Sunday, June 21, 2009

Europeans Set To Blame Georgia For Last Year's War

According to documents obtained by Germany's Der Spiegel magazine, the European Union is ready to slam Georgia for starting last August's war with Russia over the breakaway region, South Ossetia.

While it's clear there was a war in South Ossetia, how that war started has been anything but. Almost as soon as the fighting began, Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili launched a PR campaign, pushing the story that Russian troops poured into the disputed region on August 7th, quickly overwhelming small Georgian force stationed there. Russia, meanwhile, said that it was the Georgian side who invaded South Ossetia first after bombarding the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali during the night of August 7th/8th, killing some Russian peacekeepers in the process, and that Russian troops only went in to keep their peacekeeping forces from being wiped out.

Western governments quickly embraced the Saakashvili version of events (anyone remember Senator, and at the time presidential candidate, John McCain's declaration that "we're all Georgians now" after the fighting started?), but the EU investigation finds they shouldn't have. The EU report will apparently largely back up Russia's version of events, finding that Saakashvili ordered the military action against South Ossetia and that the Russians only entered the territory after the Georgians began the fighting.

And while the European Union report is important, it's not the first to dispute Georgia's version of the war. Last November the New York Times published an in-depth piece based in large part on observations from officials with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that did not find evidence of the large-scale Russian offensive the Georgians said they were responding to, and at roughly the same time the BBC published their own in-depth analysis based on eyewitness reports from observers in Tskhinvali who said the Georgians opened fire on a sleeping city. (If at this point you're asking why would the Georgians launch such an attack, a probable reason is Saakashvili trying to make good on a campaign promise to bring the region back under Georgian control for the first time in over a decade by any means necessary).

The EU report, apparently, won't find the Russians blameless - it will cite them for responding with excessive force against Georgia – after retaking South Ossetia, Russia occupied part of Georgia temporarily and largely dismantled the Georgian military - and also for not protecting civilians in South Ossetia once they controlled the region (many ethnic Georgians were reportedly killed or driven from their homes by South Ossetian militias - as the occupying power, Russia had a responsibility to protect those civilians).
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