As near as I can tell, there are really only two reasons that Georgia isn’t under Russian control right now. One is a fairly simple one: Georgia happens to be on the convenient side of the post-Cold War heuristic for U.S. foreign policy. For all our claims in 2007 about the simple immorality of an act of aggression against a neighboring nation (and that’s not even how it happened, though that’s a topic for another post) warranted a sanction, it’s pretty unlikely that the U.S. would have cared much about the tiny country of Georgia had it been attacked by someone other than our fifty-year enemy, Russia. Mother Russia can’t afford to seize control of Georgia now without sacrificing some of its image abroad.
The other reason is a bit more complex, but it can be boiled down to one key geographic feature: the Caucasus Mountains.
This mountain range historically allowed Georgians to retain a core culture by providing a degree of separation from Russia. Although ingratiated into the Russian Empire for protection in 1800 (and that this was a strategic move to protect Georgia from Turks and Persians is forgotten by most contemporary Georgians) and then forcefully into the Soviet Union in 1921, the difficulty of travel over the Caucasus ensured that distinctly provincial rule was necessary. This almost certainly meant that Georgians refrained from interpellating Russian culture and customs and retained their own identity. The Caucasus allowed Georgia to frame Russia as “Other” and forced Russia to overreach in their efforts to retain a satellite that is comparatively close to Russian territory.
When various satellites declared independence as the Soviet Union fell apart in 1988-89, the immeasurably improved methods of communication made no difference n the face of centuries of Georgians considering themselves fundamentally other than Russian.
As unwelcome as it may be around here, all the Georgians’ noise about strength of passion and mandate from America misses the point: the first would not exist were it not for the Caucasus Mountains, and the second would not if Georgia had gone to far with someone other than the greatest enemies of our previous four generations.