On August 8, 2008, a long-simmering conflict between Russia and Georgia boiled over into a shooting war between the small Caucasian nation and the superpower of which it was once a part. The brief Russo-Georgian War was the most violent episode in a conflict that began more than a decade before.
Georgia declared independence from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as the latter was breaking up in 1991. A short time later, pro-Russian separatists took control of two regions composing a combined 20 percent of Georgia’s territory, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. A stalemate ensued. In 2008, American President George W. Bush announced his support for Georgia’s and Ukraine’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a move that Russia viewed as tantamount to putting a hostile military on its borders. Relations between Russia and Georgia had already been tense, with the aggressive Vladimir Putin in power in Russia and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili declaring his intent to bring Abkhazia and South Ossetia back under Georgian control.
After accusations of aggression from both sides throughout the spring and summer, South Ossetian troops violated the ceasefire by shelling Georgian villages on August 1. Sporadic fighting and shelling ensued over the coming days, until Saakashvili declared a ceasefire on August 7. Just before midnight, seeing that the separatists would not, in fact, cease firing, Georgia’s military launched an attack on Tskhinvali in South Ossetia. Russian troops had already entered South Ossetia—illegally—and responded quickly to the Georgian attack. As Georgian troops seized Tskhinvali, the fighting spilled over into Abkhazia. The initial Georgian advance was repulsed, however, and within a few days Russia seized most of the disputed territory and was advancing into Georgia proper. The two sides agreed to a ceasefire in the early hours of August 13.
In the aftermath of the war, Russia formally recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. Russia subsequently occupied them, in violation of the ceasefire. Russia conducted a similar maneuver in Ukraine in 2014, annexing the Crimean Peninsula and backing separatists in the west of the country. The Russo-Georgian War displaced an estimated 192,000 people, many of whom fled ethnic cleansing of Georgians in the separatist territories.