The Wall Street Journal
Tbilisi Started '08 War, but Moscow Also at Fault, EU Finds
By MARC CHAMPION
BRUSSELS -- Both Russia and Georgia claimed vindication Wednesday after
a nine-month European Union investigation into last year's war in the
Caucasus found that Tbilisi triggered the conflict, but that Moscow
acted illegally in the extent of its invasion of Georgia and allowed
The roughly 1,000-page report, released on Wednesday by Swiss diplomat
Heidi Tagliavini, found no evidence to support Russian claims Georgia
committed genocide the night of Aug. 7-8, 2008.
The conflict, which briefly brought the U.S. and Russia into Cold
War-style confrontation, left hundreds of people dead and 35,000
displaced, and severely weakened Europe's security agreements. Russian
forces remain in occupation of two Georgian territories, Abkhazia and
South Ossetia. Moscow has recognized them as independent states.
Ms. Tagliavini's conclusions were nervously awaited by both sides, each
of which has brought lawsuits against the other in international courts.
While the report attacked Russia's efforts to enforce a sphere of
influence among its ex-Soviet neighbors, the finding that Georgia shot
first could undermine Tbilisi's push to join Western institutions such
as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the EU.
The hostilities themselves were the "culmination" of a long series of
events, and neither side could be held solely responsible for the
conflict, the report said.
It appeared to criticize U.S. policy, noting that the U.S., Ukraine and
Israel supplied large-scale economic and military aid to Georgia that
allowed the country to double its military within a few years.
Vladimir Chizhov, Russia's ambassador to the EU, welcomed the report as
"unequivocal confirmation of who started the war -- it was Georgia."The
report said Georgia didn't act in response to a Russian invasion, as it
has claimed. Russia's initial intervention in South Ossetia on Aug. 8
was justified because its peacekeepers were being killed, the report said.
South Ossetia and Abkhazia sought to break away from Georgia in the
early 1990s as the Soviet Union collapsed, resulting in brutal wars.
Ceasefire agreements left Russian peacekeepers in effective control of
both territories, a situation that the report said became increasingly
untenable as relations between Moscow and Tbilisi became openly hostile.
"Almost all of the facts in the report do confirm the Georgian version
of events," said Eka Tkeshelashvili, secretary of Georgia's National
Security Council. She challenged the finding that Georgia shot first as
mistaken "analysis," noting that the report confirmed that units of
Russian regular troops, mercenaries and volunteers -- who, unlike the
peacekeepers, had no right to be there -- entered Georgian territory
before Aug. 7.
"Under international law, what else can be considered an invasion?" Ms.
Tkeshalashvili said in a conference call with reporters, adding that
size isn't a determining factor. "Do we have to have [Russia Prime
Minister Vladimir] Putin to go on air and announce that 'we are ordering
our forces to invade Georgia?'"
In a statement, Ms. Tagliavini was blunt. "In the Mission's view, it was
Georgia which triggered off the war when it attacked Tskhinvali with
heavy artillery on the night of 7 to 8 August 2008. ...In particular,
there was no massive Russian military invasion under way," she said.
Ms. Tagliavini criticized Russian actions, including the mass conferral
of Russian passports on Abkhazians and South Ossetians before the war;
the widespread invasion of Georgia beyond South Ossetia; and the failure
to prevent South Ossetian militia from committing atrocities.
The report found that "ethnic cleansing was indeed practiced against
ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia both during the war and after the
August 2008 conflict." It said Russian forces either "would not or could
not" control the South Ossetian militias.
The EU report backed the positions of the EU and the U.S. that Abkhazia
and South Ossetia have no right to secede.
The EU argumentation is as outrageous as always. This time they wiped
the central issue under the carpet - the fact that both Abkhazia and
"South Ossetia", which, all other things equal, still are
internationally recognized parts of *Georgia*, were conquered by Russia
under the pretext of "liberating" them from the Georgian central
government and subsequently have been occupied by Russia for almost 2
decades now. They are also ignoring the fact that the mentioned
aggression included large-scale ethnic cleansing, which e.g. in Abkhazia
led to the killing and exile of more than half of the local population.
From the point of view of international law, Georgia has all the rights
to try and expel the aggressor from its territory - especially after the
so-called international community made no attempt to solve the conflict
and to restore Georgia's territorial integrity and the rights of the
majority of the population in those areas. The legitimate grievances of
the ethnic Abkhaz are an issue between them and Georgia and absolutely
not between any of them and Russia, while "South Ossetia" is an entirely
artificial entity established in Soviet times in order to divide and
rule. Also, one can discuss Mr. Saakashvili's intelligence and abilities
as a military leader, but his standpoint is certainly legitimate. And
the EU is going totally schizophrenic by a) denying Abkhazia's and
"South Ossetia's" right to secede and b) censoring Georgia for trying to
end the secession (which actually is no secession at all but a Russian
occupation, see above).
With the EU now once again blaming the victim of a Russian aggression,
the road is open for more of the same kind. I would like to look into
the heads of the geniuses who each time come to the result that this
approach is in the national interest of the EU countries. N.S.