In recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, it had also broken the cardinal rule of post-cold war European security: that borders in Europe would never again be changed by force of arms. ~Ronald Asmus

The Russians might not have realized that this was such a “cardinal rule of post-cold war European security” when the United States and NATO blatantly violated it beginning in 1999. Kosovo was separated from Serbia by force of arms, and this de facto arrangement guaranteed by Western military forces became official when the United States and many western European states recognized the independence of Kosovo. So, yes, many of these Europeans were in a bit of a bind when faced with the consequences of their governments’ actions over the previous decade.

Of course the EU report disproves that Russian claims of “genocide,” which were clearly hyperbole and propaganda from the begnning. The idea that NATO began bombing Serbia because it was committing “genocide” in Kosovo was likewise laughable, but to this day Westerners continue to take this claim seriously. The report acknowledges that Russia had the right to protect its “peacekeepers,” but said that the Russian response was excessive. This is true, which adds to the responsibility of the Georgian government for the stupid decision to launch an attack that would precipitate a Russian response that it must have known would not be minimal and proportional. That doesn’t absolve Russia of responsibility for its excesses, but it makes the responsibility of the escalating party all the greater. It is also true that the separation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia violates international law, just as the partition of Serbia violated international law. As far as I can tell, virtually no one who objected to the partition of Georgia paid any attention to international law when Kosovo was illegally detached from Serbia. Indeed, many of the same people endorsed the latter move and claimed that it was a “one-time” exception that would not create a precedent. The trouble is that precedents were created whether or not Western governments wanted to acknowledge them or not. Official Russian propaganda claimed outrageous and false things, and I suspect one of the reason why Moscow framed its propaganda the way that it did was to mimic and thereby mock false Western claims over Kosovo. Then again, perhaps mockery was not the intent. Perhaps Moscow believed that the West would be more willing to accept military action if it were wrapped into the sanctimonious cant of humanitarian intervention.

In the end, holding out the prospect of NATO membership for Georgia was a dangerously provocative act that the West had no interest in backing up when it elicited the angry Russian response that inevitably followed. Recognizing Kosovo was madness, and Georgia paid the price for it. Trashing international law and ignoring state sovereignty when it suited us paved the way for other major powers to do the same to their weaker neighbors. The aggressive and confrontational foreign policy of at least the last ten years, including both Clinton and Bush administrations, brought about this state of affairs, and it will probably take decades to undo the damage that “humanitarian” and “well-intentioned” hawks have done to the international order.