War initiation by weaker powers : Georgia-Russia war 2008
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This paper tries to determine to what extent US diplomatic and military support for Former Soviet Union (FSU) countries influences these countries’ decisions to become more assertive in the region, thereby provoking Russia’s aggressive behavior. It employs Robert Jervis’s framework of ‘deterrence and perception’ which, among other things, suggests that a weaker state will or will not be deterred from initiating a conflict against its stronger adversary depending on whether this state receives strong signals of third-party support and whether this state receives strong signals of threat. The case studies explored are Georgia and Ukraine, with particular attention to both countries’ relations with the United States (as the source for third-party support) and Russia (as the source for threat). The main finding is that Georgia’s perception of the US support was not sufficient to motivate Georgia to invade South Ossetia and thereby initiate a five-day war with Russia in August 2008. Georgia’s perception of Russia’s threat to carry out the policy of “creeping annexation” of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was the primary motivator behind Georgia’s behavior.