2008 Russo-Georgian diplomatic crisis

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An international diplomatic crisis between Georgia and Russia began in 2008, when Russia announced that it would no longer participate in the Commonwealth of Independent States economic sanctions imposed on Abkhazia in 1996 and established direct relations with the separatist authorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The crisis was linked to the push for Georgia to receive a NATO Membership Action Plan and, indirectly, the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo.

Increasing tensions led to the outbreak of the Russo-Georgian War in 2008. After the war, a number of incidents occurred in both conflict zones, and tensions between the belligerents remained high.

Prelude to war[edit]

Lifting of CIS sanctions[edit]

During the meeting with the presidents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in February 2008, Russian official declared Moscow should "reshape its relations with self-proclaimed republics".[1] On 6 March 2008, Russia lifted Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) sanctions imposed on Abkhazia in 1996, and declared them outdated, "hindering the implementation of economic and social programs in the region and is causing unjustified hardship for the people of Abkhazia."[2] Russian decision was met with protests from Tbilisi and lack of support from the other CIS countries.[3] Shalva Natelashvili, leader of the Georgian Labour Party, warned Georgia would lose Abkhazia, because of Russia's lifting of economic sanctions on Abkhazia.[4] Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said the European Union was concerned by this development. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, raised concerns about the dropping of trade restrictions saying, "That could look like a de facto annexation and that would be a matter of great concern if it were the case."[5]

Increased involvement of Russia with breakaway republics in Georgia[edit]

Abkhazia and South Ossetia both submitted formal requests for recognition of their independence to Russia, and international community, citing the precedent of the recognition of Kosovo.[6][7] Russia's Duma called a session for 13 March to discuss the issue of recognition of the unrecognized republics in the former Soviet Union.[8] European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner said that there was "a growing preoccupation and anxiety that Russia may be paving the way for recognition of Abkhazia," and stated the EU's support for Georgia's territorial integrity.[5]

The Duma Committee for CIS on 13 March, following a hearing on the unrecognized republics, recommended a deepening of links with Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria. Other recommendations included the establishment of diplomatic missions in the regions (with the foreign ministry to decide whether they would be consulates or another type of mission), a removal of import duties on goods created by businesses with Russian shareholders in the regions, and increased humanitarian and economic assistance for Russian passport holders in the regions.[9][10] The Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily described the hearing as "the launch of a procedure of recognition."[9]

Russia's ambassador to NATO warned that a move by Georgia to join NATO could bolster the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, arguing that since the NATO referendum held in Georgia did not include the breakaway states, it showed Georgia intended to join NATO without them.[11]

On 16 April 2008, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia was going to recognise some documents issued by the separatist authorities and cooperate with them on trade and other issues. Putin also instructed his government to recognise businesses and organisations registered under Abkhaz and South Ossetian law, and to look at providing consular services to residents in the two regions. Georgian Foreign Minister David Bakradze said Russia's move amounted to a "legalisation of the de facto annexation process" being conducted by Russia and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer urged Russia to reverse the move. This decision was linked to the push for Georgia to receive a NATO Membership Action Plan and, indirectly, the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo.[12][13]

Direct dealings between Russia and Abkhazia on the transfer of Russian citizens from Abkhaz prisons raised concern from Secretary General of the Council of Europe Terry Davis since the dealings were done without seeking the permission of the Georgian government.[14]

Russia's state-owned Gazprom was reported to be planning oil and gas exploration in Abkhazia beginning 1 July 2008. In addition Abkhazia said international airline flights from Russia could use Sokhumi airport though the International Civil Aviation Organization had said such flights would be unacceptable.[15] Officials from Gazprom said there were no plans for oil exploration in Abkhazia, but did say there was a proposal being considered to build a gas pipeline to Abkhazia.[16] Responding to Russian media reports that sea links between Sochi in Russia and Gagra in Abkhazia would be resumed, Georgia threatened to appeal to international marine organizations over the use of "illegal" routes.[17]

Georgia drone-downing incidents[edit]

On 20 April 2008 a Georgian unmanned unarmed aerial vehicle (UAV) was shot down over the Abkhaz conflict zone. Russia's Air Force denied Georgian claims that a MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter, from the Gudauta military base, was involved in the incident. Abkhazia's separatist administration said earlier that they had shot down the drone at 6 a.m. GMT, but Georgians denied this. Abkhazia said that they were defending their airspace. The Abkhaz Defense Ministry identified the drone as an Israeli-made Hermes 450.[18] Garry Kupalba, deputy defence minister of the Republic of Abkhazia, told reporters the drone was shot down by an "L-39 aircraft of the Abkhaz Air Force".[19]

However, Georgia's defence ministry released video the next day showing what appears to be a Russian MiG-29 shooting down the unarmed Georgian drone. The video, shot from the drone, shows a jet launching a missile over what appears to be the Black Sea.[19] Moscow denied Georgia's accusation and stressed that none of its planes were in the region at the time.[20] Furthermore, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement accusing Georgia of violating the 1994 Moscow agreement and United Nations resolutions on Abkhazia by deploying without authorisation a UAV which also can be used for adjusting of fire.[21]

On 24 April, after a closed-door UN Security Council emergency session, the U.S., the United Kingdom, France and Germany issued a joint statement expressing their concern over Russia's actions in Abkhazia and calling on Moscow to reverse or not to implement its decision to deepen ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin called the demand by the Western states "a tall order" and stressed that Russia had no intention of reversing its plans.[22]

The Ambassador of Russia to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, suggested that a MiG-29 belonging to a NATO member might have downed the Georgian spy plane. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer reportedly remarked that "he'd eat his tie if it turned out that a NATO MiG-29 had magically appeared in Abkhazia and shot down a Georgian drone."[23]

Early in May 2008, both Russian and Abkhaz sides claimed that two more Georgian reconnaissance drones were shot over Abkhazia. Georgia denied these allegations, stating that it was "a provocation" aimed at "information-propagandistic support of Russia's military intervention."[24]

On 26 May 2008, the U.N. mission released the conclusion of its independent investigation into the 20 April incident. It confirmed that the Georgian video footage and radar data were authentic and the jet which destroyed the drone was indeed Russian. The conclusion report said that the jet flew towards the Russian territory after the incident, but it was unclear where the attacker took off, naming the Gudauta base as a possible locality.[25] Georgia hailed the report,[26] but Russia dismissed it.[27]

According to Der Spiegel, after the incident President Saakashvili deployed 12,000 Georgian troops to Senaki in May 2008.[28] Georgia had officially suspended drone flights over Abkhazia in early June, but Abkhazia accused Georgia of continuing to fly drones in the region.[29]

Military buildup in Abkhazia[edit]

In late April 2008, Russia said that Georgia was amassing 1,500 soldiers and police in the upper Kodori Gorge area and planning to invade Abkhazia.[30] President Saakashvili, in his televised address, pledged to pursue only a peaceful line in the conflict areas and called upon the Abkhaz and Ossetians to unite with Georgia in defying attempts by "outrageous and irresponsible" external force to trigger bloodshed.[31] Russia accused Georgia of trying to solve the Abkhazia problem by force and of sending its troops in the Georgian-controlled upper Kodori Valley in Abkhazia. Russia announced it would increase its military in the region and threatened to "retaliate" militarily to Georgia's efforts.[32] The Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said Georgia would treat any additional troops in Abkhazia as aggressors.[32] The European Union also urged caution, saying to increase troop numbers would be "unwise".[32] The United States called on Russia "to reconsider" "some provocative steps" it had taken in respect of Abkhazia.[33]

Georgia suspended Russia's admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO).[32] Russian Cossacks and North Caucasian volunteers declared their readiness to fight Georgia in the case of a renewed confrontation in Abkhazia.[34] On 6 May 2008, the Georgian state minister for reintegration Temur Iakobashvili said Georgia was on the verge of war with Russia.[35] UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) said on 8 May that its monitors had "not reported any buildup of security forces" either in Kodori Gorge, or at the administrative Abkhaz border. Russian Ministry of Defense claimed that the chief UN observer "agreed that actions by the Russian side do not contradict basic agreements on the conduct of the peacekeeping operation", but the mission later responded to this statement, declaring that it "has no authority to pronounce on the conformity between the CIS peacekeeping operation in the Zone of the Georgian-Abkhaz Conflict and CIS rules."[36]

According to the statement of Russian Ministry of Defense issued on 8 May, it had increased the number of its peacekeepers in Abkhazia to 2,542 peacekeepers, which was 458 short of the 3,000 limit set by agreement.[37] Georgia showed video footage to the BBC allegedly proving that Russian troops used military hardware in Abkhazia and were a fighting force, rather than peacekeepers; Russia denied the accusations.[38]

Sergei Bagapsh, Abkhazia's separatist president, said he was in favor of Russia establishing a military base in Abkhazia and called for the signing of a military cooperation agreement with Russia modeled on the Taiwan Relations Act.[39] Alexander Zelin, commander of the Russian Air Forces said if such a decision was made it would "promote the implementation of air defense tasks" and noted Russia had similar cooperation with Armenia.[40] On 16 May 2008 Yuri Baluevsky, chief of general staff of the Russian Armed Forces denied Russia had any plans to build a military base in Abkhazia.[41]

On 18 May 2008, Georgia detained five Russian peacekeepers along the administrative border with the Abkhazia region saying that their armoured personnel carrier collided with a Georgian woman's car, in the town of Zugdidi. The peacekeepers were later released. Alexander Diordiev, a Russian peacekeeping official, confirmed the detention of the Russian soldiers but said there was no collision and instead that Georgians provoked the peacekeepers in an attempt to discredit the Russians.[42] According to Diordiev, peacekeepers were redeploying hardware near the village of Urta on the night of 17–18 May when Georgian law-enforcement officers blocked the road to the peacekeepers' armored personnel carrier and fuel tanker truck. Then a damaged Volga car approached the scene and the Georgian police claimed that the car had been damaged by the Russian peacekeepers. Diordiev said that force was used against the peacekeepers.[43] A statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry issued on 19 May 2008 compared the Georgians' actions to those of "true street bandits" saying the Georgians used "crude physical force," striking one peacekeeper in the head and taking two to the police station. According to the statement, only after the intervention of the Collective Forces for the Support of Peace command and the UN observation mission, were the Russian peacekeepers released. Diordiev stated that the Georgians were informed in advance that the equipment would be moved.[44]

On 19 May 2008, Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that over the weekend Moscow's military leadership authorized peacekeepers to conduct armed operations on their own behalf if necessary. Sergei Shamba, the Abkhaz foreign minister, said the report was "credible."[45]

On 21 May 2008 heavy gunfire was reported near the Abkhaz administrative border. A Georgian interior ministry official said two buses of passengers going to vote in the Georgian elections were fired upon.[46] Some reports said the bridge, connecting Abkhazia and Georgian region of Mingrelia, was blocked by Abkhaz separatists during the elections in Georgia.[47] Georgian officials accused Abkhazia of the attacks and preventing Georgians from voting in the legislative elections. Abkhaz president Sergei Bagapsh denied these allegations, instead saying that the attack occurred on the Georgian territory and Georgians living in Abkhazia were not interested in voting. Abkhazia said Russian peacekeepers were sent to the border to prevent further violence.[48]

Georgia's Foreign Ministry sent a protest note to the CIS secretariat demanding illegal Russian troops and armaments to be immediately withdrawn from Abkhazia, saying that according to the UN, an airborne battalion, 50 BMD-2 airborne combat vehicles, and two artillery batteries had been deployed in Abkhazia. The ministry said this deployment contradicted a 1995 resolution of the CIS presidents' council.[49]

On 15 June 2008, media reports said that Russia had set up a military base near the village of Agubedia in Abkhazia's Ochamchira District and had deployed heavy armor there. Russia's Defense Ministry denied the report.[50] The Georgian-backed Abkhaz government-in-exile said on 17 June, that Russia refused to allow UN observers in the area.[51]

On 17 June 2008, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman warned that Tbilisi's proposal to review the status of the peacekeeping operation in the Georgia-Abkhazia conflict zone could "unfreeze" the conflict, while the situation in the Caucasus as a whole could "slip out of control."[52]

On 17 June 2008 Georgia detained four Russian peacekeepers and a military truck in the conflict zone between Georgia proper and Abkhazia. Georgia's Interior Ministry said that the peacekeepers were transporting 35 crates of ammunition, including guided missiles and anti-tank mines, thus violating the existing agreements. Russia's Defense Ministry said the arrest was "in violation of all regulatory norms in the buffer zone." The peacekeepers were released after nine hours of interrogation.[53] Lieutenant General Alexander Burutin, a deputy head of the General Staff, on 19 June compared the detention to "a bandit attack", saying Russian peacekeepers had every right to use their weapons.[54] A Russian military expert commenting on the situation in the conflict zone predicted war between Georgia and Abkhazia if provocations didn't stop.[55] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia would not tolerate such actions against peacekeepers.[56]

On 30 June, Abkhaz separatist government claimed Georgian special services were responsible for the terrorism in Abkhazia. There was one blast in Sukhumi and two were in Gagra. These blasts wounded two in Sukhumi and six in Gagra. Abkhazia threatened to close off border with Georgia in response to the bombing.[57]

May and June events in South Ossetia[edit]

Georgia's foreign minister, Eka Tkeshelashvili, said on 15 May 2008 that Georgia would regard any increase in Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia as a "gross encroachment on Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity".[58] In late May 2008, there were about 1,000 Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia.[59]

In South Ossetia three explosions occurred near administrative border. A bomb exploded meters away from a line of Georgian military vehicles. Georgian and South Ossetian authorities called the blasts a "provocation".[60] Deputy Defense Minister Batu Kutelia accused the South Ossetian administration of being responsible, saying they had taken up "tactics of terrorism."[61]

On 20 May 2008, Taymuraz Mamsurov, president of the Russian Republic of North Ossetia, asked foreign ambassadors for their support in uniting the province with South Ossetia. Georgian Ambassador to Russia Erosi Kitsmarishvili said such unification would contravene international law.[62] South Ossetia's President Eduard Kokoity hailed Mamsurov's pronouncement saying "South Ossetia's main goal is unification with North Ossetia in the Russian Federation. We make no secret of this in front of the international community." Kokoity and Dmitry Medoyev suggested an interim period where South Ossetia would be recognized as independent and then formally incorporated into Russia through a referendum.[63]

On the night of 14–15 June 2008, mortar fire and an exchange of fire broke out between South Ossetian and Georgian forces. South Ossetia claimed that mortar fire was launched from Georgian-controlled villages on Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, and that their forces were responding to fire from Georgian forces on the outskirts of the capital. South Ossetian interior minister, Mikhail Mindzaev, said that the exchange of fire lasted for about four hours. Georgia denied firing the first shot, saying instead that South Ossetia had attacked the Georgian-controlled villages of Ergneti, Nikozi and Prisi. One person was killed and four injured in the clashes, and several houses were reportedly damaged. In a separate incident, a 14-year-old boy was injured by a land mine near Ergneti; he later died of his injuries.[64] Russian, Georgian, and North Ossetia peacekeepers as well as Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe monitors went to the site of the clashes however it was not determined who fired the first shot. According to South Ossetia, five people were wounded during the violence and one of them died later.[65]

Russian spy accusation[edit]

On 16 May 2008 it was reported that Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) claimed to have intercepted a Chechen spy working for Georgia who was trying to help rebels in the North Caucasus.[66] The alleged agent was identified as Ramzan Turkoshvili, a Georgian-born Russian citizen, who the unnamed FSB official said was recruited by Georgian intelligence officers working with Zelimkhan Khangashvili. Khangashvili's group was accused of being involved in a 2004 attack in the Russian Republic of Ingushetia that left nearly 100 people dead, many of them policemen. An unidentified FSB official also claimed Georgian intelligence paid Turkoshvili to establish contacts with militants in the North Caucasus and help Georgia finance them. The detention was cast as proof that confirmed that Georgia's security service was "participating in disruptive terrorist activities in the North Caucasus." The spokesman for Georgian Interior Ministry, Shota Utiashvili denied the accusations and called it "a continuation of Russia's policy of provocation toward Georgia, which has taken a particularly acute form recently."[67]

Russian railway troops in Abkhazia[edit]

On 31 May 2008, Russia sent its railway troops to repair a railway line in Abkhazia. The Russian defence ministry claimed they were unarmed. Georgia condemned the move as an "aggressive" step aimed against the territorial integrity of Georgia.[59] The US Department of State also said that it was "dismayed" by the deployment.[68] Temur Mzhavia, chairman of the exiled Supreme Council of Abkhazia, claimed that Russia planned to recognize Abkhazia on 27 September, when the Abkhaz celebrate an "independence day", but Vyacheslav Kovalenko, Russia's ambassador to Georgia, dismissed such claims as "fabrications".[69]

The new Russian troops' arrival in Abkhazia preceded by a few days a planned meeting between the presidents Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia on the sidelines of a CIS summit in Saint Petersburg on 6–7 June. It was reported that Saakashvili would hold a phone conversation with Medvedev on 3 June to discuss the deployment of Russian engineering units in Abkhazia.[70] On 3 June, NATO's secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer accused Russia of breaching Georgia's sovereignty by sending in military railway personnel and demanded their withdrawal.[71]

On 7 June 2008, the Russian defense minister Anatoliy Serdyukov said the railroad troops would leave within two months after they would have finished work on the railroad.[72] Moscow claimed to have found an anti-tank mine on 13 June on the section of the Abkhaz railway, which was being repaired by the Russian Railway Forces. Russia claimed this was an attempt at carrying out a "subversive-terrorist act" against the Russian Federation's Railway Forces.[73]

On 18 June 2008, a military official announced the security of the Russian railway troops had been increased, following two blasts on the railway near Sokhumi. Abkhaz police suspected the bombings were targeted at Russian railway forces.[74] Malkhaz Akishbaya, chairman of the Georgian-backed Abkhaz government in exile, claimed the blast was a next provocation aimed at discrediting Georgia. He also said it was directed at legalizing the presence of Russian railway troops.[75]

On 23 June 2008 Sergei Bagapsh said the railways repaired by the Russian railway troops would be used to transport construction material for a sports complex to be used in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.[76]

On 24 July 2008 the Russian Defense Ministry said Russian railroad troops had almost finished repair work on the railway in Abkhazia and would withdraw in early August. A spokesman for the Defense Ministry said there would be a ceremony for resuming the operation of the fixed section at the end of July, and the troops would return to their bases in Russia after taking part in the ceremony.[77] Russian railroad troops began pulling out of Abkhazia on 30 July 2008.[78]

July 2008 events[edit]

A South Ossetian police official was killed in a bomb attack on 3 July 2008 and that was followed by an intense exchange of gun fire. Later, a convoy carrying Dmitry Sanakoyev, the head of the Tbilisi-backed South Ossetian provisional administration was attacked and three of his security guards were injured. On 4 July 2008 two people were killed as a result of shelling and shooting in Tskhinvali and some villages in South Ossetia. The South Ossetian Press and Information Committee reported that a South Ossetian militiaman had been killed and another injured in an attack on a police post in the village of Ubiat and this was followed by the shelling of Tskhinvali, which resulted in the death of one man. According to South Ossetia, the shelling involved the use of mortars and grenade launchers. Georgia claimed it had opened fire in response to the shelling by South Ossetian militiamen of Georgian-controlled villages.[79][80] South Ossetia called up military reservists and put its security forces on alert in response to the clashes. The head of Russia's peacekeeping troops in the region was quoted as saying extra soldiers could be deployed if the stand-off worsened.[81] South Ossetia warned it would move heavy weaponry into the conflict zone with Georgia if attacks on the republic were not stopped.[82]

On 6 July 2008 a bomb in Gali, Abkhazia killed four people and injured six. Abkhaz authorities claimed that the chain of bombings was done by Georgian spies. Abkhazia called on G8 countries, the UN and the OSCE to stop a "terror threat from Georgia." Abkhazia also cut off all contact with Georgia in response to the bombing.[83] Georgia condemned the bombings and blamed them on Russia, claiming the attacks were being done in the interest of a prolonged presence of Russian armed forces in Georgia.[84]

The Georgian Ministry of Defense said on 7 July that a group of up to ten militiamen were apparently prevented from placing mines on a Georgian-controlled by-pass road linking the Georgian villages in the north of Tskhinvali with the rest of Georgia. The Georgian side opened fire and the group was forced to retreat towards the nearby South Ossetian-controlled village. On 8 July 2008 South Ossetia reported that it had detained four "officers from the artillery brigade of the Georgian Ministry of Defense" close to the village of Okona in the Znauri district at the administrative border the night before.[85] Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told police to prepare an operation to free the four soldiers.[86]

Russian military jets flew over South Ossetia on 8 July 2008.[87] On 9 July, the deputy commander of Georgia's air force, Colonel Zurab Pochkua said: "For almost 40 minutes, four Russian planes were circling over the territory north of Tskhinvali." In turn Russia accused Georgia of "a serious breach" of the flight ban, with a spokesman for Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia saying two Georgian Su-25 fighter jets flew over the region.[88] On 10 July, the Russian authorities confirmed the flight and said, in an official statement, the fighters were sent to "let hot heads in Tbilisi cool down."[87][89] The Russian overflight was ordered less than 24 hours before the U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, was due to arrive in Georgia.[90] In response, Georgia recalled its ambassador to Moscow "for consultations", stating that it was "outraged by Russia's aggressive policies."[91]

On 8 July 2008, the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before her arrival in Tbilisi said that granting NATO Membership Action Plan to Georgia would help resolve the Abkhaz and South Ossetian problems. The statement caused a negative outcry in Moscow: the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov responded, during his meeting with the de facto Abkhaz president Sergei Bagapsh, that Georgia's NATO integration process "may undermine the conflict resolution" process.[92] On 11 July 2008 Deputy Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting on the conflict zones.[93]

A South Ossetian envoy on 11 July 2008 declared that South Ossetia was capable of repelling any attack by Georgia without help from Russia and also said the mainly Russian peacekeeping contingent in the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict zone should be increased.[94] That day The Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement that measures had been taken "to increase the combat readiness" of the Russian peacekeeping forces stationed in Abkhazia. It also said that security had been tightened at the Russian peacekeepers' base camps, observation posts and checkpoints, and "additional training" of the peacekeeping personnel had been conducted "to explain regulations governing the use of firearms while on duty."[95][96] Nika Rurua, Deputy Head of the Parliament's Security and Defense Committee, warned Georgia would shoot down Russia's military aircraft should they appear in its airspace again. The initiative was considered to this effect. But Georgian lawmakers decided instead to appeal to the world community on the matter. Media reports published information about Russia's alleged plans to seize the Kodori Gorge specifying that the details of the operation were worked out by Russian high-ranking military officials, with Abkhazia's President Sergei Bagapsh. In response to Georgia's summoning of a special UNSC session, the sources of Kommersant with the Russian Foreign Office claimed that Russia would reveal the details of a planned military invasion of South Ossetia by Georgia to release the detained Georgian officers.[97]

On 14 July 2008 Georgia's deputy defense minister Batu Kutelia said Georgia planned to expand its military more than 15 percent to 37,000 soldiers to counter Russian aggression. The additional manpower would be used to defend Georgia's airspace and the Black Sea coast.[98]

On 15 July 2008 the U.S. and Russia both began exercises in the Caucasus though Russia denied the timing was intentional.[99] The Russian exercises included training to support peacekeepers in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.[100] A Russian army spokesman Igor Konashenkov said that around 700 pieces of military hardware would be used during the exercises.[101] Georgia said the exercises were a manifestation of Russian aggression against it.[100] The US exercises were called "Immediate Response 2008" and included forces from the United States, Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.[102] 127 U.S. trainers participated in the exercises.[103][104] The Georgian 4th Brigade (which later participated in the war) took part in the Georgian exercise with 1,000 American troops, and Russia accused the United States of aiding Georgian attack preparations.[105] The joint exercises of the USA and Georgian Armed Forces ended on 31 July.[106] The Russian exercises ("Kavkaz 2008") ended on 2 August.[107] Russian troops remained near the Georgian border after the end of their exercise, instead of returning to their bases.[108]

Also on 15 July, Abkhazia and South Ossetia were said to be planning to join the Union of Russia and Belarus.[109] A spokesman for the Union said both regions had talked about joining the Union, but that they would need to be recognized as independent and become observers before they could join the Union as members.[110] Georgia said on 16 July 2008 that if a German plan for resolving the conflict did not get wide support, Georgia would be forced to "unilaterally bring an influence to bear on the deployment of armed forces in Abkhazia."[111]

According to media reports, on 19 July 2008 a Georgian police post was attacked by Abkhaz militias using grenades; one Abkhaz militiaman died from a grenade exploding accidentally. Abkhaz officials denied attack on the Georgian police post.[112][113] Georgian media also reported on 19 July that a battalion of Russian troops had moved into the lower Kodori Gorge.[114] Georgia's Defense Ministry claimed Russian troops encroached on strategic passes of the Main Caucasus Ridge and were in the combat alert. Abkhazia's Foreign Minister said no new troops were brought in to Abkhazia over the quota.[115]

A U.N. report issued on 23 July 2008 covering the period between April and July 2008 noted discrepancies with the Georgian account of a shooting in Khurcha on the day of Georgian elections. In particular the report noted the way the incident was filmed suggested the attack was anticipated. The report said reconnaissance flights by Georgia were a violation of the ceasefire, but said the shooting down of those fights also constituted a breach of the ceasefire. Concerning a military buildup by Georgia the UN report said it found no evidence of a buildup but noted observers were denied access to certain areas of Abkhazia controlled by Georgia, including the Kvabchara Valley.[116][117]

On 25 July 2008, one person was killed from a bomb blast in Tskhinvali.[118]

On 25 July, the Abkhaz separatists met with Matthew Bryza, the U.S. deputy assistance secretary of state. Bryza attempted to convince the Abkhaz side to participate in talks in Berlin the following week without any preconditions. However, Abkhaz officials rejected the talks.[119] Later on that day, Abkhaz leader Sergey Bagapsh did not rule out Sokhumi's possible participation in a meeting of the Group of Friends in Berlin. Abkhaz foreign minister Sergey Shamba also said that Sokhumi was not "in principle" against the Berlin meeting, but that did not mean the resumption of direct talks with Tbilisi.[120] Russian ambassador to UN Vitaly Churkin said that Russia was against immediately summoning a meeting of the UN Secretary General's Group of Friends on Georgia to discuss the Abkhaz conflict.[121]

On 28 July 2008, the Russian command of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces said South Ossetian forces had blocked peacekeepers and OSCE observers from the village of Cholibauri which was close to where Georgia said South Ossetia was building fortifications. On 29 July 2008 Georgian media reported that Georgian posts on the Sarabuki heights were attacked by South Ossetian forces with no injuries reported.[122] On the same day South Ossetia said two South Ossetian villages had been fired on by Georgian forces in response to South Ossetia reinforcing its positions on the perimeter of the conflict zone.[123] According to the South Ossetian Press and Information Committee, one person was injured.[124]

At the end of July South Ossetia confirmed it had been setting up military fortifications in the conflict zone and acknowledged this violated previous agreements, but claimed it was in response to similar actions by the Georgian side.[125] According to Colonel Wolfgang Richter, a military adviser to the German Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) mission, Georgia concentrated troops along the South Ossetian border in July.[126]

On 6 August the Georgian Defense Ministry announced a two-week exercise, "Georgian Express 2008", would take place with 180 British military personnel, starting in September.[127]

War[edit]

Main article: Russo-Georgian War

In the first week of August 2008, a number of confrontations took place in South Ossetia after Ossetian separatists attacked Georgian positions.[128][129] The crisis gave rise on 7 August 2008, when South Ossetian separatists began shelling Georgian villages several hours after President Saakashvili had called for a cease-fire and resumption of peace talks. Georgia launched a large-scale military operation against South Ossetia.[130][131]

Post-war events in 2008[edit]

On 26 August 2008, Russia officially recognized both South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.[132] In response to Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Georgian government announced that the country had cut all diplomatic relations with Russia.[133]

On 28 August 2008, South Ossetian representative Mikhail Mindzaev claimed that Georgian pilotless aerial vehicle was shot down during the night.[134]

In the beginning of September 2008, the White House announced a $1 billion program of economic aid for Georgia, with about half going to Georgia before President Bush would leave office.[135]

On 10 September 2008, a Georgian policeman was killed allegedly by Russian soldiers in a village north of Gori.[136] The shooting happened several hundred meters from a Russian checkpoint in Karaleti, twelve miles from South Ossetia. Russian officials denied responsibility, saying that it may have been perpetrated by South Ossetians.[137]

On 13 September 2008, a Georgian policeman was killed in Ganmukhuri on the administrative border between Abkhazia and Georgia.[136]

On 21 September 2008, a Georgian policeman was killed and three wounded on the administrative border between Abkhazia and Georgia. Georgian authorities stated the incident occurred at the time when shots were fired "from the direction of the [nearby] Russian army checkpoint", with the following exchange of fire between Georgian police and Abkhaz-controlled territory lasting for several minutes.[136]

On 22 September 2008, two Georgian policemen were wounded by a mine on the administrative border between Abkhazia and Georgia.[138]

On 24 September 2008, Georgian police detained a Russian military truck near the village of Odzisi in the Mtskheta Municipality. The truck contained ammunitions and explosives. The Russian driver said he had lost his way.[139] He was handed over to OSCE observers.[140]

On 25 September 2008, a 13-year-old South Ossetian resident was killed when an explosive device blew up on the outskirts of Tskhinvali.[141]

On 3 October 2008, seven Russian soldiers were killed and another seven wounded by a car bomb that exploded near the Russian military base.[142] Among them was Colonel Ivan Petrik, the peacekeeper's Chief of Staff.[143] The Russians accused the Georgians of orchestrating the "terrorist attack", claiming that just before the blast, the Russians arrested two cars, four Georgians and seized light firearms and two grenades. "The cars and the detained people were escorted to Tskhinvali. During the search of one of the cars, an explosive device equivalent to some 20kg of TNT went off," a military spokesman told Interfax.[144] The South Ossetian leader accused Georgia of "state terrorism". "The latest terrorist attacks in South Ossetia prove that Georgia has not renounced its policy of state terrorism," he said. "We have no doubt that these terrorist acts are the work of Georgia special forces."[145] The Georgian government blamed Russia for the incident. "If provocations and tensions are in the interest of anyone, it's the Russians," the Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili told the Reuters news agency, "They are doing everything not to pull troops out within the set term".[145] Georgia also said it would have had to find Ossetians to take the car into the Russian-controlled area. "I don't understand the logic. How could the Georgian secret service plan that the Ossetians would steal the car and that the Russians would take it to their base. Are we geniuses or what?" Utiashvili said.[143] The French Presidency of the European Union condemned the attack.[146]

On 6 October 2008, an Abkhaz border guard was shot and killed near the administrative border between Abkhazia and Georgia.[147]

On 18 October 2008, Georgian media reported that a bridge in the Adzva village in the Gori district was partially blown up by allegedly Ossetians.[148]

In mid-October 2008, South Ossetian police were given orders to return fire should they be on the receiving end of a firing from the Georgian side. This was seen as directive that could increase the threat of new violence. South Ossetia's top police official issued this order in response to a police post coming under automatic weapons fire from an ethnic Georgian village. The acting Interior Minister Mikhail Mindzayev said nobody was hurt by the gunfire, although he did refer to it as a series of provocations by Georgians forces.[149]

On 25 October 2008, a bomb exploded in the Georgian town of Mujava near the administrative border with Abkhazia killing a villager and the governor of the Tsalenjikha district of Georgia, Giorgi Mebonia.[150]

In early November 2008, a parliamentary investigation in Ukraine found that the country supplied weapons to Georgia prior to the war. One MP even claimed that Ukraine still continued to arm Georgia.[151]

In late November 2008, an official in the Russian Ministry of Defence told Gazeta Daily that construction of the Russian military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia would cost around $US 400 million. The bases in South Ossetia would cost more than $US 200 million and building bases in Abkhazia would cost a little less, because the Soviet military infrastructure remained there.[152]

Relations in 2009[edit]

On 19 January 2009, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a law making it illegal to sell, supply, or transfer military production to Georgia, and prohibiting the use of Russian railways, waters, and airspace for military co-operation with Georgia.[153] According to RIA Novosti, countries or individuals found to be in breach of these regulations would face economic and financial sanctions.[154] The sanctions were to last until December 2011. Russia had earlier tried to have an international arms embargo on Georgia imposed, but the initiative failed to meet widespread international support. Georgia declared the decree "inadequate". Georgian military experts claimed that it would influence illegal arms supplies. Georgia also claimed that Russian arms being used by its military would soon be replaced by European hardware.[153]

On 19 and 21 January, Russia requested that Georgia allow its experts access to Georgian military installations for evaluation and verification checks in accordance with a 1999 Vienna OSCE document on confidence and security-building measures. Georgia rejected these requests.[155]

On 23 January 2009, Russia expressed concern over "Georgia's expanding military presence on the borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia." Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had said, "EU monitors working in areas adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia have been reporting a buildup of Georgian military units and special forces near the borders with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and our 'technical devices' have also recorded this. Provocations also occur sporadically. We are concerned by this."[155]

On 26 January 2009, Russian junior sergeant Alexander Glukhov appeared in Tbilisi. He gave press interviews at McDonald's in the presence of Georgian Interior Ministry officials. The 21-year-old claimed that bad living conditions and problems with his superior forced him to desert: "I had very bad relations with my commander. He didn't like anything I did and that was why I left." According to Georgian interior ministry sources, he appealed for permission to remain in Georgia.[156][157] On 28 January the soldier announced on Georgian TV that he asked for political asylum in Georgia.[158]

The same day Russia demanded his release, claiming that he was captured in the Akhalgori district of South Ossetia and taken to Tbilisi and that he might be tortured: "Aleksandr Glukhov was captured by the Georgian military in South Ossetia and taken to Tbilisi. It is another information provocation by the Georgian authorities. Under physical or psychological pressure or threats, he could have said anything," said Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Drobyshevsky.[159] The soldier's mother was quoted as saying: "We periodically talk on the phone and I have an impression that he cannot speak freely as somebody is next to him".[158] On 13 February 2009 members of the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi gathered near the Georgian embassy demanding the return of Glukhov.[158]

On 2 February 2009, at a meeting with EU envoys, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko expressed concern over the build-up of Georgian troops on the border with South Ossetia. "Grushko expressed concern in connection with the build-up of a Georgian military presence on South Ossetia's borders," the Foreign Ministry declared in a statement. "The increased activity of their [Georgian] special units has been reported on the eastern part of the South Ossetian border."[160]

On 6 February 2009, Georgia submitted the application against Russia to the European Court of Human Rights, to continue the process that started on 11 August 2008.[161]

In February 2009, Pavel Felgenhauer, a military analyst, claimed that Russia planned to invade Georgia from South Ossetia in order to topple the Saakashvili government.[162]

On 2 March 2009, deputy chief of Russia’s General Staff Anatoly Nogovitsyn issued the statement that the human remains that Georgia had returned, belonged to the pilot of a TU-22 reconnaissance bomber shot down during the war.[163]

On 22 April 2009, shooting took place on the administrative border between Georgia and South Ossetia. Both sides reported automatic weapons fire, and blamed each other for the incident.[164]

In May 2009, former U.S. Ambassadors to Georgia William Courtney and Kenneth Yalowitz, and the former European Commission ambassador to Georgia, Denis Corboy, called on the United States to lead efforts at preventing a "new tragedy" in Georgia. They cited Russia's military buildup in the country and Moscow's resentment over the "unfinished business" of the August 2008 Russo-Georgian War.[165]

By 1 August 2009, at least 28 Georgian policemen patrolling the South Ossetian administrative boundary had been killed by sniper fire or mines during the first year after the end of the war.[166]

On 1 August 2009, Russian Defense Ministry said that Georgia had previously opened fire on the South Ossetian territory several times in the past few days.[167][168] The EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM) said its patrols on the ground did not see any evidence to confirm that any firing had taken place. Earlier, the spokesman for EUMM had said that four explosions took place on the South Ossetian side of the administrative border, but causes were not known.[169] The EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia also said that its unarmed patrols were blocked from entering South Ossetia and EUMM needed access to areas "where the incidents are purported to have taken place" in order to make a "more complete assessment of the situation on the ground."[170]

On 3 August 2009, South Ossetian separatists threw grenades into Georgian and Russian checkpoints.[171] The next day, South Ossetia accused Georgia of opening fire on 3 August.[172]

On 3 August 2009, RIA Novosti published an interview with South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity. Kokoity said that he ruled out a new "Georgian aggression". He said he would demand ceding of the Truso Gorge (part of the Georgian administrative unit of Mtskheta-Mtianeti) to South Ossetia. He also talked about Georgian president Saakashvili: "As for that lover of wars and bellicose slogans, that international criminal, I would advise him to be careful. Considering his behavior, Georgia has a shortage of mental hospitals."[173]

On 4 August 2009, it was reported that tensions were rising before the war's first anniversary. The European Union urged "all sides to refrain from any statement or action that may lead to increased tensions at this particularly sensitive time."[174] Georgia's Foreign Ministry condemned Russia's "deliberate attempts" to escalate the situation.[175] Mikheil Saakashvili urged the US and EU to defuse the tensions.[176]

On 5 August 2009, Russia claimed that the United States continued to deliver large amounts of weapons to Georgia.[177]

Yulia Latynina wrote in The Moscow Times that events in South Ossetia were unfolding according to last year's scenario. As soon as the U.S. Vice President Joe Biden had announced that the United States would not provide arms to Georgia, the South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity claimed that Tskhinvali had come under fire from the Georgian village of Nikozi. Latynina argued: "Considering the fact that South Ossetian forces had already wiped Nikozi off the map, his statement sounded a bit strange." It would be impossible to repeat last year’s scenario again, because in 2008 the world didn't pay attention to the fact that before the war had started, South Ossetian forces were shelling Georgian territory while declaring their readiness to launch a "counterstrike" against Georgian cities. Latynina concluded that if the conflict was renewed, nobody would believe that Kokoity had started the war; everyone would conclude that it had been Putin.[178]

Close to the one year anniversary of the start of the war, internet attacks occurred that targeted one Georgian user. The Twitter account of a Georgian blogger, Cyxymu came under attack, leading to a several hour long downtime of the entire service.[179]

On 14 August 2009, Shota Utiashvili, Georgia's Interior Ministry representative said that the South Ossetian side had confessed to shelling of the Georgian villages.[180]

In October 2009, Ukrainian MP Valery Kovaluk claimed that Ukraine was continuing to deliver the newest military hardware to Georgia. He said that "Over four years, the sale of arms was worth 2.5 billion dollars, and only 200 million dollars made it to the budget."[181]

In November 2009, Russian General Staff claimed that NATO countries supplied Georgia with small arms and ammunition, while Israel supplied it with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, and Ukraine supplied tanks and air defense. Russia also claimed that the United States was training Georgian personnel.[182]

See also[edit]

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