Five years ago, Georgian forces crossed into the Moscow-backed separatist territory of South Ossetia, seeking to clamp down on attacks against ethnic Georgian villages along the de facto boundaries and re-establish authority over the breakaway region. Russia's response was swift: Its troops poured into South Ossetia, pushing out Georgia's overmatched military. When the guns were finally silenced after the short but fierce war, hundreds had been killed or wounded and tens of thousands of civilians were displaced.
Although the global community refused to follow Moscow's lead in recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgia’s other separatist province, the war nonetheless buried what little hopes remained for peaceful reconciliation between Tbilisi and the breakaway regions. And to many, the war seemed to mark the end of one era and the beginning of another. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, Russian troops had invaded another state.
Moscow’s decision to unilaterally prosecute its objectives in Georgia, at Europe's edge, called into question the very fabric of the prevailing Euro-Atlantic security architecture, which enshrined a rules-based order underwritten and policed by NATO's unquestioned dominance. While a diplomatic blitz by Europe, led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, seemed to save Georgia from a possibly worse fate, the peace deal's final tally underlined which side held the cards: Moscow won exceedingly favorable language in the six-point plan (.pdf), which it continues to contravene at will.