A report produced for the European Union by a team of experts based in Geneva has concluded that the five-day war between Georgia and Russia in August 2008 was started by the former country when it illegally attacked a town in South Ossetia.
The report, presented in Brussels on Wednesday to senior diplomats within the EU and the Russian and Georgian ambassadors to the EU, says that 850 people were killed, a figure which does not necessarily tally with the figures from other sources, and 100,000 others displaced during the fighting which followed the shelling on the night of August 7/8 2008 of Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, a region which has repeatedly stated its desire for independence from Georgia.
As AFP reports a ceasefire was eventually brokered by the European Union and, as EUobserver confirms, the member states within the EU then decided to spend €1.6 million ($2.34 million) on an investigation in to the causes of the war. Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini was chosen to head a team of 20 legal and military experts who were to conduct the investigation.
And with the investigation now complete and the findings made public it is Georgia which is receiving much of the blame for a war which Reuters says will hamper the country's ambitions to join NATO and the EU. Furthermore the report calls in to question the leadership of Mikheil Saakashvili, President of Georgia, leading to possible instability in a country which forms part of the South Caucasus, a region through which run important oil and gas pipelines.
Russia does not escape criticism for its actions leading up to the war, indeed it is accused of violating international law. For example it allowed Ossetian paramilitaries to rape, violently assault and force from their homes ethnic Georgians. In effect ethnic cleansing took place. Also Russia granted citizenship to those living in South Ossetia. As it did to those living in another disputed region, Abkhazia.
However, whilst rejecting Russia's claims it was protecting its citizens in the region, the report was clear as to which country it believes actually "fired the shots" that began the war. Ms Tagliavini explained exactly what her team had discovered in the nine months since it began its investigation, saying in a statement:In the mission's view, it was Georgia which triggered off the war when it attacked Tskhinvali (in South Ossetia) with heavy artillery on the night of 7 to 8 August, 2008. None of the explanations given by the Georgian authorities in order to provide some form of legal justification for the attack lend it a valid explanation. In particular, there was no massive Russian military invasion under way, which had to be stopped by Georgian military forces shelling Tskhinvali
But, says the EUobserver, Ms Tagliavini was quite clear that there were many different factors to consider before ultimately blaming Georgia, or for that matter Russia, for what occurred in August 2008. She has noted:Where lies the responsibility for all that has happened? Overall, the conflict is rooted in a profusion of causes comprising different layers in time and actions combined. They have all failed
Both Georgia, once a part of the Soviet Union, and Russia have apparently taken the EU report to be a vindication of their actions.
According to AFP Vladimir Chizhov, Russian Ambassador to the EU, said the report was "unequivocal confirmation of who started the war -- it was Georgia". He also called on the Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to resign.
Meanwhile Mr Chizhov's counterpart from Georgia, Salome Samadashvili, declared:The allegations of my country have been proven. It was Georgia which came under invasion from another country, in violation of the international law
Another interesting aspect of the report was the references to the U.S. As many as 100 US military advisers were "reportedly" present in Georgia when the situation escalated on August 7 and the investigating team found that "an even larger number of US specialists and advisors are thought to have been active in different branches of the Georgian power structures and administration".