and the Georgian government broke off diplomatic ties with Russia. On October 8, after significant time had passed, Russia essentially finished removing its troops from areas of Georgia that were not under dispute.

Although the war ended, the Georgians continued to resent Russia for breaking up its territory. So, when the Russians launched a military offensive on Ukraine, several veterans who fought in the 2008 war reportedly volunteered to fight the Russians in Ukraine.

Several analysts have also observed that the impunity with which Russia escaped the Georgian War emboldened it to annex Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and launch an invasion in 2022.