Russo-Georgian war

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Russo-Georgian War
Part of the Georgian–Abkhazian conflict and the Georgian–Ossetian conflict
2008 South Ossetia war en.svg
Location of Georgia (including Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and the Russian part of North Caucasus
Date 7–12 August 2008
Location South Ossetia, Abkhazia, uncontested Georgia
Result Russian/South Ossetian/Abkhazian military victory
Territorial
changes
Georgia loses control over parts of Abkhazia and former South Ossetia AO it previously held.
Belligerents
Georgia (country) Georgia Russia Russia
South Ossetia South Ossetia[6]
Abkhazia Abkhazia[7]
Commanders and leaders
Georgia (country) Mikheil Saakashvili (commander-in-chief)[8]
Georgia (country) Lado Gurgenidze (Prime Minister)
Georgia (country) Davit Kezerashvili (Defence Minister)[8]
Georgia (country) Alexandre Lomaia (National Security Council)
Georgia (country) Zaza Gogava (Chief of Joint Staff)
Georgia (country) David Nairashvili (Air Force commander)
Georgia (country) Mamuka Kurashvili (Peacekeepers)[9]
Georgia (country) Vano Merabishvili (Minister of Internal Affairs)
Russia Dmitry Medvedev (commander-in-chief)
Russia Vladimir Putin (Prime Minister)
Russia Anatoliy Serdyukov (Defence Minister)
Russia Vladimir Boldyrev
(Ground Forces)
Russia Anatoly Khrulyov (58th Army) (WIA)[10]

Russia Vyacheslav Borisov (76th Guards)[11]
Russia Marat Kulakhmetov (Peacekeepers)[12][13]
Russia Sulim Yamadayev (Vostok Battalion)
Russia Vladimir Shamanov (in Abkhazia)[14]
South Ossetia Eduard Kokoity (commander-in-chief)
South Ossetia Vasiliy Lunev (Ministry of Defence)[15]
South Ossetia Anatoly Barankevich (Ministry of Defence and Emergencies)
Abkhazia Sergei Bagapsh (commander-in-chief)
Abkhazia Anatoly Zaitsev (Ministry of Defence)[16]

Strength
Georgia (country) In South Ossetia: 10,000–11,000 soldiers.[17] 10,000 reservists[18]
2,000 soldiers in Iraq at the time.[19]

About 5,000 MIA Police Officers[20]

Russia In South Ossetia:
10,000 soldiers
In Abkhazia:
9,000 soldiers[21][22]
South Ossetia 3,000 regular soldiers[23]
Abkhazia 1,000 special troops[24]
Casualties and losses
Georgia (country) Georgia[25]
  • Killed: 170 (GAF)[25]
  • Wounded: 1,964 (GAF)[26]
  • Missing: 9 (GAF)[25]
  • POWs: 39 (GAF)[20]
Russia Russia[20][29][30]

South Ossetia South Ossetia[20]

  • Killed: 36
  • Wounded 79
  • POWs: 27[20]

Abkhazia Abkhazia[36]

  • Killed: 1
Civilian casualties:
South Ossetia: 162 according to Russia,[37] 365 citizens according to South Ossetia.[38][39] 255 wounded according to Russia.[37]

Georgia: 224 civilians killed and 15 missing, 547 injured[28]
One foreign civilian killed and 3 wounded[26]


Refugees:
At least 158,000 civilians displaced,[40] (including 30,000 South Ossetians that moved to Russia; and 15,000 Georgians from South Ossetia per UNHCR that moved to uncontested Georgia).[41] Estimate by Georgian official: at least 230,000.[42]

The Russo-Georgian War (also known as the 2008 South Ossetia War, Five-Day War or August War) was an armed conflict in August 2008 between Georgia on one side, and Russia and the separatist South Ossetia and Abkhazia on the other.

The 1991–92 South Ossetia War between ethnic Georgians and Ossetians had left slightly more than a half of South Ossetia under de facto control of a Russian-backed, internationally unrecognised government.[43][44] Most ethnic Georgian parts of South Ossetia remained under the control of Georgia (Akhalgori district, and most villages surrounding Tskhinvali), with Georgian, North Ossetian and Russian Joint peacekeeping force present in the territories. A similar situation existed in Abkhazia after the War in Abkhazia (1992–93).

Increasing tensions escalated during the summer months of 2008. Shelling by Ossetian separatists against Georgian villages began as early as August 1, thus drawing a sporadic response from Georgian peacekeepers and other fighters in the region.[45] Georgia launched a large-scale military offensive against South Ossetia during the night of 7 to 8 August 2008, in an attempt to reclaim the territory.[46] It stated that it was responding to attacks on its peacekeepers and villages in South Ossetia, and that Russia was moving non-peacekeeping units into the country.[47] Georgia successfully captured most of Tskhinvali within hours.[21] Russia reacted by deploying units of the Russian 58th Army and Russian Airborne Troops into South Ossetia on the same day, and launched airstrikes against Georgian forces in South Ossetia and military and logistical targets in Georgia proper.[48] Russia claimed these actions were a necessary humanitarian intervention and peace enforcement.[49]

Russian and Ossetian forces battled Georgian forces throughout South Ossetia for four days, the heaviest fighting taking place in Tskhinvali.[21] On 9 August, Russian naval forces allegedly blockaded a part of the Georgian coast and landed marines on the Abkhaz coast.[50] The Georgian Navy attempted to intervene, but was defeated in a naval skirmish.[51] Russian and Abkhaz forces opened a second front by attacking the Kodori Gorge, held by Georgia.[52] Georgian forces put up only minimal resistance, and Russian forces subsequently raided military bases in western Georgia. After the Georgian forces retreated, the Russians were able to enter uncontested Georgia and temporarily occupy the cities of Poti, Gori, Senaki, and Zugdidi.[21]

Through mediation by the French presidency of the European Union, the parties reached a preliminary ceasefire agreement on 12 August.[53] Several weeks after signing the ceasefire agreement, Russia mostly completed pulling most of its troops out of uncontested Georgia.[54] However Western officials insist the troops did not return to the line where they were stationed prior to the beginning of hostilities as described in the peace plan.[55][56] Russian forces remain stationed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia under bilateral agreements with the corresponding governments.[57] Georgia and its Western allies consider Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be occupied by Russian military.

Background[edit]

Ethnic map of the Caucasus from 1995. Ossetians live in North and South Ossetia, as well as in central Georgia.

The Soviet Georgian government established after the Red Army invasion of Georgia in 1921 created the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast in April 1922 under pressure from Kavburo (Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party).[58] Some argue that the autonomy was granted by the Bolsheviks to the Ossetians in return for their assistance in fighting against independent Georgia, because this territory had never been a separate principality before.[59]

A military conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia broke out in January 1991 when Georgia sent troops to subdue a South Ossetian separatist movement. The separatists were helped by former Soviet military units, who by now had come under Russian command.[43][44][60] The war resulted in South Ossetia breaking away from Georgia and gaining de facto independence. After the Sochi agreement in 1992, Tskhinvali was isolated from the Georgian territory around it and Russian, Georgian and South Ossetian peacekeepers were stationed in South Ossetia under the Joint Control Commission's (JCC) mandate of demilitarisation.[61] The situation was mirrored in Abkhazia, an Autonomous Republic within Georgia in the USSR, where the Abkhazian minority seceded from Georgia in a war in the early 1990s. Similar to South Ossetia, most of Abkhazia was controlled by an unrecognised government, while Georgia controlled other parts.[43][62] In May 2008, there were about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia, and about 1,000 Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia under the JCC's mandate.[63]

The conflict remained frozen until 2003 when Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in Georgia's Rose Revolution,[64] which ousted president Eduard Shevardnadze.[65] One of Saakashvili's main goals was Georgian NATO membership, which Russia opposes. This has been one of the main stumbling blocks in Georgia-Russia relations.[66][67] Restoring South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Georgian control has been seen as a top-priority goal of Saakashvili since he came to power.[68][69]

Emboldened by the success in restoring control in Adjara in early 2004, the Georgian government launched a push to retake South Ossetia.[69] Intense fighting took place between Georgian forces and South Ossetian militia between 8 and 19 August 2004. According to researcher Sergei Markedonov, the brief war in 2004 was a turning point for Russian policy in the region: Russia, which had previously aimed only to preserve the status-quo, now felt that the security of the whole Caucasus depended on the situation in South Ossetia, and took the side of South Ossetia.[70]

From 2004 to 2008, Georgia has repeatedly proposed broad autonomy for Abkhazia and South Ossetia within the unified Georgian state, but the proposals have been rejected by the secessionist authorities, who demanded full independence for the territory.[71][72] In 2006, the Georgian government set up what Russians said was a puppet government led by the former South Ossetian prime minister Dmitry Sanakoyev and granted to it a status of a provisional administration, alarming Tskhinvali and Moscow.[73][74] In 2006 Georgia sent police and security forces to the Kodori Gorge in eastern Abkhazia, when a local militia leader there had rebelled against the Georgian authorities. The presence of Georgian forces in the Kodori Gorge continued until the war in 2008.[70][75] President Saakashvili promised to bring the breakaway regions back under Georgian control during his re-election campaign in 2008.[76]

BTC pipeline (green) and planned Nabucco gas pipeline (tangerine).

The majority of the residents of South Ossetia are Russian citizens holding Russian passports.[77] From the viewpoint of Russian constitutional law, the legal position of Russian passport holders in South Ossetia is the same as that of Russian citizens living in Russia.[78] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stated that he would "protect the life and dignity of Russian citizens wherever they are".[77] According to an EU report, this position is inconsistent with international law, which considers the vast majority of purportedly naturalised persons as not Russian citizens.[79] According to Reuters, prior to the war Russia was supplying two thirds of South Ossetia's annual budget.[80] Moreover, Russian officials already had de facto control over South Ossetia's institutions, including security institutions and security forces, and South Ossetia's de facto government was largely staffed with Russian representatives and South Ossetians with Russian passports who had previously worked in equivalent government positions in Russia.[78] In mid-April, 2008, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Russian PM Vladimir Putin had given instructions to the federal government whereby Russia would pursue economic, diplomatic, and administrative relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia as with the de facto subjects of Russia.[81]

Although Georgia has no significant oil or gas reserves of its own, its territory hosts part of the important Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline transit route that supplies western and central Europe.[82] It has been a key factor for the United States' support for Georgia, allowing the West to reduce its reliance on Middle Eastern oil while bypassing Russia and Iran.[83]

Prelude[edit]

Military buildup[edit]

Situation in South Ossetia before the war.

During 2008, both Georgia and Russia accused each other of preparing for war.[63][84]

On 16 April Russia's president Vladimir Putin signed a decree authorising direct official relations between Russian government bodies and the secessionist authorities in Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia.[85]

On 20 April, a Russian jet shot down a Georgian reconnaissance drone flying over Abkhazia.[86][87] After the incident Saakashvili deployed 12,000 Georgian troops to Senaki.[87][88] Georgia showed the BBC video footage, which Georgia said proved Russian troops deploying heavy military hardware in the breakaway region of Abkhazia and they were a fighting force, not peacekeepers. Russia strongly denied the accusations.[89] Both countries also accused each other of flying jets over South Ossetia, violating the ceasefire.[90]

In late April 2008, Russia said that Georgia was massing 1,500 soldiers and police in the upper Kodori Gorge area and planning to invade the breakaway region of Abkhazia.[91] Russia said it was boosting its forces in the separatist regions and would "retaliate" against Georgian attack.[92] Later, UNOMIG denied any build up in the Kodori Gorge or near the Abkhazian border by either sides.[93][94]

In May Russia increased the number of its military peacekeepers in Abkhazia to 2,542. Even after the increase, troop levels still remained within the 3,000 limit imposed by a 1994 decision of Commonwealth of Independent States heads of state.[95][96] On May 31, 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.[63]

From July to early August, Georgia and Russia conducted two parallel military exercises, the joint US-Georgian Immediate Response 2008 and the Russian Caucasus Frontier 2008.[97][98] The Russian troops remained by the Georgian border instead of returning to their bases after the end of their exercise on 2 August.[94] The Georgian 4th Brigade, which later participated in the war, took part in the Georgian exercise along with 1,000 American troops. This caused Russia to accuse the United States of helping Georgian attack preparations.[22] After the exercise, the Georgian Artillery Brigade, normally based in two locations, in Senaki and in Gori, was concentrated in Gori, 25 km (16 mi) from the South Ossetian border.[99] According to Colonel Wolfgang Richter, a leading military adviser to the German OSCE mission, Georgia concentrated troops along the South Ossetian border in July.[99]

On 5 August, Russian ambassador-at-large Yuri Popov declared that his country would intervene in the event of military conflict.[100] Dmitry Medoyev, a South Ossetian presidential envoy, declared in Moscow that volunteers were already arriving, primarily from North Ossetia, in the region of South Ossetia to offer help in the event of Georgian aggression.[101]

According to Moscow Defense Brief, an English-language defence magazine published by the Russian non-governmental organization, Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, the Georgians appear to have secretly concentrated a significant number of troops and equipment to the South Ossetian border in early August, under the cover of providing support for the exchange of fire with South Ossetian formations. The Georgian forces included the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Infantry Brigades, the Artillery Brigade, elements of the 1st Infantry Brigade, and the separate Gori Tank Battalion, plus special forces and Ministry of the Internal Affairs troops  — as many as 16,000 men, according to the publication.[21] International Institute for Strategic Studies and Western intelligence experts give a lower estimate, saying that the Georgians had amassed about 12,000 troops on the South Ossetian border by 7 August.[22][102] On the opposite side, there were said to be 500 Russian soldiers and 500 South Ossetian fighters defending Tskhinvali, according to an estimate quoted by Der Spiegel.[103]

Military plans[edit]

According to the study conducted by Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, the Georgian government drew up a military plan to attack South Ossetia. The Georgians hoped that their army, vastly superior to Ossetian forces, would take over South Ossetia within three or four days. After South Ossetia had been entirely overrun, a Georgian-backed government, the Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia, would be installed under the leadership of Dmitry Sanakoyev. Subsequently, some 40,000 Georgian reservists, whose training was due to be completed by the time the war began, would maintain Georgian "occupation" of the territory and conduct counterinsurgency operations against any remaining pockets of resistance.[104]

Under the plan, Georgian forces with artillery support would advance rapidly into South Ossetia; one infantry brigade would take the village of Khetagurovo, west of Tskhinvali, while another would take the key Prisi Heights and the villages of Dmenis and Sarabuk, to the east of the city. The two brigades would then go around the Tskhinvali and link up at a village north of it, effectively encircling the city. They would then advance towards the village of Java and the Roki Tunnel to block Russian reinforcements. At the same time, Georgian units from the Interior Ministry and army special forces supported by artillery would take Tskhinvali. Battalion-sized groups would take over the secondary targets: Leningor and Znaur districts and the village of Kvaysa.[104]

The Georgian plan completely overlooked the possibility of Russian intervention, with no apparent preparations for clashes with Russian troops, and no reasonable precautions were taken to provide air defense cover for Georgian troops in the event of Russian air attacks. Georgian soldiers were not informed that a clash with Russian troops was a possibility. It has been speculated that the Georgian government was planning to prevent or delay Russian involvement by offering safety guarantees for Russian peacekeepers, with the hope that Russia would try diplomacy first. Once that failed, it would take several days for Russian troops to be deployed, by which time the Georgians would have already overrun South Ossetia and captured the Roki Tunnel, through which Russian forces would have to advance to enter South Ossetia.[104]

Russia was aware of this plan, and a decision was made to intervene in the event that it was carried out. After the Caucasus Frontier 2008 military exercise, two reinforced motorized rifle battalions were stationed permanently near the Russian border with South Ossetia. Their goal was to enter South Ossetia within hours of any Georgian offensive and help Russian peacekeepers. The Russian Air Force would provide support in fighting the Georgian offensive. Their goal would be to delay the Georgian offensive and prevent the Georgians from advancing deep into South Ossetia until reinforcements from Russia arrived. The nearest Russian units on permanent combat readiness would take an estimated 24–48 hours to arrive. If necessary, Russia would deploy mobile airborne units. Troops would also be deployed in Abkhazia in the event of a conflict.[104]

Pre-war clashes[edit]

On 14 June into the early morning of 15 June, clashes erupted in South Ossetia. South Ossetian authorities claimed that Georgian forces started shelling Tskhinvali with mortars from Georgian villages. Georgia claimed that it was responding to Ossetian shelling of the Georgian villages of Ergneti, Nikozi, and Prisi. One man was killed, and four were injured in the clashes. Several houses in the Georgian villages were also reportedly damaged. In a separate incident a 14-year-old boy was also injured by a land mine close to Ergneti, and subsequently died of his injuries.[105]

On 3 July the assassination attempt failed to kill Dmitry Sanakoyev, chairman of the Georgian-backed Ossetian government (the Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia), but injured his bodyguards. On 9 July four Russian Air Force jets performed a mission over South Ossetia to dissuade the Georgian Air Force from continuing UAV patrols in Ossetian airspace. Throughout July, a series of bomb blasts also targeted Georgian police patrols. Ossetian militia repeatedly fired on Georgian villages in South Ossetia, forcing Georgian police to return fire.[106]

Shelling by Ossetian separatists against Georgian villages began as early as August 1, thus drawing a sporadic response from Georgian peacekeepers and other fighters already in the region.[45][107] On the night of August 1–2, heavy exchanges of fire took place, which involved the use of grenade launches and mortars. Six Ossetians were killed and 15 were injured. Six Georgian civilians and one policeman were injured.[104] Each side accused the other of firing first.[108]

On 3 August, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned that an "extensive military conflict" was about to erupt. The evacuation of Ossetian women and children to Russia began.[103] Some 35,000 people were successfully evacuated from South Ossetia.[109] On 4 August, the South Ossetian media reported that Eduard Kokoity said that around 300 volunteers had already arrived from North Ossetia to help fight the Georgians and thousands more were expected from the North Caucasus.[110]

Starting with the night of 6–7 August there were continuous exchanges of artillery fire between both sides.[8][103][111]

At 2 p.m. on 7 August the Georgian peacekeeping checkpoint in Avnevi was shelled, killing two Georgian peacekeepers.[8] At around 2:30 p.m. Georgian tanks, 122mm howitzers, and 203mm self-propelled artillery guns began heading towards the administrative border of South Ossetia, in an effort to deter further separatist attacks.[112] In the afternoon OSCE monitors confirmed the move of Georgian artillery and Grad rocket launchers massing on roads north of Gori.[8][113] At 2:42 PM, according to Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, Georgia withdrew its personnel from the JPKF Headquarters in Tskhinvali.[114][115] At 3:45 PM, Georgian forces opened fire at targets in Khetagurovo and the southern outskirts of Tskhinvali, employing self-propelled artillery guns and tanks. South Ossetian forces at Khetagurovo were suppressed. This use of heavy weaponry by the Georgians caused Russian forces based near South Ossetia to be put on high alert.[104]

At 4 PM Temur Iakobashvili, the Georgian Minister of Reintegration, arrived in Tskhinvali for a previously agreed meeting with South Ossetians in the presence of chief Russian negotiator over South Ossetia, Yuri Popov.[112] The Ossetians did not show up.[115] A day before, the South Ossetian side refused to participate in bilateral talks, demanding a JCC session,[116] but Tbilisi had withdrawn from the JCC in March, demanding the format include also the European Union, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia.[94] Iakobashvili met with the Russian commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Force (JPKF), General Marat Kulakhmetov, who stated that the Russian peacekeepers cannot stop Ossetian attacks and advised the Georgians to declare a ceasefire.[112]

At about 7 PM, President Saakashvili ordered a unilateral ceasefire.[94][113][117] The ceasefire held for a few hours until firing was reportedly resumed again at around 10 PM.[118][119] Russia regarded the ceasefire as an attempt to buy time while Georgian forces positioned themselves for a major offensive.[8] According to the Jamestown Foundation, attacks on Georgian villages intensified following 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.[106]

Georgia announced that it was going to "restore constitutional order" as a response to the shelling.[120] According to several OSCE monitors, no shelling of the Georgian villages could be heard in the hours before the start of Georgian bombardment.[8][113] According to Der Spiegel, NATO officials attested to minor skirmishes but nothing that amounted to a justification for the start of the war.[47]

According to Georgian intelligence,[121] and several Russian sources, parts of 58th Russian Army moved to South Ossetian territory through the Roki Tunnel before the war.[122][123][124][125][126][127]

Active stage[edit]

Evening of 7 August[edit]

A building in Tskhinvali on 18 August.

At 23:35 on 7 August, Georgian artillery units began firing smoke bombs into South Ossetia. Soon afterwards, at 23:50 Georgia opened fire against fixed and moving targets of enemy forces. The interval was supposed to allow the civilian population to leave dangerous areas.[128] The equipment used in the artillery and rocket barrage included 27 rocket launchers, 152-millimetre guns, as well as cluster munitions.[47]

Human Rights Watch reported that the Georgian forces used Grad rockets, self-propelled artillery, mortars, and howitzers during the attack. South Ossetian parliament building, several schools and nurseries were used as defense positions or other posts by South Ossetian forces and volunteer militias. Georgian artillery fire targeted and hit these buildings. In the numerous villages which were shelled, positions of Ossetian militia were in close proximity to civilian houses. Georgia claimed that the attacks only intended to "neutralize firing positions from where Georgian positions were being targeted." HRW documented the witnesses stating that civilian objects were used as defense positions or other posts by South Ossetian forces, thus rendering them legitimate military targets. HRW concluded that South Ossetian forces were responsible for endangering civilians by setting up defensive positions in close vicinity of civilian structures or by using them. Georgia was also responsible for the indiscriminate attack and not trying to minimize the risk to civilians.[129]

Battle of Tskhinvali[edit]

A BMP-2 of the Russian 58th Army in South Ossetia.
A destroyed Georgian tank in Tskhinvali.
Georgian servicemen leaving South Ossetia. August 2008.

Early in the morning of 8 August Georgia launched a military offensive to put an end to the South Ossetian fire.[130] According to the EU fact-finding mission, 10,000–11,000 soldiers took part in the general Georgian offensive in South Ossetia.[118] The Georgian 4th Brigade from Vaziani spearheaded the infantry attack, while the 3rd Brigades attacked important heights, from which they were to move forward and seize the Gupta bridge and the road leading from the Roki Tunnel, in order to block a Russian counterattack.[128]

After several hours of bombardment, and after key heights around Tskhinvali were secured, Georgian forces began to advance towards the city.[104] At 4:00 AM, Georgian forces approaching Tskhinvali began engaging South Ossetian forces and militia, with Georgian tanks shelling South Ossetian positions from a safe distance. Georgian troops also attempted to take the village of Kvaysa, west of Tskhinvali, but were repelled by a platoon of South Ossetian troops manning fortified positions, losing several wounded. At 6:00 AM, the Georgian 3rd Brigade launched an offensive into the Eredvi region, east of Tskhinvali, seizing villages and strategic vantage points. They soon encountered resistance from a company-sized South Ossetian force, firing from the Prisi Heights.[104]

At the same time, Georgian Interior Ministry commandos, supported by Sukhoi Su-25 strike aircraft, artillery, tanks, and Otokar Cobra armored vehicles, entered the city.[128] By 08:00 am, Georgian infantry and tanks were engaged in a fierce battle with Ossetian forces and the Russian JPKF peacekeeping battalion stationed in the city.[21][131] Georgian shelling left parts of the capital city in ruins.[129] According to Russian military commander, over 10 Russian peacekeepers were killed. The peacekeepers' cafeteria was completely destroyed, and all of their buildings went up in flames.[131][132]

On the same Russia sent troops across the Georgian border, into South Ossetia.[133] Russia claimed to have responded to an attack on the peacekeepers base and in defense of South Ossetian civilians against what they called "a genocide by Georgian forces".[49] Russian authorities claimed that the civilian casualties in Tskhinvali may amount up to 2,000.[134] These high casualty figures were later revised down to 162 casualties.[135]

During 8 August the Russian air force mounted attacks on the advancing Georgian infantry as well as on the Georgian artillery, but stopped making sorties for the remainder of the battle, after taking early losses from anti-aircraft fire.[136] 1,500 Georgian ground troops had reached the centre of Tskhinvali by 10 AM on 8 August, but were pushed back within two hours by Russian artillery and air attacks.[8] The Georgian flank operations were not successful in achieving their main goal of blocking the Gupta bridge and the main routes leading to Tshkinvali from the Roki tunnel and the Java base.[137] The Georgians became bogged down and their advance was stopped. Later that day a Russian precision air strike killed 20 Georgian soldiers.[104]

The passage of Russian forces through the narrow Roki Tunnel and along the mountain roads was slow and the Russians had difficulties in concentrating their troops, forcing them to bring their forces into battle battalion by battalion.[21][138] A fierce battle took place on 9 August in the region of Tskhinvali, and the Georgians were able to mount several counterattacks, including some with tanks.[21] These attacks were repulsed with losses, and the Georgians were forced to withdraw. Because of the gradual increase in troops, the amassed Russian forces in South Ossetia outnumbered the Georgians for the first time on 9 August.[94] On August 9, a Russian advance column led by Lieutenant-General Anatoly Khrulyov moved into Tskhinvali from the Roki Tunnel, and was ambushed by Georgian special forces. The column took heavy casualties. Lieutenant-General Khrulyov was wounded in the leg by shrapnel.[139]

The Georgians continued advancing through the city, and forced Russian and South Ossetian forces back in heavy street fighting. According to Moscow Defense Brief, by the morning of 10 August the Georgians had captured almost the whole of Tskhinvali, forcing Ossetian militia and Russian forces to retreat to the northern reaches of the city. However, the fighting reached a turning point toward the evening of 10 August, when Russian and Ossetian troops were fully bolstered by Russian reinforcements from the Roki Tunnel, and counterattacked. By the end of 11 August South Ossetia was completely cleared of Georgian forces.[21]

According to the Georgian Defense Minister, the Georgian military tried to push into Tskhinvali three times in all. During the last attempt, they were met with a very heavy Russian-led counterattack with air support, which Georgian officials described as "something like hell."[8] In total, the fighting in the Tskhinvali area lasted for three days and nights.[140]

Russian forces advanced into Georgia proper by the next morning. Having retreated from South Ossetia, the Georgian forces regrouped at Gori.[21]

Bombing and occupation of Gori[edit]

An apartment building in Gori, damaged during the war

Gori is a major Georgian city close to the administrative boundary of the region of South Ossetia, about 25 km (16 mi) from Tskhinvali.[141] The Georgian Army used Gori as its staging area during the Battle of Tskhinvali, and the Russian Air Force bombed the city several times.[142] On 9 August, a Russian air attack targeted military barracks in Gori. In the resulting explosion, besides the base, several apartment buildings and a school were also damaged.[143] The Georgian government reported that 60 civilians were killed when at least one bomb hit an adjacent apartment building.[142]

On the evening of 10 August, large numbers of the civilian population began to flee the city and the surrounding area after the Georgian Interior Ministry declared Gori to be not safe.[144] By the next day, 11 August, 56,000 people had fled the Gori District.[145] After the Russians were confirmed to be advancing towards Gori, Georgian commanders ordered a retreat of all Georgian forces to defend Tbilisi. At 5 p.m. on 12 August, the Georgian Army began abandoning the city.[146]

A Russian missile booster lies largely intact in a bedroom of a home in Gori.

On August 12, a Dutch television journalist Stan Storimans was killed and several other foreigners injured when Russian warplanes bombed the central district of the city. As a result of the explosion total 7 people were killed, over 30 were injured. Georgian officials say Russian forces had been targeting the city's administrative buildings and claimed that the university of Gori and its post office were on fire after the bombings.[147][148] A helicopter-fired air-to-ground missile also struck the Gori military hospital,[149] despite the fact that Red Cross flag was flying over the roof, killing doctor Goga Abramishvili.[150]

Around 13 August Russian ground forces entered Gori.[146][151][152] Gori was completely clear of Georgian forces when the Russians entered. On 14 August, the Russian commander in charge of the troops occupying Gori, Major General Vyacheslav Borisov claimed that the city of Gori was controlled jointly by Georgian Police and Russian troops. He further said that Russian troops would start leaving Gori in two days.[153] Russian troops said they were removing military hardware and ammunition from an abandoned arms depot outside Gori.[154] On 14 August, efforts to institute joint patrols between the Russian Army and Georgian Police in Gori broke down because of apparent discord among personnel.[155]

The Russian forces denied access to some humanitarian aid missions seeking to assist civilians. The United Nations, which described the humanitarian situation in Gori as desperate, was able to deliver only limited food supplies to the city.[156] On 15 August, Russian troops allowed a number of humanitarian supplies into the city but continued their blockade.[157]

A Russian lieutenant said on 14 August: "We have to be honest. The Ossetians are marauding."[158] Answering a journalist's question, a Russian lieutenant colonel said: "We're not a police force, we're a military force. It's not our job to do police work."[158] The New York Times noted, that "the Russian military might be making efforts in some places to stop the rampaging".[158] In the 17 August report, HRW said the organisation's researchers interviewed ethnic Georgians from the city of Gori and surrounding villages who described how armed South Ossetian militias attacked their cars and kidnapped civilians as people tried to flee in response to militia attacks on their homes following the Russian advance into the area. In phone interviews, people remaining in Gori region villages told HRW that they had witnessed looting and arson attacks by South Ossetian militias in their villages, but were afraid to leave after learning about militia attacks on those who fled.[156]

The occupation lasted until 22 August.[159] Georgian Police then re-entered the city.[160]

Abkhazian front[edit]

Russian Black Sea Fleet small guided missile ship project 12341 Mirazh (Mirage) in Sevastopol, Ukraine

At 16:00 CET on 9 August the Russian Navy ships began patrolling off the coast of Abkhazia. On the evening of 10 August a naval skirmish between the Russian task-force and several Georgian naval vessels took place. According to Black Sea Fleet officials, four Georgian fast missile boats breached the "security zone" declared around the Russian Navy ships off Abkhazia. The Russian Ministry of Defence claimed that, after two Russian attempts at hailing the intruding units, the Russian units opened fire with naval anti-ship missiles, sinking one of the attacking ships and forcing the remaining three Georgian warships to withdraw towards the port of Poti.[51] While the Georgian sources remained silent about the engagement, Abkhazian officials confirmed that some battle took place off their coast.[161]

On August 11, Russian paratroopers deployed in Abkhazia carried out raids against military bases deep inside Georgian territory, from where Georgia could send reinforcements to its troops in South Ossetia. Russian forces, meeting virtually no resistance, reached the military base near the town of Senaki in undisputed Georgian territory on 11 August, destroying the base and seizing rich trophies.[21][162] Russian troops also drove through the port of Poti, and occupied positions around it.[163]

Abkhazian aircraft and artillery began a two-day bombardment against Georgian forces on August 9.[164] On 12 August, the Abkhazian authorities announced the beginning of a military offensive against Georgian troops in the Kodori Gorge area.[165] Abkhazia's foreign minister Sergei Shamba said "Russian troops were not involved in the operation."[166] On the same day, Georgia said it was withdrawing its troops from the Kodori Gorge as a gesture of goodwill.[167] Casualties were light on both sides. One Abkhaz soldier was killed mistakenly by his own men.[168] Two Georgian soldiers were also killed.[169] Around 2,000 people, who lived in the upper Kodori Valley, fled during the Georgian retreat.[170]

Bombing and occupation of Poti[edit]

Russian warships were deployed near Georgian ports along the Black Sea coast, including Poti, on August 10, 2008.[165] On 14 August, Russian troops entered Poti and destroyed six Georgian naval vessels. It was also reported that they aimed to remove or destroy military equipment.[171][172] On August 19, Russian forces in Poti took prisoner 21 Georgian troops. Russians also seized 5 Humvees that were United States property. They were taken to a Georgian military base occupied by Russian troops at Senaki.[173] From 13 to 15 August, according to Moscow Defence Brief, "Russian paratroops raided Poti again and again, destroying almost all of the docked ships and boats of the Georgian Navy, and took away a quantity of valuable military equipment."[21]

Bombing of Tbilisi[edit]

During fighting in South Ossetia, Tbilisi and its surrounding areas came under repeated attack 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 Tbilisi.[174][175] Russian military aircraft also bombed a Georgian military airbase in Marneuli, killing three soldiers.[176] Reuters correspondents in Tbilisi reported hearing three loud bangs in the early-morning hours. Georgian Interior Ministry's senior official said that Russian jet fighter dropped three bombs on Tbilisi International Airport early on August 10.[177] Russia also bombed the Tbilisi Aircraft Manufacturing plant twice on August 10. On August 11, Russia bombed a radar station near Tbilisi.[178]

Six-point peace plan[edit]

Joint press conference of Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy after negotiations on the six-point peace plan.

On 10 August most international community began calling for a peaceful solution to the conflict.[179] The European Union and the United States expressed a willingness to send a joint delegation to try to negotiate a ceasefire.[180] Russia, however, ruled out peace talks with Georgia until the latter withdrew from South Ossetia and signed a legally binding pact renouncing the use of force against South Ossetia and Abkhazia.[181]

On 12 August, Russian President Medvedev said that he had ordered an end to military operations in Georgia, saying that "the operation has achieved its goal, security for peacekeepers and civilians has been restored. The aggressor was punished, suffering huge losses."[163][182] Later on the same day, he met the President-in-Office of the European Union, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and approved a six-point peace plan.[183] On the same day, President Saakashvili signed a preliminary ceasefire agreement that French President Nicolas Sarkozy had brought from Moscow.[21] The plan originally had just the first four points. Russia insisted on the fifth and sixth points. Georgia asked for the additions in parentheses, but Russia rejected them, and Sarkozy convinced Saakashvili to sign the agreement.[53] According to Sarkozy and Saakashvili, a sixth point in the Sarkozy six-point peace plan, was deleted with the agreement of Mr Medvedev.[184] On 14 August, South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity and Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh signed the peace plan as well.[185] On 15 August, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also travelled to Tbilisi, where Saakashvili signed the 6-point peace plan in her presence.[186][187]

The peace plan contains the following principles:

  • No recourse to the use of force.
  • Definitive cessation of hostilities.
  • Free access to humanitarian aid (addition rejected: and to allow the return of refugees).
  • The Armed Forces of Georgia must withdraw to their normal positions.
  • The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation must withdraw to the line where they were stationed prior to the beginning of hostilities. Prior to the establishment of international mechanisms the Russian peacekeeping forces will take additional security measures. (addition rejected: six months)
  • An international debate on the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and ways to ensure their lasting security will take place. (addition rejected: based on the decisions of the UN and the OSCE).[53][188]

After the cease fire had been signed, hostilities did not immediately stop. According to Moscow Defence Brief, active raids were commenced on the Georgian territory to capture and destroy Georgian weapons and equipment, in what was termed the "demilitarization of the Georgian Armed Forces".[21] Noting that people were fleeing before the still advancing Russian tanks and soldiers and the following irregulars, a reporter for the UK The Guardian stated on 13 August, "the idea there is a ceasefire is ridiculous."[189]

On 8 September, Nicolas Sarkozy and Dmitry Medvedev signed a new agreement on the Russian withdrawal from Georgia. Speaking after meeting French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Mr Medvedev said the withdrawal depended on guarantees that Georgia would not use force again and his troops would pull out "from the zones adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia to the line preceding the start of hostilities". But he did not mention withdrawing troops from South Ossetia or Abkhazia.[190][191]

Aftermath[edit]

Russian withdrawal[edit]

On 17 August, Dmitry Medvedev announced that Russian forces were to begin withdrawing the next day.[192] Russia and Georgia exchanged prisoners of war on 19 August. Georgia said it handed over 5 Russian servicemen, in exchange for 15 Georgians, including 2 civilians. But a Georgian official also said that it suspected Russia of holding 2 more Georgians prisoner.[193] By the evening of 22 August, some troops had withdrawn. However, Russian checkpoints remained near Gori as well as in so-called buffer zones near the borders with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and two Russian observer posts remained near Poti.[194] On 23 August, Russian forces withdrew from Igoeti, and Georgian police advanced towards Gori.[195] On 13 September, Russian troops started withdrawal from western Georgia. By 11:00 MSK, all posts near Poti were abandoned, while withdrawals from Senaki and Khobi followed.[196] On 9 October, Russian forces withdrew from the buffer zones adjacent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The control of the buffer zones was handed over to the EU monitoring mission in Georgia.[197]

A single checkpoint in the border village of Perevi remained. On December 12, Russian forces withdrew from Perevi. 8 hours later, a 500-strong Russian contingent re-occupied Perevi, and Georgian police withdrew after the Russians threatened to fire.[198] Russian forces 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.[199]

On 9 September 2008, Russia officially announced that its troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia would stay in Abkhazia and South Ossetia under bilateral agreements with the corresponding governments. Sergey Lavrov said that Russian military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia was necessary in order to prevent Georgia from regaining control.[57] In November 2008, Russian bases in South Ossetia and Abkhazia maintained 3,700 soldiers each. Russia planned to open new military bases in Tskhinvali and Gudauta.[200] In August 2010, Russia deployed S-300 long-range air defense missiles in Abkhazia, and air defense in South Ossetia was provided with other systems.[201] According to the British House of Lords, Russia is in violation of the six-point peace plan by keeping troops stationed in areas it did not previously control.[55] The French government said that Russia was not yet fulfilling its commitments to the six-point peace plan.[56][verification needed] In 2014, when tensions between Ukraine and Russia escalated, the US Secretary of State John Kerry denounced Russia’s continued military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in violation of the ceasefire.[202]

Georgia considers Abkhazia and South Ossetia as Russian-occupied territories.[203]

International monitors[edit]

The mandate of the OSCE mission in Georgia expired on 1 January 2009 after Russia vetoed the extension. OSCE monitors had been denied access to South Ossetia since the war.[204] The mandate of the UN mission, UNOMIG, expired on June 16 of 2009. Russia vetoed the extension of the mandate, arguing that the mandate did not properly reflect Russia's position of recognition of Abkhazia as an independent state. According to the head of the UN mission, Johan Verbeke, roughly 60,000 ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia will be left unprotected after the mission's end.[205]

As of 19 March 2014, there are 268 EU monitors operating in Georgia and 2 in Brussels.[206] Russia does not allow the EUMM monitors to enter Abkhazia and South Ossetia.[205][207]

Humanitarian impact and war crimes[edit]

Refugees from South Ossetia in a refugee camp in the town of Alagir, North Ossetia, Russia.
Refugees from South Ossetia outside the Georgian parliament in Tbilisi, Georgia.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), all parties committed serious violations of war law, resulting in many civilian deaths and injuries. Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia "with blatant disregard for the safety of civilians."[208] The Georgian military used Grad multiple rocket launchers. The Georgians directed tank and machine gun fire at buildings in Tskhinvali, including apartment buildings where civilians sheltered. South Ossetian forces had fired on Georgian forces from at least some of these buildings.[4] The Russian military has also used indiscriminate force in South Ossetia and in the Gori district, and has apparently targeted civilian convoys attempting to flee the conflict zones.[209] Russian warplanes bombed civilian population centres in Georgia, and Georgian villages in South Ossetia.[209] Armed gangs and Ossetian militia committed looting, arson attacks, rape and abductions in Georgian areas under Russian effective control, terrorising the civilian population, forcing them to flee their homeland.[4][209]

HRW further reports that both Georgians and Russians used cluster bombs of the types M85S and RBK 250, resulting in civilian casualties. Georgia was also reported to have used cluster munitions twice to hit civilians fleeing through the main escape route. Georgia admitted using cluster bombs against Russian troops and the Roki tunnel.[210] Russia is accused of having used them in its attacks against Gori and Ruisi.[210][211] Russia denies the use of cluster bombs.[212][213] HRW called the conflict a disaster for civilians. HRW also called for international organisations to send fact-finding missions to establish the facts, report on human rights, and urge the authorities to account for any crimes.[209]

On 8 September Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, issued a report titled "Human Rights in Areas Affected by the South Ossetia Conflict" stating that during the conflict "a very large number of people had been victimised. More than half of the population in South Ossetia fled, the overwhelming majority of them after the Georgian artillery and tank attack on Tskhinvali and the assaults on Georgian villages by South Ossetian militia and criminal gangs." The report also stated that the main Tskhinvali hospital had been hit by rockets, that some "residential areas in the city" of Tskhinvali were "completely destroyed" and "the main building of the Russian peace keeping force as well as the base's medical dispensary had been hit by heavy artillery." Furthermore, the villages with ethnic Georgian majority between Tskhinvali and Java "have been destroyed, reportedly by South Ossetian militia and criminal gangs."[210]

A house set on fire burns in the Georgian village of Kekhvi on the road from Tskhinvali to Java

Human Rights Watch reported that during the war South Ossetians burned and looted most ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia, effectively preventing 20,000 residents displaced by the conflict from returning.[214] Furthermore, the civilians willing to live in South Ossetia were forced to accept a Russian passport in order to be authorised to.[215][216] According to Memorial, the villages of Kekhvi, Kurta, Achabeti, Tamarasheni, Eredvi, Vanati and Avnevi had been "virtually fully burnt down".[217] South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity stated in an interview that Georgian villages were successfully demolished and none of the Georgian refugees would be allowed to return.[218] A total of 30,000 Georgians became refugees. The EU commission stated that "several elements suggest the conclusion" that ethnic cleansing was practised against ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia both during and after the war.[79]

Devnilebi, one of the villages built by Georgia to accommodate refugees 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.[135] Almost one year after the conflict, Georgia has reported more than 400 deaths in the war.[219] Thomas Hammarberg reported that the estimate the Commissioner received from the Russian authorities on confirmed deaths was 133 people.[210] On the other hand, the false claims of high casualties significantly influenced public sentiment among Ossetians. According to Human Rights Watch, some of the Ossetian residents they interviewed justified the torching and looting of the Georgian villages by referring to "thousands of civilian casualties in South Ossetia" that was reported by Russian federal TV channels.[135]

In November 2008, Amnesty International released a 69 page report detailing serious international law violations on the conduct of war by both Georgia and Russia.[220]

Both Georgia and South Ossetians have filed complaints with various international courts, including the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights, against each other.[221][222][223]

Infrastructure damage[edit]

1993 US map showing the defence industries of Georgia at the time: Tbilaviamsheni, an aircraft assembly plant in Tbilisi which was bombed during the war,[224] and component plants in other cities.

On 12 August local authorities claimed that approximately 70% of Tskhinvali's buildings, both municipal and private, had suffered damage during the Georgian offensive.[225] According to later statements made by Russia, about 20% of the Tskhinvali's buildings had suffered various damage. 10% of the buildings were "beyond repair".[226] In late August, the deputy speaker of South Ossetian parliament, Tarzan Kokoity claimed that according to preliminary assessment, the damage caused from Georgian aggression to South Ossetia was valued at 100 billion rubles.[227]

According to Human Rights Watch, on the night of 7 to 8 August, Georgian forces shelled the city of Tskhinvali and several nearby Ossetian villages heavily. Tskhinvali was also heavily shelled during daytime hours on 8 August. HRW reports that South Ossetian fighters took up positions in civilian locations, including schools and a kindergarten, turning them into legitimate military targets. Several of these locations were then hit by Georgian artillery.[129] Shelling resumed at a smaller scale on 9 August, when Georgian forces were targeting Russian troops who by then had moved into Tskhinvali and other areas of South Ossetia. The organisation has discovered evidence of destruction in Tskhinvali caused by Georgian artillery and rocket launchers.[129]

The Georgian Government declared that Tskhinvali was largely reduced to rubble as a result of bombing by Russian air forces.[228] "When aircraft started bombing our positions in Tskhinvali, this is when most civilian buildings were burned", explained Davit Kezerashvili.[8] Russian journalist Yulia Latynina also blames Russia for damaging the city. She noted when Georgian forces had entered Tskhinvali, it was intact. After they were pushed out by Russians, the city was in ruins.[229]

Russia bombed airfields and economic infrastructure, including the Black Sea port of Poti. Between eight and eleven Russian jets reportedly hit container tanks and a shipbuilding plant at the port.[230] On 15 August 2008, Russian forces advancing towards Tbilisi blew up the railway bridge near Kaspi, about 50 km (31 mi) outside of the Georgian capital. The cement factory and civilian area in Kaspi were also reportedly damaged by Russian air-raids.[231] The destruction of the railway bridge near Kaspi not only did disrupt completely communications between West and East Georgia, but also Armenia’s main trade route.[232]

The UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) released a series of detailed satellite maps of the regions affected by the war acquired on 19 August via UNOSAT.[233] All damage was assessed from satellite images mostly with a resolution of 50 cm. However it was not independently validated on the ground because it was an initial assesment. UNOSAT reported 230 (5.5% of the total) of buildings were either destroyed or severely damaged in Tskhinvali. In the villages to the north of Tskhinvali up to 51.9% of the total buildings were affected.[234] Human Rights Watch used the images to support the claim that widespread torching of ethnic Georgian villages by Ossetian militia had occurred inside South Ossetia.[235] With regard to the city of Poti, UNOSAT provided imagery that witnessed a total of 6 Georgian naval vessels either partially or completely submerged. No other damage to physical infrastructure or oil spills related to vessels were discovered.[236]

Responsibility for the war and motives[edit]

Even before the war ended, the question of responsibility for the armed conflict emerged, with the warring parties taking different positions. In response, several international organisations conducted investigations, including a large EU fact finding mission. The majority of experts, monitors and ambassadors agreed that the war was started by Georgia shelling Tskhinvali, but that Russia responded with disproportionate measures. The Tagliavini commission noted that Georgian military operation was a "not proportionate" response to pre-war South Ossetian attacks.

Independent international fact-finding mission[edit]

An independent international fact-finding mission headed by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini was established by the EU to determine the causes of the war. The commission was given a budget of €1.6 million and relied on the expertise of military officials, political scientists, historians and international law experts.[79][237]

The Report stated that conflict started "...with a large-scale Georgian military operation against the town of Tskhinvali and the surrounding areas, launched in the night of 7 to 8 August 2008", but "... it was only the culminating point of a long period of increasing tensions, provocations and incidents...." and that all sides share responsibility.[79] The beginning of the armed conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia is dated at 7 August 2008 at 23.35, while the open hostilities between Georgia and Russia are considered to have started on 8 August 2008.[118] It also noted that Georgian attack on 7 August was a response, albeit not proportionate, to ongoing South Ossetian attacks.[118]

The Report claimed that Russian citizenship, conferred to the vast part of Abkhaz and Ossetians may not be considered legally binding under international law. As a result, the interests of these people may not be used as a reason for starting military actions, in defense of Russian citizens living abroad.[79] The report said that "if the Russian peacekeepers were attacked", then "the immediate [Russian] reaction in defense of Russian peacekeepers" would be justified, as "Russia had the right to defend its peacekeepers, using military means proportionate to the attack". The report did not have facts to substantiate the claimed attack on the peacekeepers, but found it "likely" that Russian PKF casualties may have occurred. The later, second part of Russian actions is characterised as "the invasion of Georgia by Russian armed forces reaching far beyond the administrative boundary of South Ossetia", and is considered to be "beyond the reasonable limits of defence". With respect to the war's second theater, the report found the Abkhaz/Russian attack on the Kodori Gorge was not justified under international law.[79]

Combatants' positions[edit]

Georgia claimed that its attack responded to Ossetian shelling of Georgian villages, and that it aimed to "restore constitutional order" in South Ossetia.[120] Georgia has also stated the aim of the Georgian attack was to counter a Russian invasion.[113] During a United Nations Security Council meeting on 8 August Georgia said that the first Russian troops entered South Ossetia at 05:30 am on 8 August.[238] In a decree ordering the general mobilisation, which was published on 9 August, Saakashvili noted that the Russian troops had advanced through the Roki tunnel on 8 August, which was after the Georgian attack.[239] The Georgian government continued to maintain its position, saying that around 11:30 p.m. on 7 August intelligence information was received that 150 Russian army vehicles had entered Georgian territory through the Roki Tunnel. In an interview with Der Spiegel, Saakashvili said "we wanted to stop the Russian troops before they could reach Georgian villages. When our tanks moved toward Tskhinvali, the Russians bombed the city. They were the ones – not us – who reduced Tskhinvali to rubble."[102] Georgia released intercepted telephone calls purporting to show that part of a Russian armoured regiment crossed into the separatist enclave of South Ossetia nearly a full day before Georgia's attack on the capital, Tskhinvali, late on August 7.[121]

Russia says it acted to defend Russian citizens in South Ossetia, and its own peacekeepers stationed there.[66] According to a senior Russian official, the first Russian combat unit was ordered to move through the Roki Tunnel at around dawn of 8 August well after the Georgian attack had begun.[240] Defending Russia's decision to launch attacks on uncontested Georgia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that Russia had no choice but to target the military infrastructure being used to sustain the Georgian offensive.[241] Initially, Russia went as far as accusing Georgia of committing genocide against Ossetians,[49][238] claiming that Georgia codenamed their attack "Operation Clear Field".[242] The independent EU commission found no evidence for the alleged genocide and ruled the extension of operations into uncontested Georgia illegal.[79] Russia codenamed its military action "Operation to Force Georgia to Peace".[142][243]

According to some reports, Moscow spent millions in a public relations campaign to convince the world that Georgia, not Russia, started the war – in spite of abundant evidence to the contrary, with the most damning reporting coming from Russia's own media.[244]

After 3 years from August War, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev admitted NATO would have been expanded to admit ex-Soviet republics if Russia had not invaded Georgia in 2008 to defend a rebel region. "If you...had faltered back in 2008, the geopolitical situation would be different now," Medvedev said in a speech to soldiers at a base in Vladikavkaz.[245][246] In August 2012, Vladimir Putin announced that Russia had drawn up a plan to counter a Georgian attack long before the August 2008 conflict in the Caucasus. He said the plan was developed by the Russian General Staff in late 2006-early 2007 and it was negotiated with Putin, who was serving his second presidential term in that period. According to Putin, they trained South Ossetian militia under this plan. However, he refused to comment on whether he insisted on the use of force back then when the war started.[247]

South Ossetia's government in Tskhinvali called for Russian help once the Georgian bombardment started, in order to prevent genocide and stated that Tskhinvali was under, what Ossetians called "the most frightful fire".[248]

Reactions to the conflict[edit]

International reaction[edit]

In response to the war, Russia faced strong criticism from the West.[249][250][251]

  •  United States — U.S. president George W. Bush's statement to Russia was: "Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century."[253] "Russia has invaded a sovereign neighbouring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people," said Mr Bush. "Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century." [254] The US Embassy in Georgia, describing the Matthew Bryza press-conference, called the war an "incursion by one of the world's strongest powers to destroy the democratically-elected government of a smaller neighbor".[255]
Initially the Bush Administration considered a military response to defend Georgia, but such an intervention was ruled out due to the inevitable conflict it would lead to with Russia.[256][257] Instead, Bush opted for a softer option by sending humanitarian supplies to Georgia by military, rather than civilian, aircraft.[257] US sanctions against Russia, put in place by the Bush administration, were lifted by the Obama administration in May 2010.[258]
  •  France and  Germany — France and Germany took an intermediate position, refraining from naming a culprit while calling for an end of hostilities.[259][260][261]
  •  United Kingdom — British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, after being informed of the Human Rights Watch and BBC findings of possible war crimes committed by Georgia, apparently hardened his language towards Georgia, calling its actions "reckless". But he also added that "the Russian response was reckless and wrong".[259][262]
  •  Poland — On 12 August 2008 on one of the rallies in Tbilisi, attended by nearly 150 thousand people gathered in front of the parliament, appeared 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 all came to meet with the Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili on Lech Kaczyński's initiative. The gathered people responded enthusiastically to the words of the Polish president, chanting during his speech: Poland, Poland, Friendship, Friendship, Georgia, Georgia.[263] Godmanis, Yushchenko, Kaczynski, Ilves and Adamkus joined hands and held them aloft to cheers from the people which were awash with the Georgian national colours of red and white as well as flags of the US, the European Union, France, Estonia, Lithuania and Ukraine.[264]

Recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by the Russian Federation[edit]

Demonstration in Tbilisi for a free and undivided Georgia. The sign says "Imperial Appetites" in Russian. (12 August)
A South Ossetian rally in Tskhinvali after the war

On 25 August 2008, the Russian parliament unanimously voted to urge President Medvedev to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.[269] On 26 August 2008, Medvedev signed a decree officially recognising the two entities,[270] and claimed that recognising the independence of the two republics "represents the only possibility to save human lives."[271] Nicaragua recognised the republics on 5 September 2008.[272]

The unilateral recognition by Russia was met by condemnation from the United states, NATO, 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 the violation of Georgia's territorial integrity, United Nations Security Council resolutions and the six-point ceasefire agreement.[273][274][275][276][277] Russia sought support for its recognition from the states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. However, because of concerns about their own separatist regions in states of the SCO, especially in China, the SCO did not back the recognition.[278][279]

In January 2009, Belarus said it would make a decision on recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia on 2 April,[280] but the European Union demanded that Belarus not recognise the republics and threatened that improving relations would be deteriorated.[281]

On 10 September 2009 President of Venezuela Hugo Chávez announced Venezuela recognises Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, making it a third UN member to support South Ossetian independence.[282][283] On 15 December 2009 Nauru recognized and established diplomatic relations with Abkhazia.[284]

Vanuatu recognized Abkhazia in May 2011,[285] but finally withdrew its recognition on July 12, 2013.[286] Tuvalu recognized both Abkhazia and South Ossetia in September 2011,[287][288] but withdrew the recognition of both entities on 31 March 2014.[289]

Severance of diplomatic relations between Georgia and Russia[edit]

In response to Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Georgian government announced that the country cut all diplomatic relations with Russia.[290]

Georgia announced on 12 August 2008, that it would leave the Commonwealth of Independent States, which was blamed for failing to prevent the conflict. The departure became effective in August 2009.[291]

Media[edit]

Independent media coverage and access to information were limited as the conflict continued to unfold. There were claims of censorship, propaganda, and disinformation from all sides, and restricted access for journalists made it difficult to verify the allegations.[292][293] The Georgian government stopped broadcasting of Russian TV channels and blocked access to Russian websites, during the war and its aftermath, limiting news coverage in Georgia.[294] Georgian and Russian websites were attacked by hackers, causing a breakdown of the host servers.[295][296][297][298]

According to Nicolai N. Petro, Professor of Politics at the University of Rhode Island, Western media coverage of the war was biased at first, but became more balanced in November, 2008, when two OSCE officials Ryan Grist and Stephen Young confirmed the Russian version of events — that the Georgian attack was unprovoked and indiscriminate. Professor Petro said that initial impressions conveyed by respected news outlets tend to linger on, even if the story later changes radically, and "it is therefore not surprising that American pundits and politicians continue to refer to the events of last August as “Russian aggression,” even though subsequent reporting has debunked this as a myth."[299]

Expatriate writer Mark Ames saw the conflict as the beginning of the end of the American empire.[300]

The Georgian Coast Guard patrol boat P-24 Sokhumi passes the USS McFaul upon its arrival to the Port of Batumi

NATO reaction in the Black Sea[edit]

NATO increased its naval presence in the Black Sea significantly, with ships docking in Georgian ports,[301] and according to the U.S. Navy, delivering humanitarian aid.[302] NATO stressed that the increased presence in the Black Sea was not related to the Georgia crisis and that the vessels were conducting routine visits and carrying out pre-planned naval exercises with Romania and Bulgaria.[303][304] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev questioned the claim that ships going to Georgia were only rendering humanitarian assistance and alleged delivery of military support.[305] Russian General Anatoliy Nogovitsyn reminded NATO of the limitations on the number of vessels allowed in the Black Sea, under the 1936 Montreux convention, and warned NATO against violating the Convention.[306]

According to political analyst Vladimir Socor, the United States maintained an uninterrupted naval presence in the Black Sea, which is constrained by the Montreux Convention's limitations on naval tonnage and the duration of naval visits, and rotated its ships in the Black Sea at intervals consistent with that convention.[307]

Combatants[edit]



Military equipment[edit]

Type Georgia (country) Georgia Russia Russia
Deployed Lost or captured by Russia Deployed Lost or captured by Georgia
Armoured vehicles Tanks 255 T-72

3-5 lost in battle
23 captured and several of them destoyed[not in citation given][308] [309]
or 25 captured and 55 destroyed.[310][311]

5 T-55
29 T-62
86 T-72B
30 T-72BM[not in citation given][21][312][313]
One T-72BM one T-72B and one T-62 destroyed.[314]
BMP 63 BTR, 70 Otokar Cobra[315][316] (Police and Military)
15 BMP-1/2[21] captured.
2–3 Otokar Cobra captured.
25 non-armored vehicles
destroyed or captured.
MT-LB, BMP-1, BMP-2, BTR-80[317] 9 BMP-1
3 BMP-2
2 BTR-80
1 BMD-1
3 BRDM-2
2 MT-LB
destroyed,[314] unknown number captured or damaged.

20 non-armored vehicles, including URAL and UAZ destroyed[314]
Unknown Ossetian losses
Artillery 114 total
24 SpGH DANA
72 2A18 D-30
12 2S3 Akatsiya
6 2S7 Pion
4 SpGH DANA captured / 2destroyed
4 2S7 Pion captured
several towed guns and mortars captured.
100 total
68 2S3 Akatsiya
32 2S19 MSTA-S[not in citation given][313]
none
Rocket launchers 27 BM-21 Grad,[103]
some LAR-160
a battery of RM-70
none 30 BM-21 Grad
8 BM-30
none
Anti-aircraft systems Buk-M1 (1–2 battalions)
Osa-AK (8 units)
Osa-AKM (6–10 units)[136] Tor-M1[318][better source needed]
Several Buk-M1 and OSA-AK systems captured or destroyed none
Combat aircraft 9 Su-25
7 L-29
some AN-2 Mi-8, Mil Mi-24
1 Sukhoi Su-25 claimed by South Ossetians to have been downed
[not in citation given]
3 AN-2
two Mi-24 and one Mi-14 helicopters destroyed/damaged on the ground.[319]
Su-24
Su-25
Tu-22M3[21][313]
3 Su-25 (3 friendly fire)
2 Su-24
1 Tu-22M3
downed[320]
Ballistic missiles none none 15 Tochka-U (SS-21)
few Iskander (SS-26) launched[21]
none
Small Arms AK-74, M-4, IMI TAR-21, IMI Negev, AK-47, Glock 19, Sig P226, G36, SVD rifle, Barrett M82[not in citation given][321] AK-74M, AK-47, AKM, AK-103, AS Val, OTs-14, VSS Vintorez, PP-19 Bizon, MP-443 Grach, SVD rifle, SV-98, RPK-74, PKM, PKP Pecheneg none

Military analysis[edit]

Georgia[edit]

U.S. analysts mention that the air defense was "one of the few effective elements of the country's military" and credit the SA-11 Buk-1M with shooting down a Tupolev-22M bomber and contributing to the losses of the 3 Su-25s.[313] The view was mirrored by independent Russian analysis.[136] Russia's deputy chief of General Staff, Col. Gen. Anatoliy Nogovitsyn said the Soviet-made Tor and Buk anti-aircraft missile systems that Georgia had bought from Ukraine were responsible for the downings of Russian aircraft in the war.[322] A Russian assessment reported by Roger McDermott found that Russian losses would have been significantly higher had the Georgians not abandoned a portion of their Buk-M1 systems near Senaki in western Georgia, and a small number of Osa missile launchers in South Ossetia.[323] Georgia also possessed one battery of the Israeli-made SPYDER-SR short-range self-propelled anti-aircraft system, according to some reports.[324] The Georgian air defence early warning and command control tactical system was connected to a NATO Air Situation Data Exchange (ASDE) through Turkey, allowing Georgia to receive data directly from the unified NATO air-defence system.[324]

Georgia has said that its principal vulnerabilities, which proved decisive, were its comparative weakness to Russian air power and its inability to communicate effectively in combat.[325] Konstantin Makienko of CAST saw inadequate pilot training as the main reason behind the low efficiency of Georgian air raids.[136] According to Batu Kutelia, Georgia's first deputy defence minister, Georgia would need a very sophisticated, multi-layered air-defense system to defend all its airspace.[325] However, Western military officers who had experience working with Georgian military forces suggested that Georgia's military shortfalls were serious and too difficult to be changed merely by upgrading equipment.[325] According to an article published in the New York Times on 2 September, "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."[325]

According to one Western military officer, Georgia's logistical preparations were poor and its units interfered with each other in the field.[325] The Georgian Army never conducted any exercises pitting its military forces against the potential adversary — the 58th Army. During the war the communications systems failed in the mountains and had to be replaced by communication via mobile phones. Planning was similarly lacking. According to Giorgi Tavdgiridze, there were no calculations on how to block the Roki Tunnel, that connects North and South Ossetia. Furthermore, the arrival of 10,000 Georgian reservists to Gori on 9 August was poorly organized: not given specific targets, the reservists returned to Tbilisi on August 10. There was nearly no video recording of the military actions, prompting journalists to call this the war "that was hidden from history."[18] According to their American trainers, the Georgian soldiers did not lack "warrior spirit", but were not ready for combat.[321] Georgia had few well-trained and educated officers in the higher ranks,[326] and Saakashvili's government had no military experience.[327]

Russia[edit]

The Russian Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (C³I) performed poorly during the conflict.[323] The communication systems used were obsolete, resulting in one case where the commander of the 58th army was reported to have communicated with his forces in the midst of combat via a satellite phone borrowed from a journalist.[323] Due to the absence of the modern GLONASS, precision-guided munitions could not be used since the US controlled GPS was unavailable due to the war zone being blacked out.[323] Furthermore, the Russian defense minister had failed to authorize the use of unmanned aerial vehicles,[323] and an editorial in RIA Novosti said that Russian forces lacked dependable aerial reconnaissance systems, leading to the use of a Tupolev Tu-22M3 bomber on a reconnaissance mission.[328] There were also Russian reconnaissance battalions and regiments deployed during the war.[104][329]

The RIA Novosti editorial also stated that Russian Su-25 ground attack jets lacked radar sights, computers for calculating ground-target coordinates and long-range surface-to-air missiles that could be launched outside enemy air-defence areas.[328] Opposition affiliated Russian analyst Konstantin Makienko pointed out the poor performance of the Russian Air Force: "It is totally unbelievable that the Russian Air Force was unable to establish air superiority almost to the end of the five-day war, despite the fact that the enemy had no fighter aviation."[136]

According to the Russian expert Anton Lavrov, on 8 August neither Russian troops deployed to South Ossetia nor South Ossetians had been informed that Russian aviation was involved in the war. Russian aircraft were frequently assessed as hostile by Russian troops and South Ossetians, so they were fired upon even before they could be identified accurately. The Russians flew 63 sorties on August 8, to provide air support to the Russian soldiers. Russia lost total of six aircraft during the war, including 1 Su-25SM, 2 Su-25BM, 2 Su-24M and 1 Tu-22M3. Of these, three were shot down by friendly fire.[104][329] Lavrov asserts that the Tu-22M shot down was not used for reconnaissance.[104][329]

There was also confusion surrounding the nature of the command relationship between the North Caucasus Military District commander and the Air Force. The Air Force operations were being directed by Air Force commander-in-chief Colonel-General Aleksandr Zelin, who commanded the air forces from his office on his mobile phone, without entering the command post. He decided all matters regarding the conduct of air operations and did not consider it necessary to invite his air defense assistants to a meeting. Furthermore, the Air Force was accused of failing to support ground combat operations.[323]

Commenting on the performance of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Swedish analysts Carolina Vendil Pallin and Fredrik Westerlund noted, that although the fleet never met any serious opposition, it still showed that it is a force to be reckoned with. Being able to plan and carry through manoeuvres of the size which were carried out during the war required considerable skills, according to the analysts.[330]

American researchers working for the Heritage foundation praised the comprehensive and systematic planning of the Russian general staff, stating that, the operations "were well prepared and well executed" and that the Russian offensive achieved a strategic surprise.[130] A Reuters analyst described Russia's army in light of the conflict as "strong but flawed." According to him, the war showed that Russia's "armed forces have emerged from years of neglect as a formidable fighting force, but revealed important deficiencies". The weaknesses, especially in missiles and air capability, left Russia still lagging behind the image of a world-class military power it projected to the rest of the world.[331] In contrast to Second Chechen War, Russia's force in Georgia was largely composed of professional soldiers, rather than the weak conscript soldiers.[332] Reuters reporters on the ground in Georgia saw disciplined, well-equipped troops. Ruslan Pukhov, director of Russia's Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, stated 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."[331] Roger McDermott speculated that the very little difference in the criticism in either 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."[323]

Spetsnaz GRU during the Russo-Georgian conflict.

However, the Russian Army's professionalization was not applauded as success. General Vladimir Boldyrev admitted in September 2008 that many of the professional soldiers were no better trained than conscripts. Russian Airborne Troops carried out the brunt of the ground fighting. Airborne troops could not be airlifted behind Georgian lines due to the Russian Air Force's inability to suppress Georgian air defenses. The ambush of the ground troops' commander, where only five of the thirty vehicles in the convoy survived, indicated a failure of intelligence and surveillance. Many Russian ground units were also reportedly insufficiently supplied with ammunition.[326]

Georgian order of battle[edit]

The Georgian army consisted of 4 regular infantry brigades. One artillery brigade was stationed at Gori and Khoni and a tank battalion was also stationed at Gori.[333]

According to International Institute for Strategic Studies, when the war started, the Georgians had amassed ten light infantry battalions of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th infantry brigades as well as special forces and an artillery brigade, in all, about 12,000 troops.[22] The 4th Brigade carried out the main mission of attempting to capture Tskhinvali, while the 2nd and 3rd Brigades provided support.[22] Of all Georgian military units, the 4th Brigade suffered the heaviest casualties.[22][334]

The 1st infantry brigade, the only one trained to a NATO level, served in Iraq at the start of the war.[321] On 11 August, the U.S. Air Force airlifted it to Georgia.[335]

Units Deployed:[333]

  • Special Operation Group
  • 1st Infantry Brigade
  • 2nd Infantry Brigade
  • 3rd Infantry Brigade
  • 4th Infantry Brigade (ex-Interior Ministry Troops)
  • 5th Infantry Brigade
  • 11th Brigade
  • Artillery Brigade
  • Military Engineering Brigade
  • Separate Light Infantry Battalion
  • Separate Tank Battalion
  • Separate Air Defense Battalion
  • Separate Communication Battalion
  • Separate Engineering-Chemical Battalion
  • Technical Reconnaissance Battalion
  • Military Police Battalion
  • Medical Battalion
  • National Guard

Alleged use of foreign mercenaries[edit]

The Russian side made allegations that one American citizen fought with Georgian forces. Deputy Chief of Russia's General Staff Anatoly Nogovitsyn showed photocopies of the passport belonging to a Texan named Michael Lee White in a news briefing. He claimed that the passport was discovered in the Georgian fighting position. On the same day Vladimir Putin told CNN, "We have serious reasons to believe that American citizens were right at the heart of the military action".[336] However, Michael Lee White and the US authorities denied the claims, saying the passport was lost elsewhere.[337]

Russo-South Ossetian and Russo-Abkhaz order of battle[edit]

The Russian order of battle involved significant elements of the Russian 58th Army.[338] According to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, 58th Army is one of Russia's premier combat formations and boasted more than twice the number of troops, five times the number of tanks, ten times the number of armoured personnel carriers and twelve times the number of combat aircraft as the entire Georgian Armed Forces.[338]

South Ossetian Sector

Initially present:

Russian Peacekeeping Forces:

  • 496 from Russian battalion[340]
  • 488 from North Ossetia[340]

Arrived as reinforcements:

58th Army

  • Two battalions of the 135th Separate Motorised Rifle Regiment[121]
  • 503rd Motorised Rifle Regiment of the 19th Motorised Rifle Division[21]
  • 693rd Motorised Rifle Regiment of the 19th Motorised Rifle Division[21]

42nd Motorised Rifle Division

  • 70th Motorised Rifle Regiment[21]
  • 71st Motorised Rifle Regiment[21]

Chechen Units:

Airborne Troops (VDV):

Units of GRU:

Abkhazian Sector:

Theatre aviation

Equipment losses and cost[edit]

In the aftermath of war Reuters cited some Stratfor who believed that Russia "has largely destroyed Georgia's war-fighting capability".[343] Georgia lost its air and naval forces and air-defense systems entirely.[21] The Georgian Army also lost large quantites of small arms during the conflict which were seized by Russians.[21] Russia estimated that the Georgian Air Force lost three Su-25 strike aircraft and two L-29 jets.[344] Georgian Defence Minister Davit Kezerashvili stated that Georgia suffered losses of material worth $250 million.[18] According to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia managed to save 95 percent of the armed forces despite the war.[18]

In 2009 the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Army, General Nikolai Makarov claimed that Georgia was actively rearming, though the United States were not directly supplying weapons to Georgia. According to him, the Georgian Armed Forces reached a strength greater than pre-war levels in 2009.[345]

Russia has officially confirmed the loss of three Su-25 strike aircraft and one Tu-22M3 long-range bomber,[322] as well as at least 3 tanks, 20 armored vehicles and 20 soft vehicles.[314] Analysts at Moscow Defense Brief give a higher estimate, saying that the overall losses of Russian Air Force in the war amounted to one Tu-22M3 long-range bomber, one Su-24M Fencer frontal bomber, one Su-24MR Fencer E reconnaissance plane, and four Su-25 attack planes.[21] Anton Lavrov lists 3 Su-25s, 2 Su-24s and 1 Tu-22M as lost.[104][329]

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the cost of the five days of war was estimated as 12.5 billion rubles for Russia. According to the estimate, Russian cost of the war was 2.5 billion rubles per day.[346]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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