Georgia Update                                                                                                                                                                A   service of the Government of Georgia

 

LAST UPDATED: NOVEMBER 18, 2008, 19:00 • TBILISI

Factual Evidence Contradicts War Claims in Recent Media Stories;
OSCE Cautions on Drawing Conclusions Based on Incomplete Evidence
As second round of Geneva talks begin, question of "who started the war" takes center stage again; Georgia reinforces support for independent investigation

Note: Includes table comparing claims & facts

 

Several controversial recent media reports have questioned the accuracy of well-documented Georgian claims that Russia initiated the hostilities in Georgia last August. As participants prepare for the second round of EU/UN/OSCE-sponsored talks in Geneva on the conflict, it is now more necessary than ever to highlight independently confirmed accounts of Russia's military and political aggression in the days and months leading up to full-scale war on August 7, 2008.

This document seeks to debunk the inaccurate and incomplete accounts in several respected media outlets, and to underscore the need for a full-scale, unbiased investigation of the war and its causes. Since August 16, Georgia has repeatedly called for such an independent, unbiased investigation, and looks forward to the inquiry recently announced by European Union foreign ministers.

The OSCE, meanwhile, has urged caution in drawing sweeping conclusions based on incomplete evidence, including comments made by OSCE officials during closed briefings. Specifically, the OSCE stated that "monitoring activities in certain areas at certain times cannot be taken in isolation to provide a comprehensive account" of the conflict. Moreover, the US Mission to the OSCE has dismissed “distractions” propagated by Russia and has argued for “practical steps forward, not point scoring.”

 

Claims

Facts

"Monitors heard nothing that would confirm Saakashvili's claim that Georgian artillery attacks on Tskhinvali were in response to the shelling of ethnic Georgian villages."

—Boston Globe, Nov. 11

 

 “The monitors have also said they were unable to verify that ethnic Georgian villages were under heavy bombardment that evening…”

—New York Times, Nov. 7

·      This assertion contradicts an Aug. 8 OSCE Spot Report that confirms the ceasefire agreement was violated at approximately 10:00 p.m. on Aug. 7. The spot report states: “The temporary unilateral ceasefire ordered by President Saakashvili at around 19:00 was stable and also observed by the South Ossetian side for some hours until fire reportedly was exchanged again at around 22:00.”

 

·      The Times itself interviewed witnesses from several of the ethnic Georgian villages shelled by Russian forces and their proxies; these witnesses confirmed they were shelled and fired at between 7 pm and 11:30 pm. Dozens of interviews with local residents by reputable international journalists in the immediate aftermath of the war also confirmed these attacks. (See the most recent report on eyewitness accounts of mortar attacks on Georgian villages in early Aug., including on the evening of Aug. 7, by Radio Free Europe—"Eyewitness Accounts Confirm Shelling of Georgian Villages," at www.rferl.org).

 

·      Anatoly Barankevich, chairman of the separatist security council in South Ossetia and a longstanding Russian military officer, told local TV during the ceasefire period that Cossacks were headed to South Ossetia to “fight against Georgian forces”—an explicit act of aggression.

 

"If there had been heavy shelling in areas that Georgia claimed were shelled, then our people would have heard it, and they didn't," Commander Young said, according to the person who attended."

—New York Times, Nov. 7

 

·      Due to the distance and the mountainous terrain, the three OSCE monitors who were in the South Ossetian town of Tskhinvali during that time would have been unable to hear mortar shelling against the Georgian villages in question—particularly Avnevi, Kurta, and Prisi.

·      According to the NYT article, Commander Young referred to “heavy” shelling; however, regardless of whether the shelling was of heavy, medium, or low intensity, the fact is that any shelling would have constituted a violation of the ceasefire. The fact that the ceasefire was indeed broken by attacks on ethnic Georgian villages was confirmed even with the limited capabilities of the OSCE mission—a fact that was included in the only official, publicly available report.

 

·      The OSCE has publicly confirmed that with only three monitors in the area, it did not have the necessary manpower to comprehensively verify or dismiss accusations of the ceasefire violations.

 

·      Georgia has consistently called for the deployment of more OSCE monitors in Georgian- and separatist-controlled villages, a move that Russia has consistently blocked.

 

"[M]onitors, who were on the ground in the breakaway region of South Ossetia when hostilities commenced the night of Aug. 7, reported seeing Georgian artillery and rocket launchers assembling just outside South Ossetia at 3 p.m. that day, well before any Russian convoy had crossed into the enclave."

—Boston Globe, Nov. 11

 

·      The Georgian government officially reported this movement, which was in response to two earlier events:

 

·      At 2:00 p.m. on Aug. 7, two Georgian peacekeepers and eight civilians were killed after a checkpoint in Avnevi was shelled from Khetagurovo. The OSCE has confirmed the exchange of fire in this area, and intercepted phone calls by separatist militia confirming the Georgian fatalities.

 

·       At 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 7, Georgian officials received intelligence that further Russian troops in significant numbers had been placed on high alert and ordered to prepare to march towards the Georgian border. (This information was in addition to the reports from the intercepts about the first deployment of Russia’s regular army on Georgian territory.)

 

·      Furthermore, intercepted cellular telephone calls between 3 and 4 a.m. on Aug. 7 from a separatist South Ossetian border guard posted at the southern end of the Roki Tunnel indicated that Russian armor already had entered Georgia; this evidence was gathered after the Russian invasion and reported in the New York Times.

 

 

"Georgia has released telephone intercepts indicating that a Russian armored column apparently entered the enclave from Russia early on the Aug. 7...But the intercepts did not show the column's size, composition or mission…Russia insists it was simply a routine logistics train or troop rotation."

—New York Times, Nov. 7

·      The telephone intercepts in question are explicit: according to the translations published by the Times, the Russian column was comprised of "tanks, BMPs, and other armored vehicles" and was large enough "to crowd the Roki tunnel."

 

·      These troop movements—which Russia has not disputed—were a clear violation of the standing agreement that allowed such movements only during the daytime and required advance notification to the OSCE and the Georgian government a month before any new rotations. Moreover, tanks are banned from the region.

 

·      Only after the release of the transcripts did Russia admit that its troops had entered South Ossetia during the early hours of Aug. 7.

 

·      Western intelligence further confirmed these intercepts, independently concluding that two battalions of Russia's 135th Regiment moved through the Roki tunnel late on Aug. 7 or early on Aug. 8—as reported in the Times story.

 

·      Western and Russian media outlets documented the deployment of Russian forces and mercenaries in South Ossetia in early August, including on the morning of Aug. 7. Russian media sources included comments of named Russian soldiers who reported the arrival of forces from the 58th Army in South Ossetia before and on Aug. 7.

 

·      Georgia had alerted the international community both about the military deployment and the inflow of mercenaries early on Aug. 7. in statements made by the Foreign Ministry several hours before the full-scale war broke out.

 


 

"At 12:15 a.m. on Aug. 8, Gen. Maj. Marat M. Kulakhmetov, commander of Russian peacekeepers in the enclave, reported to the monitors that his unit had casualties, indicating that Russian soldiers had come under fire."

—New York Times, Nov. 7)

·      Kulakhmetov's claim regarding peacekeeper casualties has not been independently confirmed.

 

·      V. Ivanov, Kulakhmetov's deputy, has said that Russian peacekeepers were not directly targeted or hit on Aug. 8.

 

·      Moreover, Georgian army units came under fire from the positions of Russian peacekeepers, despite repeated warnings from the Georgian side.

 

 "Each side has fresh lists of grievances about the other, which they insist are decisive. But both sides also have a record of misstatement and exaggeration, which includes circulating casualty estimates that have not withstood independent examination."

—New York Times, Nov. 7

·      Georgian casualty estimates have always been conservative; only the Russian side reported exaggerated numbers (often ones that are multiples of the actual figures).

·      Many of Russia's exaggerations have been swiftly denied. After Russia accused Georgia of genocide and reported 1,400 civilian deaths on Aug. 8, multiple sources quickly discredited the claims.

 

·      Human Rights Watch, while unable to specify the exact figures, concluded that Russia deliberately inflated its casualty figures, and noted that the difference between civilian and military casualties was blurred because of the role of South Ossetian paramilitary forces.

 

·      Human Rights Watch and other observers have documented cases of separatist militia attacking Georgian forces from civilian buildings, making them legitimate military targets, despite claims that such attacks have not been independently verified.

 

·      Multiple independent international organizations have documented Russia's shelling of Tskhinvali during the war, despite assertions that such aggression has not been independently verified.

·      The story equates, on the one hand, the ethnic cleansing of thousands of Georgians that occurred after the fighting was over—extensively documented by many international organizations and media, as well as by satellite imagery—with, on the other hand, vague assertions that Georgia targeted Ossetian civilians. Meanwhile no credible report has accused Georgian forces of inhuman or degrading treatment of ethnic Ossetians, of destroying property, or of expelling civilians from Ossetian villages held by Georgia during the war. It also is noteworthy that not a single case of abuse has taken place against Ossetians living in parts of Georgia outside the conflict zone; this stands in contrast to the complete ethnic cleansing of Georgians living inside conflict zone.

 

"The inescapable conclusion is that Saakashvili started the war and lied about it."

—Boston Globe, Nov. 11

·      Such assertions portray an incomplete version of the story and omit critical context that includes years of political and military provocations, including:

 

·      The scale of destruction caused by Russian shelling and air bombardment in Tskhinvali, in surrounding villages, and in towns and cities tens and even hundreds of miles away from the conflict zones;

 

·      Mass evacuations of civilians from South Ossetia beginning on Aug. 2;

 

·      Military maneuvers and large deployments of Russian troops to the Georgian border months prior to the invasion;

 

·      Russia’s construction—long before the war—of large military bases in Tskhinvali and Java;

 

·      Numerous Russian violations of Georgian airspace and bombings of Georgian territory prior to the full-scale invasion;