A report commissioned by the Council of the European Union on last year's conflict between Russia and Georgia has finally been released and the blame for starting the war has been put firmly on the Georgian side.
According to Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, who was the head of the fact-finding mission that researched and drafted the report: "In the mission's view, it was Georgia which triggered off the war when it attacked Tskhinvali (the capital of South Ossetia, and home to about half the region's citizens) with heavy artillery on the night of 7 to 8 August, 2008." The report also contradicts one of the main claims of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili - that Georgia was forced to act to prevent a Russian takeover of his country, saying: "there was no massive Russian military invasion under way" when the Georgians opened fire on Tskhinvali.
The report though has its share of criticism for the Russian side as well saying that the Russians tried to "provoke" the Georgians into action by, among other things, passing out Russian passports to citizens in the disputed regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; that the Russian military response was 'disproportionate' (in other words far too harsh); and that the Russians (as well as the Georgians) failed to take steps to protect civilians within the conflict zones, and actually allowed ethnic cleansing to take place in villages in South Ossetia - under international law, an occupying force has a responsibility to protect civilians within a conflict zone.
Needless to say, both sides are viewing the report as justifying their actions in the conflict. It's hard though to see how the Georgians can spin this in their favor. The official position of the report is that the Georgian military opened fire on a city filled with civilians in the middle of the night, for no apparently justifiable reason. The report rejected Saakashvili's claim the Russians were massing their forces within Tskhinvali for an invasion of Georgia. It's worth noting that under the agreement that ended the Georgia-South Ossetia and Georgia-Abkhazia conflicts that sprang up in the early 1990's after the Soviet Union disolved, the Russians had the right to station peacekeeping troops within both territories. But having a small force of Russian peacekeepers, who were allowed to be there in the first place, is something quite different than a massive army poised to strike.
It's very clear that both sides, the Russians and the Georgians, were sniping at each other through the early months of 2008 (something we covered here in a number of posts with both sides committing violations of the Sochi cease-fire agreement), but these tit-for-tat measures were nothing new, and in fact were something that Saakashvili was using as a bargaining chip in his efforts to get Georgia into NATO. It will be interesting now to see if this report changes the relationship between the United States and Georgia. Vice President Biden caused a stir when he visited Georgia earlier in the year, giving his support to Georgia in the face of Russian 'aggression', a move the Russians said undermined all the talk of a 'reset' in US-Russian relations that Pres. Obama and Sec. of State Clinton had been pushing just weeks earlier. Now, with the official European report clearly stating that Saakashvili started the war, not to mention the months of domestic protests against his rule as being 'undemocratic' you have to wonder if the United States will continue to cultivate a close relationship with Georgia, at least Georgia as ruled by Mikhail Saakashvili.
3 days ago