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Making Life and Death Decisions in Conditions of Uncertainty: The 2008 Russian-Georgian War

Map of Russia and George

Andrei Illarionov
Senior Fellow, Cato Institute
President, Institute of Economic Analysis (Moscow)

The Russian-Georgian war in August-October 2008 caused about 6,000 casualties and displaced more than 130,000 people. All Georgian villages in the territory of South Ossetia were leveled. Overall damage to property is estimated at about $1B. Russian troops temporarily occupied up to a quarter of the Georgian territory, and Russia has unilaterally recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and deployed thousands of new troops on a permanent basis in those territories. Based on even this brief account, there is a widespread notion that on August 7 Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili made a fatal mistake by ordering Georgian troops to launch an attack on Tskhinvali, on South Ossetian formations, and on Russian 'peace-keeping' troops. Could he have behaved differently, and if so, how differently? What would happen if he had not mobilized his troops? Had he not ordered Georgian troops to fight, would it have been possible to stop the offensive from the North and avoid the war? What would happen if Mr. Saakashvili had decided to wait?

* From 2000-2005 Dr. Illarionov was the chief economic adviser of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also served as Mr. Putin's personal representative on the G-8. He is said to be one of Russia's most forceful and articulate advocates of an open society and democratic capitalism.

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Created October 23, 2009, Updated January 3, 2017