In 2008, a Russian army corps of 90.000 men broke up the Georgian defenses in just 5 days, after the hot Georgian President Saakashvili ordered his forces to seize the Ossetian town of Tskhinvali, which provoked the death of 16 soldiers of the "CIS interposition force" present on the spot. But this narration is only part of the story, because in the weeks leading up to this ill-advised assault by a Georgian president too sure of the support of his Western allies, the Ossetian forces, equipped and trained by Moscow , and largely formed by Russian soldiers, harassed the Georgian positions with multiple artillery strikes, resulting in the death of several Georgian soldiers. In addition, the Georgian assault was given on the basis of the observation of a column of 150 Russian tanks passing through the Roki tunnel. If this information has been officially denied by Moscow, confidences of Russian artillery officers present on the spot seem to confirm that the Russian armored vehicles had indeed penetrated on Georgian soil, with the goal admitted by the General Staff of the 58th Russian Army, to get the Georgians to respond and provide the casus belli that Moscow was waiting for to set in motion its carefully prepared military apparatus.
This war allowed Dmitry Medvedev, then President of the Russian Federation, to seize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, while presenting a defensive narrative otherwise widely accepted in the West, very prompt at that time to believe the promises of rapprochement between Russia and Europe made by the Russian president. However, an objective analysis shows that this war, like the intervention in Crimea 6 years later, was the result of a plan carefully prepared by the Russian armies, and brilliantly implemented by the Moscow generals and diplomats. Today, many elements suggest that the Kremlin and the Russian General Staff have decided to apply a similar strategy in Donbass and eastern Ukraine, with an official narration and unfolding of events. exactly copying those that took place in 2008.
While military reinforcement in Crimea and east of Donbass continues to grow, with the arrival observed in recent days of heavy systems such as Iskander ballistic missiles and S400 long-range anti-aircraft systems, as well as numerous columns of armored vehicles and support vehicles from all military regions of the country, the official Kremlin discourse has hardened considerably towards Kiev, and Western support for Ukraine. The Deputy Minister of International Affairs, Sergei Ryabkov, thus directly questioned this Western support, arguing that it is he who would bear the responsibility if the situation were to deteriorate, describing the West as "an adversary", a first in the official speech of Moscow since the end of the Soviet Union. In an interview, the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, questions the threat that Ukraine poses to Russian-speaking populations, and warns that Moscow is ready to intervene to protect them. The Russian media have also taken, at least for those controlled by the state or by the country's main oligarchs close to the Kremlin, an extremely aggressive posture, both vis-à-vis Ukraine and the West.
At the same time, according to interceptions of communication between the Russian general staff and the separatist militiamen of Donbass dating from April 7, Moscow would seek to provoke a Ukrainian response by increasing artillery and drone strikes on Ukrainian troops along the demarcation line set by the OSCE and the Minsk agreements. According to the recording released by Ukrainian intelligence, which has yet to be confirmed in view of the bias of its source, the objective of these strikes would be to be able to initiate a certain "Phase 2", the nature of which is well understood, given to the forces stationed along the Ukrainian borders. Since then, artillery strikes, automatic weapon strikes, and drone strikes have increased along the demarcation line, and 8 Ukrainian servicemen have been killed in recent days. Finally, the Russian Navy moved, last week, a flotilla of landing ships from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea, posing a new threat to the Ukrainian forces, whose naval resources are more than limited.
Obviously, Moscow is therefore repeating, with meticulousness, the strategy employed during the 2008 war. But the international context has changed considerably in 13 years, posing a risk of an expansion of the conflict much greater than during the Second World War. 'South Ossetia. Thus, the United States announced the deployment of US Navy destroyers in the Black Sea, with the aim of observing Russian military preparations, which could seriously compromise the freedom of maneuver of the naval and air forces based in Crimea if an operation were to be launched. The Royal Air Force announced the dispatch of a Typhoon squadron to Romania, for the same reasons. In addition, numerous military flights of NATO intelligence and observation devices have been observed in the Black Sea and near Ukraine in recent days, as the G7 + the European Union officially demanded an explanation of Russian intentions regarding this deployment of force.
In fact, Moscow cannot rely today on the same element of surprise as during the Georgian war, when the eyes of the world were fixed on the opening of the Summer Olympics in Beijing, or during the intervention in Crimea, which took all Western intelligence services by surprise. Now the West stands ready, if not to intervene directly in a possible Russian-Ukrainian conflict, at least to support Kiev as much as possible, including by delivering sophisticated weapon systems beyond the Javelin anti-tank or anti-aircraft Stinger missiles already provided, and by being ready to implement new, potentially very severe sanctions if Moscow were to go on the offensive. At the same time, neither NATO, the EU, nor the G7 give Kiev any hope of direct military intervention, so as not to lead to President Zelensky to make the same misinterpretation of Western support as his Georgian counterpart 13 years ago.
In fact, for the Russian authorities, the situation becomes very complicated. They cannot hope to obtain a form of impunity or limited reactions from the West in the event of intervention, even if it is presented in defense of the Ukrainian Russian-speaking community. As such, this argument is very fallacious, because many Ukrainian Oblast South and East are predominantly Russian-speaking, while being very attached to Ukraine and the territorial integrity of the country. President Zelensky is moreover himself above all Russian-speaking, and his Ukrainian sometimes leaves a lot to be desired, as was noticed on several occasions during the presidential campaign. What is more, an intervention against Ukraine has so far only had one marginal popular support in Russian public opinion, if we are to believe the independent polls published on this subject.
But turning back would prove to be just as problematic for the Kremlin, after having so concentrated its forces, and hammering its speech on the public stage. A return to the status quo would indeed be potentially perceived by public opinion, at least by part of it making up the heart of the United Russia electorate, as a sign of weakness in the face of the West, in contradiction with the posture of strength held by Russian leader Vladimir Putin since 2012, and his return to the presidency. Furthermore, Ukrainian President seems determined not to give in to Russian provocations, in order not to give Moscow the expected Casus Belli. Therefore, the justification of an intervention, vis-à-vis Russian public opinion, would be much more difficult, and scrutinized with great attention by the opposition and its media in the country.
Be that as it may, the situation today remains explosive in this region. It seems that, now, Westerners have fully realized the scenario unfolding on the Russian-Ukrainian border, and have started to react accordingly. But the hypothesis of too close proximity between Russian units heated to white heat and having to carry out their mission, and NATO units, is certainly not a situation without consequences and without major risk. Hopes for peace today are based on the standoff started by the West with Moscow, and on the determination of the Ukrainian president and his staff not to give in to provocations. But it is clearly the biggest security crisis in Europe since the end of the Cold War.