The OSCE says it believes the incident took place, but refused to lay blame, in an inconclusive report criticized this week by "The Economist" as "worse than useless."
RFE/RL correspondents Salome Asatiani and Andrei Shary spoke to the man who prepared and delivered the report, Miomir Zuzul, the personal representative to OSCE Chairman in Office Miguel Angel Moratinos and a former foreign minister of Croatia.
RFE/RL: Two international expert groups concluded the plane that dropped the missile came from Russia. Georgia says it has evidence like radar images and missile debris to support this. Russian investigators, by contrast, said no aircraft violated Georgian airspace from Russia. You were presented with all the information. Did you feel there wasn't enough evidence to establish what in fact happened?
Miomir Zuzul: We never said there was not enough evidence. We simply concluded that to try to make a judgment on what had really happened, we would need to either have a new expert group go through all the evidence, or have experts who are already studying that, to meet together and then come up with a conclusion. We are diplomats. Our mission was diplomatic, so we decided it was not up to us to make judgments on the experts -- this should be up to the experts [themselves].
However, our opinion was that at this stage it would be very difficult to have experts who come to a conclusion, and make a judgment. So simply we left it [in such a way] that whoever wants to can read the opinions of the experts, their positions, and make their own conclusions. We did not want to make any kind of judgment on the conclusions. Rather, we concentrated on the future, because we do believe that it is in the interests of everyone. So, to answer your original question, I would not say the evidence was not convincing, but it's more that we concluded it was more productive to concentrate on future steps.
RFE/RL: So you deliberately avoided taking sides, or blaming somebody, but you could, in principle, have done that?
Zuzul: We would not do it if it's not productive for the cause and purpose of our mission, which is to reduce the tensions and not increase them.
RFE/RL: Do you think that this plane came from Russia?
Zuzul: As I said earlier, my answer is also very simple: I would not go into that judgment. Whoever wants to see the reports of the three groups of experts, they are public reports and everyone can read it and make judgments. I wouldn't pretend to be the fourth expert to make a judgment on that. Our mission was clearly diplomatic.
RFE/RL: Some might question the usefulness of having diplomatic missions that are unable to make any definitive conclusions in matters like these.
Zuzul: I wouldn't say that this mission did not conclude anything. On the contrary, I think we made some very important conclusions and recommendations, which hopefully will be implemented. Because the purpose of the OSCE and most international organizations is to prevent conflicts, to see that conflicts do not happen. Or, if they do happen, to prevent them from developing dimensions which we don't want to see. Looking from that perspective -- and that was clearly the way we were looking at things -- I think everyone should be satisfied with the success of our mission, and I hope that we can avoid future incidents. And that was our main point.
RFE/RL: As you know, not everyone is very happy with the findings of your report. The Russian side is using it to promote its argument that Tbilisi staged the whole incident. Tbilisi, on the other hand, is clearly disappointed with your conclusions, and there's even been some speculation the report is biased in Russia's favor. How do you respond to that?
Zuzul: That's definitely, absolutely not the case. I have never heard such a thing from any Georgian official, and I have met with a number of them. Nor from a Russian official. You know, again, I am clearly separating two things in terms of how we should look into this. One is to look into expert reports. Not even for a moment did I make a decision to make a judgment on the reports. I said this to everyone. As a matter of fact, we presented the expert reports as part of the documentation . But we didn't take the liberty of pretending to be experts above any experts. So, whoever wants to make a judgment based on the expert reports can do it.
But that was not the purpose of our mission. The purpose of our mission was not to be another group of experts. The purpose of our mission was to see how we can avoid [such incidents]. This incident provoked a situation which is not good for anyone. And that was the direction of our work. We explained this to our Georgian friends and colleagues, and I think that they not only understood, but also accepted the very logic of this. And I really hope that on the Russian side there was an understanding and acceptance of that logic too.
RFE/RL: Aleksei Borodavkin, Russia's permanent representative to the OSCE, called the activity of the organization in this conflict "unnecessary and excessive." Do you think the work of your mission is over, or is the organization planning to get involved in such incidents in the future as well?
Zuzul: I think it will be a big pity, and a big mistake, if we decide that the OSCE has finished its job in any kind of incident. Of course we would all be happy if there were no incidents, and no mission for the OSCE. But as long as there are incidents, it is precisely the OSCE's role to be involved in them, and to try to help. In this case we are talking about an area -- South Ossetia -- where there is an active OSCE mission, so the OSCE should and has to be involved in that. Otherwise, what is the purpose? So yes, I have heard that some say the OSCE's mission is not necessary, but I very much disagree with this and I can tell you that a huge majority of the countries that we spoke to agreed with us that the OSCE should continue being active, exactly with the idea in mind to prevent further conflicts.
A crater at the site where a missile landed near the village of Tsitelubani (InterPressNews)
There have been three investigations into the August 6 incident, in which Georgia claims Russia dropped a missile on its territory. Russia denies the allegations.
1. Defense specialists from the United States, Sweden, Latvia, and Lithuania concluded on August 15 that an aircraft had entered Georgian airspace from Russia and dropped a missile. They said the plane flew from Russian to Georgian airspace and back three times. The experts described the missile as a Russian-designed KH-58, which is intended to take out radar systems. The team added that Georgia's air force "does not possess aircraft equipped with or able to launch" that missile. (Read the full report here)
2. A group of experts from Britain, Poland, and Estonia on August 22 corroborated the results of the first investigation. The experts said that a military jet illegally entered Georgian air space from Russia and dropped or jettisoned a missile before flying back to Russia. (Read the full report here)
3. A team of experts from Russia dismissed on August 17 the findings of the first investigation. The experts said that no aircraft violated Georgian airspace from Russia and suggested that Georgia might have planted the missile itself. (Read a transcript of authors' press conference here)