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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. 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. On 5 August, a Russian spokesman said Russia would defend Russian citizens in South Ossetia if they were attacked.
During the night of 7 to 8 August 2008, Georgia launched a large-scale military offensive against South Ossetia, in an attempt to reclaim the territory. Georgia claimed 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. The Georgian attack caused casualties among Russian peacekeepers, who resisted the assault along with Ossetian militia. Georgia successfully captured most of Tskhinvali within hours. Russia reacted by deploying units of the Russian 58th Army and Russian Airborne Troops into South Ossetia one day later, and launched airstrikes against Georgian forces in South Ossetia and military and logistical targets in Georgia proper. Russia claimed these actions were a necessary humanitarian intervention and peace enforcement.
Russian and Ossetian forces battled Georgian forces throughout South Ossetia for four days, the heaviest fighting taking place in Tskhinvali. On 9 August, Russian naval forces allegedly blockaded a part of the Georgian coast and landed marines on the Abkhaz coast. The Georgian Navy attempted to intervene, but was defeated in a naval skirmish. Russian and Abkhaz forces opened a second front by attacking the Kodori Gorge, held by Georgia. Georgian forces put up only minimal resistance, and Russian forces subsequently raided military bases in western Georgia. After five days of heavy fighting in South Ossetia, the Georgian forces retreated, enabling the Russians to enter uncontested Georgia and temporarily occupy the cities of Poti, Gori, Senaki, and Zugdidi.
Through mediation by the French presidency of the European Union, the parties reached a preliminary ceasefire agreement on 12 August, signed by Georgia on 15 August in Tbilisi and by Russia on 16 August in Moscow. Several weeks after signing the ceasefire agreement, Russia began pulling most of its troops out of uncontested Georgia. Russia established buffer zones around Abkhazia and South Ossetia and created checkpoints in Georgia's interior. These forces were eventually withdrawn from uncontested Georgia. However some 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. Russian forces remain stationed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia under bilateral agreements with the corresponding governments.
- 1 Background
- 2 Prelude
- 3 Active stage
- 4 Six-point peace plan
- 5 Aftermath
- 6 Humanitarian impact and war crimes
- 7 Infrastructure damage
- 8 Responsibility for the war and motives
- 9 Reactions to the conflict
- 10 Combatants
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 External links
Before the break-up of the Soviet Union, South Ossetia operated as the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast, an autonomous region within the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. 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. Estimates of deaths in this fighting exceed 2,000 people. During the war several atrocities occurred on both sides. Approximately 100,000 Ossetians fled Georgia and South Ossetia, while 23,000 Georgians left South Ossetia. The war resulted in South Ossetia, which had a Georgian ethnic minority of around 29% of the total population of 98,500 in 1989, 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. The 1992 ceasefire also defined both a zone of conflict around the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali and a security corridor along the border of South Ossetian territories. This 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. 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.
The conflict remained frozen until 2003 when Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in Georgia's Rose Revolution, which ousted president Eduard Shevardnadze. In the years that followed, Saakashvili's government pushed a programme to strengthen failing state institutions, including security and military, created "passably democratic institutions" and implemented what many[quantify] viewed as a pro-US foreign policy. 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. In 2007, Georgia spent 9.2% of GDP on its military and had the highest average growth rate of military spending in the world. However, earlier low spending meant that its total military spending as a proportion of GDP in the 10 years preceding the war remained below Russia’s. Restoring South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Georgian control has been seen as a top-priority goal of Saakashvili since he came to power. During Saakashvili's rule, according to Freedom House, Georgia made only temporary and slight improvements in democracy and freedom compared with the situation under Eduard Shevardnadze However, the same organisation ranked it consistently better than Russia on all counts.
Emboldened by the success in restoring control in Adjara in early 2004, the Georgian government launched a push to retake South Ossetia, sending 300 special task-force fighters into the territory. Georgia stated that the operation aimed to combat smuggling, but JCC participants branded the move as a breach of the Sochi agreement of 1992. 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. 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.
Georgia accused Russia of the annexation of its internationally recognised territory and of installing a puppet government led by Eduard Kokoity and by several officials who had previously served in the Russian FSB and in the Army. 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. 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. In what Sergei Markedonov has described as the culmination of Georgian "unfreezing" policy, the control of the Georgian peacekeeping battalion was transferred from the joint command of the peacekeeping forces to the Georgian Defence Ministry.
In 1989, Ossetians accounted for around 60 percent, Georgians 20 percent, Armenians 10 percent and Russians 5 percent of the population of South Ossetia. As of 2009[update] about 87.5% of the population of South Ossetia have acquired Russian citizenship, as a result of being Soviet Citizens (Russia extended citizenship to most USSR citizens, as it is internationally recognised as a successor state to the USSR). Additionally, 71% of all Ossetians were living in Russia, most of them just across the Roki Tunnel in North Ossetia, and had family members in South Ossetia. 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. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stated that he would "protect the life and dignity of Russian citizens wherever they are". 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. According to Reuters, prior to the war Russia was supplying two thirds of South Ossetia's annual budget, and Russia's state-controlled gas giant Gazprom was building new gas pipelines and infrastructure worth hundreds of millions of dollars to supply South Ossetian cities with energy. 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. 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 subjects of Russia. When President Saakashvili was re-elected in early 2008, he promised to bring the breakaway regions back under Georgian control.
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. The pipeline, supplied by oil from Azerbaijan's Azeri–Chirag–Guneshli oil field transports 1 million barrels (160,000 m3) of oil per day. 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.
Georgia maintained a close relationship with the G.W. Bush administration of the United States of America. In 2002, the USA started the Georgia Train and Equip Program to arm and train the Georgian military, and, in 2005, a Georgia Sustainment and Stability Operations Program to broaden capabilities of the Georgian armed forces. These programmes involved training by the United States Army Special Forces, United States Marine Corps, and military advisors personnel.
During 2008, both Georgia and Russia accused each other of preparing for war. In 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. Russia said it was boosting its forces there and in the South Ossetia region as a response. Later, UNOMIG denied any build up in the Kodori Gorge or near the Abkhazian border by either sides.
In the same month Russia increased the number of its military peacekeepers in Abkhazia to 2,542 by deploying hundreds of paratroopers into the region. 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. Sergey Lavrov said that his country was not preparing for war but would retaliate against any attack. According to the 2012 statement by Vladimir Putin, Russia had been training the South Ossetian militias as part of the General Staff's 2006–2007 plan to rebuff Georgia in case of war.
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. The move further heightened tensions between Russia and Georgia.
On 20 April, a Russian jet shot down a Georgian reconnaissance drone flying over Abkhazia. After the incident Saakashvili deployed 12,000 Georgian troops to Senaki. Georgian interior ministry officials showed the BBC video footage, which Georgia said showed Russian troops deploying heavy military hardware in the breakaway region of Abkhazia. According to Georgia, "it proved the Russians were a fighting force, not just peacekeepers". Russia strongly denied the accusations. Both countries also accused each other of flying jets over South Ossetia, violating the ceasefire.
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. According to a paper published by Institute for Security and Development Policy shortly after the war, the Russian troops remained by the Georgian border instead of returning to their bases after the end of their exercise on 2 August. After the war, Major General Vyacheslav Borisov and commander of the 76th Guards Air Assault Division praised the exercises in the region as one of the reasons why his unit performed well in the war. The Georgian 4th Brigade, which later spearheaded the attack into Tskhinvali, 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. After the exercise, the Georgian Artillery Brigade, normally based in two locations, in Senaki and in Gori, was now moved completely to Gori, 25 km (16 mi) from the South Ossetian border. According to Colonel Wolfgang Richter, a leading military adviser to the German OSCE mission, Georgia concentrated troops along the South Ossetian border in July.
On 5 August, Russian ambassador-at-large Yuri Popov reiterated the Russian position that his country would intervene in the event of military conflict. The Ambassador of South Ossetia to Moscow, Dmitry Medoyev, declared that volunteers were already arriving, primarily from North Ossetia, in the region of South Ossetia to offer help in the event of Georgian aggression.
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. International Institute for Strategic Studies and Western intelligence experts give a lower estimate, saying that the Georgians had amassed about 12,000 troops and 75 tanks on the South Ossetian border by 7 August. On the opposite side, there were said to be 1,000 Russian peacekeepers and 500 South Ossetian fighters defending Tskhinvali, according to an estimate quoted by Der Spiegel.
Georgian military plan
According to the study conducted by Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, the Georgian government drew up a military plan to "conquer" South Ossetia. The Georgians hoped that their army, vastly superior to Ossetian forces, would take over South Ossetia within three or four days. 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 commandos from the Interior Ministry and army special forces supported by artillery would take Tskhinvali. Battalion-sized groups would take over the Leningor and Znaur districts and the village of Kvaysa. 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.
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.
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 border with South Ossetia. Their goal was to enter South Ossetia within hours of any Georgian offensive and join Russian peacekeepers and Ossetian forces in fighting the Georgian offensive. The Russian Air Force would provide support from nearby airbases. 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 that the conflict reached that territory.
On 14 June into the early morning of 15 June, clashes erupted in South Ossetia. South Ossetian authorities reported that Georgian forces started shelling Tskhinvali with mortars from Georgian villages, and that Georgians fired on South Ossetian militia on the outskirts of Tskhinvali. Georgia claimed that it was responding to Ossetian shelling of the Georgian villages of Ergneti, Nikozi, and Prisi. Two people (one Ossetian and one Georgian) were killed, and four were injured in the clashes. Several houses in the Georgian villages shelled were also reportedly damaged. A fourteen-year-old boy was also injured by a land mine close to Ergneti, and subsequently died of his injuries. In early July 2008, violence again erupted throughout South Ossetia. On 3 July Ossetian militia attacked a convoy in an attempt to assassinate Dmitry Sanakoyev, chairman of the Georgian-backed Ossetian government (the Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia). The attack failed to kill Sanakoyev, but injured three of his bodyguards. A South Ossetian police official was killed by a bomb attack on that same day. 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, the most serious being a 31 July bomb attack against a Georgian police SUV, which was blown up by an IED, injuring five policemen. Ossetian militia repeatedly fired on Georgian villages in South Ossetia, forcing Georgian police to return fire.
Shelling by Ossetian separatists against Georgian villages began as early as August 1, drawing a sporadic response from Georgian peacekeepers and other fighters already in the region. In response to the attack, snipers from the Georgian Interior Ministry's special task force fired at border checkpoints of the South Ossetian Interior Ministry, killing four Ossetians and injuring seven, most of them South Ossetian Interior Ministry servicemen. On the night of August 1–2, heavy exchanges of fire took place, which involved the use of grenade launches and mortars. An Ossetian and a Russian peacekeeper from North Ossetia were killed. The number of Ossetian injured reached 15. Six Georgian civilians and one policeman were injured. Each side accused the other of firing first. During the week, the fighting intensified.
On 3 August, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned that an extensive military conflict was about to erupt. According to a Der Spiegel article, officials in European governments and intelligence agencies assumed that the warning concerned Saakashvili's plans for an invasion of South Ossetia, plans which had been completed earlier. Three days later, the evacuation of Ossetian women and children to Russia was completed, as some 35,000 people were successfully evacuated. On 4 August, the South Ossetian media reported that around 300 volunteers had already arrived from North Ossetia to help fight the Georgians and hundreds more were ready to join them from North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria.
Starting with the night of 6–7 August there were continuous exchanges of artillery fire between both sides. On 6 August Georgia reported that Ossetian militia had destroyed a Georgian Army APC in Avnevi, wounding three Georgian peacekeepers.
Clashes continued on 7 August, with South Ossetian forces based at the village of Khetagurovo exchanging fire with Georgian forces based at Avnevi and Nuli. At 2 p.m. on 7 August the Georgian peacekeeping checkpoint in Avnevi was reportedly shelled, killing two Georgian peacekeepers. Georgia began mobilizing for an offensive against South Ossetia. 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 the late afternoon OSCE monitors confirmed the move of Georgian artillery and Grad rocket launchers massing on roads north of Gori. At 2:42 p.m. Georgia withdrew its personnel from the JPKF Headquarters in Tskhinvali. Georgian peacekeepers also began abandoning joint checkpoints. 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.
At 4 p.m. Temur Yakobashvili, 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. The Ossetians did not show up — a day before, the South Ossetian side refused to participate in bilateral talks, demanding a JCC session (consisting of Georgia, Russia, North and South Ossetia) instead, 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. Yakobashvili confirmed that Tskhinvali was already largely evacuated: "Nobody was in the streets — no cars, no people". He 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.
At about 7 p.m., President Saakashvili ordered a unilateral ceasefire, advised earlier that day by Kulakhmetov. The ceasefire held for a few hours and was also observed by the South Ossetian side, until firing was reportedly resumed again at around 10 p.m. Georgian armor continued to move to the South Ossetian line even during Saakashvili's ceasefire, and the Russian and Ossetian governments claimed that the ceasefire was just an attempt to buy time while Georgian forces positioned themselves for a major offensive. 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. The Georgian Interior Ministry reported that ten Georgian soldiers had been killed in clashes throughout August 7.
During a news broadcast that began at 11 p.m., Saakashvili announced that ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia were being shelled. Georgia announced that it was launching an operation to "restore constitutional order" as a response to the shelling. An OSCE monitoring group in Tskhinvali did not record outgoing artillery fire from the South Ossetian side in the hours before the start of Georgian bombardment. Two British OSCE observers reported hearing only occasional small-arms fire, but no shelling. According to Der Spiegel, NATO officials attested that minor skirmishes had taken place, but nothing that amounted to a provocation.
According to Georgian intelligence and several Russian sources, parts of 58th Russian Army moved to South Ossetian territory through the Roki Tunnel before the Georgian attack.
In his interview to the CNN, answering to the anchor's question, "Did you take a gamble? Your government launched its own attempt to retake South Ossetia, guess 24 hour ago?" Saakashvili answered "We did not. [Only when Russian APCs crossed the border at 24 AM, August 7] we had to fire back the artillery, we had to take measures. Because it was a clear-cut case of intervention."
However, no conclusive evidence was presented by Georgia or its Western supporters that Russia was invading the country before the Georgian attack, according to the New York Times. Instead, "the accounts suggest that Georgia's inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on 7 August with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm". Georgia's claim to be responding to a premeditated Russian assault received little support from the US and NATO.
Evening of 7 August
At 11:45 p.m. Georgian forces began a major artillery bombardment of South Ossetia. Downtown Tskhinvali, surrounding heights and a number of villages were heavily shelled. Several other villages were more lightly shelled. The Georgians used about a hundred artillery guns and mortars, and 27 rocket launchers, including BM-21 Grad and LAR-160 units. During this bombardment, Georgian forces employed 152mm self-propelled guns and cluster bombs. At this point OSCE monitors reported that shells were falling on Tskhinvali every 15–20 seconds.(registration required)
Human Rights Watch reports that the Georgian forces used Grad rockets, self-propelled artillery, mortars, and Howitzer cannons during the attack. The Georgians claimed that they were targeting Ossetian militia positions: according to witnesses' accounts, South Ossetian forces were stationed in the city of Tskhinvali and in neighboring villages. In Tskhinvali, they set up headquarters and defensive positions, including positions in the South Ossetian parliament building, several schools and nurseries. 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 BM-21 Grad rockets employed were used solely to shell South Ossetian artillery positions, however, HRW documented a serious BM-21 rocket damage to a hospital building, houses and other civilian infrastructure in Tskhinvali. HRW concluded that while South Ossetian forces were responsible for endangering civilians by setting up defensive positions in close vicinity of civilian structures, Georgia was responsible for the use of indiscriminate weapons such as Grad MRL in densely populated areas, making the attack "unlawful".
Battle of Tskhinvali
Early in the morning of 8 August Georgia launched a military offensive, codenamed Operation Clear Field to capture Tskhinvali. According to the EU fact-finding mission, 10,000–11,000 soldiers took part in the general Georgian offensive in South Ossetia. The Georgian 4th Brigade from Vaziani spearheaded the infantry attack, while the 2nd and 3rd Brigades attacked important heights, from which they were to move forward and seize the Didi Gupta bridge and numerous roads leading from the Roki Tunnel, in order to block a Russian counterattack. The 2nd and 3rd Brigades seized several strategic South Ossetian villages located on higher ground around the city.
The Georgian ground offensive began with an attack east of Tskhinvali by two battalions of the 4th Brigade, taking the village of Muguti without a fight and then seizing the village of Khetagurovo after a battle with an inferior South Ossetian force. Another battalion took the Znaur District to the west of the city without encountering resistance, while the Leninogorsk District was occupied without a fight by squads of Georgian Interior Ministry commandos.
At 2:00 AM, the Russian Army intervened, when reinforced battalions from the 693rd and 135th Motorized Rifle Regiments began arriving in South Ossetia through the Roki Tunnel. They began securing positions on the road from the Roki Tunnel to Tskhinvali, so as to ensure the safe entry of additional Russian forces into the region.
After several hours of bombardment, and after key heights around Tskhinvali were secured, Georgian forces began to advance towards the city. South Ossetian forces employed artillery, mortars, and rocket launchers against Georgian forces massed in the village of Zemo-Nikosi, but the bombardment was largely ineffective. South Ossetian sources claimed that a Georgian tank attack on the suburbs of the city was repelled by South Ossetian militia at 3:46 AM. 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.
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. According to Ossetian sources, Georgian Su-25 planes bombed the village of Kvernet. Ossetian forces claimed to have downed one Georgian Su-25 early on 8 August. The Russian peacekeepers' southern compound, manned by about 250 soldiers, lay in immediate vicinity of the entrance to the city. After Georgian troops approached the compound, an exchange of fire with Russian peacekeepers broke out. The Georgian Otokar Cobra vehicles opened fire at the base with heavy machine guns, and the Russians positioned three BMP-1 armored vehicles at the perimeter of the base. The Georgians then called in tank support, and three T-72s from the Independent Combined Tank Battalion soon arrived. At 6:30, the tanks opened fire. The first shell destroyed an observation post on the roof of the compound, killing a Russian peacekeeper and a South Ossetian observer. The tanks also shelled the three Russian BMP-1 vehicles stationed in front of the base, killing five of their crews. During the engagement, one of the Georgian tanks, which became trapped in an irrigation ditch near the compound, was damaged by an RPG-7 rocket, and abandoned by its crew. The other two tanks pulled back and continued shelling the compound from a distance, and were soon joined by artillery and mortars. According to Russian sources, Georgian troops had captured the Southern Base of the Russian peacekeepers by 11:00 a.m. Georgian forces then sent in armored units to smash resistance offered by Russian peacekeepers and Ossetian militia. Russian peacekeepers repelled five Georgian assaults. According to Georgia, Georgian forces attacked Russian peacekeepers in self-defense after coming under fire from their bases.
Georgian shelling left parts of the capital city in ruins. The shelling of the city was extensively covered by Russian media prior to the military counteroffensive that followed. 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". South Ossetian and Russian authorities claimed that the civilian casualties in Tskhinvali may amount up to 2,000. These high casualty figures were later revised down to 162 casualties.
By 8 am. on 8 August, Georgian infantry and tanks had entered Tskhinvali and engaged in a fierce battle with Ossetian militia and the Russian peacekeeping battalion stationed in the city. Georgian forces entered particular parts of the city, located Ossetian positions, and then pulled back and called in artillery and airstrikes on identified enemy positions. Georgian snipers fired on Ossetian militia in support, and according to Ossetian sources, indiscriminately shot civilians, including people outside the city hospital. Georgian troops burned down the South Ossetian Presidential Palace, Ministry of Culture, and Parliament. A number of apartment blocks were set ablaze, and the streets were pocketed with numerous bomb craters. A Guardian reporter claimed that while some neighborhoods were intact, "there were patches of terrible destruction".
Russian artillery took positions in the north of the city and opened fire on Georgian forces, and the Russian Air Force began flying sorties against Georgian targets early on 8 August, utilizing Su-24, Su-25, Su-27, and Tu-22M aircraft, hitting Georgian armored columns and artillery positions. Georgian forces abandoned two T-72 tanks, along with some armored vehicles and pieces of equipment after a Russian Su-25 airstrike killed 20 soldiers and wounded more. During the early stages of the battle, three Russian Sukhoi Su-25 planes were shot down by Georgian anti-aircraft fire. A Russian Tupolev Tu-22M was also shot down by Georgian air defenses. Three of its crew members were killed, and another was taken prisoner. According to some reports, two other Russian jets were shot down by friendly fire. According to Georgian officials, 1,500 Georgian ground troops had reached the centre of Tskhinvali by 10 a.m. on 8 August, but were pushed back three hours later by Russian artillery and air attacks. By the afternoon, the Georgians had captured most of Tskhinvali, but were unable to take the northern quarters, where they were meeting heavy resistance from Ossetian militia and Russian troops, including regular Russian forces arriving from the Roki Tunnel. The Georgian 2nd and 3rd Brigades also ran into resistance, and were unable to take the Didi Gupta Bridge and the main routes leading to the Roki Tunnel. A Georgian air attack against the Didi Gupta bridge also failed to destroy it.
The BBC reported that Georgia may have committed war crimes during its attack on Tskhinvali, including possible deliberate targeting of civilians. Human Rights Watch found some evidence of firing being directed into basements, locations which civilians frequently choose as a place of shelter. Ossetian militia and armed civilian volunteers engaged the Georgians in heavy street fighting, mainly utilizing ambushes. South Ossetian reinforcements passed from Dzhava on the Zara highway and entered Tskhinvali, carrying with them anti-tank weapons which proved successful in fighting Georgian armor. Three Georgian T-72 tanks were destroyed in the city centre of Tskhinvali by Ossetian forces utilizing RPG-7 anti-tank rockets. Two other Georgian tanks were abandoned on the Zars road, and were subsequently detonated by Russian troops. Ossetian military and civilian casualties mounted, and the operating room at Tskhinvali hospital was relocated to the basement. According to the hospital's head surgeon, about 700 operations were performed by candlelight. As blood supplies were low, many doctors donated their own blood before performing surgery. Priority was given to treating lightly injured Ossetian militiamen, so that they could rejoin the street fighting, only a few blocks away. The hospital itself was repeatedly hit by shelling, and 25 of the staff were killed or wounded. According to Georgia, Russian military aircraft violated Georgian airspace around 10 a.m. on 8 August. Starting around 2 p.m., international press agencies began running reports of Russian tanks in the Roki Tunnel. According to a senior Russian official, the first Russian combat unit, the First Battalion of the 135th Motorized Rifle Regiment, was ordered at around dawn of 8 August to move through the Roki Tunnel and reinforce the Russian peacekeeping forces in Tskhinvali. According to him, the unit passed through the tunnel at 2:30 p.m. It reached Tskhinvali in the evening, meeting heavy resistance from Georgian troops. Georgia disputed the account, saying that it was in heavy combat with Russian forces near the tunnel long before dawn of 8 August. Some Western intelligence experts believe that Russian troops did not begin marching through the tunnel until roughly 11 a.m. on 8 August. By the afternoon of 8 August, Georgian forces had captured large parts of Tskhinvali, but had been unable to take the Northern quarter and the city centre. However, the Georgians were meeting heavy resistance from Ossetian militia and Russian reinforcements coming in from the Roki Tunnel. Georgian flank operations were unsuccessful in their goal of blocking the Gupta Bridge and the main routes leading to Tskhinvali from the Roki Tunnel and Java base. The Georgians became bogged down and their advance was stopped. Ossetian militia using handheld anti-tank weaponry proved effective against Georgian armor, knocking out a number of Georgian tanks, which eventually stopped disorganized and un-coordinated attacks. Isolated from the main Georgian forces, the Georgian Army's battalion-strong Kchevi Tank Group attacked from a Georgian village enclave and attempted to hit Russian forces moving along the detour Zara highway in the flank, but was stopped by Russian artillery fire and airstrikes.
During the evening of 8 August, vicious fighting took place in the area of Tskhinvali and in other parts of South Ossetia. The fighting in South Ossetian towns and villages was done by the local militia and volunteers, while Russian troops concentrated on engaging larger Georgian army groups. Three Tactical Battalion Groups of the 19th Motorized Rifle Division deployed in battle formation pushed Georgian forces from the roads and heights near Dzari, Kverneti, and Tbeti districts, and as far west as the western edge of Tskhinvali. Russia also undertook action to suppress Georgian artillery fire. Russian special units reportedly prevented Georgian saboteurs from blowing up the Roki Tunnel, which could have hindered the sending of reinforcements to South Ossetia. Russian media reported that exchanges of fire between Russian and Georgian troops continued throughout the night.
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. Because of this, 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. These attacks were repulsed with losses, and the Georgians were forced to withdraw. Because of the gradual increase in troops, the combined amassed Russian and South Ossetian forces in South Ossetia outnumbered the Georgians for the first time on 9–10 August. The Russians moved between 5,500 and 10,000 troops to South Ossetia through the Roki Tunnel, according to Der Spiegel. 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, and all but five of its thirty armored vehicles were destroyed. Lieutenant-General Khrulyov was wounded in the leg by shrapnel. Russian Major Denis Vetchinov managed to organized a defense. Despite being hit in both legs, he killed a Georgian soldier with a trophy Georgian machine gun, but he was hit in the head by return fire and died en route to hospital. Vetchinov was awarded the Hero of the Russian Federation posthumously. Among the wounded were two Russian journalists embedded with the column. One Russian Su-24 was shot down by Georgian air defenses, and the Russian Air Force stopped flying sorties against Georgian targets until 10 August.
At 5:00 a.m., two Russian tanks of the 141st Independent Tank Battalion broke through the Georgian encirclement of the Russian peacekeeping camp, reinforcing the peacekeepers and allowing casualties to be evacuated. One tank was destroyed, and the other ran out of ammunition by nightfall.
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. A small tank battle took place, during which two Russian tanks (one T-62 and one T-72B) and a Georgian T-72Sim1 tank were destroyed. The Georgians also targeted Russian forces with artillery and airstrikes. 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. Georgian forces were cleared out of most of Tskhinvali, and forced to retreat to the south of the city. Georgian forces were also driven off the key Prisi heights. The bulk of Georgian artillery was defeated. Meanwhile, Ossetian forces supported by Russian divisions captured the villages of Tamarasheni, Kekhvi, Kurta, and Achabeti on the approach to Tskhinvali from the north, and pushed Georgian forces out of several enclaves. However, Georgian units in the area around the village of Zemo-Nikosi carried out a successful ambush against Russian forces, killing a number of soldiers and destroying several tanks. The village was captured shortly afterward by Chechen paramilitaries of the Vostok Battalion. Georgian artillery continued to shell Tskhinvali from a number of high points. On 11 August, the Georgian Air Force continued launching air attacks on Russian forces. A Russian Su-24 was shot down by Georgian air defenses, and a Georgian Su-25 was also shot down, but the pilot survived. According to Russian sources, Georgian artillery resumed shelling Tskhinvali, and a South Ossetian government representative claimed that Georgian troops opened the irrigation canal to flood basements and prevent civilians from seeking shelter. That information was never confirmed. Throughout the day, intense ground combat continued, and by the end of the day, Georgian forces had been completely pushed out of South Ossetia.
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." In total, the fighting in the Tskhinvali area lasted for three days and nights, by the end of which Georgian artillery was forced from positions from which it could shell the city and Georgia's ground forces pulled completely out of South Ossetia.
During its retreat out of South Ossetia into Gori, the Georgian forces were repeatedly hit by Russian air and artillery strikes which inflicted massive casualties upon mostly lightly armored vehicles and Infantry units in tight column formations. Hundreds were wounded and dozens killed. The attacks decisively dropped the fighting morale of the Georgian troops. The general withdrawal became chaotic in some areas and many Georgian soldiers used civilian vehicles to escape the bombing.
A skirmish occurred on 11 August, when a Georgian logistics column was hit hard by a Russian VDV detachment which' vehicles, a BMD-1 stood broken near a road to the town of Gori. The unit instantly opened heavy fire after having visual on the column killing a dozen Georgians. The soldiers in the Land Rover vehicles had little chance but a few still managed to escape the scene. Corpses gathered from the roads, were driven out with civilian vans and pickups. More than 70 dead were registered besides the 90 KIA in Tskhinvali and other parts of South Ossetia, what brought the total number of Georgian military casualties to 170 dead and hundreds of wounded.
Bombing and occupation of Gori
Gori is a major Georgian city close to the administrative boundary of the region of South Ossetia, about 25 km (16 mi) from Tskhinvali. The Georgian Army used Gori as its staging area during the Battle of Tskhinvali, and the Russian Air Force bombed the city several times. Seventy-five tanks and armored personnel carriers—a third of the Georgian military's arsenal—were assembled near Gori. Georgian artillery units were also stationed near Gori.
According to western intelligence, the Russian bombings began at 7:30 a.m. 8 August, when Russia fired an SS-21 ballistic missile at military or government bunkers in the city of Borjomi, southwest of Gori. The first Russian air attack hit the village of Shavshvebi, located in the Gori District. Around 6 a.m. on 9 August, Reuters reported that two Russian fighters had bombed a Georgian artillery position near Gori. On 9 August, a Russian air attack targeted an arms depot. In the resulting explosion, several apartment buildings and a school were damaged. The Georgian government reported that 60 civilians were killed when at least one bomb hit an adjacent apartment building. According to the Russian military, Russian aircraft dropped three bombs on an armament depot, and the façade of one of the adjacent 5-story apartment buildings suffered damage as a result exploding ammunition from the depot. On August 12, a Russian cluster bomb attack hit the central square of the city, killing several Georgian civilians and Dutch journalist Stan Storimans, and injuring over 30. A helicopter-fired air-to-ground missile also struck the Gori military hospital, killing doctor Goga Abramashvili. The Georgian government also claimed that Russian bombing had hit the University of Gori, the post office, and the theater. Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international rights group, charged Russia with deploying controversial and indiscriminately deadly cluster bombs on civilian areas of Georgia.
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. By the next day, 11 August, 56,000 people had fled the Gori District.
The Georgian Army expected that the Russians would attempt to take Gori, and Georgian troops, armored vehicles, and heavy artillery took positions 25 kilometers north of Gori, and anti-aircraft units were stationed inside the city. Following its defeat at Tskhinvali, the Georgian Army regrouped at Gori. Russian and South Ossetian forces established artillery positions inside Georgia proper. In the hours before the fall of Gori, sustained exchanges of artillery fire took place, and Russian jets bombed Georgian positions nine kilometers from the border. Six Georgian helicopter gunships also attacked targets inside South Ossetia.
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. A Times reporter described the Georgian withdrawal as "sudden and dramatic", saying that "the Gori residents watched in horror as their army abandoned their positions". According to Moscow Defense Brief, the retreat of the Georgian army from Gori soon grew into "a panicked flight" almost all the way to Tbilisi. Scores of Georgian tanks and armored personnel carries fled to Tbilisi, while a number of tanks were abandoned. Most artillery pieces were also taken to Tbilisi, but six assault guns were abandoned. A tank exploded and burned due to unspecified reasons, and an armored car pushing it out of the way also caught fire. Georgian infantry fled the city in military trucks and civilian vehicles. Five soldiers escaped the city on a Quad bike. Two military trucks crashed into each other while retreating from the city, and dozens of vehicles were left behind. Many of Gori's remaining inhabitants also fled the city, including hospital staff fleeing in ambulances.
On 13 August Russian ground forces entered Gori. 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. Russian troops said they were removing military hardware and ammunition from an abandoned arms depot outside Gori. Russian forces also captured numerous abandoned tanks, destroying 20 and taking away the rest. A Russian armored column left Gori, traveling along the main road to Tbilisi. A convoy of Georgian special forces traveling in pickup trucks was sent out to confront the Russians. After they were fifteen kilometers from the advancing Russian forces, they turned around and headed back towards Tbilisi. Russian forces halted their advance and camped out in a field fifteen kilometers from Gori. Georgian forces took defensive positions on the road six miles (about 10 km) closer to Tbilisi. The Russians then abandoned their positions and headed back towards Gori. The following day, Russian forces pushed to 34 miles (55 km) from Tbilisi, the closest during the war; they stopped in Igoeti , an important crossroads.
The Russian and Ossetian 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. On 15 August, Russian troops allowed a number of humanitarian supplies into the city but continued their blockade. 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. A Russian lieutenant said on 14 August: "We have to be honest. The Ossetians are marauding." 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." The New York Times noted, that "the Russian military might be making efforts in some places to stop the rampaging". According to the Hague Convention, an occupying power has to "insure public order and safety in the occupied areas". The Russian human rights group Memorial called the attacks by South Ossetian militia "pogroms". 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.
Georgian special forces in traveling pickup trucks repeatedly approached Gori to survey Russian positions, while Georgian Police set up roadblocks to prevent civilians from returning to the Russian-occupied city.
On 9 August Russia opened a second front in Abkhazia, deploying up to 9,000 men from the 7th Novorossiysk and 76th Pskov Air Assault Divisions, elements of the 20th Motorised Rifle Division and two battalions of the Black Sea Fleet Marines, as well as 5,000 Abkhaz light infantry and artillery support. Abkhazian aircraft and artillery began a two-day bombardment against Georgian forces. The Russian Air Force bombed a Georgian military base in Senaki, killing 13 soldiers and wounding another 13. The base itself suffered heavy damage.
On 10 August Abkhazia declared a full military mobilisation to "drive out the 1,000 Georgian troops" from their remaining stronghold in the Kodori Valley. Russian forces secured the Georgian-controlled Khurcha settlement in Abkhazia on August 10.
Ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet left their base in Sevastopol, Ukraine, on the evening of 8 August for an unknown destination. On 10 August RIA-Novosti – quoting a source at the Russian Navy Main Staff – reported that a group of Russian warships had arrived at the maritime border with Georgia in the eastern part of the Black Sea. "In the morning of Sunday 10 August, the Black Sea Fleet flagship, the missile cruiser Moskva, destroyer Smetlivyy and auxiliary vessels from the Black Sea Fleet base in Sevastopol reached the intended area", the source was quoted[by whom?] as saying. According to the source, the warships joined three large Russian landing-ships, which had deployed to the area earlier from Sevastopol and from Novorossiysk. "The objective of the Black Sea Fleet's warships in the area is to be prepared to provide assistance to refugees", the source said. He denied earlier media reports that the warships were enforcing a blockade of Georgia's coast. "A naval blockade would indicate war with Georgia. We are not at war with Georgia." The flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, the missile cruiser Moskva, and the escort ship Smetlivyy entered the port of Novorossiysk on Sunday 10 August and dropped anchor, according to sources in the Novorossiysk administration. On the evening of 10 August a naval skirmish between the Russian task-force and several Georgian naval vessels took place. According to Russia, two Georgian missile-boats and two auxiliary craft breached the Russian declared "security zone" around the Russian ships. Reportedly the Russian Nanuchka III class corvette Mirazh (Mirage) destroyed the Georgian Coast Guard patrol-cutter Giorgi Toreli with two Malakhit (SS-N-9) anti-ship missiles, killing 30 sailors. (The Georgian side has never acknowledged that this battle or the loss of a Georgian ship ever took place.) This action constituted the Russian Navy's first real sea battle since 1945. The Russians claimed that Georgian ships had violated the security zone of their deployed ships and therefore the action represented self-defense in accordance with international law. Following the action, the remaining Georgian ships withdrew to a nearby harbour.
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 there and capturing four tanks. During a reconnaissance mission, the Russian Air Force shot down two Georgian helicopters at the airbase at Senaki. Russian troops also drove through the port of Poti, and occupied positions around it. On 12 August, the Abkhazian authorities announced the beginning of a military offensive against Georgian troops in the Kodori Gorge area. The Georgian government claimed that Abkhaz infantry and armor was attacking Georgian defenses in the Kodori Valley. Abkhaz forces took the villages of Azhara and Chkhalta, and a group of 250 Abkhaz soldiers was reported to have clashed with Georgian forces in the Gorge at the edge of Abkhazia. On the same day, Georgia said it was withdrawing its troops from the Kodori Gorge as a gesture of goodwill. Clashes between Georgian and Abkhazian forces lasted until 13 August, when all of the remaining Georgian forces, as well as 1,500 civilian residents, left Kodori Valley for Georgia proper. Casualties were light on both sides. One Abkhazian soldier was killed in action and two wounded during the fighting. Two Georgian soldiers were also killed.
Bombing and occupation of Poti
Russian aircraft had attacked the city on August 9, bombing the port and a nearby airbase. Most of the Georgian Navy and Georgian Coast Guard escaped to Batumi during the conflict, but some vessels were left behind. On 14 August, Russian troops entered Poti and sank three Georgian naval vessels moored in the harbour, as well as removing or destroying military equipment. The Russians also seized the highway linking Poti to Tbilisi. Four days later, Russian forces in Poti took prisoner 22 Georgian troops who had approached the city. They were taken to a Georgian military base occupied by Russian troops at Senaki. The Russians seized four Georgian Humvees in that same action. From 13–15 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."
Bombing of Tbilisi
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, killing three soldiers. Russian fighters also bombed a military airfield near Marneuli, killing four and wounding five. According to the Georgian Interior Ministry, Russian aircraft dropped three bombs on Tbilisi International Airport early on August 10. Reuters correspondents in Tbilisi reported hearing three loud bangs in the early-morning hours. Russia denied bombing the airport. Russia also bombed the Tbilisi Aircraft Manufacturing plant (located next to Vaziani Military Base), resulting in an unspecified amount of damage. On August 11, Russia bombed a radar station near Tbilisi.
Six-point peace plan
On 10 August most international observers began calling for a peaceful solution to the conflict. The European Union and the United States expressed a willingness to send a joint delegation to try to negotiate a ceasefire. 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.
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." 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. Late that night Georgian President Saakashvili agreed to the text. Sarkozy's plan originally had just the first four points. Russia added the fifth and sixth points. Georgia asked for the additions in parentheses, but Russia rejected them, and Sarkozy convinced Georgia to agree to the unchanged text. On 14 August, South Ossetia President Eduard Kokoity and Abkhazia President Sergei Bagapsh signed the peace plan as well.
- 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 permanent 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).
After the cease fire had been signed, hostilities did not immediately stop. According to Moscow Defence Brief, active raids on bases inside Georgian territory to capture and destroy Georgian weapons and equipment, in what was termed the "demilitarization of the Georgian Armed Forces". 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." 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. Russia and Georgia exchanged prisoners of war on 19 August. Georgia said it handed over 5 Russian servicemen, in exchange for 13 Georgians soldiers and 2 civilians, but said that it suspected Russia of holding 2 more Georgians prisoner.
Despite numerous calls for a quick withdrawal from Georgia by western leaders, Russian troops remained stationed inside some parts of Georgia proper for about two months. Beginning on 17 August, some troops withdrew. 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. On 19 August, all Russian troops in Gori withdrew to South Ossetia, but a platoon continued to man a checkpoint near Nasreti. Civilian refugees returned, and the military base was re-occupied by the Georgian Army. All Russian forces in Senaki also withdrew to Abkhazia. On 23 August, Russian forces withdrew from Igoeti, and were replaced by Georgian police. On 10 September, Russian forces withdrew from their checkpoints in western Georgia, and reduced their forces near Poti. A Georgian police officer was shot and killed several hundred meters from a Russian checkpoint in Karaleti, twelve miles from South Ossetia. Russian forces denied responsibility, saying that it may have been perpetrated by South Ossetian militia. On 6 October, Russian troops dismantled and withdrew from a checkpoint in Nabakhtevi. On 1 October, a Russian truck strayed out of the Russian buffer zone near South Ossetia, and was stopped by Georgian police. The truck was found to be carrying explosives and jamming equipment, which was confiscated and shown to the media. The driver, an eighteen-year-old soldier from North Ossetia, was arrested and interrogated at a police station in Mtskheta. He was subsequently put in front of the media and allowed to answer questions from journalists before being handed over to OSCE observers. On 9 October, Russian forces withdrew from the buffer zones and dismantled all their checkpoints. Georgian Army and police forces and civilians subsequently returned. The withdrawal was observed by European Union monitors. A single checkpoint in the border village of Perevi remained. On December 12, Russian forces withdrew from Perevi, and were replaced by Georgian police. Hours later, a 500-strong Russian contingent re-occupied Perevi, and Georgian police withdrew after the Russians threatened to fire. Russian forces established three checkpoints in the village. On 18 October 2010, all Russian troops in Perevi withdrew to South Ossetia after dismantling the checkpoints, and were replaced by a Georgian Army unit. On 9 September 2008, Russia officially announced that its troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia would "henceforth be considered foreign troops stationed in independent states under bilateral agreements". Georgia considers Abkhazia and South Ossetia "Russian-occupied territories". Russia maintains 3,700 soldiers in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia and opened military bases in Java, Tskhinvali, and Gudauta in 2010. Russia spent $400 million on the bases. In August 2010, Russia deployed S-300 long-range air defense missiles in Abkhazia, and other air defense systems in South Ossetia. Britain and France both criticized Russia for this move. 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. The French government said that Russia was not yet fulfilling its commitments to the six-point peace plan.
On October 3, 2008, seven Russian soldiers were killed and another seven wounded by a car bomb that exploded near the Russian peacekeeping headquarters. According to South Ossetian sources, the car had been found by Russian soldiers in a Georgian village, and had been confiscated and taken to the base, where it blew up. The Russian and South Ossetian governments blamed the Georgian Security Ministry for the attack, saying that it was an attempt to undermine the cease-fire, while Georgia claimed that Russia had organized the explosion as an excuse to maintain its presence in South Ossetia.
As of April 2012[update], there are 283 EU ceasefire monitors operating in Georgia. Previous mandates of OSCE monitors (in South Ossetia) and the UN (UNOMIG, Abkhazia and Georgia) expired on 1 January and June 16 respectively. Russia vetoed the extension of the mandates, arguing that the mandates did not properly reflect Russia's position of recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. 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. OSCE monitors had been denied access to South Ossetia since the war.
Humanitarian impact and war crimes
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), all parties committed serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, resulting in many civilian deaths and injuries. Georgian forces used indiscriminate force during their attack on South Ossetia "with blatant disregard for the safety of civilians." The Georgians directed tank and machine gun fire at buildings in Tskhinvali, including at apartment buildings and basements where civilians sheltered. South Ossetian forces had fired on Georgian forces from at least some of these buildings. The Georgian military used BM-21 Grad MRLs, a multiple rocket launch system, to destroy targets situated in civilian areas. The Russian military has also used indiscriminate force in attacks in South Ossetia and in the Gori district, and has apparently targeted convoys of civilians attempting to flee the conflict zones. Russian warplanes bombed civilian population centres in Georgia, and Georgian villages in South Ossetia. A Russian bombing in the Georgian city of Gori killed 60 civilians and wounded scores more. Armed gangs and Ossetian militia committed looting, arson attacks, rape and abductions in Georgian villages and towns, terrorising the civilian population, forcing them to flee their homes and preventing displaced people from returning home. In the Georgian city of Gori, Ossetian militia terrorised the civilian population and attacked anyone who tried to flee. The Georgian Army had retreated to defend Tbilisi, and did not return until the Russians and Ossetians withdrew.
HRW further reports that both Georgians and Russians used cluster bombs of the types M85S and RBK 250, resulting in civilian casualties. Georgia admits using cluster bombs against Russian troops and the Roki tunnel. Georgia was also reported to have used cluster munitions twice to hit civilians fleeing from the battle zone through the main escape route. Russia denies the use of cluster bombs, but is accused of having used them in its attacks against Gori, Ruisi and Karbi. 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 urged the authorities to account for any crimes.
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 states 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."
According to Human Rights Watch, during the August war, South Ossetian militias burned and looted most ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia, effectively preventing 20,000 residents displaced by the conflict from returning. Furthermore, the civilians willing to live in South Ossetia are obliged to accept a Russian passport in order to be authorised to. According to Memorial the villages of Kekhvi, Kurta, Achabeti, Tamarasheni, Eredvi, Vanati and Avnevi have been "virtually fully burnt down". 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. A total of 30,000 Georgians became refugees. The EU commission stated that "several elements suggest the conclusion that ethnic cleansing was indeed practised against ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia both during and after the August 2008 conflict".
In the weeks following the conflict, the Georgian government began building numerous settlements throughout the country to permanently accommodate Georgian refugees.
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. The great majority of those killed in the war were civilians. Russian and South Ossetian officials initially claimed that up to 2,000 Ossetian civilians were killed by Georgian forces. These high casualty figures, are according to Russia the reason for the military intervention in Georgia. Almost one year after the conflict, Georgia has reported more than 413 deaths. Based on reports by Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, The estimate the Commissioner received from the Russian authorities on confirmed deaths was 133 people in Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia. Human Rights in Areas Affected by the South Ossetia Conflict. Special Mission to Georgia and Russian Federation] On the other hand, the false claims of high casualties may have 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", as reported by Russian federal TV channels. Stan Storimans, a Dutch journalist, was the only foreigner killed in the conflict.
Both sides have filed complaints with various international courts, including the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice (where the written pleadings in the case Georgia vs Russian Federation start on 2 September 2009) and the European Court of Human Rights, against each other.
On 12 August local authorities stated that approximately 70% of Tskhinvali's buildings, both municipal and private, had suffered damage during the Georgian offensive. According to later statements made by Russian and Ossetian sources, about 20% of the Tskhinvali's buildings had suffered various damage, including an estimate of 700, or about 10% of the city's buildings, as being "beyond repair".
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. 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 widespread destruction in Tskhinvali caused by indiscriminate fire from Georgian artillery and rocket launchers. Tskhinvali residents are almost unanimous in blaming the Georgian troops for the destruction of the city.
The Georgian side maintains that the Russian Army should be held responsible for heavy damage and destruction of buildings and infrastructure in Tskhinvali, as it was bombing the city for three days. "When aircraft started bombing our positions in Tskhinvali, this is when most civilian buildings were burned", explained Davit Kezerashvili. Russian journalist Julia Latinina also blames Russia for damaging the city. According to a Georgian police officer, "the city was unimpaired" when they entered into it.
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. On 16 August 2008, Russian forces advancing towards Tbilisi blew up the railway bridge near Kaspi, about 50 km (31 mi) outside of the Georgian capital, thus cutting the link between Eastern and Western Georgia as well as the main transport link between landlocked Armenia and the Georgian Black Sea ports of Batumi and Poti. The cement factory and civilian area in Kaspi were also reportedly damaged by Russian air-raids.
From 19 August onwards the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) released a series of detailed satellite maps of the regions affected by the war via its Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT). All damage is assessed from satellite images (with a resolution of up to 60 cm), however it is not independently validated on the ground. For Tskhinvali, UNOSAT reports 230 (5.5% of the total) of buildings either destroyed or severely damaged. In the villages to the north of Tskhinvali (controlled by Georgia previous to the war) between 5.4% and 51.9% of the total buildings were affected. Human Rights Watch (HRW) used the images to support the claim that widespread torching of ethnic Georgian villages by Ossetian militia had occurred inside South Ossetia. With regard to the city of Poti, UNOSAT provided imagery that witnesses a total of 6 Georgian naval vessels either "partially or completely submerged". "No other damage to physical infrastructure or vessel-related oil spills" were detected.
Many countries and institutions promised reconstruction aid for the affected regions.
Responsibility for the war and motives
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 concluded that while Georgia could have responded to the separatist attacks, it could not justify the full scale attack on Tskhinvali.
Independent international fact-finding mission
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 also incorporated earlier reports by the OSCE, HRW and other organisations.
The Report stated that conflict started "with a massive Georgian artillery attack...against the town of Tskhinvali and the surrounding areas, launched in the night of 7 to 8 August 2008", but was "...mere culmination of series of provocations..." and that all sides share responsibility. 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. It also noted that Georgian attack on 7 August was a response, albeit not proportionate, to South Ossetian attacks in the following paragraphs:
"To the extent that the attacks on Georgian villages, police and peacekeepers were conducted by South Ossetian militia, self-defence in the form of on-the-spot reactions by Georgian troops was necessary and proportionate and thus justified under international law.
On the other hand, the offensive that started on 7 August, even if it were deemed necessary, was not proportionate to the only permissible aim, the defence against the on-going attacks from South Ossetia."
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.
While the report acknowledged the presence of some non-peacekeeping Russian troops in South Ossetia, their presence did not justify the initial Georgian attack. The report also stated that "the use of force by Georgia against Russian peacekeeping forces in Tskhinvali in the night of 7/8 August 2008 would be contrary to international law". 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 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.
Georgia first claimed that its attack responded to Ossetian shelling of Georgian villages, and that it aimed to "restore constitutional order" in South Ossetia. Later, Saakashvili said the aim of the Georgian attack was to counter a Russian invasion. 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. 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. The Georgian government later changed 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." 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. However, in a later article published on 6 November, The New York Times said that "neither Georgia nor its Western allies have as yet provided conclusive evidence that Russia was invading the country or that the situation for Georgians in the Ossetian zone was so dire that a large-scale military attack was necessary" and that the phone intercepts published by Georgia did not show the Russian column's size, composition or mission, and that "there has not been evidence that it was engaged with Georgian forces until many hours after the Georgian bombardment."
Russia says it acted to defend Russian citizens in South Ossetia, and its own peacekeepers stationed there. The Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia suffered casualties during the initial Georgian artillery barrage on Tskhinvali and were besieged by Georgian troops for two days until a Russian unit broke through to their camp and started evacuating the wounded at 5 a.m. on 9 August. 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. 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. Initially, Russia went as far as accusing Georgia of committing genocide against Ossetians, noting that Georgia codenamed their attack "Operation Clear Field" The independent EU commission found no evidence for the alleged genocide and ruled the extension of operations into uncontested Georgia illegal. Russia codenamed its operation "Operation Forcing Georgia to peace".
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. 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."
South Ossetia's government in Tskhinvali said that it called for Russian help once the Georgian bombardment of their capital city, Tskhinvali, started, in order to prevent genocide and was relieved when the 58th Army intervened to assist against, what Ossetians called "the most frightful fire". A Latin American journalist, Raul Fajardo who was visiting South Ossetia, stated: "I am confident that if it had not been for Russia and the courage of the Ossetian soldiers who defended their homeland, mankind would have regretted today the genocide of the Ossetian people, the irretrievable loss of the people with a unique history, traditions and culture".
The South Ossetian government further called into question Georgia's assertion that Russian forces were bombing Tskhinvali, because the South Ossetian Minister of Defence, Vasiliy Lunev, was in command of the Russian Army after the wounding of Russian General Anatoly Khrulyov. South Ossetia stated that Saakashvili's brutal attack on their country is simply a continuation of Georgia's aggressive behavior, demonstrated in the 1920s, the early 1990s and Saakashvili's feeble attempt in 2004.
Reactions to the conflict
||The neutrality of this article is disputed. (November 2011)|
- European Union — An independent report, commissioned by the Council of the European Union stated that the war was started by the Georgian attack "that was not justified by international law". The report said the commission found no evidence for Georgia's claims of being invaded by Russia prior to launching an attack on South Ossetia. It confirmed that units of Russian regular troops, mercenaries, and volunteers had entered South Ossetia before the Georgian attack. The report said that Russia had a right to intervene in defense of its peacekeepers, but that the Russian reaction to the Georgian attack was disproportionate. The Abkhaz and Russian attack on the Kodori Gorge was deemed to be illegal. No evidence of an attempted genocide by Georgia against Ossetians, as claimed by Russia, was found. Instead, the report confirmed that Ossetian militia ethnically cleansed Georgians during and after the conflict, and noted that Russia failed to stop them.
- 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." "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."  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".
- 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. Instead, Bush opted for a softer option by sending humanitarian supplies to Georgia by military, rather than civilian, aircraft.
- France and Germany — France and Germany took an intermediate position, refraining from naming a culprit while calling for an end of hostilities.
- United Kingdom — British Foreign Minister 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".
- Poland — On 14 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.
- Ukraine — The president of Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko, said he intended to negotiate increasing the rent on the Russian naval base at Sevastopol in the Crimea. A controversy arose over how Ukraine should respond to the Ossetia war, which contributed to the 2008 Ukrainian political crisis.
- Italy — Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini stated "We cannot create an anti-Russia coalition in Europe, and on this point we are close to Putin's position".
- Belarus — The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko stated that "Russia acted calmly, wisely and beautifully". Lukashenko also offered to send 2,000 Ossetian children to Belorussian schools.
- Hungary — Hungarian opposition leader (now prime minister) Viktor Orbán drew parallel between the Russian intervention and the smashing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.
Recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by the Russian Federation
On 25 August 2008, the Federal Assembly of Russia unanimously voted to urge President Medvedev to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. On 26 August 2008, Medvedev agreed, signing a decree officially recognising the two entities, and in a televised address to the Russian people expressed his opinion that recognising the independence of the two republics "represents the only possibility to save human lives." Nicaragua recognised the republics on 5 September 2008. In January 2009, Belarus said it would make a decision on recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia on 2 April, but the European Union demanded that Belarus not recognise the republics and threatened to cancel Belarus' invitation to its Eastern Partnership programme. According to Peter Rutland, the EU has rewarded the Belarusian President Lukashenko for his non-recognition of the republics by suspending the travel ban for top Belarusian officials that had been imposed in 2004.
The unilateral recognition by Russia was met by condemnation from NATO, the OSCE Chairman, the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, Foreign Ministers of the G7, and the government of Ukraine because of the violation of Georgia's territorial integrity, and United Nations Security Council resolutions. Russia sought support for its recognition from the states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (the biggest members are Russia and China). However, because of concerns about their own separatist regions in states of the SCO, especially in China, the SCO did not back the recognition. According to Alexei Vlassov from Moscow State University, even Russia's closest allies did not show any willingness to support Moscow.
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. On 15 December 2009 Nauru recognized and established diplomatic relations with Abkhazia.
Severance of diplomatic relations between Georgia and Russia
Georgia has rejected this move outright as an annexation of its territory. In response to Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Georgian government announced that the country cut all diplomatic relations with Russia. Russia had already closed its embassy right after the beginning of the war, before diplomatic relations between the two countries ended.
Georgia also announced in August 2008 that it would leave the Commonwealth of Independent States, which it saw as dominated by Russia and its allies. The departure became effective on August 2009.
Independent media coverage and access to information were limited as the conflict continued to unfold. Cyber-warfare fuelled claims of distributed denial of service, censorship, propaganda, and disinformation from all sides, and restricted access for journalists made it difficult to verify the allegations. The Georgian government stopped translation of Russian TV channels and blocked access to Russian websites, during the war and its aftermath, limiting news coverage in Georgia. Georgian, Russian, South Ossetian, and Azerbaijani websites were attacked by hackers, causing a breakdown of local servers.
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."
NATO reaction in the Black Sea
NATO increased its naval presence in the Black Sea significantly, with ships docking in Georgian ports, and, according to the U.S. Navy, delivering humanitarian aid. NATO stressed that the increased presence in the Black Sea was not related to the current tensions and that the vessels were conducting routine visits and carrying out pre-planned naval exercises. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev did not address NATO directly but questioned the claim that ships going to Georgia were only rendering humanitarian assistance and alleged delivery of military support. 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 Western nations against violating the Convention.
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.
|Deployed||Lost or captured by Russia||Deployed||Lost or captured by Georgia|
|Armoured vehicles||Tanks||80 T-72||5 destroyed
25 abandoned or captured .
Georgia claims 18 tanks captured.
30 T-72BM 
|russia claims One T-72BM one T-72B and one T-62 destroyed.
Georgia claims 5 T-72BM
|BMP||138 BMP, BTR, and Otokar Cobra||(Police and Military)
15 BMP-1/2 captured.
2–3 Otokar Cobra captured.
25 non-armored vehicles
destroyed or captured.
|MT-LB, BRDM-2, BMD-1, BMD-2, BMP-1
destroyed, unknown number captured or damaged.
Georgians claim 35–40 armoured vehicles destroyed.
20 non-armored vehicles, including URAL and UAZ destroyed
Unknown Ossetian losses
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.
68 2S3 Akatsiya
32 2S19 MSTA-S 
|Rocket launchers||27 BM-21 Grad,
a battery of RM-70
|none||30 BM-21 Grad
|Anti-aircraft systems||Buk-M1 (1–2 battalions)
Osa-AK (8 units)
Osa-AKM (6–10 units) Tor-M1
|Several Buk-M1 and OSA-AK systems captured or destroyed||none|
|Combat aircraft||9 Su-25
some AN-2 Mi-8, Mil Mi-24
|1 Sukhoi Su-25 claimed by South Ossetians to have been downed
four helicopters destroyed/damaged on the ground (later repared by Georgian army).
|Rusia claims 3 Su-25
4 Mi-24 downed
|Ballistic missiles||none||none||15 Tochka-U (SS-21)
2 Iskander (SS-26) launched
|Small Arms||AK-74, M-4, IMI TAR-21, IMI Negev, AK-47, Glock 19, Sig P226, G36, SVD rifle, Barrett M82||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|
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-22MR recon and contributing to the losses of the 3 Su-25s. The view was mirrored by independent Russian analysis and by Russia's deputy chief of General Staff, Col. Gen. Anatoliy Nogovitsyn, who said the Russian-made Tor and Buk anti-aircraft missile systems that Georgia had bought from Ukraine were responsible for the downings of 4 Russian aircraft in the war. 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 SAM systems in western Georgia. Georgia also possessed Israeli-made SPYDER-SR short-range self-propelled anti-aircraft systems, according to some reports. 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.
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. Konstantin Makienko of CAST saw inadequate pilot training as the main reason behind the low efficiency of Georgian air raids. The Georgian Air Force provided heavy air support in the opening hours, but played a minimal role throughout the rest of the conflict, though it managed to fly sorties against Russian forces until 11 August. According to Batu Kutelia, Georgia's first deputy defence minister, in the future Georgia will need a very sophisticated, multi-layered air-defense system to defend all its airspace. However, Western military officers who have experience working with Georgian military forces suggest that Georgia's military shortfalls were serious and too difficult to change merely by upgrading equipment. According to an article published in the New York Times on 3 September, "Georgia's Army fled ahead of the Russian Army's advance, turning its back and leaving Georgian civilians in the 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."
Georgia's logistical preparations were poor and its units interfered with each other in the field. During the initial Georgian offensive, a well-executed Georgian attack captured most of Tskhinvali and South Ossetia, and special forces successfully ambushed the Russian advance column, but throughout the following days, Georgian forces were dislodged from South Ossetia by a fierce Russian and Ossetian counteroffensive, largely relying on artillery and air support. Georgian Naval Forces were defeated with the loss of a coast guard cutter during a naval skirmish off Abkhazia. During the Russian and Abkhaz offensive, Georgian forces only put up only minimal resistance before withdrawing, having inflicted and suffered light casualties. 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, connecting 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. During Russian and Ossetian raids into Georgian territory, the Georgian Army offered no resistance, and retreated to defend Tbilisi. It left behind some of its military equipment, which was captured by the Russians. After Russian forces occupied Poti, they sunk or towed away all naval boats still in harbor: The rest fled to Batumi. According to their American trainers, the Georgian soldiers did not lack "warrior spirit", but were not ready for combat. Georgia lacked well-trained and educated officers in the higher ranks, and neither Saakashvili nor his Defence Minister Davit Kezerashvili had any military experience, and yet they both still commanded troops in battle.
The Russian Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (C³I) performed poorly during the conflict. 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. 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.[dubious ] Furthermore, the Russian defense minister had failed to authorize the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, and an editorial in RIA Novosti said that Russian forces lacked dependable aerial reconnaissance systems, leading to the use of a Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range bomber on a reconnaissance mission, where it was subsequently shot down, and all of its crewmembers were killed or captured. Nevertheless, most of the reconnaissance was performed by three Russian reconnaissance battalions, so the need to use a strategic bomber for it was questionable.
A total of three Russian aircraft were shot down during the war, and Georgian air defenses were only driven off or destroyed by ground attacks, as the air force was unable to suppress them. The Russian Air Force was never able to fully stop aerial attacks by the Georgian Air Force, which was still flying sorties against Russian troops on August 11. The RIA Novosti editorial also stated that Russian Su-25 ground attack jets still lacked radar sights, computers for calculating ground-target coordinates and long-range air-to-surface missiles that could be launched outside enemy air-defence areas. 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."
After a close examination of the Russian Air Force's performance, Russian avionics expert Anton Lavrov pointed out that Russian MiG-29s established air superiority within a few hours of Russia's entry, and prevented the Georgian Air Force from supporting their assault on Tskhinvali. The Russians also flew 63 sorties on August 8, mostly by Su-25s when the Georgian Air Defense failed to shoot down a single Russian plane. According to Lavrov, Georgian air defenses failed to shoot down the three Russian Su-25s which were lost, claiming that they were lost to friendly fire, most likely either by "Igla" or "Strela" anti-air missiles. Lavrov asserts that the Tu-22M shot down was not used for scouting: On August 9, a wing of 4 Tu-22Ms completed their bombing run, and for unknown reasons descended from 16,000 to 4,000 meters, where one of them was shot down by a Georgian "Osa" AA missile. As a result, the Russians suspended all Tu-22M sorties for the rest of the war. Georgian air defenses shot down 2 Su-24s: One on August 9, by a Grom-2, another on August 11, by either an Igla or Strela.
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 related to the conduct of air operations and did not even 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.
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.
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. 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, leave Russia still lagging behind the image of a world-class military power it projects to the rest of the world. In contrast to the weak conscript soldiers used in Chechnya, Russia's force in Georgia was largely composed of professional soldiers. 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." Roger McDermott speculated that the (compared to earlier Russian conflicts) high level of criticism in the media after the conflict is part of "an orchestrated effort by the government to "sell" reform to the military and garner support among the populace."
However, the Russian Army's performance on the ground has come under scrutiny. Although the majority of soldiers deployed in the conflict zone were professionals, some were conscripts. General Vladimir Boldyrev admitted in September 2008 that many of the professional soldiers were no better trained than conscripts. Some of the soldiers deployed were servicemen from special ethnic minorities' units, mostly Chechens from the Vostok and Zapad Battalions. According to Georgian refugees, these servicemen showed little discipline or respect for the laws of war. Much of the ground fighting was carried out by Russian Airborne Troops, who could not be airlifted behind Georgian lines due to the Russian Air Force's inability to suppress Georgian air defenses. The 58th Army's advance column, led by General Anatoly Khrulyov, ran directly into a Georgian ambush as it entered South Ossetia on 9 August, due to poor intelligence. Only five of the thirty vehicles in the convoy survived, and the column took heavy casualties, including General Khrulyov himself, who was wounded in the leg. Many Russian ground units were insufficiently supplied with ammunition, which led to additional losses.
Georgian order of battle
The Georgian army consisted of 4 regular infantry brigades, plus a fifth brigade in the process of formation. One artillery brigade was stationed at Gori and Khoni and a tank battalion was also stationed at Gori.
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 near the South Ossetian conflict zone. The 4th Brigade carried out the main mission of attempting to capture Tskhinvali, while the 2nd and 3rd Brigades provided support. Of all Georgian military units, the 4th Brigade suffered the heaviest casualties.
The 1st infantry brigade, the only one trained to a NATO level, served in Iraq at the start of the war. Two to three days later the U.S. Air Force airlifted it to Georgia, too late to take part in the Battle of Tskhinvali.
- 11th Infantry Battalion,
- 1st Mechanized Battalion
- 1st Artillery Battalion,
- Support units of the I Infantry Brigade
- II Infantry Brigade
- III Infantry Brigade
- IV Infantry Brigade (ex-Interior Ministry Troops)
- V Infantry Brigade (in Abkhazia)
- Separate Light Infantry Battalion
- Joint Artillery Brigade (Equivalent to 2 or 3 Arty Brigades by NATO standards)
- Separate Tank Battalion
- Military Engineering Brigade
- Special Forces Brigade
- National Guard
- Logistic Support Department of the Army
- Air Force
- Naval Force
- Coast Guard
Military instructors and alleged use of foreign mercenaries
At the outbreak of the war 127 U.S. military trainers including 35 civilian contractors were present in Georgia. Additionally 1000 troops from the US, and 10 troops from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine each, had participated in the military exercise "Immediate Response 2008" which ended only days earlier. Several of these soldiers were still in the country. The United States European Command, EUCOM, stated that neither participated in the conflict. The Russian side made allegations that at least one American citizen fought with Georgian forces, after producing an American passport claimed to be discovered in Georgian fighting positions. The authenticity of the passport was not contested. However, the passport owner and the US authorities denied the claims, saying the passport was lost elsewhere (apparently, in Moscow).
Russo-South Ossetian and Russo-Abkhaz order of battle
The Russian order of battle involved significant elements of the Russian 58th Army. According to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, 58th Army is one of Russia's premier combat formations and boasts 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.
South Ossetian Sector
Initially present (3,500):
- Military of South Ossetia – (2,400):
- 1st Ossetian Foot Battalion
- 1st Ossetian Motorized Battalion
- 1st–3rd Ossetian Arty Battalions, (4 D-30, 4 Akatsiya, 4 Gvozdika – apiece)
- 4th Ossetian Arty Battalion (6 BM-21 Grad, 4 MT-12)
- 1st Ossetian Spetsnaz Battalion
- 1st Ossetian Support Battalion
- (Battalions are 150–500 men)
Russian Peacekeeping Forces (1,100):
- 600 peacekeepers from the 135th Separate Motorised Rifle Regiment of 58th Army
- 500 North Ossetian peacekeepers under Peacekeeping Battalion "Alania"
Arrived as reinforcements:
- Two battalions of the 135th Separate Motorised Rifle Regiment
- 503rd Motorised Rifle Regiment of the 19th Motorised Rifle Division
- 693rd Motorised Rifle Regiment of the 19th Motorised Rifle Division
- 70th Motorised Rifle Regiment
- 71st Motorised Rifle Regiment
- One company of Special Battalion Vostok
- One company of Special Battalion Zapad
Airborne Troops (VDV):
- 104th and 234th Paratroop Regiments of the 76th Guards Air Assault Division (Pskov)
- Units of 98th Guards Airborne Division (Ivanovo)
Units of GRU:
- One Battalion of the Spetsnaz of 45th Detached Reconnaissance Regiment of VDV (Moscow)
- Units of the 10th Spetsnaz Brigade
- Units of the 22nd Spetsnaz Brigade
Abkhazian Sector (Up to 9000 men):
- 7th Novorossiysk Air Assault Division
- 76th Pskov Air Assault Divisions
- Elements of the 20th Motorised Rifle Division
- Two battalions of Marines
- units of 131st Separate Motor-Rifle Brigade (used as peacekeepers)
- One Battalion of the Spetsnaz of 45th Detached Reconnaissance Regiment of VDV (Moscow)
- Armed Forces (land and air forces) of Abkhazia
Equipment losses and cost
In the aftermath of war Reuters cited some Stratfor analysts who believed that "Russia has largely destroyed Georgia's war-fighting capability". The Georgian Army lost many pieces of heavy equipment, of which a large percentage was left behind during the Georgian Army's retreat from Gori and Poti. Out of its 250-strong tank force, 23 T-72s were either destroyed or captured after the ceasefire agreement. It also lost several units of its advanced air-defense systems, though its arsenal of hand-held anti-aircraft missiles remained largely intact. The Georgian Army also lost hundreds of small arms (mostly AK-74) during the conflict. Three Georgian Navy vessels out of the 19 boat-strong force were sunk in their harbour, Poti, after Russian forces occupied the city, while the rest of the Georgian Navy escaped to Batumi, and a Georgian Coast Guard patrol cutter was sunk by Russian naval forces off the coast of Abkhazia. Nine rigid-hull inflatables were also towed away by the Russians. Russia estimated that the Georgian Air Force lost three out of its nine Su-25 strike aircraft, two of its seven L-29 jet trainers, an AN-2 cargo plane, and four helicopters. Georgian Defence Minister Davit Kezerashvili stated that Georgia suffered losses of materiel worth $250 million.
Following the war the Georgian Army replaced its losses by purchasing large shipments of foreign military equipment, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery, firearms, ammunition, military vehicles, missiles, air defense weaponry, and telecommunications equipment, primarily from Ukraine and Turkey. The Georgian Navy partially replaced its losses with patrol/fast attack boats from Turkey, and two of the vessels sunk in Poti harbor were raised and returned to service. All operational naval units were merged with the Georgian Coast Guard. The Georgian Air Force purchased additional unmanned aerial vehicles and two helicopters from Turkey. In August 2010, the Georgian military budget stood at $400 million. The Georgian Armed Forces reached a strength greater than pre-war levels in 2009. With the military reforms completed, Georgia then reduced military spending. In 2010, Georgia also began producing its own line of armored vehicles, small arms, artillery systems, and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Russia officially confirmed the loss of three Su-25 strike aircraft and one Tu-22M3 supersonic bomber. Analysts at Moscow Defense Brief give a higher estimate, saying that the overall losses of Russian Air Force in the war amounted to seven aircraft, while Anton Lavrov lists 6 Su-25s, 2 Su-24s and 1 Tu-22M as lost.
According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, figures from the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, compiled three days after the war in lieu of official data, place the cost of the five days of war at 12.5 billion rubles (then $508.7 million) for Russia. This includes the cost of the losses of four Russian aircraft which is thought to have been more than $44 million. According to the estimate, no less than 1.2 billion rubles (then 50.8 million dollars) per day went on fuel.
- 2008 Georgia–Russia crisis#Events in 2009
- Foreign relations of Abkhazia
- Foreign relations of Georgia
- Foreign relations of Russia
- Foreign relations of South Ossetia
- Georgia–Russia relations
- Olympus Inferno, is a 2009 Russian war drama film and world's first feature film on the South Ossetian conflict.
- 5 Days of War, a 2011 film depicting the war.
- August Eighth, is a 2012 Russian war drama film about the war.
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- 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.
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|Wikinews has news related to:|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to South Ossetia war, 2008.|
- (English) (Georgian) (Russian) Georgia Update – service of the Government of Georgia offering updates on recent developments
- (English) EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia
- (English) EU Fact Finding Mission (Tagliavini report)
- (English) United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia
- (English) OSCE Mission to Georgia (closed)
- (English) The EU Investigation Report on the August 2008 War and the Reactions from Georgia and Russia in the Caucasus Analytical Digest No. 10
- (English) War in Georgia. International Crisis Group's multimedia presentation
- (English) BBC hub
- Fighting in South Ossetia Photos
- Boston.com Gallery