Twelve years after his country’s war with Russia, Georgia’s Ambassador to Israel, Lasha Zhvania, in an interview with the Jerusalem Post this Tuesday, described these events as a cautionary tale.
“In 2008, we loudly announced to the world that Georgia will not remain the only country in the region that will face Russian aggression, “Zhvania said, pointing to Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine over Crimea as”a threat to security and stability in Europe.”
The Russian-Georgian war lasted from 7 to 12 August 2008. The reason was the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where there were Pro-Russian separatists. Against the backdrop of deteriorating relations between the Pro-Western government of Tbilisi and Moscow, Russia has stopped its sanctions on the separatists. When South Ossetian separatists shelled Georgian villages, the Georgian army entered the region to stop them. Russia invaded Georgia by land, water and air, claiming to ensure peace in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Ethnic cleansing took place in South Ossetia and 192 thousand Georgians were forced to relocate.
Since the war, Russia has occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“If the democratic world had decisively declared Russia’s actions, the precedent would not have been repeated in Ukraine,” Zhvania said.
The Ambassador recalls the” significant efforts ” of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who negotiated a cease-fire with Russia, and that the US allowed Georgia to defend its own capital and drive out Russian troops. However, international society has not managed to demilitarize the territories occupied by Russia.
Zhvania pointed to the use of cyber weapons and hybrid warfare, the spread of disinformation, as a prediction of Russia’s future actions. This was the first time that cyber weapons were used on a par with conventional weapons. Russian hackers blocked news sites and the Georgian government’s website.
“Cyber attacks were needed to demonstrate strength not only to the countries of this region, but also to threaten the security of Europe,” he said. Russia also used the media to blame Georgia for starting the war and win support for its actions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Georgia responded by blocking Russian TV channels and access to Russian websites.
Actions against Georgia are continuing. Zhvania said that the Russian media accused the American-created laboratory in Georgia of spreading the coronavirus, although in fact the laboratory helped the government conduct tests.
“Over the past twelve years, Russia has been trying to re-escalate the conflict by pushing the so — called border back a few meters or a few hundred meters every year,” the Ambassador explained.
Zhvania recalls the role of us Jewish organizations in defending Georgia’s rights during the war.
As head of the foreign Affairs Committee in the Georgian Parliament at the time, Zhvania was in contact with Malcolm Henlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of presidents of major American Jewish organizations, Daniel Mariyashin, CEO of Bnei-Brit, and mark Levin, Executive Director of Soviet Jewry. The latter helped bring the situation in Georgia to Capitol hill and the US State Department. Zhvania mentions the democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as a member of the us Congress who opposed Russia at the time.
Zhvania also recalls Israel Flying Aid, an organization that helps regions affected by natural disasters or conflict zones by providing ” reliable strong humanitarian assistance.” In three weeks, they delivered 6,000 crates of food to areas where the Georgian government could not provide it.
“The CEO of Israel Flying Aid, Gal Lusky, and her team delivered boxes of food daily,” the Ambassador says, adding that the boxes contained notes with words of support for recipients. “Psychological help is no less important in such a dangerous situation than food.”
Another Israeli woman, who worked at the Georgian Embassy but had never visited the country, decided to fly to the war to help the Georgian government keep in touch with international organizations and the media.
In addition, Zhvania said that 18 seriously wounded Georgian soldiers were treated in Israeli hospitals, and all of them returned home alive.
In addition to medical care, Georgian Israelis ” provided daily human support by visiting soldiers. One of the women went every day from Rambam Hospital in Haifa to Tel Hashomer hospital near tel Aviv to visit every soldier, ” he said. “She explained that their mothers are far away. She tried to encourage them and spoke to them in Georgian.”
“This was a real example of’ love your neighbor, ‘” the Ambassador added. — This gave us hope and optimism for the future. Such stories bring our peoples together as true friends in a difficult hour.”
In the current situation of close relations between the countries, Tbilisi plans to open a Georgian cultural center in Jerusalem, which was first reported in the Jerusalem Post in December. Zhvania said that the opening will happen soon, but did not give an exact date.
Zhvania mentioned the history of his countrymen in Jerusalem, explaining that the first inhabitants of the Katamon and malkha districts were Georgians and that Georgian monasteries, such as the Monastery of the Holy cross, “historically were centers of education and scientific activity in Israel”.
“Many Israelis know about Georgia from food, khachapuri and khinkali, but Georgian culture can feed even better,” Zhvania said. The cultural center in Jerusalem “will serve as a strong bridge for our relations,” he added.