- Impossible ‘to assign overall responsibility’ to one side alone;
- Open hostilities began with Georgia’s shelling of Tskhinvali;
- ‘Some Russian forces’ other than PK were in S.Ossetia prior Georgia’s attack;
- Georgia’s use of force unjustifiable;
- Russia’s use of force beyond S.Ossetia unjustifiable;
- Georgian intent for genocide ‘could not be proven’;
- Ethnic cleansing carried out against Georgians;
A report by EU-funded mission probing into the August war, which was made public on September 30, says that “shelling” of Tskhinvali by the Georgian armed forces during the night of August 7-8 “marked the beginning of the large-scale armed conflict.”
“Yet it was only the culminating point of a long period of increasing tensions, provocations and incidents,” reads the report, which says that its findings “cannot claim veracity or completeness in an absolute sense.”
“Open hostilities began with a large-scale Georgian military operation against the town of Tskhinvali and the surrounding areas, launched in the night of 7 to 8 August 2008. Operations started with a massive Georgian artillery attack,” the report reads.
But the report also says that any explanation of the origins of the war “cannot focus solely on the artillery attack on Tskhinvali in the night of 7/8 August.”
“The evaluation also has to cover the run-up to the war during the years before and the mounting tensions in the months and weeks immediately preceding the outbreak of hostilities. It must also take into account years of provocations, mutual accusations, military and political threats and acts of violence both inside and outside the conflict zone,” the report reads.
Georgia says that it had to launch defensive operation at 11:35pm local time on August 7 to counter already started Russian military invasion.
Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia (IIFFMCG), led by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, said that it was “not in a position to consider as sufficiently substantiated the Georgian claim concerning a large-scale Russian military incursion into South Ossetia before 8 August 2008.”
IIFFMCG finding, however, also indicates on number of reports and publications, including of Russian origin, according to which the Russian side was carrying out training and military equipment of South Ossetian and Abkhaz forces prior to the August, 2008.
“Additionally there seems to have been an influx of volunteers or mercenaries from the territory of the Russian Federation to South Ossetia through the Roki tunnel and over the Caucasus range in early August,” the report reads.
It also notes about presence of “some Russian forces” in South Ossetia, other than the Russian peacekeeping forces, prior to 2:30pm on August 8, when Russia says it made a decision on intervention.
“Also it seems that the Russian air force started its operations against Georgian targets, including those outside South Ossetian administrative boundaries, already in the morning of 8 August, i.e. prior to the time given in the Russian official information,” according to the report.
Russia justified its intervention by the intention to stop “genocide” of the Ossetian population, to protect Russian citizens in South Ossetia and its peacekeeping troops in the region. Russia claimed that two of its peacekeepers were killed in the morning of August 8 and five wounded in the Georgian attacks. Georgia denied any deliberate attacks on the Russian peacekeepers’ headquarters in Tskhinvali.
IIFFMCG said it “does not have independent reports which could substantiate or deny the allegations of either side.”
“Albeit, taking into account the existing dangerous conditions on the ground, casualties among the Russian PKF [Peacekeeping Forces] personnel were likely,” the report says.
As far as Russian and South Ossetian accusations of genocide are concerned, the report says that alleged Georgian intent for genocide “could not be proven.”
“After having carefully reviewed the facts in the light of the relevant law, the Mission concludes that to the best of its knowledge allegations of genocide committed by the Georgian side in the context of the August 2008 conflict and its aftermath are neither founded in law nor substantiated by factual evidence,” the report reads.
The report concludes that ethnic cleansing was carried out against the Georgian population.
“There was evidence of systematic looting and destruction of ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia. Consequently, several elements suggest the conclusion that ethnic cleansing was indeed practiced against ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia both during and after the August 2008 conflict,” the report reads.
On the question of whether the use of force by Georgia involving shelling of Tskhinvali was justifiable under the international law, the report says: “It was not.”
IIFFMCG’s explanation is that Georgia had a non-use of force commitment under the legally binding international documents, such as the 1992 Sochi Agreement and 1996 Memorandum on Measures to Provide Security and Strengthen Mutual Trust between the Sides in the Georgian-South Ossetian Conflict.
“Even if it were assumed that Georgia was repelling an attack, e.g. in response to South Ossetian attacks against Georgian populated villages in the region, according to international law, its armed response would have to be both necessary and proportional,” the report reads.
But, the report says, shelling of Tskhinvali with GRAD multiple rocket launchers (MRLS) and heavy artillery during the night of August 7-8 does not satisfy the “requirements of having been necessary and proportionate in order to defend those villages.”
“It follows from the illegal character of the Georgian military assault that South Ossetian defensive action in response did conform to international law in terms of legitimate self-defence. However, any operations of South Ossetian forces outside of the purpose of repelling the Georgian armed attack, in particular acts perpetrated against ethnic Georgians inside and outside South Ossetia, must be considered as having violated International Humanitarian Law and in many cases also Human Rights Law,” according to the report.
As far as legality of use of force by Russia is concerned, IIFFMCG takes a “differentiated” approach, dividing “the Russian reaction to the Georgian attack” into two phases – the one, which was the immediate reaction in order to defend Russian peacekeepers in Tskhinvali and the second one, the invasion deep into the Georgian territories beyond South Ossetia.
IIFFMCG concluded that in the first instance, “there seems to be little doubt that if the Russian peacekeepers were attacked, Russia had the right to defend them using military means proportionate to the attack.”
“Hence the Russian use of force for defensive purposes during the first phase of the conflict would be legal,” the report says.
As far as the second phase is concerned, the report says that “much of the Russian military action went far beyond the reasonable limits of defence.”
“It must be concluded that the Russian military action outside South Ossetia was essentially conducted in violation of international law,” the report reads.
It also says that Russia violated UN Charter when it and its Abkhaz allies attacked upper Kodori Gorge, the only part of breakaway Abkhazia under the Tbilisi control at that time.
IIFFMCG also concluded that recognition of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia by a third country “is consequently contrary to international law” as well as “the mass conferral” of Russian passports to the residents of the breakaway regions.
The report, consisting of more than 1,000 pages (including various materials provided by the parties involved), is a result of the nine-month work by IIFFMCG, whose representatives held dozens of talks and interviews with government officials and diplomats, political as well as military leaders, witnesses and victims, independent experts and also visited sites on the ground.
IIFFMCG said it had no access to intelligence reports or satellite imagery from intelligence sources.
It, however, also said that the Mission had met with “an almost unhoped-for high and indeed very welcome degree of cooperation from all the sides.”
The report reads that it is impossible “to assign overall responsibility for the conflict to one side alone” and its purpose is not “to re-open old wounds or to stir up emotions.”
“They have all failed, and it should be their responsibility to make good for it,” it says.