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Russia’s triple strategy of proxy war used against Georgia in 1920 and 2000s

Russia’s triple strategy of proxy war used against Georgia in 1920 and 2000s
Edited by: Michael Garrood
In 2014, Russian proxies occupied Ukrainian Donbas under the pretext of defending a Russian ethnic minority. Then, Russia extensively gave Russian citizenship to inhabitants of occupied Donbas. Finally, as the deputy head of Russia’s presidential administration Dmitriy Kozak put it on 8 April 2021, Russia might need to defend its citizens in eastern Ukraine by military action.

This model is not something new but as old as the Soviet Union or even the Russian empire. The same arguments were used in 2014 during the occupation of Crimea, the 2008 occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and the 1992 occupation of Transnistria. The same method was used during the occupation of various states and regions in the early 1920s as part of the creation of the USSR.

The 2020 documentary Tskhinvali 1920 produced by the Georgian Institute for Security Policy sheds light on how the Kremlin used the very same tactic to occupy the Georgian Tskhinvali region in 1920 and start a war against the whole of Georgia “to protect Ossetians” 100 years ago.

Later, the Kremlin would invent the “1920 Georgian genocide of Ossetians” to justify its occupation – a myth historians have debunked.

In 2008, during the Russo-Georgian war, the same Tskhinvali region (south Ossetia) was again occupied by Russian troops as 88 years before. In an attempt to justify this new occupation, the Kremlin once again referred to the alleged Georgian-engineered “genocide of Ossetians.”

“Georgia, with help from German troops, occupied Abkhazia in 1918, and Georgian troops were even crueler in South Ossetia during 1919 and 1920. This was essentially what is called genocide today,” – declared Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2019 in yet another attempt from the Kremlin to falsify history for its own needs and propaganda.

What really happened in 1920? Who wants to portray the suppression of Bolshevik provocation against the Democratic Republic of Georgia in 1920 as genocide and damage Georgia’s image – and why? How is this used by Putin in his contemporary occupation of two Georgian regions? The documentary Tskhinvali 1920 answers these questions, analyzing proven historical events.

“We tried to present this historical issue as objectively as possible, not to cover it from nationalist positions, and I can boldly say that all the words uttered in this film are supported by relevant documents, archive materials. The final product is of very high quality and is quite a powerful and decent response to Russian propaganda”, – said Davit Bragvadze, founder of the Georgian Institute for Security Policy.

The film is in the Georgian language, with English and Russian subtitles.

The triple Russian strategy

The territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, occupied by Russia in 2008. Source: Wikipedia

The film describes in detail the three tactics used by Lenin simultaneously to occupy Ossetia and then Georgia in its entirety in 1920. The very same tactics are used by Putin today in his foreign policy goals, notably during the occupation of South Ossetia in 2008 and in Putin’s current war against Ukraine. These tactics are:

1. First, to undermine the authority of the government of a foreign state, weaken confidence in it and trust among the local population; and make locals feel favorable towards foreign Russian regime. In 1920 this was done by communist propaganda that said: “we are fighting against the Georgian bourgeoisie, not the Georgian nation.”

2. Second, to send into a foreign state guerrillas and rebels or train and outfit locals who can raise a rebellion in a borderland region like Ossetia, Donbas or Crimea. Later, claim additional rights from the central government and, subsequently, ask Russian protection after separatist rights are refused.

The Ossetian regional committee of the Bolshevik Russian Communist Party, located in the Russian city of Vladikavkaz, not on Georgian territory, sent a memorandum to Lenin, declaring so-called South Ossetia an integral part of Russia. On 15 May 1920 there was a small clash between the Ossetian Bolsheviks and the Guard’s spies near the village of Koshka. This incident was portrayed by the Ossetian Bolsheviks as an attack on Soviet Russia. Russia demanded the withdrawal of Georgian troops from South Ossetia, although South Ossetia was officially a recognized Georgian territory.

Naturally, Georgia refused to withdraw troops. But at the same time the Ossetian “brigade” of rebels had been trained in Russian territory at the town of Vladikavkaz for two months. On 31 May 1920 these rebels were sent to Georgian territory to raise a communist revolt there.

Groups of guerillas entering Georgian South Ossetia from the Russian territory on 31 May 1920. Source: snapshot from the film

3. Finally, after the Georgians repelled the guerillas, fighters and the local communist party asked for “protection” from Russia. Subsequently, the Russian army invaded Georgia to provide “protection” to “a discriminated minority,” portraying it simultaneously as an economic liberation of ordinary Georgians from oppressive and a corrupt national bourgeoisie.

Historian Dimitri Silakadze explains the history of Georgian Ossetia on the administrative line separating currently Russian-occupied South Ossetia.

Later, to justify the invasion, the narrative about an alleged “Georgian genocide of Ossetians” in 1920 was created. However, from 1917 to 1926 the Ossetian population in Georgia increased by more than the national average. The rights of ethnic minorities were enshrined in the Georgian independence act, constitution and legislation. Ossetians were able to receive education in their mother tongue and run local councils in their mother tongue along with the state Georgian language. Ossetian deputies were represented in the Georgian legislature.

As for casualties during the neutralization of guerrillas in 1920, those civilians who died that year in fact died from illness and already after having fled to Soviet Russia, the film explains referring to archival documents. It also describes how the documented 5,000 deaths among the civilians who fled to Russia at the time of guerilla war were transformed by propaganda in later years to 20,000, 30,000 and finally 75,000 and Georgian guilt attached despite the absence of proof.

On 31 July 2019, the current occupation regime of Ossetia addressed the Russian authorities to recognize the genocide of Ossetians by Georgia, trying to politicize the history once again. In September of the same year, a working group was set up in the Russian Duma (Parliament) to examine the issue.

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Edited by: Michael Garrood
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