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EU Report On 2008 War Tilts Against Georgia

Russian soldiers pause on their way to Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, at the start of the August, 2008, conflict.
Russian soldiers pause on their way to Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, at the start of the August, 2008, conflict.
By Ahto Lobjakas
BRUSSELS -- An international report into the causes of the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008 accuses Georgia of starting the hostilities, but divides the blame for the conflict between both sides.

The Swiss official who presented the 1,200-page report to a select gathering of international diplomats said the document aimed to show the facts about the 2008 war in a "sober and neutral manner."

Heidi Tagliavini, who is the head of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia (IIFFMCG) told representatives from Georgia, Russia, the European Union, the United Nations, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that the report was simply a collection of objective findings, and nothing else.

That the report leaves others to interpret those facts, however, may yet prove to be its Achilles' heel.

Deep divisions over Russia policy within the EU -- which originally commissioned the report -- have left the bloc unwilling and unable to use the report, and its own political authority, to draw a line under the conflict.

In the absence of authoritative international guidance, Russian and Georgian officials quickly made a series of claims and counterclaims blaming the other side for the war.

Moscow had a distinct edge in this because it had won what EU sources say was its crucial objective -- to have the Tagliavini report say Georgia started the hostilities.

Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, drove home the point during his press conference in Brussels.

"It provides an unequivocal confirmation -- an unequivocal answer to the main question: who started the war,” Chizhov said. “And it says squarely that it was the Georgian massive shelling and artillery attack on the city of Tskhinval [known in Georgia as Tskhinvali] on the night of the 7th to 8th August 2008."

Speaking in Tbilisi, the Georgian State Minister for Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili made the opposite claim and called attention to parts of the report that detail Russian breaches of international law that it says escalated the tensions.

"I would like to emphasize that the document does not claim that Georgia started the war. Any such interpretations would be a lie. The report makes no such claim,” Iakobashvili said. “Furthermore, the report says that the war did not start on August 7 or 8, but that the military provocation had been prepared for a long time."

Boiling Point

The report itself lays the blame for initiating armed conflict at Georgia’s feet, but suggests that both parties share the blame for the long-simmering conflict.

The key passage in the document reads: "The shelling of Tskhinvali by the Georgian armed forces during the night of 7 to 8 August 2008 marked the beginning of the large-scale armed conflict in Georgia, yet it was only the culminating point of a long period of increasing tensions, provocations and incidents."

More damning for Georgia, however, are the words uttered by Tagliavini as she summed up the gist of the report for international diplomats in Brussels. She said in her team’s view, “it was Georgia which triggered off the war," and "none of the explanations given by the Georgia authorities in order to provide some form of legal justification for the attack [on Tshkinvali] lend it a valid explanation."

In her remarks, Tagliavini stressed that the "crux of the report" is not a political, military, or legal truth -- which she says will always remain contested -- but the "human suffering and tragedy that is always and inevitably the result of armed confrontation."

Violations Of International Law

The report, although clearly aiming for a careful balance in assigning blame, limits its assessment of Russia's role to within the framework of tensions which have arisen from the historically, ethnically, and politically complex situation in Georgia.

Tagliavini said that while "the onus of having actually triggered off the war lies with the Georgian side, the Russian side, too, carries the blame for a substantial number of violations of international law."

She said chief among those are the "mass conferral of Russian citizenship" in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the presence of non-peacekeeping Russian troops in South Ossetia before the war, the disproportionate Russian military action on Georgian territory, Russia’s long-standing support for the separatist authorities in the two regions, and its post-war recognition of the two territories as independent states.

The report says Russian allegations claiming Georgia had carried out ethnic cleansing or genocide against South Ossetians are not substantiated. But it also says "there are serious question marks" when it comes to the inaction of the Russian army in allowing South Ossetian irregulars to commit atrocities against the civilian Georgian population.

Georgia's ambassador to the EU, Salome Samadashvili, focused on these and other numerous Russian infractions of international norms and standards during a press conference in Brussels.

She did not directly dispute the report's conclusion that Georgia had initiated the hostilities, but she said that while interpretations differ, the government in Tbilisi had a legal right to protect its citizens in South Ossetia whose lives it believed were in danger.

"In that sense I believe that the question of when the Georgian government considered it necessary to take action to protect the lives of its citizens, when we considered that the threshold had been passed -- we might have a difference of opinion with the European side in this sense, because I don't think Georgia has ever denied that the government took an action to protect its citizens,” Samadashvili said. “Madame Tagliavini and her commission might consider that this was not the right moment to take this step."

Tagliavini’s report admits that it may fall short of "absolute veracity" since there could be other information that wasn’t available to the team of investigators.
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by: oops
September 30, 2009 19:33
so, what is the commission's conclusion regarding:<br /><br />1. Ossetians evacuate civilians two weeks before the war<br />2. Volunteers came to Ossetia and get armed two weeks before the war<br />3. Russian army stays on the other side of Caucasus two weeks after their training was finished<br />4. they started intensive shelling on Georgia villages few days before the war, using 150mm caliber guns which was forbidden by the agreement. <br />5. part of Russian peacekeepers got involved into fight.<br /><br />all this is coincidence? is this what commission says?<br /><br /><br />&quot;there are serious question marks&quot; when it comes to the inaction of the Russian army in allowing South Ossetian irregulars to commit atrocities against the civilian Georgian population?<br /><br />Question marks? what question marks? they were watching killing and burning and commission put question marks...

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
September 30, 2009 21:01
The report reflect favorable superposition of individuals and interests of the countries involved, forged, as usual, by Russian intrigans, as whell as latest blackmails by Russia:<br /><br />Since 1954-56 Russia forged a secret pact with the Quin and Bechtel family to resurect colonial empires of the cousins emperors, that included destruction of the USSR republics, Eastern European and Asian countries, annexations and repopulation the wished by them territories.<br /><br />Later, as the conspiracy was evolving, some other countries, (as race of dear &quot;rose-buts&quot;), were promissed also a shear of territory and influence - that included Sweeden, which already allowed to move with vigor and take over chunks of economy of Baltics and other countries nearby.<br /><br />On anothr hand, the potential countries-victims were told not to resist, if their people hope even to be alive in the would be &quot;new&quot; Imperial World:<br />For instance, Serbia had to look &quot;bad&quot; and make Germans look &quot;good&quot;. <br />They dared not go to UN with negotiating &quot;Common Welth&quot; of former Ugoslavia and fear national borders - or else Serbians wouldn't have even Belgrad with a little Czar, Serbian Romanov.<br />Similarly, the rest of the World was blackmailed to accomodate the resurecting of Colonial Empires.<br />Georgia was told let Russia to annex most of Georgia and Caucases, or else they will not have even Tbilisi and surrounding willages - if even they comply and Bagrationy would agree, such zone woulds be a Geto for most talented and brilliant Georgians, reduced to equivalent of &quot;Yuden&quot; to be exploited and plagiarized by Russia...<br /> <br />Georgian province of Abkhazia elected its local Government by Georgian magority and resisted Russian annexation, as did also Georgians and Osetins from Southern Osetia - it was another reason for Russia to unleash genocide in Abkhazia - the first to be bestially murdered by Russian armies of death were most famous family names, including in Art and Science, like Vekua, Galua, Shengelia, Danelia, Meshi, Metrevely and so on...<br />Thirty thousands were murdered and up to half millions expelled from Abkhazia...<br /><br />The conspirators continue their vengance, that includes Sweeden vengence to Georgia also...<br /><br />By the way, when I was only few years in USA, in 1980-th, I thought that the only newtral country in the West to be trasted was Sweeden, so I found a Sweeden patent lawer in Los Angeles.<br />How wrong I was!<br />He secretly recorded our conversation and unleashed on me whole armies of &quot;rose-faced&quot; races of plagiarists and inforcers that turned my existence into even hellier hell.<br />So much for Sweeden newtrallity...<br /><br />Konstantin.

by: Bill Courtney from: Washington
September 30, 2009 22:08
The European Union report is balanced in many ways but overall it tends to miss the forest and dwell on a tree -- Georgia’s panicky and irresponsible shelling of Tskhinvali at the outset of the conflict. <br /><br />The “forest” is the big story – Russsia’s pre-war demonization of Georgia’s leadership and hostile propaganda, pre-war Russian combat air sorties over Georgia, the pre-war repair of a railway in Abkhazia which carried Russian troops during the war, a Russian army exercise in the North Caucasus on the eve of the war simulating the invasion of a neighbor, the Russian invasion which went well beyond the two separatist regions, the surprising speech by President Medvedev weeks after the war asserting Russia’s “privileged interests” in nearby countries, and the subsequent stream of harsh Russian rhetoric against both Georgia and Ukraine, which continues to this day.<br /><br />This was a war Russia wanted, provoked, and dominated. While Georgian leaders were foolish, Russian leaders were aggressive. One now has to be concerned that Russia might unleash more coercion against Georgia or Ukraine, it is not clear which.<br /><br />As a final note, the European Union press release on the report said not a word about its contents. Rightly or wrongly, this suggests that the EU does not want to be associated with the report’s conclusion that both Georgia and Russia are to blame for the conflict.

by: geogen from: 45km offshore, spaceship Earth
October 01, 2009 02:38
It seems to be as fair a report as could be, given the circumstances that EU decided to punt on this war. It's a tough call politically all around though, and perhaps one can't blame them equivocally for their decisions.<br /><br />The war itself was tragically inevitable though, probably about 72-96 hrs prior to the initial main offensive, as the report accurately reflects the nature of the pre-war mutual build up, provocations and preparations.<br /><br />In the final analysis therefore, the highest blame could arguably be placed on EU for not boldly backing up and empowering OSCE weeks and months prior to the war and demanding on Kremlin side to allow crisis-level OSCE observers to enter S.O. and given free reign. <br /><br />Bottome line: EU and to some extent US - recognizing US had little capital left to burn - should have put more pressure on Kremlin as well, to redeploy excessive troop contingents, demand S.O. irregulars to cease-fire and call on Georgian army to demobilize from border area weeks and months prior to the war. <br /><br />EU's inaction and lack of leadership in this legitimate theatre of regional interest, prior to the war, simply enabled the renegade vacuum of hawkish military solutions to fulfill history's destiny yet once again. Hopefully EU, OSCE (and even NATO as a political voice) has been proactively influenced by this tragic conflict in order to better mobilize and engage in future..

by: Elen
October 01, 2009 05:57
War between Russia and Georgia could not begin with bombardment of Tskhinvali because it not is the Russian city, it is the Georgian city. What relation Russia to actions of the independent state in own territory has? Why actions of the independent state in own territory are illegal, and actions of Russia abroad are lawful? One more report is necessary to explain all these nonsenses.

by: William Courtney from: Washington
October 01, 2009 11:43
The European Union report is balanced in many ways in a formal sense, but overall it misses the forest and dwells on a tree, albeit a tall one -- Georgia’s panicky and irresponsible shelling of Tskhinvali at the outset of the conflict. <br />The forest is the big story – Russia’s moratorium in 2007 on its implementation of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty with its limits on Russia’s forces in the southern flank, months of pre-war Russian demonization of Georgia’s leadership and hostile propaganda toward Georgia, repeated pre-war Russian combat air sorties over Georgia, the pre-war repair of a railway in Abkhazia which carried Russian troops during the war, the Russian army exercise in the North Caucasus on the eve of the war simulating the invasion of a neighbor, the actual Russian invasion of Georgia which flowed well beyond the two separatist regions, the still incomplete Russian withdrawal from positions in Georgia proper in violation of the ceasefire agreement, the speech by President Medvedev weeks after the war asserting Russia’s “privileged interests” not just in Georgia but in all neighboring countries, and the steady stream of harsh Russian rhetoric against the Georgian (and Ukrainian) leadership, which continues to this day. <br />By missing the forest, and seemingly eschewing critical analysis and judgments about intentions and the wider context, the report lapses into an unfortunate tone of moral equivalence. In concluding that “there is no way to assign overall responsibility for the conflict to one side alone,” the report masks the reality that this was a war for which Russia carefully prepared by staging land and sea forces in the conflict zone, a war which Russia encouraged through months of propaganda and military provocations, and a war which Russia dominated against a militarily unprepared neighbor.<br />Curiously, the EU press release accompanying the issue of the report said not a word about the substance of its contents. This suggests the EU does not want to be associated with the report’s conclusions.<br />The report implies but does not say that the US armed Georgia prior to the conflict: “Most importantly, the US embarked upon an extensive military aid programme for Georgia, both in terms of training and equipment, also providing financial means.” In fact, the US has never supplied arms to Georgia, although that country could have and probably did use some fungible US financial aid to purchase arms from third countries. <br />In sum, while Georgia was impulsive and foolhardy, Russia was calculated and aggressive. There is a difference. The EU report should have done a better job in elucidating it.<br />Looking ahead, the West now has to be concerned that Russia might unleash more coercion against Georgia or Ukraine. It is not clear which will come first, but both are in the bulls-eye of hostile Russian propaganda. The spreading unrest and terrorism in the North Caucasus may deflect some of Moscow’s exertions and influence how it implements its strategy of asserting ‘privileged interests” in surrounding countries.<br /><br />

by: ryan from: atlanta
October 02, 2009 13:24
Its clear! GEORGIA STARTED IT BY FIRING ON THEIR OWN PEOPLE. THEY WERE TRYING TO KILL OFF THEIR OWN COUNTRYMEN!! <br /><br />Why would you want to wipe out your own people? He wanted to commit genocide.<br /><br />

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
October 03, 2009 21:35
Ryan translates, in contest of his arrogant lies:<br />&quot;Ra-Wy-Ani&quot;, or &quot;Hulliganing? - Wy? - Human primat?&quot;<br /><br />Typical Russian raw arrogance:<br />&quot;Why would I return to you this book?<br />It is my book! <br />You trying to steal it from me!<br />Brothers Russians, call Caps!<br />Russia is under attack!&quot;<br /><br />Read Chronology of war on my site:<br /><br />www.WorldFreedomAndTruth.info<br /> <br />Konstantin.<br /><br />

by: jim kirk from: United Federation
October 07, 2009 07:20
Elen, dear, you ask: &quot;What relation Russia to actions of the independent state in own territory has? Why actions of the independent state in own territory are illegal, and actions of Russia abroad are lawful? One more report is necessary to explain all these nonsenses.&quot;<br />I have an answer for you: it is called international law, and one more report is not needed (or, rather, thousands of reports are needed and are produced on demand). But if you have not spent years of your life in a law school studying customary law and other stuff like this, then the answer comes in a form of another question (a Socratic method):<br />What relation USA(, Israel, NATO, etc.) to actions of the independent state (Serbia, Lebanon, Iraq, Afganistan, Somalia, Bosnia, etc.) in own territory has? Why actions of the independent state in own territory are illegal, and actions of USA, Israel, etc. abroad are lawful?<br />Do you think any decent state should just stand and watch how a government exterminates its own people within its own borders, like is happening in Sudan, and allegedly was happening in Iraq under Saddam and in Serbia under Milosevic? Or should the international community, or for lack of will there, any decent state intervene? International law says yes, definitely.<br />And guess what, under customary international law it is even lawful to make preemptive strikes if one state feels another state threatens its security, I am not joking! Make any conclusions you wish, but remember -- this is pretty much settled law...<br />

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