2008 Russo-Georgian diplomatic crisis

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An international diplomatic crisis between Georgia and Russia began in 2008, when both countries accused each other of military buildup near the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. On 6 March 2008, Russia announced that it would no longer participate in the Commonwealth of Independent States economic sanctions imposed on Abkhazia in 1996.[1]

Increasing tensions led to the outbreak of the Russo-Georgian war in 2008. After the war, a number of incidents have occurred in both conflict zones, and tensions between the belligerents remain high. The crisis has been linked to the push for Georgia to receive a NATO Membership Action Plan and, indirectly, the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo.[2]

Events in 2008[edit]

Lifting of CIS sanctions[edit]

During the meeting with the presidents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russian official declared Moscow should "reshape its relations with self-proclaimed republics".[3] On 6 March 2008, Russia lifted Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) sanctions, declaring them outdated, "hindering the implementation of economic and social programs in the region and is causing unjustified hardship for the people of Abkhazia."[1] Russian decision was met with protests from Tbilisi and lack of support from the other CIS countries.[4] Shalva Natelashvili, leader of the Labour Party of Georgia, warned Georgia will lose Abkhazia, because of Russia's lifting of economic sanctions on Abkhazia.[5] 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."[6]

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.[7][8] Russia's Duma called a session for 13 March to discuss the issue of recognition in respect to the unrecognized republics in the Former Soviet Union.[9] External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said, 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.[6]

The Duma Committee for CIS on 13 March, following a hearing on the unrecognized republics, recommended a deepening of links with Abkhazia, Transnistria, and South Ossetia. This suggested the possibility of recognition. Other recommendations included or reported are the establishment of diplomatic missions in the regions with the foreign ministry to decide whether they are 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.[10][11] The Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily described the hearing as "the launch of a procedure of recognition."[10]

Russia's ambassador to NATO has 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 intends to join NATO without them.[12]

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.[2]

Direct dealings between Russia and Abkhazia on the transfer of Russian citizens from Abkhaz prisons raised concern from Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis since the dealings were done without seeking the permission of the Georgian government.[13]

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 said such flights would be unacceptable.[14][better source needed] 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.[15] 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.[16]

Georgia drone-downing incidents[edit]

On 20 April 2008 a Georgian unmanned unarmed aerial vehicle (UAV) was shot down over the Abkhazian conflict zone. Russia's Air Force denied Georgian claims that a MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter, from the Gudauta military base had been 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.[17] Garry Kupalba, deputy defence minister of the Republic of Abkhazia, told reporters the drone had been shot down by an "L-39 aircraft of the Abkhaz Air Force".[18]

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. Moscow denied Georgia's accusation and stressed that none of its planes were in the region at the time.[19][18] 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 to direct fire.[20]

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 recent moves 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.[21]

The Ambassador of Russia to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, has suggested that a MiG-29 belonging to a NATO member might have downed the Georgian spy plane. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has 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."[22]

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."[23]

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.[24] Georgia hailed the report,[25] but Russia dismissed it.[26]

Georgia had officially suspended drone flights over Abkhazia in early June, but Abkhazia accused Georgia of continuing to fly drones in the region.[27]

Military buildup in Abkhazia[edit]

Russia accused Georgia of trying to solve the Abkhazia problem by force and of sending its troops in the Georgia-controlled upper Kodori Valley in northeast Abkhazia. Russia announced it would increase its military in the region and threatened to retaliate militarily to Georgia's efforts.[28] According to the statement of Russian Ministry of Defense issued on 8 May, it has increased the number of its peacekeepers in Abkhazia to 2,542 peacekeepers, which is 458 short of the 3,000 limit set by agreement.[29] The Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said Georgia would treat any additional troops in Abkhazia as aggressors.[28] 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.[30] The European Union also urged caution, saying to increase troop numbers would be "unwise" given current tensions.[28] The United States has called on Russia "to reconsider" "some provocative steps" it had taken in respect of Abkhazia.[31]

Georgia suspended Russia's admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO).[28] Georgian officials claim Russia is changing facts on the ground to make it impossible for NATO foreign ministers to give Georgia a Membership Action Plan when they meet in December 2008.[32][verification needed] Russian Cossacks and North Caucasian volunteers declared their readiness to fight Georgia in the case of a renewed confrontation in Abkhazia.[33] On 6 May 2008, the Georgian state minister for reintegration Temur Iakobashvili said Georgia was on the verge of war with Russia.[34] UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) said on 8 May that its monitors have "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."[35]

The Abkhaz foreign minister Sergei Shamba asked Russia to place Abkhazia under Russia's military control in exchange for security guarantees.[36][better source needed] Sergei Bagapsh, president of Abkhazia's separatist administration, 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.[37] 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 has similar cooperation with Armenia.[38] 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.[39]

On 18 May 2008, Georgia detained five Russian peacekeepers along the administrative border with the Abkhazia region claiming 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.[40] 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.[41] A statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry issued on 19 May 2008 has 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.[42]

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."[43][better source needed]

On 21 May 2008 automatic weapons fire and grenade blasts were reported near the village of Kurcha. A passenger bus is also reported to have come under fire. Russian peacekeepers and UN observers were called to the scene of the violence.[44][better source needed] A Georgian interior ministry official told journalists two buses of passengers going to vote in the Georgian elections were blown up and that the injured were being taken to Zugdidi hospital.[45] Abkhaz officials claimed the attacks happened in Georgian territory, not Abkhaz. Two Georgians were reported to be those injured in the attack.[46][better source needed] Some reports said the Inguri Bridge, the crossing-point between the breakaway region of 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 Sergey 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 has sent a protest note to the CIS secretariat demanding illegal Russian troops and armaments be immediately withdrawn from Abkhazia, saying that according to the UN, an airborne battalion, 50 BMD-2 airborne combat vehicles, and two artillery batteries have been deployed in Abkhazia. The ministry said this was out of line with a 1995 resolution of the CIS presidents' council.[49]

On 15 June 2008, media reports circulated saying 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 Abkhazian 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]

Georgian police said on 18 June 2008, that they detained four Russian peacekeepers and a military truck in the conflict zone between Georgia and its breakaway Abkhazia, accusing the peacekeepers of transporting ammunition and shells. Georgia's Interior Ministry said Tuesday 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 detentions predicted war between Georgia and Abkhazia if such actions 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 traffic from Georgia in response to the bombing.[57]

May and June events in South Ossetia[edit]

Georgia's foreign minister, Ekaterine Tkeshelashvili, said on 15 May 2008 that Georgia would regard any increase in Russian peacekeepers in the breakaway republic of South Ossetia as a "gross encroachment on Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity".[58]

In South Ossetia three explosions were heard near the village of Eredvi. A bomb exploded meters away from a line of Georgian military vehicles. Georgian and South Ossetian authorities have called the blasts a "provocation".[59] Deputy Defense Minister Batu Kutelia accused the South Ossetian administration of being responsible, saying they had taken up "tactics of terrorism."[60]

On 20 May 2008 Taimuraz 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.[61] 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 have suggested an interim period where South Ossetia is recognized as independent and then formally incorporated into Russia through a referendum.[62]

On the night of 14–15 June 2008, mortar fire and an exchange of gunfire broke out between South Ossetian and Georgian forces. South Ossetia reported 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 denies firing the first shot claiming instead that South Ossetia had attacked the Georgian-controlled villages.[63] 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.[64]

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.[65] The alleged agent was identified as Ramzan Turkoshvili, a Georgian-born Russian citizen, who the FSB 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 police. 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 FSB cast the detention as proof of Georgian support for militants operating in Russia's restive North Caucasus, and confirms that Georgia's security service was "participating in disruptive terrorist activities" in the region. 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."[66]

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 act of aggression aimed against the territorial integrity of Georgia.[67] The US Department of State also said that it was "dismayed" by the deployment.[68] On 2 June 2008, Temur Mzhavia, chairman of the exiled Supreme Council of Abkhazia, claimed that Russia plans to recognize Abkhazia on 27 September, when the Abkhaz celebrate a "victory 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. Saakashvili said he 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 Russia's defense minister said the railroad troops would leave within two months after they've 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 Russian railway troops had increased their security, following two blasts on the railway near Sokhumi. Abkhazian 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 directed at discrediting Georgia. He also said it was directed at legalizing the presence of Russian railway troops.[75]

On 23 June 2008 Sergey 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 was followed by an intense exchange of gun fire. Later a convoy carrying Dmitry Sanakoev, the head of the Tbilisi-backed South Ossetian provisional administration was attacked and three of his security guards 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] 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.[80] South Ossetia warned it would move heavy weaponry into the conflict zone with Georgia if attacks on the republic were not stopped.[81]

On 6 July 2008 a bomb in Gali, Abkhazia killed four people and injured six. Abkhazian 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.[82] 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.[83]

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.[84] Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told police to prepare an operation to free the four soldiers.[85]

Russian military jets flew over South Ossetia on 9 July 2008. The next day, the Russian authorities confirmed the flight and said, in an official statement, the fighters were sent to "let hot heads in Tbilisi cool down."[86] In response, Georgia recalled its ambassador to Moscow "for consultations", stating that it was "outraged by Russia's aggressive policies."[87]

On 8 July, 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 Sergey Bagapsh, that Georgia's NATO integration process "may undermine the conflict resolution" process.[88] On 11 July 2008 Deputy Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting on the conflict zones.[89]

A South Ossetian envoy on 11 July 2008 declared that South Ossetia was capable of repelling any attack by Georgia without help from Moscow and also said the mainly Russian peacekeeping contingent in the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict zone should be increased.[90] The Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement the same day that measures have 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."[91] 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 Sergey 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 their detained officers.[92]

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 following events in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The additional manpower would be used to defend Georgia's airspace and the Black Sea coast.[93] On 15 July 2008 the U.S. and Russia both began exercises in the Caucasus though Russia denied the timing was intentional.[94] The Russian exercises included training to support peacekeepers in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia claimed the exercises were a manifestation of Russian aggression against it.[95] The US exercises were part of the exercise "Immediate Response 2008" and included forces from the United States, Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.[96] 1,000 US troops were involved, in addition to the 127 trainers already in Georgia. The exercise concluded 7 August.[97]

Also on 15 July, Abkhazia and South Ossetia were said to be planning to join the Union of Russia and Belarus. A spokesman for the Union said both regions have 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.[98][99] 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."[100]

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.[101] Georgian media also reported on 19 July that a battalion of Russian troops had moved into the lower Kodori Gorge.[102] Georgia's Defense Ministry claimed Russian troops encroached on Mamison and Roksky passes and are in the combat alert. Abkhazia's Foreign Minister said no new troops were brought in to Abkhazia over the quota.[103]

A U.N. report issued 23 July 2008 on 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.[104]

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.[105] On 29 July 2008 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.[106] On the same day Georgian media reported that Georgian posts on the Sarabuki heights were attacked by South Ossetian forces with no injuries reported.[105]

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 Georgian forces.[107]

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.[108]

War[edit]

Main article: Russo-Georgian war

This crisis gave rise on 7 August 2008, to a war involving Georgia and Russia along with Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. During the night of 7 to 8 August 2008, Georgia launched a large-scale military offensive against South Ossetia, in an attempt to reclaim the territory.[109]

Post-war events in 2008[edit]

On 26 August 2008, Russia officially recognized both South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.[110] 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.[111] Russia had already closed its embassy right after the beginning of the war in South Ossetia in August 2008 before diplomatic relations between the two countries ended.[citation needed]

On 29 August 2008, two soldiers serving with the Russian North Ossetian peacekeeping battalion were arrested by Georgian police in the border zone for the illegal detention of 4 journalists and three other people, including a 13-year-old boy. They were sentenced to pre-trial custody for two months by a court in Mtskheta, a town close to Tbilisi, on 30 August, creating a diplomatic row between Tbilisi and Moscow.[112]

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 leaves office.[113]

On 10 September, a Georgian policeman was killed allegedly by Russian soldiers in a village north of Gori.[114]

On 13 September, a Georgian policeman was killed in Ganmukhuri on the administrative border between Abkhazia and Georgia.[114]

On 21 September, 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.[114]

On 22 September, two Georgian policemen were wounded by a mine on the administrative border between Abkhazia and Georgia.[115]

On 25 September, a 13-year-old South Ossetian resident was killed when an explosive device blew up on the outskirts of Tskhinvali.[116]

On 3 October, seven Russian soldiers were killed and another seven wounded by a car bomb that exploded near the Russian peacekeeping headquarters.[117] Among them was Colonel Ivan Petrik, the peacekeeper's Chief of Staff.[118] The Russians accused the Georgians of orchestrating the "terrorist attack", claiming that just before the blast, the Russians arrested 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.[119] 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."[120] The Georgian government blamed Russia for the incident. "If provocations and tensions are in the interest of anyone, it's the Russians," Shota Utiashvili, the Interior Ministry spokesman, told the Reuters news agency, "They are doing everything not to pull troops out within the set term".[120] Georgia also said it would have been hard to find Ossetians to take the car into the area under Russian control. "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?" Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said.[118] The French Presidency of the European Union condemned the attack.[121]

On 6 October 2008, an Abkhaz border guard was shot and killed on the administrative border between Abkhazia and Georgia.[122]

On 18 October 2008, Georgian media reported that a bridge in the Adzva village in the Gori district was partly blown up by allegedly Ossetians.[123]

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.[124]

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.[125][126]

In November, 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 arms Georgia.[127]

Events in 2009[edit]

On 19 January 2009, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a law making it illegal for Russian citizens to sell, supply, or transfer arms, military technology, or equipment to Georgia, and prohibiting the use of Russian railways, waters, and airspace for military co-operation with Georgia.[128] According to RIA Novosti, countries or individuals found to be in breach of these regulations will face economic and financial sanctions.[129] 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 has declared the decree "inadequate". Georgian military experts claimed that it will influence illegal arms supplies. Georgia also claimed that Russian arms being used by its military would soon be replaced by European hardware.[128]

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.[130]

On 23 January, Russia expressed concern over "Georgia's expanding military presence on the borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia." According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, "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."[130]

On 26 January, Russian junior sergeant Alexandr Glukhov appeared in Tbilisi, giving press interviews at McDonald's and on Georgian TV 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.[131][132] On 28 January the soldier announced on Georgian TV that he asked for political asylum in Georgia.[133]

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 Aleksandr Drobyshevsky, Russian Defence Ministry spokesman.[134] 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".[133] On 13 February 2009 members of the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi gathered near the Georgian embassy demanding the return of Glukhov.[133] Later, Russia acknowledged that Glukhov had indeed left his unit voluntarily and pressed charges for desertion.[135][better source needed]

On 2 February, 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."[136]

On 6 February, Georgia submitted the application against Russia to the European Court of Human Rights, to continue the process that started on 11 August 2008.[137]

In February, Pavel Felgenhauer, a military analyst, claimed that Russia plans to invade Georgia from South Ossetia in order to topple the Saakashvili government.[138]

On 23 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.[139]

In May 2009, former U.S. Ambassadors to Georgia William Courtney and Kenneth Yalowitz, and Denis Corboy, the former European Commission ambassador to Georgia, 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.[140]

On 1 August 2009, Georgia fired two mortar shots upon a South Ossetian Defense Ministry observation outpost from the Georgian community of Ditsi bordering on the Ossetian village of Eredvi, according to South Ossetian Deputy Defense Minister Ibragim Gasseyev.[141][better source needed] According to Russian Defense Ministry, Georgia had previously opened fire on the South Ossetian territory several times in the past few days.[142] The EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM) said its patrols on the ground have seen no evidence to confirm that any firing has taken place. Earlier, the spokesman for EUMM said that four explosions took place on the South Ossetian side of the administrative border, but causes were not known.[143]

On 3 August, South Ossetian separatists threw grenades into Georgian and Russian checkpoints.[144] The next day, Georgia and South Ossetia accused each other of opening fire.[145] Georgia's Foreign Ministry condemned Russia's "deliberate attempts" to escalate the situation.[146] Mikheil Saakashvili urged the US and EU to defuse the tensions.[147]

On 4 August 2009, it was reported that tensions were rising before the war's first anniversary on 7 August. The European Union urged "all sides to refrain from any statement or action that may lead to increased tensions at this particularly sensitive time."[148] According to Russian claims, the United States continued to deliver large amounts of arms and military equipment to Georgia.[149]

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.[150][151]

At least 28 Georgian policemen patrolling the administrative boundary were killed by sniper fire or mines during the first year after the end of the war.[152]

In October 2009, Ukrainian MP Valery Kovaluk claimed that Ukraine was continuing to deliver the newest military hardware to Georgia and other countries. 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."[153]

In November 2009, Russian General Staff claimed that NATO countries supply Georgia with small arms and ammunition, while Israel supplies it with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Russia also claimed that the United States is training Georgian personnel.[154]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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