Home/Daniel Larison/Putin, the Bucharest NATO Summit, and the August 2008 War

Putin, the Bucharest NATO Summit, and the August 2008 War

Anders Aslund lets us know that we can ignore the rest of his argument for expelling Russia from the G-8 when he includes this bit of nonsense:

After all, the last time Putin went to a NATO summit — in Bucharest in April 2008 — he all but declared war on Georgia. President George W. Bush failed to protest against this provocation and even visited Putin at his summer residence in Sochi immediately afterward. Interpreting Bush’s actions as clear approval, Putin followed up with a real war in August 2008.

It takes a fairly warped understanding of what happened at the Bucharest summit and in August 2008 to think that the war in Georgia happened because Bush was too conciliatory and passive in his dealings with Putin. In fact, when he was in Bucharest Putin expressed traditional Russian objections to continued NATO expansion, especially as it related to Ukraine and Georgia. Opposing Georgian membership in NATO was hardly “all but declaring war” on the country.

Putin was stating the standard Russian position at the summit where the alliance foolishly acceded to the Bush administration’s insistence that these countries be promised future membership in NATO. He also re-stated Russian objections to recognizing the independence of Kosovo, which had just been unilaterally declared its independence earlier that year. Putin’s remarks at the NATO summit were actually less contentious than when he spoke at the security conference in Munich the year before. The pledge of future membership to Georgia was misinterpreted in Tbilisi as proof that Western governments would back Georgia in a crisis, the Bush administration did not make it clear enough to the Georgians that this was not the case, and Russia then egged on the reckless Saakashvili into an escalated conflict that Georgia was bound to lose.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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