Russo-Georgian War

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For the 1921 war, see Red Army invasion of Georgia.
Russo-Georgian War
Part of the Abkhaz–Georgian conflict and the Georgian–Ossetian conflict
2008 South Ossetia war en.svg
Location of Georgia (including Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and Russian North Caucasus
Date 7–12 August 2008
Location Transcaucasia
Result Russian, South Ossetian, and Abkhaz military victory
Territorial
changes
Georgia loses control of parts of Abkhazia and former South Ossetian AO
Belligerents
 Georgia  Russia
 South Ossetia[note 1]
 Abkhazia[note 2]
Commanders and leaders
Georgia (country) Mikheil Saakashvili
Georgia (country) Davit Kezerashvili
Georgia (country) Zaza Gogava
Georgia (country) Mamuka Kurashvili
Georgia (country) David Nairashvili
Georgia (country) Alexandre Lomaia
Georgia (country) Vano Merabishvili
Russia Dmitry Medvedev
Russia Anatoliy Serdyukov
Russia Vladimir Boldyrev
Russia Marat Kulakhmetov
Russia Vladimir Shamanov
Russia Vyacheslav Borisov
Russia A. Khrulyov (WIA)
South Ossetia Eduard Kokoity
South Ossetia Vasily Lunev
South Ossetia Anatoly Barankevich
Abkhazia Sergei Bagapsh
Abkhazia Mirab Kishmaria
Abkhazia Anatoly Zaitsev
Strength
Georgia (country) In South Ossetia:
10,000–11,000 soldiers, including MIA Special Forces.[7]
c.5,000 MIA Police Officers.[8]
10,000 reservists.[9]
In Iraq: 2,000 soldiers.[10]
Russia In South Ossetia:
10,000 soldiers.
In Abkhazia:
9,000 soldiers.[11][12]
South Ossetia 3,000 regular soldiers.[13]
Abkhazia 1,000 special troops.[14]
Casualties and losses
Georgia (country) Georgia
  • Georgian Armed Forces:
  • Killed: 169[15]
  • Wounded: 947[16]
  • MIA: 1[15]
  • POWs: 39[8]
  • Ministry of Internal Affairs:
  • Killed: 11[16]
  • Wounded: 227[16]
  • MIA: 3[16]
  • POWs: 10[8]
Russia Russia

South Ossetia South Ossetia

  • POWs: 27[8]
  • Ministry of Defence:
  • Killed: 26[20]
  • Wounded: 69[21]
  • Ministry of Internal Affairs:
  • Killed: 6[22]

Abkhazia Abkhazia

Civilian casualties:
South Ossetia: 162, according to Russia;[24] 365, according to South Ossetia;[25][26] 255 wounded, according to Russia[24]

Georgia: 224 civilians killed and 15 missing, 547 injured[16]
One foreign civilian killed and 3 wounded[27]


Refugees:
At least 158,000 civilians displaced,[28] (including 30,000 South Ossetians that moved to Russia; and 15,000 Georgians from South Ossetia per UNHCR that moved to Georgia proper).[29] Estimate by Georgian official: at least 230,000.[30]

The Russo-Georgian War[note 3] was an armed conflict between Georgia, the Russian Federation, and the Russian-backed self-proclaimed breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The war took place in August 2008 amidst worsening relations between Russia and Georgia, which were both formerly constituent republics of the Soviet Union. The fighting took place in the strategically important Transcaucasia region, which borders the Middle East. It was regarded as the first European war of the 21st century.[31]

As the Soviet Union weakened in early 1991, the Soviet Georgia declared independence as the new state of Georgia. Amidst this backdrop, a 1991–1992 war between Georgia and separatists in the South Ossetia region left parts of that region under de facto Russian-backed and internationally unrecognised separatist control.[32] After the war was halted, a joint peacekeeping force of Georgian, Russian and Ossetian troops was stationed in the region.[33] Meanwhile, a similar situation developed during 1992–1993 in the Georgian region of Abkhazia.[34] After a prolonged lull, relations between Georgia and Russia began to worsen in April 2008.[35][36] Ossetian separatists began shelling Georgian villages on 1 August, with a sporadic response from Georgian peacekeepers in the region.[37][38][39] Georgia launched a large-scale military operation against South Ossetia during the night of 7–8 August,[3] recapturing most of Tskhinvali in hours.[40] The Georgian government said it was responding to attacks on its villages in South Ossetia,[41] and that Russia was moving non-peacekeeping units into the country.[42]

Russia officially deployed units of the Russian 58th Army and airborne troops into South Ossetia on 8 August, launching air strikes against targets in Georgia proper.[43][44] Russia claimed that its aim was "peace enforcement".[45] Russian and Ossetian forces battled Georgian forces throughout South Ossetia for four days, with the heaviest fighting in Tskhinvali, until Georgian forces retreated.[11] Russian naval forces blockaded part of the Georgian coast.[46][47] Russian and Abkhaz forces opened a second front by attacking the Kodori Gorge, held by Georgia.[11] During the war, South Ossetians razed most ethnic-Georgian villages in South Ossetia.[48] This was the first war in history when cyber warfare coincided with military action.[49] There was an active information war during and after the conflict.[50]

President of France Nicolas Sarkozy negotiated a ceasefire agreement on 12 August.[51] Russian forces temporarily occupied the Georgian cities of Zugdidi, Senaki, Poti, and Gori (the latter two after the ceasefire), and raided Georgian military bases.[11][52][53] Russia recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia on 26 August.[5] In response, the Georgian government cut diplomatic relations with Russia.[54] Russia mostly completed its withdrawal of troops from Georgia proper on 8 October.[55] In the aftermath Russia's international relations were largely unharmed.[56] The war displaced 192,000 people,[57] and while many returned to their homes after the war, 20,272 persons remain displaced as of 2014.[58] Russian military occupies Abkhazia and South Ossetia in violation of the ceasefire since August 2008.[59]

Background

History

Situation in Georgia before the war

Georgia was first created in the tenth century, defined as the lands in which Christian rituals were performed in the Georgian language. After the Mongol invasions, the Kingdom of Georgia eventually was broken up into several principalities. In the nineteenth century, the Russian Empire gradually annexed the Georgian lands. In the aftermath of the Russian revolution, Georgia declared its independence on 26 May 1918.[60]

North Ossetia is regarded as the indigenous homeland of the Ossetian people.[61] The timing of the Ossetian arrival in Transcaucasia is disputed. According to one theory, they first migrated there during the 13th and 14th centuries AD.[62] Ossetians and Georgians lived side by side for centuries peacefully.[63] The conflict between the Georgian government and Ossetians dates back to 1918–1921. At first the Ossetians were dissatisfied by the economic policies of the Menshevik central government. Then the conflict became ethnic in essence. During the uprisings in 1919 and 1920 the Ossetians were covertly supported by Soviet Russia, but even so, were defeated.[64]

The Red Army invaded the independent Democratic Republic of Georgia in 1921 and installed the Soviet authority.[65] The government of Soviet Georgia created an autonomous administrative unit for South Ossetians in April 1922, called the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast.[66] Some historians (such as Stephen F. Jones, Emil Souleimanov and Arsène Saparov) believe that this autonomy was granted to the Ossetians by the Bolsheviks in exchange for their help in fighting the Democratic Republic of Georgia,[64][67][68] since this territory had never been a separate entity.[69][70]

The emergence of nationalism in Georgia in 1989 led to tensions between Georgians and Ossetians. The Soviet leadership encouraged the South Ossetian nationalism as a means against Georgian independence movement.[71] On 11 December 1990, the Supreme Soviet of Georgia abolished the autonomy.[72] Georgia declared its independence from the Soviet Union on 9 April 1991.[73] A military conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia broke out in January 1991, and warfare in Tskhinvali lasted until June 1992.[32] The separatists were aided by former Soviet military units now under Russian command. The war resulted in South Ossetia achieving de facto independence from Georgia.[34] After the Sochi agreement in 1992, Georgian, South Ossetian, Russian and North Ossetian peacekeepers were stationed in South Ossetia under the Joint Control Commission's (JCC) mandate.[33] Some parts of South Ossetia remained under the Georgian control.[32] The situation was mirrored in Abkhazia, an autonomous republic in the Georgian SSR, where the Abkhaz minority seceded from Georgia during the early 1990s.[34] Following a process of ethnic cleansing of Georgians, the population of Abkhazia was reduced to 216,000, from 525,000 in 1989.[74] Similar to South Ossetia, an unrecognised government did not control the entire territory of Abkhazia.[75]

Unresolved conflicts

The conflicts in Georgia remained at a stalemate until 2004,[76] when Mikheil Saakashvili came to power after Georgia's Rose Revolution, which ousted president Eduard Shevardnadze.[77] Restoring South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Georgian control was a top-priority goal of President Saakashvili.[78]

After its success in restoring control in Adjara in 2004, the Georgian government launched an initiative to retake South Ossetia;[78] intense fighting took place between Georgian forces and South Ossetian militia between 8 and 19 August; however, the hostilities were briefly ceased.[79]

In 2005-2008 Georgia proposed autonomy for South Ossetia and Abkhazia within a unified Georgian state. The proposals were rejected by secessionist leaders, who demanded full independence.[80][81] In 2006 Georgia sent security forces to the Kodori Gorge, part of Abkhazia, when a local militia leader rebelled against Georgian authorities.[75] In 2007 Georgia established what Russia called a "puppet government" of South Ossetia, led by former South Ossetian prime minister Dmitry Sanakoyev, calling it a provisional administration (alarming Moscow).[82]

Russian interests and involvement

Transcaucasia lies between the Russian region of the North Caucasus and the Middle East, forming a "buffer zone". It borders Turkey and Iran. According to Swedish academic Svante Cornell, the strategic importance of the region has been viewed as a security concern by Russia. Transcaucasia is also an area of significant economic interests. Control of Transcaucasia, according to Cornell, would enable Russia to control Western influence in the geopolitically important region of Central Asia.[83]

Two strategic characteristics of Georgia were seen as invaluable by Russia: the border with Turkey and the Black Sea coast.[84] Of the two regions – Abkhazia and South Ossetia - the first has more strategic and economic significance for Russia. The Russian leadership noted in the 1990s that their strategic influence in the Black Sea was linked to the presence of Russian military on the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus.[47] Russia initially intended to use South Ossetia to retain Georgia within the Soviet Union and later in a Russian sphere of influence.[71]

In 2000, when Vladimir Putin became president of the Russian Federation, this had a huge impact on the Russo-Georgian relations. The Russo-Georgian Cold War began in December 2000, when Georgia became the first and only CIS country upon which Russian visa requirements were imposed. In 2002, the Russian government began massive distribution of passports to the residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia without Georgia's permission.[85]

In 2008 most residents of South Ossetia were Russian citizens with Russian passports. According to Reuters, Russia supplied two-thirds of South Ossetia's annual budget before the war.[86] Russian officials had de facto control of South Ossetia's institutions, including security institutions and forces; South Ossetia's de facto government was largely staffed with Russians and South Ossetians with Russian passports, who had occupied equivalent government positions in Russia.[87]

Georgia's pro-Western policy

One of Saakashvili's primary goals was Georgian NATO membership;[76] this has been one of the major stumbling blocks in Georgia-Russia relations.[88]

Although Georgia has no significant oil or gas reserves, its territory hosts part of the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline supplying Europe;[89] this has been a major factor in the United States' support for Georgia, since the pipeline reduces the Western dependence on Middle Eastern oil and bypasses Russia and Iran.[90]

During the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008, American president George W. Bush lobbied offering Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Georgia and Ukraine. However, Germany and France said that offering MAP to Ukraine and Georgia would be "an unnecessary offense" to Russia.[91] NATO stated that Ukraine and Georgia would become members of the alliance and pledged to review the applications for MAP in December 2008.[92] At the end of the summit on 4 April, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that expansion of NATO to Russia's borders "would be taken in Russia as a direct threat to the security of our country".[93] After the Bucharest summit, Russia became more aggressive and began to actively prepare for planned armed conflict with Georgia in order to stop the latter's accession to NATO and also to bring about a "regime change".[85]

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev confessed in November 2011 that NATO would have admitted former Soviet republics if Russia had not invaded Georgia. "If you ... had faltered back in 2008, the geopolitical situation would be different now," Medvedev said in a speech to soldiers at a Vladikavkaz base.[94]

Prelude

April–July 2008

On 16 April, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a decree authorising official relations between Russian governmental bodies and secessionist leaders in Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The decree recognised the legal acts issued by the separatist authorities and entities registered under Abkhaz and South Ossetian laws.[95][96] After the United Nations Security Council meeting on 23 April (held upon Georgia's request), the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany issued a statement saying: "We call on the Russian Federation to revoke or not to implement its decision."[97] Russia's Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, called the Western demand "a tall order".[35]

On 20 April, a Russian jet shot down a Georgian reconnaissance drone flying over Abkhazia. Russia denied the responsibility for the incident. Abkhazia claimed that the drone was shot down by an "L-39 aircraft of the Abkhaz Air Force".[98] 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."[99] On 26 May, the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) investigation concluded that the jet belonged to the Russian Air Force; it was either a MiG-29 "Fulcrum" or a Su-27 "Flanker".[100]

In late April, Russia said that Georgia was amassing 1,500 soldiers and police in the upper Kodori Gorge area and was planning to "invade" Abkhazia;[101] Russia, boosting its forces in the separatist regions, would "retaliate" against Georgian attack.[102] The UNOMIG denied any buildup in the Kodori Gorge or near the Abkhaz border by either side.[96][103]

In early May Russia increased the number of its peacekeepers in Abkhazia to 2,542, but its troop levels remained under the limit of 3,000 imposed by a 1994 decision of Commonwealth of Independent States heads of state.[104] 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.[105] On 15 May, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution recognizing the right of return of all refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to Abkhazia.[106] Russia voted against the Georgian-sponsored resolution. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the resolution was "a counterproductive move".[36]

On 31 May, Russia sent railway troops (unarmed, according to the Russian defence ministry) to repair a rail line in Abkhazia. Georgia in return condemned the move as an act of aggression.[107] The European Parliament adopted a resolution on 5 June, that deplored deployment of Russian forces to Abkhazia. The resolution stated that the peacekeeping format must be revised because Russia had lost its role of neutral and impartial player.[108] Russian railway troops began pulling out of Abkhazia on 30 July after attending the opening ceremony of the railway line.[109] At least a part of the 9,000 Russian troops, who went into Georgia from Abkhazia during the war, used the repaired railway to travel with their hardware.[110]

The overall situation in South Ossetia deteriorated significantly in early July 2008. On 3 July, a South Ossetian separatist militia official was killed by explosions.[111] On the same day, an unsuccessful assassination attempt on chairman of the Georgian-backed Ossetian government Dmitry Sanakoyev injured his bodyguards.[111][112] On 7 July, South Ossetian separatists captured four Georgian soldiers. The next day, the Georgian president ordered police to prepare an operation to free soldiers.[113] Four Russian Air Force jets flew over South Ossetia on 8 July.[114] The overflight was ordered less than 24 hours before the arrival of the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Georgia.[115] Georgia recalled its ambassador from Russia after Russia confirmed its planes had intruded into Georgia's airspace to "let hot heads in Tbilisi cool down".[114] This was Russia's first admission in a decade that its air force had flown over Georgian territory without permission. Moscow had always denied earlier overflights.[116]

On 15 July, the United States and Russia began two parallel military exercises, though Russia denied the timing was intentional.[117] The joint US-Georgian exercise was called Immediate Response 2008 and also included servicemen from Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Armenia. A total of 1,630 servicemen (including 1,000 American troops) took part in the exercise which concluded on 31 July.[118] Joint exercise focused on counter-insurgency operations and a Georgian brigade was prepared for duty in Iraq.[119] The Russian exercise was named Caucasus 2008 and involved units of the North Caucasus Military District (among them was the 58th Army). The exercise included training to support peacekeepers in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.[120] During exercises a leaflet entitled "Soldier! Know your probable enemy!" (that described the Georgian Armed Forces) was circulated among the Russian participants.[121] Russian troops remained near the Georgian border after the end of their exercise on 2 August, instead of returning to their bases.[96]

Early August

On 1 August, a Georgian police lorry was blown up at 08:00 by an IED on the road near Tskhinvali, injuring five Georgian policemen. During the evening Georgian snipers retaliated by attacking the South Ossetian border checkpoints, killing four Ossetians and injuring seven.[122]

Ossetian separatists began systematically shelling Georgian villages as early as 1 August, with a sporadic response from Georgian peacekeepers and other troops in the region.[37][38][39][47][123][124] During the night of 1/2 August, grenade-launcher and mortar fire was exchanged. The number of killed Ossetians rose to six, and the number of injured became fifteen (including several civilians); six Georgian civilians and one policeman were injured.[122] The events were assessed by the OSCE mission as the worst outbreak of violence since the 2004 conflict.[125] Fire exchanges continued in the nights of 2–3 and 3–4 August.[125]

An evacuation of Ossetian women and children to Russia began on 3 August.[96][126] On 4 August South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity said about 300 volunteers had arrived from North Ossetia to help fight the Georgians, and thousands more were expected from the North Caucasus.[127] On 5 August, Russian Ambassador-at-Large Yuri Popov declared that his country would intervene in the event of military conflict.[128] That day, about 50 Russian journalists had arrived in Tskhnivali, waiting for "something to happen".[96] The evacuation of the civilians was complete by 6 August.[129] According to the former secretary of the Security Council of South Ossetia, Anatoly Barankevich, about 35,000 people were evacuated from South Ossetia.[126] On 6 August, a pro-government Russian newspaper reported: "Don Cossacks prepare to fight in South Ossetia".[56][130]

Beginning in the afternoon of 6 August, mortar and artillery fire was exchanged along almost the entire line of contact between the Georgian and South Ossetian forces.[125][129] After a short break in the morning, firing continued on 7 August.[125][124] At 14:00 on 7 August, the Georgian peacekeeping checkpoint in Avnevi was shelled and two Georgian peacekeepers killed.[131][132] At about 14:30, Georgian tanks, 122 mm howitzers and 203 mm self-propelled artillery began heading towards the South Ossetian border to deter further separatist attacks.[133] During the afternoon, OSCE monitors recorded the movement of the Georgian military and artillery on roads near Gori.[131][134] At 14:42, according to Russian ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov, Georgia withdrew its personnel from the joint peacekeeping force headquarters in Tskhinvali.[135][136] At 15:45, according to CAST, Georgian forces opened fire on targets in Khetagurovo and on the southern outskirts of Tskhinvali with self-propelled artillery and tanks; South Ossetian forces at Khetagurovo were held. Due to Georgia's use of heavy weaponry, Russian forces based near South Ossetia were put on high alert.[132]

At 16:00, Georgian Minister for Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili arrived in Tskhinvali for a previously-arranged meeting with South Ossetians and chief Russian negotiator for South Ossetia Yuri Popov;[133] however, Russia's special envoy (who cited a flat tire) did not appear,[37] and neither did the Ossetians.[136] One day earlier the South Ossetians refused to participate in bilateral talks, demanding a JCC session.[137] Tbilisi had withdrawn from the JCC in March, demanding that the format include the European Union, the OSCE and the Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia.[96] Temur Iakobashvili met with the Russian commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Force (JPKF), General Marat Kulakhmetov, who said that Russian peacekeepers could not stop Ossetian attacks and Georgia should implement a ceasefire.[133] "Nobody was in the streets – no cars, no people," Iakobashvili later told journalists.[131]

At around 19:00, President Saakashvili announced a unilateral ceasefire and no-response order.[96][138] The ceasefire reportedly held for about three hours.[40] Russia regarded the ceasefire as an attempt to buy time while Georgian forces positioned themselves for an offensive.[131] Attacks on Georgian villages intensified after Saakashvili's address. Avnevi was almost completely destroyed, Tamarasheni and Prisi were shelled and a police station in Kurta (seat of the Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia) was destroyed by shelling. Civilian refugees began fleeing the villages.[112][139] Georgian senior official from the Ministry of Defence said that his country was going to "restore constitutional order" in response to the shelling.[41]

According to Georgian intelligence,[140] and several Russian media reports, parts of the regular (non-peacekeeping) Russian Army moved to South Ossetian territory through the Roki Tunnel before the Georgian military operation.[141] State-controlled Russian TV showed Abkhazia's president Sergei Bagapsh on 7 August as saying: "I have spoken to the president of South Ossetia. It has more or less stabilized now. A battalion from the North Caucasus District has entered the area."[142] "We wanted to stop the Russian troops before they could reach Georgian villages," Georgian president Saakashvili later told Der Spiegel.[42]

Large-scale conflict

Battle of Tskhinvali

Main article: Battle of Tskhinvali
Tank-like vehicle with soldiers aboard
Russian BMP-2 from the 58th Army in South Ossetia
Burned tank amid other debris
Destroyed Georgian tank in Tskhinvali
Two soldiers riding in the boot of a car
Georgian servicemen leaving South Ossetia (August 2008)

At 23:35 on 7 August, Georgian artillery units began firing smoke bombs into South Ossetia. Fifteen minutes later, Georgia opened fire against fixed and moving enemy targets; the interval was intended to allow the civilian population to leave dangerous areas.[40] Equipment used in the artillery assault included 27 rocket launchers, 152-millimetre guns and cluster munitions.[42]

Early in the morning on 8 August, Georgia launched a military operation. The Georgian 4th Brigade from Vaziani spearheaded operations on the left flank of Tskhinvali; the 3rd Brigade launched operations on the right flank. The flank operations aimed at attacking key positions, and then at moving further northwards to seize the Gupta bridge and the road leading from the Roki Tunnel to block movement of the Russian troops.[40]

After several hours of bombardment, Georgian forces began advancing towards the city. At 04:00, they began engaging South Ossetian forces and militia, with Georgian tanks shelling South Ossetian positions from a safe distance. Georgian special forces attempted to take the village of Kvaysa (west of Tskhinvali), but were repelled by a platoon of South Ossetian troops manning fortified positions and lost several wounded. At 06:00, the Georgian 3rd Brigade launched an offensive into the Eredvi region (east of the city), seizing villages and strategic vantage points. It soon encountered resistance from a company-sized South Ossetian force firing from the Prisi Heights.[143]

After the heights near Tskhinvali were secured, the Georgian forces (including special forces of the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs) entered the city.[40] By 08:00, Georgian infantry and tanks were engaged in a fierce battle with Ossetian forces and the Russian peacekeeping battalion stationed in the city.[11] According to Georgia, it only targeted Russian peacekeepers in self-defence, after coming under fire from them.[144] Fifteen hundred Georgian ground troops reached the centre of Tskhinvali by 10:00.[131]

That day Russia officially sent units of the Russian 58th Army and airborne troops across the Georgian border into South Ossetia,[11][43] claiming to be defending both peacekeepers and South Ossetian civilians.[145] Russia accused Georgia of committing "Genocide".[146] According to a Russian military commander, more than 10 Russian peacekeepers were killed on 8 August.[147] Although Russian authorities claimed that civilian casualties in Tskhinvali might reach 2,000,[148] the figures were later revised down to a total of 162 in South Ossetia.[149]

By the afternoon Georgian forces had captured large parts of Tskhinvali.[40] At about 14:00, the tide of the Georgian operation turned.[150] Georgian flank operations failed to block the Gupta bridge and the main roads to Tshkinvali from the Roki Tunnel and the Java base.[151] The Russian Air Force mounted attacks on Georgian infantry and artillery on 8 August, but suspended sorties for two days after taking early losses from anti-aircraft fire.[152] In the evening Georgian forces withdrew from the centre of Tskhinvali.[151]

The passage of Russian forces through the narrow Roki Tunnel and along the mountain roads was slow; the Russians had difficulty concentrating their troops, forcing them to bring their forces into battle battalion by battalion.[11] A fierce battle took place on 9 August in the region of Tskhinvali, and the Georgians mounted several counterattacks, including some with tanks.[11] The attacks were repulsed with Georgian losses, and they withdrew.[151] That day a Russian advance column, led by Lieutenant-General Anatoly Khrulyov, was ambushed by Georgian special forces in Tskhinvali; Khrulyov was wounded in the leg.[153] Because of their gradual troop increase, Russian forces in South Ossetia outnumbered the Georgians on 9 August.[96]

According to Moscow Defence Brief, by the morning of 10 August the Georgians captured almost all of Tskhinvali and forced Ossetian militia and Russian forces to retreat to the northern part of the city. The fighting took a turn toward the evening of 10 August, when Russian and Ossetian troops (bolstered by Russian reinforcements from the Roki Tunnel) counterattacked. By the end of 11 August, South Ossetia was cleared of Georgian forces.[11]

According to the Georgian Defence Minister, the Georgian military tried to push into Tskhinvali three times. During the last attempt they were met with a heavy counterattack, which Georgian officers described as "something like hell."[131] Fighting in the Tskhinvali area lasted for three days and nights.[154] According to the EU fact-finding mission, 10,000–11,000 soldiers took part in the Georgian military operation in South Ossetia.[7] The fighting throughout South Ossetia lasted for four days.[11]

Russian forces advanced into Georgia. Retreating from South Ossetia, the Georgian forces regrouped at Gori.[11]

Bombing and occupation of Gori

Main article: Occupation of Gori
Large, severely-damaged building
Apartment building in Gori, damaged during the war

Gori is a strategic city in central Georgia,[155] about 25 km (16 mi) from Tskhinvali.[156] On 9 August a Russian air attack targeted military barracks in Gori, damaging the base, several apartment buildings and a school. Russia denied deliberately targeting civilians.[157] The Georgian government reported that 60 civilians died by bombing.[158] Russian aircraft had bombed at least five Georgian cities by 9 August.[44]

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and World Food Programme estimated that about 80 percent of residents had left Gori as of 10 August.[159] The Georgian forces retreated from Gori on 11 August. A Georgian official said that the troops were ordered to defend Tbilisi.[160] By late 11 August, Gori was deserted after most remaining residents and Georgian troops had fled.[161]

Two men looking at a missile lying across a sofa
Nearly-intact Russian missile booster in the bedroom of a Gori house

Dutch television journalist Stan Storimans was killed and another foreign correspondent injured when Russian warplanes bombed Gori on 12 August;[161] seven people were killed, and over thirty injured.[162] Georgian officials said that Russian forces targeted the city's administrative buildings. The Gori University and the city's post office were ablaze after the bombings.[161] Despite the fact that it was flying a Red Cross flag, the Gori Military Hospital was struck by a missile, killing one doctor.[163][164]

Russian forces occupied Gori on 13 August.[53] Military spokesmen said that they were removing military hardware and ammunition from an abandoned arms depot outside the city.[165] On 14 August, Major General Vyacheslav Borisov (Russian commander of the occupying troops) told Aleksandre Lomaia, secretary of Georgia's National Security Council, that the residents of Gori were not disturbed by the Russians' presence.[166] That day Borisov claimed that Gori was jointly controlled by the Georgian police and Russian troops. He also said that Russian troops would begin leaving Gori in two days.[167] Joint patrol efforts by the Russian Army and Georgian police in Gori soon broke down.[53] The next day, Russian forces pushed to about 40 kilometres (25 mi) from Tbilisi and stopped in Igoeti. The move coincided with Condoleezza Rice's meeting with Georgian president Saakashvili.[168]

Russian forces denied some humanitarian aid missions trying to assist civilians access. The United Nations, which described the situation in Gori as "desperate", was able to deliver only limited food supplies to the city.[169] Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that its researchers interviewed Georgians from Gori and the surrounding villages who described armed South Ossetian militias attacking their cars and kidnapping civilians trying to flee attacks on their homes after the Russian advance. Villagers in the region told HRW by telephone that they witnessed looting and arson by South Ossetian militias, but were afraid to leave after learning about attacks on those who did flee.[169]

The occupation lasted until 22 August, when Russian troops left and Georgian police re-entered the city.[170]

Abkhaz front

Grey military ship with missiles
Russian guided-missile ship 12341 Mirazh (Mirage) in Sevastopol

On 10 August, a naval skirmish between the Russian warships and several Georgian ships took place.[171] According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, four Georgian missile boats attempted to attack the Russian Navy ships off Abkhazia. The Russian navy opened fire and one Georgian vessel was sunk.[172] The shots were most likely fired by the Russian patrol ship Mirazh.[173] Abkhaz officials said that on 9 August several Georgian warships tried to approach the Abkhaz coast, but were deterred by Russian vessels.[174] The Georgian coast was blockaded by vessels of the Russian Black Sea Fleet on 10 August.[43][46][47]

Russian forces opened a "second front" in Abkhazia.[11] On 11 August, Russian paratroopers deployed in Abkhazia occupied the city of Zugdidi and carried out raids against military bases in western Georgia.[11] Russian forces reached the town of Senaki on 11 August, and seized a military base.[175]

Abkhaz aircraft and artillery began a two-day bombardment against Georgian forces on 9 August.[176] Three days later, Abkhaz authorities announced a military offensive against Georgian troops in the Kodori Gorge area.[46] Russian forces supported the Abkhaz operation.[11] Abkhaz foreign minister Sergei Shamba said that "Russian troops were not involved" in the operation.[177] That day, Georgia said it withdrew its troops from the Kodori Gorge as a "goodwill gesture".[178] Casualties were light on both sides; one Abkhaz soldier was accidentally killed by his comrades,[23] and two Georgian soldiers were also killed.[179] About 2,000 people living in the Kodori Gorge fled.[180]

Occupation of Poti

Main article: Occupation of Poti

Russian warships were deployed near Georgian Black Sea ports, including Poti, on 10 August 2008.[46] The next day, Georgian and Russian officials said that Russian forces had entered Poti (although Russia claimed it had only sent a reconnaissance mission).[181] On 13 August Russian troops in Poti destroyed six Georgian naval vessels.[182][183] Russian deputy chief of the General staff, Anatoliy Nogovitsyn, denied the Russian presence in the port the following day.[184] On 19 August Russian forces in Poti took twenty-one Georgian soldiers prisoner and seized five US Humvees, taking them to a Georgian military base occupied by Russian troops in Senaki.[185] That day, The Wall Street Journal said that Russian actions in Poti was another blow to Georgia's economy.[186]

Bombing of Tbilisi

During the fighting in South Ossetia, Tbilisi and its surrounding area underwent repeated attacks by the Russian Air Force. On 8 August, the Georgian Interior Ministry reported that a Russian fighter dropped two bombs on Vaziani Military Base near the city.[187][188] Russian military aircraft bombed a Georgian military airbase in Marneuli, killing three soldiers.[189] Correspondents for Reuters in Tbilisi reported hearing three loud bangs in the early-morning hours of 10 August, and a Georgian Interior Ministry senior official said that Russian jet fighters dropped three bombs on Tbilisi International Airport.[190] Russia bombed the Tbilisi Aircraft Manufacturing plant twice that day, and a radar station near Tbilisi the following day.[191]

Media and cyber war

During the war, a battle over information and the media was waged.[50] Russian forces started an information campaign against Georgian forces, and brought in Russian journalists to both criticise Georgia and to portray Russia as a saviour to Russian citizens in the conflict zone. They also used television footage to demonise the Georgians and vindicate Russian actions. This footage was aired in the conflict zone, and had a strong effect on the local populations of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In a first for Russia, a Russian Armed Forces spokesman was provided to give television interviews about the war. Despite these tactics, however, the Russian information campaign was not successful outside the combat zone, in either Georgia proper or internationally.[192] In response to the perceived information war, the Georgian government halted the broadcasting of Russian television channels in Georgia and blocked access to Russian websites.[193] These information skirmishes between Georgia and Russia continued after armed hostilities had ended.[50]

Georgian government and news websites, along with Russian news websites, were attacked by hackers, disabling host servers.[194][195][196][197] According to some experts, it was the first time in history a known cyberattack coincided with a shooting war.[49]

Peace plan

Two men standing at podiums
Joint press conference by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy after negotiations on the peace plan

On 12 August, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that he had ordered to cease "peace enforcement" operation in Georgia.[45] "The operation has achieved its goal, security for peacekeepers and civilians has been restored. The aggressor was punished, suffering huge losses."[52] Later that day he met the President-in-Office of the European Union, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and approved a six-point peace plan;[51] President Saakashvili signed a preliminary ceasefire agreement brought from Moscow by Sarkozy.[11] The plan originally had four points, but Russia insisted on an additional two. Georgia requested that the additions be parenthesised; Russia objected, and Sarkozy prevailed upon Saakashvili to sign the agreement.[198] According to Sarkozy and Saakashvili, a sixth point in the Sarkozy plan was deleted with Medvedev's consent.[199] On 14 August, South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity and Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh also signed the peace plan.[200] The following day Condoleezza Rice travelled to Tbilisi, where Saakashvili signed the plan in her presence.[201] On 16 August, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the peace plan.[202]

The peace plan embodied the following principles:[198]

  • Do not resort to the use of force
  • Definitively cease hostilities
  • Free access to humanitarian assistance (addition rejected: "and to permit the return of refugees")
  • Georgian Armed Forces must withdraw to their usual barracks
  • Russian Armed Forces must withdraw to the lines held prior to the beginning of hostilities. Before the international mechanisms are established, Russian peacekeeping forces will take additional security measures. (addition rejected: "six months")
  • An international debate on the long-term security of South Ossetia and Abkhazia will start. (addition rejected: "based on the decisions of the UN and the OSCE")

After the ceasefire was signed, hostilities did not immediately end. According to Moscow Defence Brief, raids began on Georgian territory to capture and destroy Georgian weapons and equipment in what was termed the "demilitarization of the Georgian Armed Forces".[11] Noting that civilians were fleeing before advancing Russian tanks, soldiers and irregulars, a reporter wrote for The Guardian on 13 August that "the idea there is a ceasefire is ridiculous."[203]

On 8 September, Sarkozy and Medvedev signed a new agreement on a Russian withdrawal from Georgia. After meeting with the French president, Medvedev said the withdrawal depended on guarantees that Georgia would not again use force;[204] his troops would pull out "from the zones adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia to the line preceding the start of hostilities". However, he did not mention withdrawing troops from South Ossetia or Abkhazia.[205]

Aftermath

Russian withdrawal

Territories controlled by Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh after August 2008

On 17 August, Medvedev announced that Russian forces would begin withdrawing the following day;[206] Russia and Georgia exchanged prisoners of war on 19 August. A Georgian official said that although his country exchanged five Russian servicemen for fifteen Georgians (including two civilians), Georgia suspected that Russia still held two more Georgians.[207] On 22 August, Russian forces withdrew from Igoeti and Georgian police advanced towards Gori.[208] Russia claimed that its military withdrawal was completed; however, Russian checkpoints remained near Gori and two Russian observation posts remained near Poti.[209] On 13 September, Russian troops began withdrawing from western Georgia. By 11:00 MSK, the posts near Poti were abandoned, followed by withdrawals from Senaki and Khobi.[210] On 8 October Russian forces withdrew from the buffer zones adjacent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The control of zones was handed over to the EU monitoring mission in Georgia.[55]

A single checkpoint remained in the border village of Perevi. On 12 December, Russian forces withdrew; eight hours later the Russian troops re-occupied the village, and Georgian police withdrew after the Russians threatened to fire.[211] Russian forces then manned three checkpoints in the village. On 18 October 2010 all Russian troops in Perevi withdrew to South Ossetia, and a Georgian Army unit moved in.[212]

On 9 September 2008, Russia announced that its troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia would remain under bilateral agreements with their respective governments. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that a military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia was necessary to prevent Georgia from regaining control.[6] Georgia considers Abkhazia and South Ossetia Russian-occupied territories.[213] In 2010 Lithuania became the first European country to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia as occupied territories.[214] In 2014, when tensions between Ukraine and Russia escalated, US Secretary of State John Kerry denounced Russia's continued military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in violation of the ceasefire.[59]

Recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Russia

On 25 August 2008, the Russian parliament unanimously urged President Medvedev to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.[215] On 26 August 2008 Medvedev signed a decree recognising the two states,[216] saying that recognising the independence of the two republics "represents the only possibility to save human lives."[5]

The unilateral recognition by Russia was condemned by the United States, NATO, the G7, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the OSCE chairman because of its violation of Georgia's territorial integrity, United Nations Security Council resolutions and the ceasefire agreement.[217][218][219][220][221] Russia sought support for its recognition from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. However, because of concerns about separatist regions in SCO states (especially China), the organisation did not support recognition.[222][223]

In response to Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Georgian government cut diplomatic relations with Russia.[54]

International monitors

The mandate of the OSCE mission in Georgia expired on 1 January 2009, after Russia vetoed its extension. OSCE monitors had been denied access to South Ossetia since the war.[224] The mandate of the UNOMIG expired on 16 June 2009. Russia also vetoed its extension, arguing that the mandate did not properly reflect Russia's position (recognising Abkhazia as an independent state). According to UN mission head Johan Verbeke, about 60,000 ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia would be left unprotected after the mission's end.[225]

As of 1 December 2014, 267 European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) monitors operate in Georgia and 2 in Brussels.[226] Russia does not allow EUMM monitors into Abkhazia and South Ossetia.[225][227]

Humanitarian impact and war crimes

Group of people, primarily women
South Ossetian refugees in a camp in Alagir, North Ossetia
One-story house on fire
A burning house in the Georgian village of Kekhvi, on the road from Tskhinvali to Java.

According to HRW all parties seriously violated the law of war, resulting in many civilian casualties.[228] The South Ossetian parliament building and several schools and nurseries were used as defence positions or operational posts by South Ossetian forces and volunteer militias, and targeted by Georgian artillery fire. Georgia stated that the attacks only intended to "neutralize firing positions from where Georgian positions were being targeted." HRW documented witness accounts that civilian objects were used by South Ossetian forces (making them legitimate military targets), concluding that South Ossetian forces were responsible for endangering civilians by setting up defensive positions in near (or in) civilian structures. Georgia was responsible for indiscriminate attacks, with little concern for minimising civilian risk.[229]

The Russian military used indiscriminate force in South Ossetia and the Gori district, apparently targeting civilian convoys attempting to flee the conflict zones.[230] Russian warplanes bombed civilian population centres in Georgia and Georgian villages in South Ossetia.[230] Armed gangs and Ossetian militia engaged in looting, arson attacks, rape and abductions in Georgian areas under Russian control, forcing the civilian population to flee.[3][230] HRW called the conflict a civilian disaster, calling for international organisations to send fact-finding missions to establish the facts, report on human rights and urge authorities to account for crimes committed.[230]

It was reported that Georgians and Russians used M85S and RBK 250 cluster bombs, causing civilian casualties. Georgia was also reported to have used cluster munitions twice to hit civilians fleeing through the main escape route, and admitted using cluster bombs against Russian troops and in the area of Roki Tunnel.[231] Russia denied using cluster bombs.[232][233]

Human Rights Watch reported that during the war, South Ossetians burned and looted most ethnic-Georgian villages in South Ossetia (preventing 20,000 residents displaced by the conflict from returning).[48] Civilians willing to live in South Ossetia were forced to accept a Russian passport.[234][235] According to Memorial, the villages of Kekhvi, Kurta, Achabeti, Tamarasheni, Eredvi, Vanati and Avnevi were "virtually fully burnt down".[236] South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity said in an interview that Georgian villages had been demolished, and no Georgian refugees would be allowed to return.[237] The EU commission reported that "several elements suggest the conclusion" that ethnic cleansing was practised against Georgians in South Ossetia during and after the war.[238]

Large group of small, identical homes
Tserovani, one of the villages built by the Georgian government for IDPs from the conflict zone

Russian officials initially claimed that up to 2,000 Ossetian civilians were killed by Georgian forces; these high casualty figures were, according to Russia, the reason for the military intervention in Georgia.[149] Claims of high casualties influenced public opinion among Ossetians; according to HRW, some Ossetian residents they interviewed justified torching and looting Georgian villages by referring to "thousands of civilian casualties in South Ossetia" reported by Russian television.[149] Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, reported in September 2008 that he received 133 confirmed deaths from Russian authorities.[231]

Georgia and South Ossetia have filed complaints with international courts, including the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights.[239][240][241]

The war displaced 192,000 people (both Ossetians and Georgians),[57] and while many were able to return to their homes after the war, a year later around 30,000 ethnic Georgians remained displaced.[242] As of May 2014, 20,272 persons remain displaced whose return is denied by the separatist authorities.[58]

Infrastructure damage

Map of Georgia, indicating defence plants
1993 US map of Georgia's defence industry: Tbilaviamsheni, an aircraft-assembly plant in Tbilisi which was bombed during the war, and component plants in other cities

On 12 August, local authorities claimed that about 70 percent of Tskhinvali's buildings (public and private) had been damaged during the Georgian military operation.[243] According to later Russian statements, about 20 percent of Tskhinvali's buildings had been damaged and 10 percent were "beyond repair".[244] In late August, South Ossetian parliament deputy speaker Tarzan Kokoity claimed that according to a preliminary assessment, Georgian damage in South Ossetia was valued at 100 billion rubles.[245]

According to HRW, during the night of 7–8 August Georgian forces heavily shelled Tskhinvali and several nearby Ossetian villages; the city was also heavily shelled during the daytime on 8 August. HRW reported that South Ossetian fighters took up positions in civilian locations (including schools), turning them into military targets. Several of these locations were then hit by Georgian artillery.[229] Shelling resumed on a smaller scale on 9 August, when Georgian forces targeted Russian troops who had moved into Tskhinvali and other areas of South Ossetia.[229]

The Georgian government reported that Tskhinvali was largely reduced to rubble as a result of Russian air attacks.[246] "When aircraft started bombing our positions in Tskhinvali, this is when most civilian buildings were burned", explained Davit Kezerashvili.[131] Russian journalist Yulia Latynina also blamed Russia for damaging the city, saying that when Georgian forces entered Tskhinvali it was intact. After they were driven out by the Russians, the city was in ruins.[247]

Russia bombed airfields and other economic infrastructure, including the Black Sea port of Poti. Eight to eleven Russian jets reportedly hit container tanks and a shipbuilding plant in the port.[248] On 15 August 2008 Russian forces advancing towards Tbilisi blew up the railway bridge near Kaspi, about 50 km (31 mi) from the Georgian capital. The cement factory and civilian area in Kaspi were also reportedly damaged by Russian air raids.[249] The destruction of the railway bridge disrupted Georgian east-west communications and Armenia's main trade route.[250]

The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) released a series of detailed satellite maps of the regions affected by the war, acquired on 19 August from UNOSAT.[251] Damage was assessed primarily from satellite images with a resolution of 50 cm. Since it was an initial assessment, it was not independently validated on the ground. UNOSAT reported that 230 buildings in Tskhinvali (5.5 percent of the total) were destroyed or severely damaged. In the villages north of the city, up to 51.9 percent of buildings were damaged.[252] UNOSAT provided imagery of six Georgian naval vessels partially or completely submerged in Poti; no other damage to physical infrastructure or ship-related oil spills were revealed.[253]

HRW used the satellite images to confirm the widespread burning of ethnic-Georgian villages by Ossetian militia in South Ossetia.[254] Amnesty International noted that the most of the damage in Tskhinvali was sustained on or before 10 August and was likely caused by the intense fighting between the Georgian and Russian militaries around 8 August. However, a number of Georgian villages near Tskhinvali were damaged after the major hostilities ended.[255]

Reactions

International reaction

Woman and man standing in front of podiums, with flags in background
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili at a Tbilisi press conference, August 2008
Placard showing Vladimir Putin preparing to consume Georgia
Demonstration in Tbilisi on 12 August for a free, undivided Georgia; the sign says "imperial appetites" in Russian
Smaller military boat passing a larger one
Georgian Coast Guard patrol boat P-24 Sokhumi passes the USS McFaul on its arrival at the port of Batumi

The actions of Russia during the war were heavily criticised by some western countries:

  • United Kingdom – British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on 9 August, "Russia has extended the fighting today well beyond South Ossetia, attacking the Georgian port of Poti, and the town of Gori, while Abkhaz forces have been shelling Georgian positions in the Upper Kodori valley. I deplore this."[256]
  • United States – US president George W. Bush said, "Russia has invaded a sovereign neighbouring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century."[257] The US Embassy in Georgia, describing a Matthew Bryza press conference, called the war an "incursion by one of the world's strongest powers to destroy the democratically-elected government of a smaller neighbor".[258] Bush later said, "Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century."[259] Although the Bush administration considered a military response to defend Georgia, it was ruled out because of the conflict it would provoke with Russia.[260][261] Instead, Bush opted to send humanitarian supplies to Georgia on military (rather than civilian) aircraft.[261] US sanctions against Russia imposed by the Bush administration were lifted by the Obama administration in May 2010.[262]
  • Poland – The presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine and the prime minister of Latvia (Lech Kaczyński, Valdas Adamkus, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Viktor Yushchenko and Ivars Godmanis), who met with Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili at Kaczyński's initiative, appeared at a 12 August 2008 Tbilisi rally held in front of the parliament which was attended by nearly 150,000 people. The crowd responded enthusiastically to the Polish president's speech, chanting "Poland, Poland", "Friendship, Friendship" and "Georgia, Georgia".[263] Godmanis, Yushchenko, Kaczynski, Ilves and Adamkus held their joined hands aloft to cheers from spectators in the Georgian national colours of red and white, waving flags of the US, the European Union, France, Estonia, Lithuania and Ukraine.[264]
  • Hungary – Hungarian opposition leader Viktor Orbán drew parallels between the Russian intervention and the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.[265]
  • Ukraine – Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko said that he intended to increase the rent for the Russian naval base at Sevastopol in the Crimea.[266]

France and Germany took an intermediate position, refraining from naming a culprit:[267]

  • European Union – On 8 August, France (who held the rotating presidency of the European Union) announced that the EU and the US would send a joint delegation to negotiate a ceasefire.[268]
  • Germany – German chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her concern about the humanitarian situation in Georgia and called for immediate ceasefire.[269]

A few leaders supported Russia's position:

Georgia announced on 12 August 2008 that it would leave the Commonwealth of Independent States, which it blamed for failing to prevent the conflict. Its departure became effective in August 2009.[271]

According to academic Martin Malek, western countries considered relations with Russia too important to risk a worsening relationship over "tiny and insignificant" Georgia. He wrote in the Caucasian Review of International Affairs that western policy makers did not want to isolate Russia because its support was necessary to solve "international problems".[56] The war eliminated Georgia's prospects for joining NATO, as it had hoped to do in the years before the war.[77][272]

NATO reaction in the Black Sea

NATO increased its naval presence in the Black Sea significantly, with ships docking in Georgian ports,[273] and (according to the US Navy) delivering humanitarian aid.[274] NATO said that its increased presence in the Black Sea was not related to the Georgian crisis; its vessels were conducting routine visits and carrying out preplanned naval exercises with Romania and Bulgaria.[275][276] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev questioned the claim that ships going to Georgia were bringing only humanitarian assistance, alleging the delivery of military support.[277] Russian General Anatoliy Nogovitsyn reminded NATO of the limit on the number of vessels allowed in the Black Sea under the 1936 Montreux convention.[278] According to political analyst Vladimir Socor the United States maintained an uninterrupted naval presence in the Black Sea (constrained by the Montreux Convention's limitations on naval tonnage and duration of naval visits), rotating its Black Sea ships at intervals consistent with that convention.[279]

Combatants

Georgian order of battle

According to Moscow Defence Brief, an English-language defence magazine published by the Russian non-governmental organisation, Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, the Georgians concentrated troops and equipment on the South Ossetian border in early August under the guise of providing support for an exchange of fire with South Ossetian formations. The Georgian forces included the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Infantry Brigades, the Artillery Brigade, elements of the 1st Infantry Brigade and the separate Gori Tank Battalion, plus special forces and Ministry of Internal Affairs troops—as many as 16,000 troops, according to the magazine.[11]

The Georgian army contained five infantry brigades. A tank battalion was stationed at Gori.[280] According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, when the war began the Georgians had amassed ten light infantry battalions of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th infantry brigades, special forces and an artillery brigade (totaling about 12,000 troops).[12] The 4th Brigade carried out the primary mission of capturing Tskhinvali, with the 2nd and 3rd Brigades providing support.[12] The 1st Infantry Brigade, the only one trained to NATO standards, was serving in Iraq at the beginning of the war;[281] on 11 August, the United States Air Force airlifted it to Georgia.[282]

Russo-South Ossetian-Abkhaz order of battle

According to an estimate in Der Spiegel, there were 500 Russian soldiers and 500 South Ossetian fighters initially defending Tskhinvali.[129] The Russian order of battle involved a significant portion of the Russian 58th Army.[283] According to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies the 58th Army is one of Russia's premier combat formations, boasting more than twice the number of troops, five times the number of tanks, ten times the number of armoured personnel carriers and twelve times the number of combat aircraft as the Georgian Armed Forces.[283]

Military analysis

Georgia

Analysts said that air defence was "one of the few effective elements of the country's military", crediting the SA-11 Buk-1M with shooting down a Tupolev-22M bomber and contributing to the loss of some Su-25s;[288] this view was echoed by independent Russian analysis.[152] Russian deputy chief of general staff Col. Gen. Anatoliy Nogovitsyn said the Soviet-made Tor and Buk anti-aircraft missile systems, bought by Georgia from Ukraine, were responsible for downing Russian aircraft during the war.[289] A Russian assessment, reported by Roger McDermott, said that Russian losses would have been significantly higher if the Georgians had not abandoned a portion of their Buk-M1 systems near Senaki (in western Georgia) and several Osa missile launchers in South Ossetia.[290] According to some reports, Georgia had a battery of the Israeli-made SPYDER-SR short-range self-propelled anti-aircraft system.[291] The Georgian air-defence early-warning and command-control tactical system was connected to a NATO Air Situation Data Exchange (ASDE) via Turkey, allowing the country to receive data directly from the unified NATO air-defence system.[291]

Georgia has said that its decisive vulnerabilities were its weaker air power and its inability to communicate effectively during combat.[292] Konstantin Makienko of CAST saw inadequate pilot training as the primary reason for the low efficiency of Georgian air raids.[152] According to Georgian first deputy defence minister Batu Kutelia, Georgia would need a sophisticated, multi-layered air-defence system to defend its airspace.[292] However, Western military officers experienced with Georgian military forces suggested that Georgia's military shortcomings were too great to be eliminated by equipment upgrades.[292] According to a 2 September 2008 New York Times article, "Georgia's Army fled ahead of the Russian Army's advance, turning its back and leaving Georgian civilians in an enemy's path. Its planes did not fly after the first few hours of contact. Its navy was sunk in the harbor, and its patrol boats were hauled away by Russian trucks on trailers."[292]

A Western military officer reported that Georgia's logistical preparations were poor, and its units interfered with each other in the field.[292] The Georgian Army never conducted exercises pitting its forces against a potential adversary: the 58th Army. During the war, communications failed in the mountains and troops resorted to mobile phones. There was insufficient planning; according to Giorgi Tavdgiridze, no calculations were made of how to block the Roki Tunnel connecting North and South Ossetia. The arrival of 10,000 Georgian reservists in Gori on 9 August was poorly organised; they had no specific targets, and returned to Tbilisi the following day. With very little video recording of military action, journalists called it the war "that was hidden from history."[9] According to their American trainers, although Georgian soldiers had "warrior spirit" they were unprepared for combat.[281] Georgia had few well-trained, educated officers in its higher ranks,[293] and Saakashvili's government had no military experience.[294]

Russia

The Russian Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (C³I) performed poorly during the conflict.[290] The Russian communication systems were obsolete, with a 58th Army commander allegedly communicating with his combat forces via a satellite phone borrowed from a journalist.[290] Without the modern GLONASS, precision-guided munitions could not be used; the US-controlled GPS was unavailable, since the war zone was blacked out.[290] The Russian defence minister failed to authorise unmanned aerial vehicles;[290] an RIA Novosti editorial said that Russian forces lacked dependable aerial-reconnaissance systems and a Tupolev Tu-22M3 bomber was used for a reconnaissance mission.[295] However, Russian reconnaissance battalions and regiments were also deployed during the war.[296] General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the General staff, said that no new arms were tested during the war.[297]

The RIA Novosti editorial also said that Russian Su-25 ground-attack jets lacked radar sights, computers for calculating ground-target coordinates and long-range surface-to-air missiles which could be launched outside enemy air-defence areas.[295] Opposition-affiliated Russian analyst Konstantin Makienko observed the poor performance of the Russian Air Force: "It is totally unbelievable that the Russian Air Force was unable to establish air superiority almost to the end of the five-day war, despite the fact that the enemy had no fighter aviation."[152]

According to Russian expert Anton Lavrov, on 8 August Russian and South Ossetian troops deployed in South Ossetia were unaware that Russian aviation was involved in the war. Russian aircraft were frequently assessed as hostile by Russian troops and South Ossetians, and were fired upon before they could be accurately identified.[298] The air force flew 63 sorties on 8 August to support Russian ground troops.[299] Russia lost a total of six aircraft during the war: one Su-25SM, two Su-25BMs, two Su-24Ms and one Tu-22M3; three were shot down by friendly fire.[300] Lavrov denied that Tu-22M was used for reconnaissance.[301]

There was also confusion about the command relationship between the North Caucasus Military District commander and the air force. Air-force operations were directed by commander-in-chief of the Air Force Colonel-General Aleksandr Zelin from his office on a mobile phone, without his entering the command post. He decided all matters concerning air operations, not meeting with his air-defence assistants. The air force was accused of failing to support ground operations.[290]

Swedish analysts Carolina Vendil Pallin and Fredrik Westerlund said about the performance of the Russian Black Sea Fleet that although the fleet did not meet serious opposition, it proved effective at planning and implementing elaborate manoeuvres.[302] A contributing factor to the speed of the Russian military victory was the opening of a second front in Abkhazia with mechanised infantry.[290]

Heritage Foundation researchers praised Russian general-staff planning, saying that the operations "were well prepared and well executed" and the Russian offensive achieved a strategic surprise.[303] A Reuters analyst described Russia's army as "strong but flawed"; the war demonstrated that Russia's "armed forces have emerged from years of neglect as a formidable fighting force, but revealed important deficiencies." The weaknesses, especially in missiles and air capability, left Russia still lagging behind the image of a world-class military power it projected to the rest of the world.[304] Unlike the Second Chechen War, Russia's force in Georgia was composed primarily of professional soldiers instead of conscripts.[305] Reuters reporters on the ground in Georgia saw disciplined, well-equipped troops. CAST director Ruslan Pukhov said that "the victory over the Georgian army ... should become for Russia not a cause for euphoria and excessive joy, but serve to speed up military transformations in Russia."[304] Roger McDermott wrote that slight differences in criticism by civilian media or official sources after the conflict was "an orchestrated effort by the government to 'sell' reform to the military and garner support among the populace."[290]

However, the Russian Army's professionalisation was not praised as success. General Vladimir Boldyrev admitted in September 2008 that many of the professional soldiers were no better trained than conscripts. Russian Airborne Troops conducted most of the ground fighting. Airborne troops could not be airlifted behind Georgian lines due to the Russian Air Force's inability to penetrate Georgian air defence. An ambush of a ground-troop commander, in which only five of thirty vehicles in his convoy survived, indicated intelligence and surveillance failures. Many Russian ground units were reportedly insufficiently supplied with ammunition.[293]

Equipment losses and cost

After the war Reuters cited Stratfor, which believed that Russia "has largely destroyed Georgia's war-fighting capability".[306] According to Moscow Defence Brief, Georgia lost its air and naval forces and its air-defence systems. The Georgian army lost large quantites of small arms to the Russians during the conflict.[11] Russian Ground Forces official Igor Konashenkov said that during the war the Russians captured 65 Georgian tanks, over 20 of which were destroyed because they were beyond repair or too old.[307] Russia estimated that the Georgian Air Force lost three Su-25 attack aircraft and two L-29 jets.[308] Three AN-2 aircraft were destroyed during the bombardment of Marneuli Air Force Base. On 11 August 2008, Russian airborne troops burned two Mi-24 helicopters and one Mi-14.[309] Georgian Defence Minister Davit Kezerashvili said that Georgia lost materiel worth $250 million.[9] According to Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, his country saved 95 percent of its armed forces.[9] The 4th Brigade suffered the heaviest casualties of any Georgian military unit.[12]

In 2009, Russian Army Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov claimed that Georgia was rearming, although the United States was not directly supplying weapons. According to Makarov, Georgian Armed Forces exceeded their pre-war strength in 2009.[310]

Russia confirmed the loss of three Su-25 strike aircraft, one Tu-22M3 long-range bomber,[289] at least three tanks, 20 armoured and 20 non-armoured vehicles.[311] Moscow Defence Brief provided a higher estimate, saying that Russian Air Force overall losses during the war amounted to one Tu-22M3 long-range bomber, one Su-24M Fencer fighter-bomber, one Su-24MR Fencer E reconnaissance plane and four Su-25 attack planes.[11] Anton Lavrov listed one Su-25SM, two Su-25BM, two Su-24M and one Tu-22M3 lost.[300] According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the five-day war cost Russia an estimated 12.5 billion rubles, a daily cost of 2.5 billion rubles.[312]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ South Ossetia's status is disputed. It considers itself to be an independent state, but this is recognised by only a few other countries. The Georgian government and most of the world's other states consider South Ossetia de jure a part of Georgia's territory.
  2. ^ Abkhazia's status is disputed. It considers itself to be an independent state, but this is recognised by only a few other countries. The Georgian government and most of the world's other states consider Abkhazia de jure a part of Georgia's territory. In Georgia's official subdivision it is an autonomous republic, whose government sits in exile in Tbilisi.
  3. ^ The war is known by a variety of other names, including Five-Day War, August War, 2008 South Ossetia War and Russian invasion of Georgia.

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