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The 2008 South Ossetia War, also known as the Russia–Georgia War, was an armed conflict in August 2008 between Georgiamarker on one side, and the Russian Federationmarker together with Ossetiansmarker and Abkhaziansmarker on the other.

The 1991–1992 South Ossetia War between Georgians and Ossetians had left most of South Ossetia under de-facto control of a Russian-backed internationally unrecognised regional government. Some ethnic Georgian-inhabited parts of South Ossetia remained under the control of Georgia. A similar situation existed in Abkhaziamarker after the War in Abkhazia . Already-increasing tensions escalated during the summer months of 2008.

During the night of 7 to 8 August 2008, Georgia launched a large-scale military attack against South Ossetia, in an attempt to reconquer the territory. The following day, Russia reacted by deploying combat troops in South Ossetia and launching bombing raids into uncontested Georgian territory. Russian and Ossetian troops clashed with Georgians in the three-day Battle of Tskhinvali, the largest battle of the war. Russian naval forces blocked Georgia's coast and landed ground forces and paratroopers on the Georgian coast. On 9 August Russian and Abkhazian forces opened a second front by attacking the Kodori Gorge, held by Georgia, and entered western parts of Georgia's interior. After five days of heavy fighting, the Georgian forces were ejected from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russian troops entered uncontested Georgia, occupying the cities of Potimarker and Gorimarker among others.

After mediation by the Frenchmarker presidency of the European Union, the parties reached a preliminary ceasefire agreement on 12 August, signed by Georgia on 15 August in Tbilisimarker and by Russia on 16 August in Moscowmarker. On 12 August, President Medvedev had already ordered a halt to Russian military operations in Georgia,but fighting did not stop immediately.After the signing of the ceasefire Russia pulled most of its troops out of uncontested Georgia. However, Russia created buffer zones, around Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and check-points in Georgia's interior (Poti, Senakimarker, Perevi).

On 26 August 2008 Russia recognised the independence of South Ossetiamarker and Abkhaziamarker. Russia completed its withdrawal from uncontested Georgia on 8 October, but Russian troops remain stationed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia under bilateral agreements with the corresponding governments. However, according to a number of sources, Russia has not fully complied with the peace agreement because Georgia lost control over some of the territories.

A number of incidents occurred in both conflict zones in the months after the war ended. tensions between the belligerents remain high.

Background



Before the break-up of the Soviet Unionmarker, South Ossetia operated as the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblastmarker, an autonomous region within the Georgian SSR. A military conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia broke out in January 1991 when Georgia sent troops to subdue a South Ossetian separatist movement. The separatists were helped by former Soviet military units, who by now had come under Russian command. Estimates of deaths in this fighting exceed 2,000 people. During the war several atrocities occurred on both sides. Approximately 100,000 Ossetians fled Georgia and South Ossetia, while 23,000 Georgians left South Ossetia. The war resulted in South Ossetia, which had a Georgian ethnic minority of around 29% of the total population of 98,500 in 1989, breaking away from Georgia and gaining de facto independence. After the Sochi agreement in 1992, Tskhinvali was isolated from the Georgian territory around it and Russian, Georgian and South Ossetian peacekeeper were stationed in South Ossetia under the Joint Control Commission's mandate of demilitarisation. The 1992 ceasefire also defined both a zone of conflict around the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali and a security corridor along the border of South Ossetian territories. This situation was mirrored in Abkhazia, an Autonomous Republic within Georgia in the USSR, where the Abkhazian minority seceded from Georgia in a war in the early 1990's. Similar to South Ossetia, most of Abkhazia was controlled by an unrecognised government, while Georgia controlled other parts. In May 2008, there were about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia, and about 1,000 Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia under the JCC's mandate.

The conflict remained frozen until 2003 when Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in Georgia's Rose Revolution, which ousted president Eduard Shevardnadze. In the years that followed, Saakashvili's government pushed a program to strengthen failing state institutions, including security and military, created "passably democratic institutions" and implemented what many viewed as a pro-US foreign policy. One of Saakashvili's main goals has been Georgian NATOmarker membership, which Russia opposes. This has been one of the main stumbling blocks in Georgia-Russia relations. In 2007, Georgia spent 6% of GDP on its military and had the highest average growth rate of military spending in the world. In 2008, Georgia's defence budget was $1bn, a third of all government spending. Restoring South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Georgian control has been seen as a top-priority goal of Saakashvili since he came to power. Opposition members have criticised Saakashvili of having authoritarian tendencies. During Saakashvili's rule, human rights organisations such as Freedom House downgraded Georgia's democracy ranking. The Freedom House ranking moved lower than it was under President Eduard Shevardnadze.

Emboldened by the success in restoring control in Adjara in early 2004, the Georgian government launched a push to retake South Ossetia, sending 300 special task-force fighters into the territory. Georgia stated that the operaton aimed to combat smuggling, but JCC participants branded the move as a breach of the Sochi agreement of 1992. Intense fighting took place between Georgian forces and South Ossetian militia between 8 and 19 August 2004. According to researcher Sergei Markedonov, the brief war in 2004 was a turning point for Russian policy in the region: Russia, which had previously aimed only to preserve the status-quo, now felt that the security of the whole Caucasus depended on the situation in South Ossetia, and took the side of the self-proclaimed republic. In 2006 Georgia sent police and security forces to the Kodori Gorgemarker in eastern Abkhazia, when a local militia leader there had rebelled against the Georgian authorities. The presence of Georgian forces in the Kodori Gorge continued until the war in 2008.

In the 2006 South Ossetian independence referendum, 99% of those voting supported full independence. Simultaneously, ethnic Georgians voted just as emphatically to stay with Tbilisi in a referendum among the region's ethnic Georgians. Georgia accused Russia of the annexation of its internationally recognised territory and of installing a puppet government led by Eduard Kokoity and by several officials who had previously served in the Russian FSB and in the Army. From 2004 to 2008, Georgia has repeatedly proposed broad autonomy for Abkhazia and South Ossetia within the unified Georgian state, but the proposals have been rejected by the secessionist authorities, who demanded full independence for the territory. In 2006, the Georgian government set up what Russians claimed was a puppet government led by the former South Ossetian prime minister Dmitry Sanakoyev and granted to it a status of a provisional administration, alarming Tskhinvali and Moscow.In what Sergei Markedonov has described as the culmination of Georgian "unfreezing" policy, the control of the Georgian peacekeeping battalion was transferred from the joint command of the peacekeeping forces to the Georgian Defence Ministry.

In 1989, Ossetians accounted for around 60 percent, Georgians 20 percent, Armenians 10 percent and Russians 5 percent of the population of South Ossetia. about 7/8 of the population of South Ossetia have acquired Russian citizenship, as a result of being Soviet Citizens (Russia extended citizenship to most USSR citizens, as it was seen as a successor state to the USSR and Russia assumed USSR's UN "Veto Seat"). Additionally, 71% of all Ossetians were living in Russia, most of them just across the Roki Tunnel in North Ossetia, and had family members in South Ossetia. From the viewpoint of Russian constitutional law, the legal position of Russian passport holders in South Ossetia is the same as that of Russian citizens living in Russia. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stated that he would "protect the life and dignity of Russian citizens wherever they are". According to an EU report, this position is inconsistent with international law, which considers the vast majority of purportedly naturalised persons as not Russian citizens. According to Reuters, prior to the war Russia was supplying two thirds of South Ossetia's annual budget, and Russia's state-controlled gas giant Gazprom was building new gas pipelines and infrastructure worth hundreds of millions of dollars to supply South Ossetian cities with energy. Moreover, Russian officials already had de facto control over South Ossetia's institutions, including security institutions and security forces, and South Ossetia's de facto government was largely staffed with Russian representatives and South Ossetians with Russian passports who had previously worked in equivalent government positions in Russia. In mid-April, 2008, the Russian Foreign Ministrymarker announced that Russian PM Vladimir Putin had given instructions to the federal government whereby Russia would pursue economic, diplomatic, and administrative relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia as with the subjects of Russia. When President Saakashvili was re-elected in early 2008, he promised to bring the breakaway regions back under Georgian control.

Georgia maintained a close relationship with the G.W. Bush administration of the United States of Americamarker. In 2002, the USA started the Georgia Train and Equip Program to arm and train the Georgian military, and, in 2005, a Georgia Sustainment and Stability Operations Program to broaden capabilities of the Georgian armed forces. These programs involved training by the United States Army Special Forces, United States Marine Corps, and military advisors personnel.

Although Georgia has no significant oil or gas reserves of its own, its territory hosts part of the important Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline transit route that supplies western and central Europe. The pipeline, supplied by oil from Azerbaijan's Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli oil field transports of oil per day. It has been a key factor for the United States' support for Georgia, allowing the West to reduce its reliance on Middle Eastern oil while bypassing Russia and Iran.

Prelude

Military buildup

Situation in South Ossetia before the war
Georgian military study map of 2006.
During 2008 both Georgia and Russia accused each other of preparing for war. In April 2008, Russia said that Georgia was massing 1,500 soldiers and police in the upper Kodori Gorge area and planning to invade the breakaway region of Abkhazia. Russia said it was boosting its forces there and in the South Ossetia region as a response. Later, UNOMIG denied any build up in the Kodori Gorge or near the Abkhazian border by either sides.

In the same month Russia increased the number of its military peacekeepers in Abkhazia to 2,542 by deploying hundreds of paratroopers into the region. Even after the increase, troop levels still remained within the 3,000 limit imposed by a 1994 decision of CIS heads of state. Sergey Lavrov said, that his country was not preparing for war but would "retaliate" against any attack.

On April 16 Russia's president Vladimir Putin signed a decree authorising direct official relations between Russian government bodies and the secessionist authorities in Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The move further heightened tensions between Russia and Georgia.

On 20 April, a Russian jet shot down a Georgian unmanned spy-plane flying over Abkhazia.After the incident Saakashvili deployed 12,000 Georgian troops to Senakimarker. Georgian interior ministry officials showed the BBC video footage, which Georgia said showed Russian troops deploying heavy military hardware in the breakaway region of Abkhazia. According to Georgia, "it proved the Russians were a fighting force, not just peacekeepers." Russia strongly denied the accusations. Both countries also accused each other of flying jets over South Ossetia, violating the ceasefire.

From July to early August, Georgia and Russia conducted two parallel military exercises, the joint US-Georgian Immediate Response 2008 and the Russian Caucasus Frontier 2008. According to a paper published by Institute for Security and Development Policy shortly after the war, the Russian troops remained by the Georgian border instead of returning to their bases after the end of their exercise on 2 August. After the war, Major General Vyacheslav Borisov and commander of the 76th Airborne Division praised the exercises in the region as one of the reasons why his unit performed well in the war. The Georgian 4th Brigade, which later spearheaded the attack into Tskhinvali, took part in the Georgian exercise along with 1,000 American troops. This caused Russia to accuse the United States of helping Georgian attack preparations. After the exercise, the Georgian Artillery Brigade, normally based in two locations, in Senaki and in Gori, was now moved completely to Gori, 25 km from the South Ossetian border. According to Colonel Wolfgang Richter, a leading military adviser to the German OSCE mission, Georgia concentrated troops along the South Ossetian border in July.

On 5 August, Russian ambassador-at-large Yuri Popov reiterated the Russian position that his country would intervene in the event of military conflict. The Ambassador of South Ossetia to Moscow, Dmitry Medoyev, declared that volunteers were already arriving, primarily from North Ossetia, in the region of South Ossetia to offer help in the event of Georgian aggression.

According to Moscow Defence Brief, an English-language defence magazine published by the Russian NGO, Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, the Georgians "appear to have secretly concentrated a significant number of troops and equipment to the South Ossetian border in early August, under the cover of providing support for the exchange of fire with South Ossetian formations". The Georgian forces included the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Infantry Brigades, the Artillery Brigade, elements of the 1st Infantry Brigade, and the separate Gori Tank Battalion, plus special forces and Ministry of the Internal Affairs troops  — as many as 16,000 men, according to the publication. International Institute for Strategic Studies and Western intelligence experts give a lower estimate, saying that the Georgians had amassed about 12,000 troops and 75 tanks on the South Ossetian border by 7 August. On the opposite side, there were said to be 1,000 Russian peacekeepers and 500 South Ossetian fighters ready to defend Tskhinvalimarker, according to an estimate quoted by Der Spiegel.

Pre-war clashes

In the worst violence in years, clashes and shelling between the Georgian and Ossetian forces in early August led to the deaths of six Ossetians and five Georgians; each side accused the other of opening fire first. During the week the fighting intensified. On 3 August, the Russian foreign ministry warned that an extensive military conflict was about to erupt. According to a Spiegel article, officials in European governments and intelligence agencies assumed that the warning concerned Saakashvili's plans for an invasion of South Ossetia, plans which had been completed earlier. Three days later, the evacuation of Ossetian women and children to Russia was completed, as some 35,000 people were successfully evacuated. Starting with the night of 6–7 August there were continuous artillery fire exchanges between the two sides.

At 2 p.m. on 7 August the Georgian peacekeeping checkpoint in Avnevi came under artillery fire which killed two Georgian peacekeepers. At around 2:30 p.m. Georgia mobilised tanks, 122mm howitzers, and 203mm self‐propelled artillery in the direction of the administrative border of South Ossetia. In the late afternoon OSCE monitors confirmed the move of Georgian artillery and Grad rocket launchers massing on roads north of Gori. At 2:42 p.m. Georgia withdrew its personnel from the JPKF Headquarters in Tskhinvali.

At 4 p.m. Temur Yakobashvili, the Georgian minister of reintegration, arrived in Tskhinvali for a previously-agreed meeting with South Ossetians in the presence of chief Russian negotiator over South Ossetia, Yuri Popov. The Ossetians didn't show up — a day before, the South Ossetian side refused to participate in bilateral talks, demanding a JCC session (consisting of Georgia, Russia, North and South Ossetia) instead, but Tbilisi had withdrawn from the JCC in March, demanding the format include also the EU, the OSCE and the Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia. Yakobashvili confirmed that Tskhinvali was already largely evacuated: "Nobody was in the streets — no cars, no people". He met with the Russian commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Force , General Marat Kulakhmetov, who stated that the Russian peacekeepers cannot stop Ossetian attacks and advised the Georgians to declare a ceasefire.

Active stage

Evening of 7 August

At about 7 p.m., President Mikheil Saakashvili ordered a unilateral ceasefire, advised earlier that day by Kulakhmetov. The ceasefire held for a few hours and was also observed by the South Ossetian side, until firing was reportedly resumed again at around 10 p.m. Georgian armour continued to move to the South Ossetian line even during Saakashvili's ceasefire, and the Russian and Ossetian governments claimed that the ceasefire was "just as an attempt to buy time" while Georgian forces positioned themselves for a major attack.

During a news broadcast that began at 11 p.m., Mikheil Saakashvili announced that Georgian villages were being shelled. Georgia announced that it was launching an operation to "restore constitutional order" as a response to the shelling. An OSCE monitoring group in Tskhinvali did not record outgoing artillery fire from the South Ossetian side in the hours before the start of Georgian bombardment, and NATO officials attest to minor skirmishes but nothing that amounted to a provocation, according to Der Spiegel.

At 11:30 p.m. on 7 August, Georgian forces began a major artillery assault on Tskhinvalimarker. At 11:45 p.m. OSCE monitors reported, that shells were falling on Tskhinvali every 15–20 seconds. The Georgians used 27 BM-21 Grad rocket launchers and 152-millimetre guns, as well as cluster munitions. According to Georgian intelligence and several Russian sources, parts of 58th Russian Army moved to South Ossetian territory through the Roki Tunnelmarker before the Georgian attack.

However, no conclusive evidence has been presented by Georgia or its Western allies that Russia was invading the country before the Georgian attack, according to New York Times analysis. Instead "the accounts suggest that Georgia’s inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm". Georgia's claim to be responding to a premeditated Russian assault received little support from the US and NATO.

In September, 2009, an independent report, commissioned by the Council of the European Union, was prepared by a group of 30 European military, legal and history experts under the head of the Swissmarker diplomat Heidi Tagliavini. The report states that the war was started by the Georgian attack "that was not justified by international law". The report says the commission found no evidence to the Georgia's claims of being invaded by Russia prior to launching an attack on South Ossetia. The report, however, states that the Russian reaction to the Georgian attack was disproportionate. The report also claims Mikheil Saakashvili ordered the attack despite warnings from the United States not to provoke military confrontation with the Russian Federation.

Battle of Tskhinvali

A building in Tskhinvali after Georgian artillery bombardment.
Headquarters of the Russian peacekeeping forces in Tskhinvali, shelled by Georgia on 7–8 August 2008
Burned Georgian tank in Tskhinvali.
During the battle of Zemo-Nikosi
Georgian servicemen leaving South Ossetia.
August 2008
Early in the morning of 8 August, Georgia launched a military offensive, codenamed Operation Clear Field to capture Tskhinvali. The Georgian 4th Brigade spearheaded the infantry attack, while the 2nd and 3rd Brigades provided support. Georgian forces soon seized several strategic South Ossetian controlled villages located on higher ground around the city. After securing the heights around Tskhinvali, the Georgian forces, supported by artillery and tanks, moved into the city.

At 12:15 a.m. Kulakhmetov reported to the OSCE monitors that the JPKF peacekeepers had come under fire and that they had casualties. 18 Russian Peacekeeping force soldiers were killed in the Georgian artillery shelling. The peacekeepers' cafeteria was completely destroyed and all of their buildings went up in flames.

Georgian shelling left parts of the capital city in ruins. The shelling of the city was extensively covered by Russian media prior to the military counteroffensive that followed. Russia claimed to have responded to an attack on the peacekeepers base and in defence of South Ossetian civilians against what they called "a genocide by Georgian forces".South Ossetian and Russian authorities claimed that the civilian casualties in Tskhinvali may amount up to 2,000. These high casualty figures were later revised down to 162 casualties.

By 8 am. on 8 August, Georgian infantry and tanks had entered Tskhinvali and engaged in a fierce battle with Ossetian forces and the Russian peacekeeping battalion stationed in the city. 1,500 Georgian ground troops had reached the centre of Tskhinvali by 10 a.m. on 8 August, but were pushed back three hours later by Russian counter offensive artillery and air attacks, according to Georgian officials. According to the international fact-finding mission, 10,000 11,000 soldiers took part in the general Georgian offensive in South Ossetia.

The BBC has discovered evidence that Georgia may have committed war crimes during its attack and occupation of Tskhinvali, including possible deliberate targeting of civilians. The Human Rights Watch found some evidence of firing being directed into basements, locations which civilians frequently choose as a place of shelter.

According to Georgia, Russian military aircraft violated Georgian airspace around 10 a.m. on 8 August. Starting around 2 p.m., international press agencies began running reports of Russian tanks in the Roki tunnelmarker. According to a senior Russian official, the first Russian combat unit, the First Battalion of the 135th Regiment, was ordered at around dawn of 8 August to move through the Roki Tunnel and reinforce the Russian peacekeeping forces in Tskhinvali. According to him, the unit passed through the tunnel at 2:30 p.m. It reached Tskhinvali in the evening, meeting heavy resistance from Georgian troops. Georgia disputes the account, saying that it was in heavy combat with Russian forces near the tunnel long before dawn of 8 August. Some Western intelligence experts believe, that Russian troops did not begin marching through the tunnel until roughly 11 a.m. on 8 August. Russian warplanes bombed a military airbase 40 miles from Georgia's capital Tbilisimarker on August 8, killing 3 Georgian soldiers.

During the evening of 8 August, vicious fighting took place in the area of Tskhinvali and in other parts of South Ossetia. The fighting in South Ossetian towns and villages was done by the local militia and volunteers, while Russian troops concentrated on engaging larger Georgian army groups. Russia also undertook action to suppress the Georgian artillery and the Russian Air Force launched strikes on Georgia's logistical infrastructure. Russian special units reportedly prevented Georgian "saboteurs" from blowing up the Roki Tunnel, which could have hindered the sending of reinforcements to South Ossetia.

The passage of Russian forces through the narrow Roki Tunnel and along the mountain roads was slow and the Russians had difficulties in concentrating their troops, forcing them to bring their forces into battle battalion by battalion. Because of this, a fierce battle took place on 9 August in the region of Tskhinvali and the Georgians were able to mount several counterattacks, including some with tanks. Because of the gradual increase in troops, the combined amassed Russian and South Ossetian forces in South Ossetia outnumbered the Georgians for the first time on 9–10 August. The Russians moved between 5,500 and 10,000 troops to South Ossetia through the Roki Tunnel, according to Der Spiegel. On August 9, the convoy of Russian Lieutenant General Anatoly Khrulyov moved into Tskhinvali from the Roki Tunnel, and was ambushed by Georgian special forces. Khrulyov was wounded. Russian Major Denis Vetchinov was killed in the firefight. Vetchinov was awarded Hero of the Russian Federation posthumously, the highest Russian military award, for his courage and heroism he displayed in the ensuing firefight

According to Moscow Defence Brief, "by the morning of August 10, the Georgians had captured almost the whole of Tskhinvali, forcing the Ossetian forces and Russian peacekeeping battalion to retreat to the northern reaches of the city. However, on this very day the accumulation of Russian forces in the region finally bore fruit, and the fighting in South Ossetia reached a turning point. Toward the evening of August 10, Tskhinvali was completely cleared of Georgian forces, which retreated to the south of the city. Georgian forces were also repelled from the key Prisi heights. The bulk of Georgia’s artillery was defeated. Meanwhile, Ossetian forces, with the support of Russian divisions, took Tamarasheni, Kekhvi, Kurta, and Achabeti on the approach to Tskhinvali from the north. Georgian forces in several Georgian enclaves were eliminated." Only in the area around the village of Zemo-Nikosi did Georgian units stubbornly resist, repelling the Russian attack for a short time, but were soon defeated. Georgian units and artillery continued to shell Tskhinvali from a number of high points. By the end of 11 August South Ossetia was completely cleared of Georgian forces, and Russian units had moved into Georgia proper by the next morning. Having retreated from South Ossetia, the Georgian forces regrouped at Gori.

According to the Georgian Defence Minister, the Georgian military tried to push into Tskhinvali three times in all. During the last attempt, they got a very heavy Russian-led counter attack which Georgian officials described as "something like hell." In total, the fighting in the Tskhinvali area lasted for three days and nights, by the end of which Georgian artillery was either destroyed or had left its positions, from which it could shell the city and Georgian ground troops pulled out of the city.

Bombing and occupation of Gori

An apartment building in Gori, damaged during the war
Gorimarker is a major Georgian city close to the administrative boundary of the region of South Ossetiamarker, about 25 km from Tskhinvali. It was the staging area for the Georgian army during the fighting for the capital of South Ossetia and was bombed several times by the Russian Air Force.

According to western intelligence the Russian bombings began at 7:30 a.m. 8 August, when it launched the first SS-21 short-range missile, supposedly at military or government bunker positions in the city of Borzhomimarker, southwest of Gorimarker. Around 6 a.m. on 9 August, Reuters reported that two Russian fighters had bombed a Georgian artillery position near Gorimarker. A later attack hit the central square of the city, killing 7 civilians (including a Dutch journalist) and injuring over 30. An air-to-ground missile also struck the Gori hospital. Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international rights group, charged Russia with deploying controversial and indiscriminately deadly cluster bombs on civilian areas of Georgia. According to HRW at least eight civilians were killed and dozens injured when a Russian aircraft dropped cluster bombs in the centre of Gori on 12 August. According to the Russian military claim, three bombs hit an armament depot and the façade of one of the adjacent 5-storey apartment buildings suffered as a result exploding ammunition from the depot. The Georgian government reported that 60 civilians were killed when at least one bomb hit an apartment building in Gori.

On the evening of 10 August, large numbers of the civilian population began to flee the city. By the next day, 11 August, 56,000 people had fled the district. The day after that, 12 August, at 5 p.m., the Georgian army started to abandon the city in disarray, without firing a shot, following their defeat at Tskhinvali. A Times reporter described the Georgian withdrawal as "sudden and dramatic", saying that "the Gori residents watched in horror as their army abandoned their positions". According to Moscow Defence Brief, the retreat of the Georgian army from Gori soon grew into "a panicked flight" almost all the way to Tbilisi.



On 13 August Russian ground forces entered Gori. Since the Georgian defenders of the city were in full retreat, Gori was completely clear of Georgian troops when the Russians entered. On 14 August, the Russian commander in charge of the troops occupying Gori, Major General Vyacheslav Borisov claimed that the city of Gori was controlled jointly by Georgian Police and Russian troops. He further said that Russian troops would start leaving Gori in two days. Russian troops said they were removing military hardware and ammunition from an arms depot outside Gori. Russian troops were also seen on the road from Gori to Tbilisi, but they turned off to the north, about an hour from Tbilisi, and encamped. Georgian troops manned the road six miles (about 10 km) closer to Tbilisi.

The Russian and Ossetian forces denied access to some humanitarian aid missions seeking to assist civilians. The United Nations, which described the humanitarian situation in Gori as "desperate," was able to deliver only limited food supplies to the city. On 15 August, Russian troops allowed a number of humanitarian supplies into the city but continued their blockade of the strategically located city. In the 17 August report, HRW said the organisation's researchers interviewed ethnic Georgians from the city of Gori and surrounding villages who described how armed South Ossetian militias attacked their cars and kidnapped civilians as people tried to flee in response to militia attacks on their homes following the Russian advance into the area. In phone interviews, people remaining in Gori region villages told HRW that they had witnessed looting and arson attacks by South Ossetian militias in their villages, but were afraid to leave after learning about militia attacks on those who fled. A Russian lieutenant said on 14 August: "We have to be honest. The Ossetians are marauding." Answering a journalist's question, a Russian lieutenant colonel said: "We're not a police force, we're a military force. It's not our job to do police work." The New York Times noted, that "the Russian military might be making efforts in some places to stop the rampaging". According to the Hague Convention, an occupying power has to "insure public order and safety in the occupied areas". The Russian human rights group Memorial called the attacks by South Ossetian militia "pogroms".

The occupation lasted until 22 August.

Abkhazian front

Ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet left Sevastopol on the evening of 8 August. On 10 August RIA-Novosti, quoting a source at the Russian Navy Main Staff reported that a group of Russian warships had arrived at the maritime border with Georgia in the eastern part of the Black Sea. "In the morning of Sunday [10 August], the Black Sea Fleet flagship, the missile cruiser Moskva, the patrol ship Smetlivyy and auxiliary vessels from [the Black Sea Fleet base in] Sevastopol reached the intended area," the source was quoted as saying. According to the source, the warships joined three Russian large landing ships, which had deployed to the area earlier from Sevastopol and Novorossiysk. "The objective of the Black Sea Fleet's warships in the area is to be prepared to provide assistance to refugees," the source said. He denied earlier media reports that the warships were enforcing a blockade of Georgia's coast. "A naval blockade would indicate war with Georgia. We are not at war with Georgia." The flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, the missile cruiser Moskva, and the escort ship Smetlivyy entered the port of Novorossiysk on Sunday [10 August] and dropped anchor, according to sources in the Novorossiysk administration. On the evening of 10 August a naval skirmish between Russian and Georgian forces took place. The Russian Nanuchka III class corvette Mirazh (Mirage) probably sank one Georgian patrol cutter with two Malakhit anti-ship missiles. This was the Russian Navy's first real sea battle since 1945. The Russians claimed that Georgian ships had violated the security zone of the Black Sea Fleet and therefore the action was in self-defense in accordance with international law. Following the action, the remaining Georgian ships withdrew to a nearby harbour.

On 9 August, Russia opened a second front in Abkhazia, deploying up to 9,000 men from the 7th Novorossiysk and 76th Pskov Air Assault Divisions, elements of the 20th Motorised Rifle Division and two battalions of the Black Sea Fleet Marines, as well as 3,000 Abkhaz light infantry and arty support. Via a joint operation, the Russo-Abkhaz forces began to dislodge the Georgian forces from the Kodori Gorgemarker, meeting only light resistance.

On 10 August Abkhazia declared a full military mobilisation to "drive out the 1,000 Georgian troops" from their remaining stronghold in the Kodori Valleymarker. Russian forces secured the Georgian controlled Khurcha settlement in Abkhazia on August 10.

The next day, Russian paratroopers deployed in Abkhazia carried out raids deep inside Georgian territory to destroy military bases from where Georgia could send reinforcements to its troops sealed off in South Ossetia. Russian forces, meeting virtually no opposition, reached the military base near the town of Senakimarker in undisputed Georgian territory on the 11th, destroying the base there. Russian aircraft also shot down two Georgian helicopters at the airbase at Senaki. Russian troops also drove through the port of Potimarker, and occupied positions around it. On 12 August, the Abkhazian authorities announced the beginning of a military offensive against Georgian troops in the Kodori Gorge area. The Abkhazians quickly took the Kodori Gorge meeting only light resistance. 1 Abkhazian soldier and 2 Georgian soldiers were killed. On the same day, Georgia said it was withdrawing its troops from the Kodori Gorge as a gesture of goodwill. The battle between Georgian and Abkhazian forces lasted until 13 August, when all of the remaining Georgian forces, as well as civilian residents numbering at least 1,500 left Kodori Valley for the uncontested Georgia.

Operations in the Kodori Gorge concluded on August 12. 1 Abkhazian soldier was killed and 2 were wounded. 2 Georgian soldiers were also killed. All Georgian forces were driven out of the Kodori Gorge.

Occupation of Poti

On 14 August, Russian troops entered Poti and sunk several Georgian naval vessels moored in the harbour, as well as removing or destroying military equipment. They also controlled the highway linking Poti to Tbilisi. Four days later, Russian forces in Poti took prisoner 22 Georgian troops who had approached the city. They were taken to a Georgian military base occupied by Russian troops at Senaki. From 13–15 August, according to Moscow Defence Brief, "Russian paratroops raided Poti again and again, destroying almost all of the docked ships and boats of the Georgian Navy, and took away a quantity of valuable military equipment."

Six-point peace plan

On 10 August most international observers began calling for a peaceful solution to the conflict. The European Union and the United States expressed a willingness to send a joint delegation to try and negotiate a ceasefire. Russia, however, ruled out peace talks with Georgia until the latter withdrew from South Ossetia and signed a legally binding pact renouncing the use of force against South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

On 12 August, Russian President Medvedev said that he had ordered an end to military operations in Georgia, saying that "the operation has achieved its goal, security for peacekeepers and civilians has been restored. The aggressor was punished, suffering huge losses." Later on the same day, he met the President-in-Office of the European Union, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and approved a six-point peace plan. Late that night Georgian President Saakashvili agreed to the text. Sarkozy's plan originally had just the first four points. Russia added the fifth and sixth points. Georgia asked for the additions in parentheses, but Russia rejected them, and Sarkozy convinced Georgia to agree to the unchanged text. On 14 August, South Ossetia President Eduard Kokoity and Abkhazia President Sergei Bagapsh signed the peace plan as well.

  • No recourse to the use of force.
  • Definitive cessation of hostilities.
  • Free access to humanitarian aid (addition rejected: and to allow the return of refugees).
  • The Armed Forces of Georgia must withdraw to their permanent positions.
  • The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation must withdraw to the line where they were stationed prior to the beginning of hostilities. Prior to the establishment of international mechanisms the Russian peacekeeping forces will take additional security measures. (addition rejected: six months)
  • An international debate on the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and ways to ensure their lasting security will take place. (addition rejected: based on the decisions of the UN and the OSCE).


After the cease fire had been signed, hostilities did not immediately stop. According to Moscow Defence Brief, active raids on Georgian territory to capture and destroy Georgian weapons, and the "demilitarisation of the Georgian armed forces" continued. Noting that people were fleeing before the still advancing Russian tanks and soldiers and the following "irregulars", a reporter for the UK The Guardian stated on 13 August, "the idea there is a ceasefire is ridiculous." On 14 August, efforts to institute joint patrols of Georgian and Russian police in Gori broke down because of apparent discord among personnel. Reuters stated on 15 August, that Russian forces had pushed to 34 miles (55 km) from Tbilisi, the closest during the war; they stopped in Igoeti , an important crossroads. That day, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also travelled to Tbilisi, where Saakashvili signed the 6-point peace plan in her presence. Russian and Georgian forces exchanged prisoners of war on 19 August. Georgia said it handed over 5 Russian servicemen, in exchange for 15 Georgians, including two civilians.

Russian withdrawal

Despite numerous calls for a quick withdrawal from Georgia by western leaders, Russian troops occupied some parts of uncontested Georgia for about two months. In late August, some troops were withdrawn, however Russian troops and checkpoints remained near Gori and Poti, as well as in so called "buffer zones" around Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Withdrawal from the buffer zones around South Ossetia and Abkhazia was completed when control was handed over to a EU observer mission on 9 October. On 9 September 2008, Russia officially announced that its troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia would "henceforth be considered foreign troops stationed in independent states under bilateral agreements". On the other hand, Georgia considers Abkhazia and South Ossetia "Russian-occupied territories". Russia maintains 3,700 soldiers in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia and is planning to open military bases in Javamarker, Tskhinvalimarker, and Gudautamarker in 2010. Russia is planning to spend $400 million on the bases. According to the British House of Lords, Russia is in violation of the six-point peace plan by keeping troops stationed in areas they did not previously control. France is considering Russia not yet fulfilling its commitments to the six-point peace plan.

International monitors

, there are 225 EU ceasefire monitors operating in Georgia. Previous mandates of OSCE monitors (in South Ossetia) and the UN (UNOMIG, Abkhazia and Georgia) expired on 1 January and June 16 respectively. Russia vetoed the extension of the mandates, arguing that the mandates did not properly reflect Russia's position of recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. According to the head of the UN mission, Johan Verbeke, roughly 60,000 ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia will be left unprotected after the mission's end. OSCE monitors had been denied access to South Ossetia since the war.


A number of incidents have occurred in both border conflict zones since the war ended, and tensions between the belligerents remain high.

Humanitarian impact and war crimes

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), all parties committed serious violations of international human rights andhumanitarian law, resulting in many civilian deaths and injuries. Georgian forces used indiscriminate force during their attack on South Ossetia "with blatant disregard for the safety of civilians." The Georgians directed tank and machine gun fire at buildings in Tskhinvali, including at apartment buildings and basements where civilians sheltered. South Ossetian forces had fired on Georgian forces from at least some of these buildings. The Georgian military used Grad multiple rocket launchers, an indiscriminate weapon, to destroy targets situated in civilian areas. The Russian military has also used indiscriminate force in attacks in South Ossetia and in the Gori district, and has apparently targeted convoys of civilians attempting to flee the conflict zones. Russian warplanes bombed civilian population centres in Georgia, and Georgian villages in South Ossetia. A Russian bombing in the Georgian city of Gorimarker killed 60 civilians and wounded scores more. Armed criminal gangs and Ossetian militia have committed looting, arson attacks, rape and abduction in Georgian villages and towns, terrorising the civilian population, forcing them to flee their homes and preventing displaced people from returning home. In the Georgian city of Gorimarker, Ossetian militia have terrorised the civilian population and attacked anyone who tried to flee.

HRW further reports that both Georgians and Russians used cluster bombs of the types M85S and RBK 250, resulting in civilian casualties. Georgia admits using cluster bombs against Russian troops and the Roki tunnel. Georgia was also reported to have used cluster munitions twice to hit civilians fleeing from the battle zone through the main escape route. Russia denies the use of cluster bombs, but is accused of having used them in its attacks against Gori, Ruisi and Karbi. HRW called the conflict a disaster for civilians. HRW also called for international organisations to send fact-finding missions to establish the facts, report on human rights, and urged the authorities to account for any crimes.

On 8 September Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, issued a report titled "Human Rights in Areas Affected by the South Ossetia Conflict" stating that during the conflict "a very large number of people had been victimised. More than half of the population in South Ossetia fled, the overwhelming majority of them after the Georgian artillery and tank attack on Tskhinvali and the assaults on Georgian villages by South Ossetian militia and criminal gangs." The report also states that the main Tskhinvali hospital had been hit by rockets, that some "residential areas in the city" of Tskhinvali were "completely destroyed" and "the main building of the Russian peace keeping force as well as the base’s medical dispensary had been hit by heavy artillery." Furthermore, the villages with ethnic Georgian majority between Tskhinvalimarker and Javamarker "have been destroyed, reportedly by South Ossetian militia and criminal gangs."

According to Human Rights Watch, during the August war, South Ossetian militias burned and looted most ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia, effectively preventing 20,000 residents displaced by the conflict from returning. Furthermore, the civilians willing to live in South Ossetia are obliged to accept a Russian passport in order to be authorised to. According to Memorial the villages of Kekhvimarker, Kurta, Achabeti, Tamarasheni, Eredvi, Vanati and Avnevi have been "virtually fully burnt down". The South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity stated in an interview that Georgian villages were successfully demolished and none of the Georgian refugees will be allowed to return back.

In November 2008, Amnesty International released a 69 page report citing both Georgia and Russia of serious international law violations on the conduct of war. The great majority of those killed in the war were civilians. Russian and South Ossetian officials initially claimed that up to 2,000 Ossetian civilians were killed. These high casualty figures Russia claimed to justify its military intervention in Georgia later found over exaggerated. After almost one year of the conflict, Russian prosecutor office has revised the figure and has reported only 162 civilian casualties, while Georgia has reported more than 400 deaths. ". On the other hand, the false claims of high casualties might significantly influenced public sentiment among Ossetians. According to Human Rights Watch, some of the Ossetian residents they interviewed justified the torching and looting of the Georgian villages by referring to "thousands of civilian casualties in South Ossetia," as reported by Russian federal TV channels.. Stan Storimans, a Dutch journalist, was the only foreigner killed in the conflict.

Both sides have filed complaints with various international courts, including the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justicemarker (where the written pleadings in the case Georgia vs Russian Federation start on 2 September 2009) and the European Court of Human Rightsmarker, against each other.

Infrastructure damage

On 12 August local authorities stated that approximately 70% of Tskhinvali's buildings, both municipal and private, had suffered damage during Georgian offensive. According to later statements made by Russian and Ossetian sources, about 20% of the Tskhinvali's buildings had suffered various damage, including an estimate of 700, or about 10% of the city's buildings, as being "beyond repair".

According to Human Rights Watch, on the night of 7–8 August, Georgian forces subjected the city of Tskhinvali and several nearby Ossetian villages to heavy shelling. Tskhinvali was also heavily shelled during daytime hours on 8 August. HRW reports that South Ossetian fighters took up positions in civilian locations, including schools and a kindergarten, turning them into legitimate military targets. Several of these locations were then hit by Georgian artillery. Shelling resumed at a smaller scale on 9 August, when Georgian forces were targeting Russian troops who by then had moved into Tskhinvali and other areas of South Ossetia. The organisation has discovered evidence of widespread destruction in Tskhinvali caused by indiscriminate fire from Georgian artillery and rocket launchers. Tskhinvali residents are almost unanimous in blaming the Georgian troops for the destruction of the city.

The Georgian side maintains that the Russian Army should be held responsible for heavy damage and destruction of buildings and infrastructure in Tskhinvali, as it was bombing the city for three days. "When aircraft started bombing our positions in Tskhinvali, this is when most civilian buildings were burned", explained Davit Kezerashvili. Russian journalist Julia Latinina also blames Russia for damaging the city. According to a Georgian police officer, "the city was unimpaired" when they entered into it.

Russia bombed airfields and economic infrastructure, including the Black Seamarker port of Potimarker. Between eight and eleven Russian jets reportedly hit container tanks and a shipbuilding plant at the port. On 16 August 2008, Russian forces advancing towards Tbilisi exploded the railway bridge near Kaspimarker, about 50 km outside of the Georgian capital, thus cutting the link between Eastern and Western Georgia as well as the main transport link between landlocked Armeniamarker and the Georgian Black Sea ports of Batumimarker and Potimarker. The cement factory and civilian area in Kaspi were also reportedly damaged by Russian air-raids.

From 19 August onwards the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) released a series of detailed satellite maps of the regions affected by the war via its Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT). All damage is assessed from satellite images (with a resolution of up to 60 cm), however it is not independently validated on the ground. For Tskhinvali, UNOSAT reports 230 (5.5% of the total) of buildings either destroyed or severely damaged. In the villages to the north of Tskhinvali (controlled by Georgia previous to the war) between 5.4% and 51.9% of the total buildings were affected. Human Rights Watch (HRW) used the images to support the claim that widespread torching of ethnic Georgian villages by Ossetian militia had occurred inside South Ossetia. With regard to the city of Poti, UNOSAT provided imagery that witnesses a total of 6 Georgian naval vessels either "partially or completely submerged". "No other damage to physical infrastructure or vessel-related oil spills" were detected.

Interfax.ru reported that retreating Georgian forces mined civilian infrastructure in South Ossetia, including some private house basements civilians used to hide in during the Georgianmarker offensive.

Many countries and institutions promised reconstruction aid for the affected regions.

Responsibility for the war and motives

Even before the war ended, the question of responsibility for the fighting emerged, with the warring parties taking starkly different positions. In response several international organisations conducted investigations, including a large EU fact finding mission.

Combatants' positions

Georgia first claimed that its attack was a response to Ossetian shelling of Georgian villages, and that the aim of the attack was to "restore constitutional order" in South Ossetia. Later, Saakashvili said the aim of the Georgian attack was to counter a Russian invasion. During a United Nations Security Council meeting on 8 August Georgia said that the first Russian troops entered South Ossetia at 05:30 am on 8 August. In a decree ordering the general mobilisation, which was published on 9 August, Saakashvili noted that the Russian troops had advanced through the Roki tunnel on 8 August, which was after the Georgian attack. The Georgian government later changed its position, saying that around 11:30 p.m. on 7 August intelligence information was received that 150 Russian army vehicles had entered Georgian territory through the Roki Tunnel. In an interview with Der Spiegel, Mikheil Saakashvili said "we wanted to stop the Russian troops before they could reach Georgian villages. When our tanks moved toward Tskhinvali, the Russians bombed the city. They were the ones -- not us -- who reduced Tskhinvali to rubble." Georgia released intercepted telephone calls purporting to show that part of a Russian armoured regiment crossed into the separatist enclave of South Ossetia nearly a full day before Georgia’s attack on the capital, Tskhinvali, late on Aug. 7. However, in a later article published on 6 November, The New York Times said that "neither Georgia nor its Western allies have as yet provided conclusive evidence that Russia was invading the country or that the situation for Georgians in the Ossetian zone was so dire that a large-scale military attack was necessary" and that the phone intercepts published by Georgia did not show the Russian column’s size, composition or mission, and that "there has not been evidence that it was engaged with Georgian forces until many hours after the Georgian bombardment."

Russia says it acted to defend Russian citizens in South Ossetia, and its own peacekeepers stationed there. The Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia suffered casualties during the initial Georgian artillery barrage on Tskhinvali and were besieged by Georgian troops for two days until a Russian unit broke through to their camp and started evacuating the wounded at 5 a.m. on 9 August. According to a senior Russian official, the first Russian combat unit was ordered to move through the Roki Tunnel at around dawn of 8 August well after the Georgian attack had begun. Defending Russia's decision to launch attacks on uncontested Georgia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that Russia had no choice but to target the military infrastructure being used to sustain the Georgian offensive. Initially, Russia went as far as accusing Georgia of committing genocide against Ossetians, noting that Georgia codenamed their attack "Operation Clear Field" Both was disputed by the independent EU commission, which found no evidence for the alleged genocide and ruled the extension of operations into uncontested Georgia illegal. Russia codenamed their operation as "Operation Forcing Georgia to peace".

South Ossetia said that it called for Russian help once the Georgian bombardment of their capital city, Tskhinvali, started, in order to prevent genocide and was relieved when the 58th Army intervened to assist against, what Ossetians called "the most frightful fire". South Ossetia further called into question Georgia's assertion that Russian Forces were bombing Tskhinvali, because the South Ossetian Minister of Defence, Vasiliy Lunev, was also in command of the Russian Army after the wounding of Russian General Anatoliy Khrulyov. South Ossetia stated that Saakashvili's brutal attack on their country is simply a continuation of Georgia's aggressive behavior, demonstrated in the 1920s, the early 1990s and Saakashvili's feeble attempt in 2004.

NATO states military experts

NATOmarker officials interviewed by Der Spiegel believed that the Georgians had started the conflict. The officials treated the exchanges of fire in the preceding days as minor events and did not see them as a justification for Georgian war preparations. The NATO experts however did not question the Georgian claim that the Russians had provoked them by sending their troops through the Roki Tunnelmarker. But their evaluation of the facts was dominated by skepticism that these were the true reasons for Saakashvili's actions.

Western intelligence agencies, quoted by Der Spiegel, believed that Russian troops from North Ossetiamarker did not begin marching through the Roki Tunnel until roughly 11 am on 8 August. The Russian army also did not begin firing until 7:30 am on 8 August. Wolfgang Richer, a military expert to the German OSCE mission, said that he could find no evidence to support Saakashvili's claim that the Russians had sent troops through the Roki Tunnel before the Georgian attack, but he could not rule it out either.

OSCE monitors

A former senior OSCE official, Ryan Grist, who was in charge of unarmed monitors in South Ossetia at war's start and in mid of August 2008 forced to resign by OSCE, told the BBC in November 2008 that he had been warning of Georgia's military activity before its move into the South Ossetia region, saying there was a "severe escalation" and that this "would give the Russian Federation any excuse it needed in terms of trying to support its own troops."

According to Grist, it was Georgia that launched the first military strikes against Tskhinvali. "It was clear to me that the [Georgian] attack was completely indiscriminate and disproportionate to any, if indeed there had been any, provocation,” he said. “The attack was clearly, in my mind, an indiscriminate attack on the town, as a town.” Grist's views were echoed and confirmed by Stephen Young, who was another senior OSCE official in Georgia at the time. According to him, there had been little or no shelling of Georgian villages on the night Saakashvili’s troops began their onslaught on Tskhinvali. Young added, that if there had been shelling of Georgian villages that evening as Georgia has claimed, the OSCE monitors at the scene would have heard it. According to him, the monitors only heard occasional small arms fire.

EU Independent Fact Finding Mission Report

An independent international fact-finding mission headed by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini was established by the EU to determine the causes of the war. The commission was given a budget of €1.6 million and also incorporated earlier reports by the OSCE, HRW and other organisations.

The Report stated that Georgia started the war "with a massive Georgian artillery attack...against the town of Tskhinvali and the surrounding areas, launched in the night of 7 to 8 August 2008" and that the Russian response was disproportionate.

The commission found that all parties violated international law during the conflict. While the report acknowledged the presence of some non-peacekeeping Russian troops in South Ossetia, their presence did not justify the initial Georgian attack. The EU Report found that the Georgian actions were disproportionate as a response to low level attacks by South Ossetian forces. The EU Report didn't find enough evidence to support the Georgian claim of self-defense.

The report also stated that "the use of force by Georgia against Russian peacekeeping forces in Tskhinvali in the night of 7/8 August 2008 was contrary to international law". The report said that "if the Russian peacekeepers were attacked," then "the immediate [Russian] reaction in defense of Russian peacekeepers" was justified, as "Russia had the right to defend her peacekeepers, using military means proportionate to the attack" (the report did not have facts to substantiate the claimed attack on the peacekeepers, but found it "likely" that Russian PKF casualties occurred). The later, second, part of Russian actions, is characterised as "the invasion of Georgia by Russian armed forces reaching far beyond the administrative boundary of South Ossetia", and is considered to be "beyond the reasonable limits of defence". With respect to the war's second theater, the report found the Abkhaz/Russian attack on the Kodori Gorge was not justified under international law.

The Report found that neither side's actions amounted to genocide. It denied Georgia's rationale of starting the war as an act in self-defence against Russian aggression. The Report further claimed that Russian citizenship, conferred to the vast part of Abkhaz and Ossetians may not be considered legally binding under international law. As a result, the interests of these people may not be used as a reason for starting military actions, in defense of Russian citizens living abroad. Acting in defense of Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia is, however, justified under the international law.

The EU Report has been criticized, primarily because it did not include the Abkhaz and Ossetian side of the story. According to Canadian political analyst Patrick Armstrong the Abkhaz and Ossetian arguments should have been included, and either countered or accepted. Instead the Report ignored the arguments of half of the combatants that fought in the war.

Reactions to the conflict

International reaction





In response to the war, Russia faced strong criticism from the US, the United Kingdom, Poland, Sweden and the Baltic states.

American president George W. Bush warned Russia: "Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century." The US Embassy in Georgia, describing the Matthew Bryza press-conference, called the war an "incursion by one of the world’s strongest powers to destroy the democratically elected government of a smaller neighbour".
However President Barack Obama stated: "it is time for the U.S. to reset its relationship with Russia". The president said he wants a constructive U.S.-Russia relationship based on common respect and mutual interests.

British Foreign Minister David Miliband, after being informed of the Human Rights Watch and BBC findings of possible war crimes committed by Georgia, apparently hardened his language towards Georgia, calling its actions "reckless". But he also added that "the Russian response was reckless and wrong".


Viktor Yushchenko, the president of Ukraine, said he intended to negotiate increasing the rent on the Russian naval base at Sevastopol in the Crimeamarker. A controversy arose over how Ukraine should respond to the Ossetia war, which contributed to the 2008 Ukrainian political crisis.


 France and Germany took an intermediate position, refraining from naming a culprit while calling for an end of hostilities.


Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini stated "We cannot create an anti-Russia coalition in Europe, and on this point we are close to Putin's position".


The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko stated that "Russia acted calmly, wisely and beautifully". Lukashenko also offered to send 2,000 Ossetian children to Belorussian schools.


Recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia

A South Ossetian rally in Tskhinvali after the war
On 25 August 2008, the Federal Assembly of Russia unanimously voted to urge President Medvedev to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. On 26 August 2008, Medvedev agreed, signing a decree officially recognising the two entities, and in a televised address to the Russian people expressed his opinion that recognising the independence of the two republics "represents the only possibility to save human lives." Georgia rejected this move outright as an annexation of its territory. Nicaraguamarker recognised the republics on 5 September 2008. In January 2009, Belarusmarker said it would make a decision on recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia on 2 April, but the The European Union is demanding Belarus not to recognise the republics and is threatening to cancel Belarus' invitation to its Eastern Partnership program. According to Peter Rutland, the EU has rewarded the Belarusian President Lukashenko for his non-recognition of the republics by suspending the travel ban for top Belarusian officials that had been imposed in 2004.

The unilateral recognition by Russia was met by condemnation from NATOmarker, the OSCE Chairman, the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the European Commissionmarker, Foreign Ministers of the G7, and the government of Ukrainemarker because of the violation of Georgia's territorial integrity, and United Nations Security Council resolutions. Russian sought support for its recognition from the states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (the biggest members are Russia and China). However, because of concerns about their own separatist regions in states of the SCO, especially in China, the SCO did not back the recognition. According to Alexei Vlassov from Moscow State Universitymarker, even Russia's closest allies did not show any willingness to support Moscow.

On 10 September 2009 President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez announced Venezuelamarker recognises Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, making it a third UN member to support South Ossetian independence.

Media

Independent media coverage and access to information were limited as the conflict continued to unfold. Cyber-warfare fuelled claims of distributed denial of service, censorship, propaganda, and disinformation from all sides, and restricted access for journalists made it difficult to verify the allegations. The Georgian government stopped translation of Russian TV channels and blocked access to Russian websites, during the war and its aftermath, limiting news coverage in Georgia.. Georgian, Russian, South Ossetian, and Azerbaijani websites were attacked by hackers, causing a breakdown of local servers.

According to Nicolai N. Petro, Professor of Politics at the University of Rhode Islandmarker, Western media coverage of the war was biased at first, but became more balanced in November, 2008, when two OSCE officials Ryan Grist and Stephen Young confirmed the Russian version of events — that the Georgian attack was unprovoked and indiscriminate. Professor Petro said that initial impressions conveyed by respected news outlets tend to linger on, even if the story later changes radically, and "it is therefore not surprising that American pundits and politicians continue to refer to the events of last August as 'Russian aggression,' even though subsequent reporting has debunked this as a myth."

NATO reaction in the Black Sea

NATOmarker increased its naval presence in the Black Seamarker significantly,with ships docking in Georgian ports, and, according to the US navy, delivering humanitarian aid. NATO stressed that the increased presence in the Black Sea was not related to the current tensions and that the vessels were conducting routine visits and carrying out pre-planned naval exercises.Russian President Dmitry Medvedev denied the claim and alleged delivery of military support. Russian General Anatoly Nogovitsyn warned that NATO had already exhausted the number of vessels allowed in the Black Seamarker, under the 1936 Montreux convention, and warned Western nations against sending more ships.

According to political analyst Vladimir Socor, the United States maintained an uninterrupted naval presence in the Black Sea, which is constrained by the Montreux Convention's limitations on naval tonnage and the duration of naval visits, and rotated its ships in the Black Sea at intervals consistent with that convention.

Combatants

Military equipment

Type Georgia Russia
Deployed Lost or captured by Russia Deployed Lost or captured by Georgia
Armoured vehicles Tanks 82 T-72 65 T-72 captured (44 in operational condition) 100-150; mostly T-62, T-72M (60-75% of all tanks), T-72BM , T-80
APCs 139 (BMP and BTR), Otokar Cobra 15 BMP captured BMP-1, BMP-2, BTR-80
Artillery SpGH DANA 100 pieces
Rocket launchers 27 Grad BM-21 BM-21 and BM-30
Anti-aircraft systems Buk-M1 (1-2 battalions), Osa-AK (8 units), Osa-AKM (6-10 units), Tor-M1 aviationweek.com Aviation Week

At least 6 Buk-M1, 5 Osa-AK units captured
Combat aircraft 7 Su-25, some L-29, Mi-8, Mi-24 3 Su-25, 2 L-29, 1 Mi-8, 1 Mi-24 destroyed not confirmed Su-24, Su-25, Su-27, Tu-22M3 2 Su-24, 4 Su-25, 1 Tu-22MR destroyed
Ballistic missiles none none 15 Tochka-U (SS-21), 2 Iskander (SS-26) launched n/a
Small Arms AK-74, M-4, TAR-21, AK-47, Glock 19, Sig P226, G36, SVD rifle, Barrett M82 AK-74, AS Val, OTs-14, VSS Vintorez, MP-443 Grach, SVD rifle,


Military analysis

Georgia

According to a US military trainer, the Americans had trained Georgian soldiers with M-4 rifles, but when the fighting started, the Georgian regulars went back to using Soviet AK-74s and AK-47s, the only weapons they trusted. They had serious firing problems because they seemed unable to fire in single shot. Israeli companies supplied UAV, night-vision equipment, anti-aircraft equipment, ammunition and electronic systems as well as advanced tactical training. According to HRW, the Israeli-made M85 cluster bombs used by the Georgian military had a high rate of submunitions that failed to explode on impact as designed.

U.S analysts mention that the air defence was "one of the few effective elements of the country's military" and credit the SA-11 Buk-1M with shooting down a Tupolev-22M and contributing to the losses of the 3 Su-25s. The view was mirrored by independent Russian analysis and by Russia's deputy chief of General Staff, Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, who said the Russian-made Tor and Buk anti-aircraft missile systems that Georgia had bought from Ukrainemarker were responsible for the downings of 4 Russian aircraft in the war. Georgia also possessed Israeli-made Spyder-SR short-range self-propelled anti-aircraft systems, according to some reports. The Georgian air defence early warning and command control tactical system was connected to a NATO Air Situation Data Exchange (ASDE) through Turkeymarker, allowing Georgia to receive data directly from the unified NATO air-defence system.

Georgia has said that its principal vulnerabilities, which proved decisive, were its comparative weakness to Russian air power and its inability to communicate effectively in combat. Konstantin Makienko of CAST saw inadequate pilot training as the main reason behind the low efficiency of Georgian air raids. According to Batu Kutelia, Georgia's first deputy defence minister, in the future Georgia will need a very sophisticated, multi-layered air-defence system to defend all its airspace. However, Western military officers who have experience working with Georgian military forces suggest that Georgia's military shortfalls were serious and too difficult to change merely by upgrading equipment. According to an article published in the New York Times on 3 September, "Georgia's Army fled ahead of the Russian Army's advance, turning its back and leaving Georgian civilians in the enemy's path. Its planes did not fly after the first few hours of contact. Its navy was sunk in the harbour, and its patrol boats were hauled away by Russian trucks on trailers."

Georgia's logistical preparations were poor and its units interfered with each other in the field. Its communications system failed in the mountains and had to be replaced by communication via mobile phones. Planning was similarly lacking. According to Giorgi Tavdgiridze, there were no calculations on how to block the Roki Tunnel, connecting North and South Ossetia. Furthermore, the arrival of 10,000 Georgian reservists to Gori on 9 August was poorly organised: not given specific targets, the reservists returned to Tbilisi on August 10. According to their American trainers, the Georgian soldiers didn't lack "warrior spirit", but weren't ready for combat. It has also been pointed out that, though neither Saakashvili nor his Defence Minister Davit Kezerashvili had any military experience, they both still commanded troops in battle.

Russia

An editorial in RIA Novosti claimed that forces deployed by the Russian army lacked unmanned combat aerial vehicles, which hurt their intelligence efforts and forced Russia to send a Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range bomber on a reconnaissance mission. The same editorial stated that Russian Su-25 ground attack jets still lacked radar sights, computers for calculating ground-target coordinates and long-range air-to-surface missiles that could be launched outside enemy air-defence areas. Opposition affiliated Russian analyst Konstantin Makienko pointed out the poor performance of the Russian Air Force: "It is totally unbelievable that the Russian Air Force was unable to establish air superiority almost to the end of the five-day war, despite the fact that the enemy had no fighter aviation." Moscow Defence Brief strongly criticised the performance of the Russian military in the war, claiming that there was "a total absence of co-operation between the Russian army and the Russian air force," and that half of the Russian aircraft losses were due to friendly fire.

The South Ossetia war was the first time in history that air power faced off against new-generation SAM systems, like the Buk-1M, which was developed in the 1970s. In all previous wars, such as the Iraq, Yugoslavia and the Arab-Israeli conflicts, the air defence systems used were designed in the 1950s and 1960s.

Commenting on the performance of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Swedish analysts Carolina Vendil Pallin and Fredrik Westerlund noted, that although the fleet never met any serious opposition, it still showed that it is a force to be reckoned with. Being able to plan and carry through manoeuvres of this size required considerable skills, according to the analysts.

A Reuters analyst described Russia's army in light of the conflict as "strong but flawed." According to him, the war showed that Russia's "armed forces have emerged from years of neglect as a formidable fighting force, but revealed important deficiencies". The weaknesses, especially in missiles and air capability, leave Russia still lagging behind the image of a world-class military power it projects to the rest of the world. In contrast to the weak conscript soldiers used in Chechnya, Russia's force in Georgia was largely composed of professional soldiers. Reuters reporters on the ground in Georgia saw disciplined, well-equipped troops. Ruslan Pukhov, director of Russia's Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, has pointed out that "the victory over the Georgian army ... should become for Russia not a cause for euphoria and excessive joy, but serve to speed up military transformations in Russia."

American researchers working for the Heritage foundation praised the Russian command, stating that, because of comprehensive and systematic planning, the operations "were well prepared and well executed" and that the Russian offensive achieved a strategic surprise.

Georgian order of battle

The Georgian army consisted of 4 regular infantry brigades, plus a fifth brigade in the process of formation. One artillery brigade was stationed at Gori and Khoni and a tank battalion was also stationed at Gori.

According to International Institute for Strategic Studies, when the war started, the Georgians had amassed ten light infantry battalions of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th infantry brigades as well as special forces and an artillery brigade, in all, about 12,000 troops near the South Ossetian conflict zone. The 4th Brigade carried out the main mission of attempting to capture Tskhinvali, while the 2nd and 3rd Brigades provided support. Of all Georgian military units, the 4th Brigade suffered the heaviest casualties.

The 1st infantry brigade, being the only one trained to a NATO level, served in Iraq at the start of the war. 2–3 days into the war, it was airlifted to Georgia by the U.S. Air Force, too late to take part in the Battle of Tskhinvali.

Units Deployed:

  • I Infantry Brigade (-2,000 in Iraq, were later flown in to set up defenses in MtShketa; didn't participate in combat ops)
  • II Infantry Brigade
  • III Infantry Brigade
  • IV Infantry Brigade (ex-Interior Ministry Troops)
  • V Infantry Brigade
  • Artillery Brigade
  • Separate Tank Battalion
  • Military Engineering Brigade
  • Special Forces Brigade
  • National Guard
  • Logistic Support Department of the Army


Military instructors and alleged use of foreign mercenaries

At the outbreak of the war 127 U.S. military trainers including 35 civilian contractors were present in Georgia. Additionally 1000 troops from the US, and 10 troops from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine each, had participated in the military exercise "Immediate Response 2008" which ended only days earlier. Several of these soldiers were still in the country. EUCOM stated that neither participated in the conflict. The Russian side made allegations that at least one American citizen fought with Georgian forces, after producing an American passport claimed to be discovered in Georgian fighting positions. No one contested that the passport was not real. However, the passport owner and the US authorities denied the claims, saying the passport was lost elsewhere.

Russian-South-Ossetian and Russian-Abkhazian order of battle

The Russian order of battle involved significant elements of the Russian 58th Army. According to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies 58th Army is one of Russia’s premiere combat formations and boasts more than twice the number of troops, five times the number of tanks, ten times the number of armoured personnel carriers and twelve times the number of combat aircraft as the entire Georgian Armed Forces.

South Ossetian Sector

Initially Present:

  • Military of South Ossetia – est. 2,500 men before the war.
  • 600 peacekeepers from the 135th Separate Motorised Rifle Regiment of 58th Army


Arrived as Reinforcements:

58th Army

42nd Motorised Rifle Division

Units of Airborne Troops (VDV): Units of GRU:

Abkhazian Sector (Up to 9000 men):



Air support
  • Fighter, attack, bomber and reconnaissance aircrafts of 4th Air Army ( .) (acting over South Ossetia, Abkhazia and uncontested Georgia)
  • Unnamed transport aviation units used for air-lift of units of 76th and 98th Airborne Divisions, Spetsnaz of 45th Detached Reconnaissance Regiment to South Ossetia and unnamed units of VDV to Abkhazia


Equipment losses and cost

In the aftermath of war Reuters cited some Stratfor analysts who believed that "Russia has largely destroyed Georgia's war-fighting capability". During its retreat from South Ossetia the Georgian army left behind much of its military equipment. Large parts of its tank forces, artillery and relatively modern anti-aircraft defence units were either destroyed or captured. Almost the entire Georgian Navy was sunk by the Russian forces; the sunk ships included three vessels of the Georgian navy that were sunk in their harbour, Poti, after Russian forces occupied the city, and another was sunk by Russian naval forces off the coast of Abkhazia. Only 15 vessels of the Georgian navy remained in action. However, Georgia has largely rebuilt its forces. Russia estimates that three Georgian Su-25 strike aircraft and two L-29 jet trainers were destroyed in the war. In addition, the Georgian Air Force lost 4 helicopters, one AN-2 airplane, one Mi-14 transport/asw helicopter and two Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters.

Russia has officially confirmed the loss of three Su-25 strike aircraft and one Tu-22M3 supersonic bomber. Moscow Defense Brief gives a higher estimate, saying that the overall losses of Russian Air Force in the war amounted to seven aircraft: one Tu-22M3 long-range bomber, one Su-24M Fencer frontal bomber, one Su-24MR Fencer E reconnaissance plane, and four Su-25 attack planes.

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, figures from the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, compiled three days after the war in lieu of official data, place the cost of the five days of war at 12,5 billion rubles (then $508.7 million) for Russia. This includes the cost of the losses of four Russian aircraft which is thought to have been more than 44 million dollars. According to the estimate, no less than 1,2 billion rubles, (50.8 million dollars,) per day, went on fuel. Georgian Defence Minister Davit Kezerashvili stated that Georgia suffered losses of material worth $250 million.

See also



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