Ukraine and Military Intervention

Below a letter I wrote to the Financial Times correcting a statement in a letter from Tony Brenton, the wise ex-Ambassador to Russia, in which he wrote that the EU report into the Russia-Georgia war of 2008 pinned all the blame on Georgia.  I know the report and while I am full of respect for Tony Brenton I am not sure that is an accurate reading of the EU conclusion which are even-handed.

The FT did not not publish my letter which is perfectly understandable given space pressure but the Georgia conflict does not demonstrate Russia’s rejection of bellicism when Moscow thinks it is necessary and believes it can get away with it.

Here is letter:


We can all hope that Tony Brenton, the former UK ambassador in Moscow, is right to discount any Russian military intervention in Ukraine (Letter 25 February)  But he is wrong in affirming that the EU’s report written by the Swiss diplomatist Heidi Tagliavini put all the blame on Georgia for the war of 2008. In fact, her report made clear Moscow bore considerable responsibility: “The shelling of Tskhinvali by the Georgian armed forces during the night of 7 to 8 August 2008 marked the beginning of the large-scale armed conflict in Georgia, yet it was  only the culminating point of a long period of increasing tensions, provocations and incidents…there are a number of reports and publications, including of Russian origin, indicating the provision by the Russian side of training and military equipment to South Ossetian and Abkhaz forces prior to the August 2008 conflict. Additionally there seems to have been an influx of volunteers or mercenaries from the territory of the Russian Federation to South Ossetia through the Roki tunnel and over the Caucasus range in early August”.

Is this not traditional Russian tactics to create a climate of tension with small scale infiltrations in order to provoke a reaction that then justifies use of full-scale force?  Watching Russia Today broadcasts from east and south Ukraine one sees a worrying ratcheting up of rhetoric not dissimilar to that used by Milosevic in the late 1980s as he denounced any move to independence from Serb domination. War in or over Crimea or the Donetsk industrial heartlands may seem absurd but so did war in the Balkans 25 year ago.  Policy planners should be prepared for all contingencies now that Putin has lost Kiev.


Denis MacShane


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