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Key Events Ahead Of Russian-Georgian Conflict


An army truck carrying Russian soldiers passes near a destroyed building in Tskhinvali on September 18.

An army truck carrying Russian soldiers passes near a destroyed building in Tskhinvali on September 18.

A crisis between Georgia and Russia was brewing long before the outbreak of fighting on August 7-8. Highlighting the deterioration of relations are the declarations of independence in the 1990s by Georgia's two breakaway republics -- Abkhazia and South Ossetia; Moscow's subsequent decision to hand out Russian passports to residents of the two republics; Georgia's pro-Western Rose Revolution in 2003, which brought President Mikheil Saakashvili to power; Georgia's efforts to join the NATO alliance; and the West's backing of Kosovo's independence from Serbia in February 2008, which Russia fiercely denounced. This timeline picks up from there:

February 17, 2008: Kosovo declares independence from Serbia. In the days and months that follow, more than 50 UN member states recognize Kosovo's statehood, which Serbia and Russia strongly oppose. Russian President Vladimir Putin had repeatedly stated that Kosovo could set a precedent for post-Soviet "frozen conflicts."

March 6: Russia unilaterally withdraws from the sanctions on trade, economic, financial, transport, and other links with Abkhazia imposed by CIS heads of state in January 1996.

March 21: The Russian State Duma passes a resolution calling on the Kremlin to consider recognizing the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia if Georgia joins NATO.

March 28: Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili unveils a new peace proposal for Abkhazia that he had announced 10 days earlier. The proposal grants Abkhazia "unlimited autonomy" within Georgia; introduces the position, to be held by an Abkhaz, of vice president; and entails establishing a Georgian-Abkhaz free economic zone in the Gali and Ochamchira raions of Abkhazia. Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh rejects Saakashvili's offer the same day as "unacceptable."

April 3: NATO member states decline at their summit in Bucharest to grant Georgia and Ukraine Membership Action Plans, but reaffirm that the two countries will at some point become NATO members.

April 16: Outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin issues orders to the federal government to establish direct legal links with self-proclaimed republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

April 17: President Mikheil Saakashvili says Putin's plans violate Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and calls on Russia to revise them.

April 21: Saakashvili accuses Russia of shooting down a Georgian spy drone over Abkhazia the previous day.

April 23: The UN Security Council deplores any unauthorized military activity in the Abkhaz conflict zone, but fails explicitly to condemn the shooting down of the Georgian drone. In a separate statement, Germany, France, the U.K., and the U.S, which together with Russia are members of the so-called Group of Friends of the UN Secretary General for Georgia, reaffirm their shared support for Georgia's territorial integrity and call on Russia to revoke its plans to strengthen ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

April 26: The Georgian Foreign Ministry releases a formal statement condemning comments made the previous day by Russian Ambassador for Special Assignments Valery Kenyaikin. Kenyaikin was quoted by RIA-Novosti as saying that if Georgia attacked Abkhazia or South Ossetia, Russia would be constrained to take military counter-action to protect its citizens in those regions.

May 7: U.S. House of Representatives calls on Russia to annul immediately its decision on upgrading ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

May 9: U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza arrives in Tbiisi to discuss the Abkhaz situation with the Georgian leadership.

May 10: Bryza and U.S. Ambassador to Georgia John Tefft meet in Sukhumi with Abkhaz leaders.

May 31: Russia sends railway troops to Abkhazia to repair the railway that runs along the Black Sea coast.

June 6: EU Commissioner for Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana travels to Sukhumi for talks with Bagapsh, who again offers to resume talks with Georgia if Georgian forces withdraw from the Kodori Gorge. Georgia rejects that condition.

June 26: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev meets in Moscow with Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh -- the first-ever meeting between a Russian president and an Abkhaz leader.

July 3: South Ossetian police official Nodar Bibilov, who years before had humiliated Georgian soldiers in the conflict zone, dies in an explosion in the yard of his home. South Ossetian leaders blame Georgian intelligence and block all major roads in the conflict zone. Georgian villages are subjected to machine-gun fire. Pro-Tbilisi South Ossetian administration head Dmitry Sanakoyev escapes an apparent assassination attempt in which three Georgian police officers are injured.

July 6: Six people are killed in an explosion in a cafe in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion.

July 8: Georgian authorities allege that four Russian fighter aircraft violated Georgian airspace within a period of several hours. The Russian Foreign Ministry acknowledges the infringement -- the first time that Moscow has conceded such a violation -- and says the maneuver was aimed at "cooling hot heads in Tbilisi." NATO Secretary-General de Hoop Scheffer says Russia has abused its role as mediator in Georgia's disputed regions.

July 9: At a joint press conference with Saakashvili, visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says all sides need to "reject violence as an option" and challenges Russia to "be a part of...solving the problem, and not contributing to it." For his part, Saakashvili attributes Russia's moves to its anger at the international community's recognition of Kosovo and support for NATO expansion. Georgia withdraws its Ambassador in Russia "for consultations."

Mid-July: With joint Georgian-U.S. military training under way at a base at Vaziani, Russian military forces concentrate in the North Caucasus for training purposes aimed at imposed peacemaking in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the event that the situation escalates.

July 17-19: German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier offers to Georgia a three-stage plan for de-escalation, demilitarization, and development in the Abkhaz conflict zone. The first phase of the plan envisages agreement on security issues and measures toward the restoration of trust, along with the commencement of a new stage for repatriation of IDPs. The idea is not welcomed in either Sukhumi or Moscow. Foreign Minister Lavrov accuses Western leaders of trying to link the agreement on non-use of force with the return of IDPs, saying the "most important goal is to prevent confrontation." Sukhumi's condemnation of the plan is even more blunt. Steinmeier invites Abkhazia's de facto authorities to Berlin to discuss the proposed plan, tentatively in mid-August.

August 1: Hostilities break out in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone. Breakaway South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity points the finger at Tbilisi, while the Georgian Interior Ministry says the Ossetian side opened fire first. Georgian villages are bombed the same day. Tbilisi claims it responded with gunfire only out of extreme necessity. Tskhinvali spreads word of six casualties; Georgia's Interior Ministry spreads word of casualties in ethnic-Georgian villages. In the early days of August, several Georgian policemen are injured in roadside explosions. Georgia's Foreign Ministry blames the negotiating format and peacekeeping operation for the deteriorating situation in the Tskhinvali region.

August 2: Kokoity declares a general mobilization and appeals to North Ossetia and other Russian republics in the North Caucasus for support and volunteers. An evacuation begins of women and children from the South Ossetian capital.

Early August: Russian news outlets spread reports of a visit to South Ossetia by 58th Army commanders and Russian peacekeeping troops on August 3 and a secret meeting between Kokoity and the Russian peacekeepers' commander, General Marat Kulakhmetov.

De facto authorities of Abkhazia decline Steinmeier's invitation to Berlin to discuss the three-point plan, saying it has been preempted by events in Tskhinvali.

August 5: Tripartite military observers report countersigned by General Kulhmetov confirms that ethnic Georgian villages outside Tskhinvali in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone were bombed on August 1-2, saying banned explosives were used in the bombardment. Tbilisi decides to initiate direct negotiations with Tskhinvali with the participation of Moscow's special ambassador, Yury Popov, who warns that "the situation may spiral out of control and lead to sad consequences" and that "Russia will not allow itself to remain indifferent, considering that Russian citizens live in South Ossetia."

August 6: Shooting resumes in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone between Ossetian armed groups and Georgian villagers, with each side blaming the other for having fired first.

August 7: After fighting continues through the night in the conflict zone, Georgian Minister for Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili suggests in a response to reporters that Russian commanders of peacekeeping forces were in the region at the time of the fighting. Russian diplomat Popov arrives in Georgia; Minister Iakobashvili travels to the conflict zone but representatives of the de facto South Ossetian leadership show no interest in a meeting, although he meets with General Kulakhmetov. In the wake of the abortive meeting, the situation is regarded as having degenerated significantly.

President Mikheil Saakashvili and the Georgian authorities assign the blame to the Russians. Saakashvili declares a unilateral cease-fire -- reportedly ordering Georgian forces to avoid responding even when fired on -- and appeals to South Ossetian authorities for a cease-fire. Roughly an hour after Saakashvili's address, Ossetian forces renew attacks on Georgian villages and Georgian forces; Georgian forces fire back.

Georgian authorities later assert that dozens of Russian journalists and 58th Army troops were in South Ossetia by August 7, and that Russian manpower and military hardware concentrated on the Russian side of the border between Russia's North Ossetia and Georgia's South Ossetia, near the Roki tunnel, required very little time to enter the breakaway region.

September 15: "The New York Times" reports that telephone intercepts released by Georgia indicate that part of a Russian armored regiment had crossed into South Ossetia before Georgian troops entered South Ossetia. It remains undetermined whether Georgian and Russian troops first engaged in fighting on August 7, as Tbilisi claims, or on August 8, as Russia claims.

October 10: Moscow claims to have complied with obligations to pull out from "buffer zones" within Georgia proper. Georgia counters that one Russian checkpoint remains, and that Moscow will be in violation of the EU-brokered cease-fire until it removes troops from Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

-- by RFE/RL Georgian Service correspondent Eka Tsamalashvili

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