Location of South Ossetia (purple) within Georgia.
|Georgia|| South Ossetia
The Georgian–Ossetian conflict is an ongoing ethno-political conflict over Georgia's former autonomous region of South Ossetia, which evolved in 1989 and developed into a 1991–1992 South Ossetia War. Despite a declared ceasefire and numerous peace efforts, the conflict remains unresolved, and minor armed incidents persist. In August 2008, military tensions and clashes between Georgia and South Ossetian separatists erupted into the Russo-Georgian war.
- 1 Origins of the conflict
- 2 Timeline before 2003
- 3 Timeline before 2008
- 4 Events in 2008
- 5 After the 2008 war
- 6 See also
- 7 References
Origins of the conflict
The conflict between Georgian and Ossetians dates back until at least 1918. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, Georgia stayed Menshevik controlled, while the Bolsheviks took control of Russia. In June 1920, a Russian-sponsored Ossetian force attacked the Georgian Army and People's Guard. The Georgian's responded vigorously and defeated the insurgents, with several Ossetian villages being burnt down and 20,000 Ossetians displaced in Soviet Russia. Eight months later, the Red Army successfully invaded Georgia. The Soviet Georgian government created the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast in April 1922 under pressure from Kavburo (Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party). Some argue that the autonomy was granted by the Bolsheviks to the Ossetians in return for their assistance in fighting against a democratic Georgia, because this territory had never been a separate principality before.
In the late 1980s, when the perestroika policy initiated by Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, caused rising nationalism in the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) and the country moved towards independence, it was opposed by the Ossetian nationalistic organization, Ademon Nykhas (Popular Front). Created in 1988, Ademon Nykhas demanded greater autonomy for the region and finally, unification with Russia’s North Ossetia. On November 10, 1989, the South Ossetian Supreme Soviet approved a decision to unite South Ossetia with the North Ossetian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. However, a day later, the Georgian SSR Supreme Soviet revoked the decision and on 23 November, thousands of Georgian nationalists led by Zviad Gamsakhurdia and other opposition leaders marched to Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, to hold a meeting there. The Ossetians mobilized blocking the road and only the interference of Soviet Army units avoided a clash between the two demonstrations. The Soviet commanders made the Georgian demonstrators turn back. However, several people were wounded in subsequent clashes between Georgians and Ossetians.
By the beginning of 1990 South Ossetian forces had 300-400 poorly armed fighters, however their number grew to about 1,500 in six-months time. The main source of small arms for South Ossetian militias was the Soviet Army helicopter regiment based in Tskhinvali. A self-defence force known as the Merab Kostava Society began to grow in neighbouring Georgian villages. Rivalling militias engaged in sporadic low-level fighting.
The Georgian Supreme Council adopted a law barring regional parties in the summer of 1990. This was interpreted by Ossetians as a move against Ademon Nykhas and on September 20, 1990, the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast declared independence as the South Ossetian Democratic Soviet Republic, appealing to Moscow to recognise it as an independent subject of the Soviet Union. When the election of the Georgian Supreme Council took place in October 1990, it was boycotted by the South Ossetians. On December 10, 1990, South Ossetia held its own elections, declared illegal by Georgia. A day later, the Georgian Supreme Soviet cancelled the results of the Ossetian elections and abolished South Ossetian autonomy.
On December 11, 1990, several bloody incidents occurred in and around Tskhinvali. The Georgian government declared a state of emergency in the districts of Tskhinvali and Java on December 12. Georgian police and National Guards units were dispatched in the region to disarm Ossetian armed groups.
The George H. W. Bush administration openly supported the restoration of independence of the Baltic SSRs, but regarded the questions relating to the independence and territorial conflicts of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the rest of the Transcaucasus — which were integral part of the USSR with international borders unaltered since the 1920s — as internal Soviet affairs.
Timeline before 2003
1918–1920 South Ossetia conflict
The Georgian–Ossetian conflict (1918–1920) comprised a series of uprisings, which took place in the Ossetian-inhabited areas of what is now South Ossetia, a breakaway republic in Georgia, against the Transcaucasian Democratic Federative Republic and then the Menshevik-dominated Democratic Republic of Georgia which claimed several thousand lives.
The 1991–1992 South Ossetia War
The Ossetian–Georgian tensions escalated into a 1991–1992 war which killed some 1,000 people.
Georgian and Ossetian sides began Russian and OSCE-mediated negotiations on peaceful resolution of the conflict on October 30, 1995. The major break through in negotiation happened in May 1996 when the two sides signed a 'Memorandum on measures for providing security and joint confidence' in which the two sides renounced the use of force in future.[better source needed] This was followed up by several meetings between then-President of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze, and de facto President of South Ossetia Ludwig Chibirov. These resulted in some positive developments as the talks about IDP return, economic development, a political solution to the issues, and the protection of the population in the conflict zone.
The separatists retained control over the districts of Tskhinvali, Java, Znauri and parts of Akhalgori. The Tbilisi central government controlled the rest of Akhalgori and the Georgian villages in the Tskhinvali district. There was no military confrontation for twelve years. While the peace process was frozen, Ossetians and Georgians engaged in lively exchanges and uncontrolled trade. The unresolved conflict encouraged development of such illegal activities as kidnapping, drug-trafficking and arms trading. Up to the end of 2003, a number of law enforcement officials from South Ossetia and Georgia proper allegedly were participating in criminal economic activities. Authorities on both sides reportedly co-operated to profit from illegal trade, as did Russian customs and peacekeeping troops.
Timeline before 2008
The 2004 flare-up
When Mikheil Saakashvili was elected President in 2003, he made his goals clear to return the two breakaway regions of Georgia under central control. 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. Restoring South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Georgian control has been seen as a top-priority goal of Saakashvili since he came to power.
In mid-June, Georgian police shut down the Ergneti market, which was a major trading point for tax-free goods from Russia. These Georgian actions made the situation more tense. Georgia's regional administration began to restore the alternative road to Didi Liakhvi.
On July 7, Georgian peacekeepers intercepted a Russian convoy, which led to tensions between Tbilisi and Moscow. The next day, around 50 Georgian peacekeepers were disarmed and detained by the South Ossetian militias. On 11 July 2004, Georgian president Saakashvili said the "crisis in South Ossetia is not a problem between Georgians and Ossetians. This is a problem between Georgia and Russia." The Georgian peacekeepers captured were all released on July 9, with three exceptions.
Russian State Duma passed a resolution supporting Abkhaz and South Ossetian secessionists on August 5, 2004. Hundreds of Russian volunteers, mainly Cossacks, arrived in South Ossetia to defend the separatist government.
The tensions increased on the night of 10–11 August, when Georgian and South Ossetian villages in the area north of Tskhinvali, came under fire and civilians were injured. Members of the Georgian and South Ossetian forces of the JPFK are said to have been involved in the exchange of fire. On 13 August, Georgia’s Prime Minister Zhvania and de facto South Ossetian President Kokoev agreed on a ceasefire, which was breached multiple times by both sides. During the tensions in July and August, 17 Georgians and 5 Ossetians were killed. In emergency sessions of the JCC on 17 and 18 August in Tbilisi and Tskhinvali, the sides debated complex ceasefire proposals and demilitarization projects. At the same time, they expected fighting to resume and used the truce to improve their military positions and strengthen defences. A ceasefire agreement was reached on 19 August.
In an interview broadcast by Imedi television on August 24, the chairman of the Georgian parliament's Defense and Security Committee, Givi Targamadze said that Russian military was prepared to launch a strike into Georgian territory, but the raid was preempted by Saakashvili's decision on August 19 to withdraw Georgian forces from strategic positions in South Ossetia. Targamadze said the Georgian government possessed secretly recorded video of Russian military preparations along the Georgian-Russian border.
At a high level meeting between Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania and South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity on November 5 in Sochi, Russia, an agreement on demilitarization of the conflict zone was signed. Some exchange of fire continued in the zone of conflict after the ceasefire, apparently primarily initiated by the Ossetian side.
New peace efforts
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili presented a new vision for resolving the South Ossetian conflict at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) session in Strasbourg, on January 26, 2005. His proposal included broader forms of autonomy, including a constitutional guarantee of free and directly elected local self-governance. Saakashvili stated that South Ossetia's parliament would have control over issues such as culture, education, social policy, economic policy, public order, organization of local self-governance and environmental protection. At the same time South Ossetia would have a voice in the national structures of government as well, with a constitutional guarantee of representation in the judicial and constitutional-judicial branches and in the Parliament. Georgia would commit to improving the economic and social conditions of South Ossetian inhabitants. Saakashvili proposed a transitional 3-year conflict resolution period, during which time mixed Georgian and Ossetian police forces, under the guidance and auspices of international organizations, would be established and Ossetian forces would gradually be integrated into a united Georgian Armed Forces. Saakashvili also said that the international community should play a more significant and visible role in solving this conflict.
Zurab Zhvania's premature death in February 2005 was a setback in the conflict resolution.
2006 attack on a Georgian helicopter
On September 3, 2006, the South Ossetian forces opened fire at a Georgian MI-8 helicopter carrying Defense Minister of Georgia, Irakli Okruashvili, and the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Georgian armed forces, when it flew over the separatist-held territory. It was only slightly damaged and landed safely in Georgian government-controlled territory. Although the South Ossetian authorities reported that the Georgian helicopter had entered their air space and fired shots at the ground, the Georgians denied the charge that shots had come from the helicopter. Later, the South Ossetian officials confirmed their troops were responsible for the attack, but rejected the claim that the aircraft was targeted because of prior intelligence that Okruashvili was on board. "We are not interested in having either Okruashvili or [Georgian president Mikheil] Saakashvili killed, as they are helping us to achieve independence," declared South Ossetian interior minister Mikhail Mindzayev.
2006 October incident
On October 31, 2006, the South Ossetian police reported a skirmish in the Java, Georgia district in which they killed a group of 4 men. The weapons seized from the group included assault rifles, guns, grenade launchers, grenades and explosive devices. Other items found in the militants' possession included extremist Wahhabi literature, maps of Java district and sets of Russian peacekeeping uniforms. Those findings led the South Ossetian authorities to conclude that the militants were planning to carry out acts of sabotage and terrorist attacks. The South Ossetian authorities identified the men as Chechens from Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. South Ossetia has accused Georgia of hiring the Chechen mercenaries to carry out terrorist attacks in the region.
The Georgian side flatly denied its involvement in the incident. Shota Khizanishvili, a spokesperson for the Georgian Interior Ministry, supposed that the incident could be connected to "internal conflicts in South Ossetia".
Rival elections of 2006
On November 12, 2006, two rival elections and simultaneous referendums were held in South Ossetia. The separatist-controlled part of the region reelected Eduard Kokoity as de facto president and voted for independence from Georgia. In the areas under Georgia's control, the Ossetian opposition, with unofficial backing from Tbilisi, organized rival polls electing Dmitry Sanakoyev, the former premier in the secessionist government, as an "alternative president" and voted for negotiations with Georgia on a future federal agreement. Moscow denounced the move as Georgia's attempt to install "a puppet government" in the conflict zone.
Georgia's new initiative
On May 10, 2007, Tbilisi-backed Dmitry Sanakoyev was appointed as head of the South Ossetian Provisional Administrative Entity by the President of Georgia. The next day, Sanakoyev addressed the Parliament of Georgia, outlining his vision of the conflict resolution plan (full text). In response the South Ossetian separatists enforced mass blockade of Georgian villages in the conflict zone and Eduard Kokoity demanded the withdrawal of Georgian special-task troops and South Ossetia’s interim government headed by “alternative president” Dmitri Sanakoev.
On July 24, 2007, Tbilisi held its first state commission to define South Ossetia's status within the Georgian state. Chaired by Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, the commission included Georgian parliamentarians, representatives of the Ossetian community in Georgia and representatives of several Georgian human rights organisations. The talks were held with Sanakoev's administration.
Tsitelubani missile incident 2007
On August 6, 2007, a missile landed, but did not explode, in the Georgian-controlled village of Tsitelubani, some 65 km (40 mi) north of Tbilisi. Georgian officials said that Russian Russian attack aircraft, an SU-24 Fencer, violated its airspace and fired Raduga Kh-58 anti-radar tactically guided missile. Russia denied the allegations. The group of defense specialists from the United States, Sweden, Latvia, and Lithuania stated late on August 15 that the plane flew from Russian to Georgian airspace and back three times.
Events in 2008
Events prior to August 2008 are described in 2008 Georgia–Russia crisis.
2008 War in South Ossetia
Increasing tensions escalated during the summer months of 2008. Shelling by Ossetian separatists against Georgian villages began as early as August 1, thus drawing a sporadic response from Georgian peacekeepers and other fighters already in the region.
On 7 August, Georgian President Saakashvili, ordered a unilateral ceasefire at 19:10. Following Saakashvili’s address, attacks on Georgian villages continued and intensified. During the night of 7 to 8 August 2008 Georgia launched a military offensive to put an end to the South Ossetian fire, and 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 official reason given for this, according to the commander, Mamuka Kurashvili, was to respond to the above-mentioned attacks against Georgian villages. Kurashvili stated that the purpose of the operation was to restore constitutional order in the region.
After a prolonged artillery attack, Georgian troops with tanks and air support entered South Ossetian-controlled territory. Georgian shelling left parts of the capital city in ruins. According to Russian military commander, over 10 Russian peacekeepers were killed. On the same Russia sent troops across the Georgian border, into South Ossetia. 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". 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.
In five days of fighting, the Russian forces captured Tskhinvali, pushed back Georgian troops, and largely destroyed Georgia’s military infrastructure using airstrikes deep inside the small country's territory. After the retreat of the Georgian forces, the Russians were able to enter uncontested Georgia and temporarily occupy the cities of Poti, Gori, Senaki, and Zugdidi.
Both during and after the war, South Ossetian authorities and irregular militia conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Georgians in South Ossetia, with Georgian villages around Tskhinvali being destroyed after the war had ended. The war displaced 192,000 people, and while many were able to return to their homes after the war, a year later around 30,000 ethnic Georgians remained displaced. In an interview published in “Kommersant”, South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity said he would not allow Georgians to return.
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. On 17 August, Dmitry Medvedev announced that Russian forces were to begin withdrawing the next day. On 9 October, Russian forces withdrew from the buffer zones adjacent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The control of the buffer zones was handed over to the EU monitoring mission in Georgia.
After the 2008 war
On August 26, 2008, Russia officially recognized both South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.
On 4 August 2009, it was reported that tensions were rising before the war's first anniversary on 7 August. The European Union urged "all sides to refrain from any statement or action that may lead to increased tensions at this particularly sensitive time."
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