A six-day conflict in the Caucasus mountains has transformed the international balance of power, with Russia now looking stronger than ever. But what sparked it? Diplomatic Editor Anne Penketh reveals how the Georgian government walked straight into a trap set by Moscow – and considers the consequences of the first war in Europe for a decade
Wednesday, 20 August 2008
The Georgian president was on vacation in Italy. The defence minister and foreign minister were away on holiday too. The world's attention was riveted on the Olympic Games in Beijing, where the preparations for the lavish opening ceremony were in full swing.
Days later, the forces of the small, mountainous republic of Georgia, trained by American and Israeli experts, were fighting for the survival of their country against Russia's army in a vicious six-day war that brought Russia and the US into direct confrontation for the first time since the Cold War and led to a threat of nuclear conflagration.
The outcome was the humiliating rout of the Georgian army, pushed back by a huge Russian land, air and sea assault, and the loss of Georgia's two breakaway territories over which the government had intended to assert central control. And Russia is back at the forefront of a new world order in the dying days of the Bush presidency.