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2008 South Ossetia War
Part of Georgian–Ossetian conflict
and Georgian–Abkhazian conflict
2008 South Ossetia war en.svg
Location of Georgia (including Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and the Russian part of North Caucasus
Date 7 August 2008 – 16 August 2008[1]
Location South Ossetia, Georgia proper, Abkhazia
Result *Russian/South Ossetian/Abkhazian victory
  • Partial recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent republics.[2]
  • Expulsion of most ethnic Georgians from South Ossetia and from the Kodori Gorge.[3][4][5][6]
Georgia loses control over parts of Abkhazia and South Ossetia it previously held.
Georgia (country) Georgia Russia Russia
South Ossetia South Ossetia
Abkhazia Abkhazia
Commanders and leaders
Georgia (country) Mikheil Saakashvili (commander-in-chief)[7]
Georgia (country) Davit Kezerashvili (Defense Minister)[7]
Georgia (country) Mamuka Kurashvili (Peacekeepers)[8]
Georgia (country) Vano Merabishvili (Minister of Internal Affairs)
Georgia (country) Zaza Gogava (Chief-in-Staff)
Russia Dmitry Medvedev (commander-in-chief)
Russia Anatoly Khrulyov (58th Army) (WIA)[9]
Russia Vyacheslav Borisov (76th Airborne)[10]

Russia Marat Kulakhmetov (Peacekeepers)[11][12]
Russia Vladimir Shamanov (in Abkhazia)

South Ossetia Vasiliy Lunev[13]
Abkhazia Anatoliy Zaitsev[14]
Georgia (country) In South Ossetia: 9,000-16,000 soldiers. Total: 37,000.[15][16][17][18]
Unknown number of Georgian Police deployed in the conflict zone
Russia In South Ossetia: 10,000. In Abkhazia: up to 9,000[19][15][20]
South Ossetia 3,000 regulars[16]
Abkhazia 5,000 regulars[21]
Casualties and losses
Georgia (country)Confirmed by Georgia:
161 soldiers killed, 1,964 wounded,[22] 9 missing, 42 captured.[23][24][25]
14 policemen killed and 22 missing[25][26][27]
Confirmed by Russia:
Russia 64 killed, 283 wounded, 3 missing, 5 captured[28][29]
South OssetiaSouth Ossetia:
150 dead (including volunteers),[15] 41 captured
Confirmed by Abkhazia:
Abkhazia 1 killed, 2 wounded[30]
Civilian casualties:
South Ossetia: 162 according to Russia, 365 according to South Ossetia.[31][32][33]
Georgia: Georgian government claims 228 civilians dead or missing.[34]
One foreign civilian killed and 3 wounded.[25][35]
At least 158,000 civilians displaced[36] (including 30,000 South Ossetians that moved to North Ossetia, Russia, 56,000 Georgians from Gori, Georgia and 15,000 Georgians from South Ossetia per UNHCR), that moved to Georgia proper.[37][38] Estimate by Georgian Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs: at least 230,000.[39][40][41]

The 2008 South Ossetia War, also known as the Russia–Georgia War, was an armed conflict in August 2008, between Georgia on one side, and the Russian Federation together with Ossetians and Abkhazians on the other.

The 1991–1992 South Ossetia War between Georgians and Ossetians had left most of South Ossetia under de-facto control of a Russian-backed internationally-unrecognised regional government.[42] Some ethnic Georgian-inhabited parts remained under the control of Georgia. This mirrored the situation in Abkhazia after the War in Abkhazia (1992–1993). Already increasing tensions escalated in South Ossetia during the summer months of 2008.

During the night of 7 to 8 August 2008, Georgia launched a large-scale military attack against the self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia. The following day, Russia reacted by deploying combat troops in South Ossetia and launching bombing raids into Georgia proper.[43][44][45] Russian and Ossetian troops clashed with Georgians in the three-day Battle of Tskhinvali, the largest battle of the war. Russian naval forces blocked Georgia's coast and landed ground forces and paratroopers on the Georgian coast. On 9 August Russian and Abkhazian forces opened a second front by attacking the Kodori Gorge, held by Georgia,[46] and entered western parts of Georgia's interior. After five days of heavy fighting, the Georgian forces were ejected from South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russian troops entered Georgia proper, occupying the cities of Poti and Gori among others.[47]

After 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. On 12 August, President Medvedev had already ordered a halt to Russian military operations in Georgia,[48] but fighting did not stop immediately.[49] After the signing of the ceasefire Russia pulled most of its troops out of Georgia proper. However, "buffer zones" were established around Abkhazia and South Ossetia and Russia created check points in Georgia's interior (Poti, Senaki, Perevi).

On 26 August 2008 Russia recognised the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia completed its withdrawal from Georgia proper on 8 October, but as of 2009 Russian troops remain stationed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (including in areas under Georgian control before the war).[50][51][52]

A number of incidents occurred in both conflict zones in the months after the war ended. As of 2009 tensions between the belligerents remain high.


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

Amidst rising ethnic tensions, the South Ossetian Supreme Soviet in 1989 approved a decision to unite South Ossetia, an autonomous region within the Georgian SSR, with the North Ossetian ASSR, part of Russia. In its turn, Georgia's Supreme Council revoked the decision and abolished South Ossetian autonomy.[53] The government in Tbilisi also established Georgian as the country's principal language, whereas the Ossetians' first two languages were Russian and Ossetian.[54] A military conflict broke out in January 1991 when Georgia sent in troops to crush the separatist movement in South Ossetia. The South Ossetian secessionists were helped by former Soviet military units, who by now had come under Russian command.[42] 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.[54][55][56][57] The war resulted in South Ossetia, which had a Georgian ethnic minority of around 29% of the total population of 98,500 in 1989,[58] 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 demilitarization.[59][60] 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, where the Abkhazian minority seceded from Georgia in a war in the early 1990's. Similar to South Ossetia, most of Abkhazia was controlled by an unrecognized 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.[61]

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 program to strengthen failing state institutions,[62] including security and military, created "passably democratic institutions" and implemented what many viewed as a pro-US foreign policy.[42] One of Saakashvili's main goals has been Georgian NATO membership, which Russia opposes. This has been one of the main stumbling blocks in Georgia-Russia relations.[63][64] In 2007, Georgia spent 6% of GDP on its military and had the highest average growth rate of military spending in the world.[65][66] In 2008, Georgia's defense budget was $1bn, a third of all government spending.[67] Restoring South Ossetia and Abkhazia (a region with a similar movement) to Georgian control has been seen as a top-priority goal of Saakashvili since he came to power.[68][69] Opposition members have criticised Saakashvili of having authoritarian tendencies. During Saakashvili's rule, human rights organizations such as Freedom House downgraded Georgia's democracy ranking. The Freedom House ranking moved lower than it was under President Eduard Shevardnadze.[67][70]

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 said its aim was 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 8-19 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 the self-proclaimed republic.[42][58][69][71] 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.[67][72]

Georgian military study map from 2006 depicting South Ossetia

In the 2006 South Ossetian independence referendum, 99% of those voting supported full independence. Simultaneously, ethnic Georgians voted just as emphatically to stay with Tbilisi in a referendum among the region's ethnic Georgians. 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 Army.[73][74][75][76][77] 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.[78][79] In 2006, the Georgian government set up what Russians claimed 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.[80][81] 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 Defense Ministry.[58]

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stated that he would "protect the life and dignity of Russian citizens wherever they are".[82] In 1989, Ossetians accounted for around 60 percent, Georgians 20 percent, Armenians 10 percent and Russians 5 percent of the population, but about 7/8 of the population of South Ossetia have acquired Russian citizenship.[83] Reuters describes the government as "dependent on Russia, [supplier of] two thirds of [its] annual budget", and reports that "Russia's state-controlled gas giant Gazprom is building new gas pipelines and infrastructure" worth hundreds of millions of dollars to supply South Ossetian cities with energy.[84] 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.[85] When President Saakashvili was re-elected in early 2008, he promised to bring the breakaway regions back under Georgian control.[86]

The U.S. Ambassador John Tefft addresses Georgian graduates of the SSOP. June, 2007.
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (green) and the projected Nabucco gas pipeline (tangerine)

Georgia maintained a close relationship with the G.W. Bush administration of the United States of America. In 2002, the USA started a program to arm and train the Georgian military, and, in 2005, a second program to broaden capabilities of the Georgian armed forces. These programs involed training by the United States Army Special Forces, United States Marine Corps, and military advisors personnel.[63][87][88]

Although Georgia has no significant oil or gas reserves of its own, it is the 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 of transports 1 million barrels (160,000 m3) oil per day.[89][90][91] 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.[92]

Prelude to war[edit]

Military buildup[edit]

Situation in South Ossetia before the war

During 2008 both Georgia and Russia accused each other of preparing a war.[61][93] 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.[94][95] Later, UNOMIG denied any build up in the Kodori Gorge or near the Abkhazian border by either sides.[96][97]

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 were still within the 3,000 limit imposed by a 1994 decision of CIS head of states.[98][99] Sergey Lavrov said, that his country was not preparing for war but would "retaliate" against any attack.[94]

On 20 April, a Russian jet shot down a Georgian unmanned spy plane flying over Abkhazia.[61][97][100] After the incident Saakashvili deployed 12,000 Georgian troops to Senaki.[101] 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.[102] Both countries also accused each other of flying jets over South Ossetia, violating the ceasefire.[103]

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.[104][105] 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.[97] After the war, Major General Vyacheslav Borisov and commander of the 76th Airborne Division praised the exercises in the region as one of the reasons why his unit performed well in the war.[106] 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.[20] 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 from the South Ossetian border.[107] According to Colonel Wolfgang Richter, a leading military adviser to the German OSCE mission, Georgia concentrated troops along the South Ossetian border in July.[107]

On 5 August, Russian ambassador-at-large Yuri Popov reiterated the Russian claim that the country would intervene in the event of military conflict.[108][109] 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.[110]

According to Moscow Defense Brief, an English-language defense magazine published by the Russian NGO, 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.[15] 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.[20][17] On the opposite side, there were said to be 1,000 Russian peacekeepers and 500 South Ossetian fighters ready to defend Tskhinvali, according to an estimate quoted by Der Spiegel.[19][61][111]

Pre-war clashes[edit]

Clashes and shelling between the Georgian and Ossetian forces in early August led to the deaths of six Ossetians and five Georgians; each side accused the other of opening fire first, in what was the worst violence in years. During the week the fighting intensified.[112][113] On 3 August, the Russian foreign ministry warned that an extensive military conflict was about to erupt. According to a 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. [19][114] Starting with the night of 6–7 August there were continuous artillery fire exchanges between the two sides.[7][19][115] At 3 p.m. on 7 August, OSCE monitors on patrol saw large numbers of Georgian artillery and Grad rocket launchers massing on roads north of Gori, just south of the South Ossetian border.[7][116]

On 5 August, both sides had agreed to hold meetings in the presence of chief Russian negotiator over South Ossetia Yuri Popov on 7 August. However, a day later, the South Ossetian side refused to participate in the talks, demanding a JCC session (consisting of Georgia, Russia, North and South Ossetia) instead.[117] Tbilisi had withdrawn from the JCC in March, demanding the format include the EU, the OSCE and the Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia. The meeting on 7 August went ahead, but the Ossetian side did not show up.[97] The Russian commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Force (JPFK), General Marat Kulakhmetov, advised the Georgians to declare a ceasefire.[97][116][118] During the afternoon of 7 August, Georgia withdrew its personnel from the JPFK Headquarters in Tskhinvali.[119][120]

Active stage of the war[edit]

Evening of 7 August[edit]

File:Georgian rocket launchers.jpg
Georgian rocket launchers attacking Tskhinvali
File:Marat Dzhioyeva funeral.jpg
Funeral of North Ossetian militia Marat Dhzioyev (26 years old)

At about 7 p.m., President Mikheil Saakashvili ordered a unilateral ceasefire, advised earlier that day by Kulakhmetov.[97][116][118] According to the Georgian military, fighting intensified despite the declared ceasefire.[121][122] Georgian armor continued to move to the South Ossetian line even after Saakashvili's ceasefire,[7] and the Russian and Ossetian governments claimed that the ceasefire was "just as an attempt to buy time" while Georgian forces positioned themselves for a major attack.[7][116]

During a news broadcast that began at 11 p.m., Mikheil Saakashvili announced that Georgian villages were being shelled, and vowed to restore Tbilisi's control by force over what he called the "criminal regime" in South Ossetia and to "restore constitutional order."[116][122] 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,[7][116] and NATO officials attest to minor skirmishes but nothing that amounted to a provocation, according to Der Spiegel.[43]

At 11:30 p.m. on 7 August, Georgian forces began a major artillery assault on Tskhinvali.[123] At 11:45 p.m. OSCE monitors reported, that shells were falling on Tskhinvali every 15–20 seconds.[123] The Georgians used 27 rocket launchers, and also 152-millimeter guns as well as cluster bombs. According to Georgian intelligence[124] and several Russian sources, parts of 58th Russian Army moved to South Ossetian territory through the Roki Tunnel before the Georgian attack.[125][126][127][128][129][130] However, no conclusive evidence has been presented by Georgia or its Western allies that Russia was invading the country before the Georgian attack (the Russians claim the it was simply a routine logistics train or troop rotation) or that the situation for Georgians in the Ossetian zone was so dire that a large-scale military attack was necessary.[17][116]

The Battle of Tskhinvali[edit]

Main article: Battle of Tskhinvali
Russian JPKF peacekeepers base buildings in Tskhinvali, shelled by Georgia on 7–8 August 2008
File:University of Tskhinvali after the war.jpg
University of Tskhinvali building damaged by the Georgian artillery fire.
Burned Georgian tank in Tskhinvali.
File:"Convoy' heading to Tskhinvali.jpg
Russian Army convoy heading towards Tskhinvali on 10 August

Early in the morning of 8 August, Georgia launched a military offensive, codenamed Operation Clear Field[131] to capture Tskhinvali. The Georgian 4th Brigade spearheaded the infantry attack, while the 2nd and 3rd Brigades provided support.[20] Georgian forces soon seized several South Ossetian controlled villages located on higher ground around the city.[97][132][133][134]

At 12:15 a.m. Kulakhmetov reported to the OSCE monitors that the JPKF peacekeepers had come under fire and that they had casualties.[116] 18 Russian Peacekeeping force soldiers were killed in the Georgian artillery shelling. The peacekeepers' cafeteria was completely destroyed and all of their buildings went up in flames.[135][136] Georgian shelling left parts of the capital city in ruins. University of Tskhinvali building and the surrounding area was damaged by the Georgian artillery fire aimed at the Ossetian government centre, as some shells "might have fallen short", according to city residents.[137] 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".[138]

There were claims casualties may amount up to 2,000 dead in Tskhinvali following the Georgian shelling.[139] The extent of civilian casualties was later disputed in a number of sources. However, a doctor in Tskhinvali's hospital told the HRW of 44 dead bodies being brought there during the shelling. According to the doctor, the hospital, was under fire for 18 hours. HRW documented the severe damage done to the hospital by a Grad multiple rocket launcher.[140][141]

By 8 am. on 8 August, Georgian infantry and tanks had entered Tskhinvali and engaged in a fierce battle with Ossetian forces and the Russian peacekeeping battalion stationed in the city.[15][142] 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 counter offensive artillery and air attacks, according to Georgian officials.[7][142]

The BBC has discovered evidence that Georgia may have committed war crimes during its attack and occupation of Tskhinvali, including possible deliberate targeting of civilians.[143] The Human Rights Watch found some evidence of firing being directed into basements, locations which civilians frequently choose as a place of shelter.[144]

According to Georgia, Russian military aircraft violated Georgian airspace around 10 a.m. on 8 August.[145] Russian warplanes bombed an airbase near Tblisi, killing 3 Georgian soldiers.[146] Starting around 2 p.m., international press agencies began running reports of Russian tanks in the Roki tunnel.[147] According to a senior Russian official, the first Russian combat unit, the First Battalion of the 135th 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 disputes the account, saying that it was in heavy combat with Russian forces near the tunnel long before dawn of 8 August.[148] Some Western intelligence experts believe, that Russian troops did not begin marching through the tunnel until roughly 11 a.m. on 8 August.[17] Russian warplanes bombed a military airbase 40 miles from Georgia's capital Tblisi on August 8, killing 3 Georgian soldiers.[149]

During the evening of 8 August, vicious fighting took place in the area of Tskhinvali and in other parts of South Ossetia.[150] 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. Russia also undertook action to suppress the Georgian artillery and the Russian Air Force launched strikes on Georgia's logistical infrastructure. Russian special units reportedly prevented Georgian "saboteurs" from blowing up the Roki Tunnel, which could have hindered the sending of reinforcements to South Ossetia.[151]

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.[15] 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.[15] Due to 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.[97] The Russians moved between 5,500 and 10,000 troops to South Ossetia through the Roki Tunnel, according to Der Spiegel.[19] On August 9, the convoy of Russian Lieutenant General Anatoly Khrulyov moved into Tskhinvali from the Roki Tunnel, and was ambushed by Georgian special forces. Khrulyov was wounded and Russian Major Denis Vetchinov was killed in the ensuing firefight. Vetchinov was awarded Hero of the Russian Federation posthumously, the highest Russian military award, for his courage and heroism he displayed in the ensuing firefight [152]

According to Moscow Defense Brief, "by the morning of August 10, the Georgians had captured almost the whole of Tskhinvali, forcing the Ossetian forces and Russian peacekeeping battalion to retreat to the northern reaches of the city. However, on this very day the accumulation of Russian forces in the region finally bore fruit, and the fighting in South Ossetia reached a turning point. Toward the evening of August 10, Tskhinvali was completely cleared of Georgian forces, which retreated to the south of the city. Georgian forces were also repelled from the key Prisi heights. The bulk of Georgia’s artillery was defeated. Meanwhile, Ossetian forces, with the support of Russian divisions, took Tamarasheni, Kekhvi, Kurta, and Achabeti on the approach to Tskhinvali from the north. Georgian forces in several Georgian enclaves were eliminated." Only in the area around the village of Zemo-Nikosi did Georgian units stubbornly resist, repelling the Russian attack for a short time, but were soon defeated. Georgian units and artillery continued to shell Tskhinvali from a number of high points. By the end of 11 August South Ossetia was completely cleared of Georgian forces, and Russian units had moved into Georgia proper by the next morning. Having retreated from South Ossetia, the Georgian forces regrouped at Gori.[15]

According to the Georgian Defense Minister, the Georgian military tried to push into Tskhinvali three times in all. During the last attempt, they got a very heavy Russian-led counter attack which Georgian officials described as "something like hell."[7] In total, the fighting in the Tskhinvali area lasted for three days and nights, by the end of which Georgian artillery was either destroyed or had left its positions, from which it could shell the city and Georgian ground troops pulled out of the city.[151] In all, Russian forces had lost 43 dead in Tskhinvali, and South Ossetian forces had lost 150 dead, while Georgian forces lost 59 dead.

Bombing and occupation of Gori[edit]

Pictures on display outside the Georgian parliament showing the destruction after Russian bombings in Gori

Gori is a major Georgian city close to the border with the de facto independent republic of South Ossetia, about 25 km from Tskhinvali.[153] It was the staging area for the Georgian army during the fighting for the capital of South Ossetia and was bombed several times by the Russian Air Force.[154]

According to western intelligence the Russian bombings began at 7:30 a.m. 8 August, when it launched the first SS-21 short-range missile, supposedly at military or government bunker positions in the city of Borzhomi, southwest of Gori.[17] Around 6 a.m. on 9 August, Reuters reported that two Russian fighters had bombed a Georgian artillery position near Gori.[155] A later attack hit the central district of the city, killing one Dutch journalist.[156] An air-to-ground missile also struck the Gori hospital.[157] Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international rights group, charged Russia with deploying controversial and indiscriminately deadly cluster bombs on civilian areas of Georgia. According to HRW at least eight civilians were killed and dozens injured when a Russian aircraft dropped cluster bombs in the centre of Gori on 12 August.[158] According to the Russian military claim, three bombs hit an armament depot and the façade of one of the adjacent 5-storey apartment buildings suffered as a result exploding ammunition from the depot.[159] The Georgian government reported that 60 civilians were killed when at least one bomb hit an apartment building in Gori.[160]

On the evening of 10 August, large numbers of the civilian population began to flee the city.[161] By the next day, 11 August, 56,000 people had fled the district. The day after that, 12 August, at 5 p.m., the Georgian army started to abandon the city in disarray, without firing a shot, following their defeat at Tskhinvali.[162] 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".[162] 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.[15] During this flight, Al Jazeera's cameras caught a Georgian tank hit by a Russian shell exploding while the reporters fled with the column.

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

On 13 August Russian ground forces entered Gori.[162][163][164] Since the Georgian defenders of the city were in full retreat, Gori was completely clear of Georgian troops 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.[165] Russian troops said they were removing military hardware and ammunition from an arms depot outside Gori.[166] Russian troops were also seen on the road from Gori to Tbilisi, but they turned off to the north, about an hour from Tbilisi, and encamped. Georgian troops manned the road six miles (about 10 km) closer to Tbilisi.[167][168]

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.[169] On 15 August, Russian troops allowed a number of humanitarian supplies into the city but continued their blockade of the strategically located city.[170][171] In the 17 August report, HRW said the organization'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.[169] A Russian lieutenant said on 14 August: "We have to be honest. The Ossetians are marauding."[172] Vyacheslav Borisov admitted that "now Ossetians are running around and killing poor Georgians in their enclaves."[172] 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."[172] The New York Times noted, that Russia was "probably" making at least some effort to stop the rampaging.[172] According to the Hague Convention, an occupying power has to "insure public order and safety in the occupied areas".[173] The Russian human rights group Memorial called the attacks by South Ossetian militia "pogroms".[174]

The occupation lasted until 22 August.[175]

Abkhazian front[edit]

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

The Russian Black Sea Fleet left Sevastopol on the evening of 8 August and established a de-facto sea blockade of the Georgian coast. On the evening of 9 August a naval skirmish between Russian and Georgian forces took place. The Russian Nanuchka III class corvette Mirazh (Mirage) probably sank one Georgian patrol cutter with two Malakhit (SS-N-9) anti-ship missiles. This was the Russian Navy's first real sea battle since 1945, according to Moscow Defense Brief.[176] The Russians claimed that Georgian ships had violated the security zone of the Black Sea Fleet and therefore the action was in accordance with international law. Following the action, the remaining Georgian ships withdrew to a nearby harbor.[177]

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. With their support, Abkhaz forces began to dislodge the Georgian forces from the Kodori Gorge.

On 10 August Abkhazia declared a full military mobilization to "drive out the 1,000 Georgian troops" from their remaining stronghold in the Kodori Valley.[178]

The next day, Russian paratroopers deployed in Abkhazia carried out raids deep inside Georgian territory to destroy military bases from where Georgia could send reinforcements to its troops sealed off in South Ossetia. Russian forces, meeting virtually no opposition, reached the military base near the town of Senaki in undisputed Georgian territory on the 11th, destroying the base there. Russian aircraft also shot down two Georgian helicopters at the airbase at Senaki.[15][179] Russian troops also drove through the port of Poti, and occupied positions around it.[180] On 12 August, the Abkhazian authorities announced the beginning of a military offensive against Georgian troops in the Kodori Gorge area.[178][178] On the same day, Georgia said it was withdrawing its troops from the Kodori Gorge as a gesture of goodwill.[181] The battle between Georgian and Abkhazian forces lasted until 13 August, when all of the remaining Georgian forces, including at least 1,500 civilians in the Kodori Valley, were driven from Abkhazia and South Ossetia.[182][183]

Occupation of Poti[edit]

Main article: Occupation of Poti

On 14 August, Russian troops entered Poti and sunk several Georgian naval vessels moored in the harbor, as well as removing or destroying military equipment.[184][185] They also controlled the highway linking Poti to Tbilisi.[186] 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.[187] From 13–15 August, according to Moscow Defense 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."[15]

Six-point peace plan[edit]

Territories controlled by Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh

On 10 August most international observers began calling for a peaceful solution to the conflict.[188] The European Union and the United States expressed a willingness to send a joint delegation to try and negotiate a ceasefire.[189] 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.[190]

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."[191][192] 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.[193] 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.[194] On 14 August, South Ossetia President Eduard Kokoity and Abkhazia President Sergei Bagapsh signed the peace plan as well.[195]

  1. No recourse to the use of force.
  2. Definitive cessation of hostilities.
  3. Free access to humanitarian aid (addition rejected: and to allow the return of refugees).
  4. The Armed Forces of Georgia must withdraw to their permanent positions.
  5. 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)
  6. 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).[194][196][197]

After the cease fire had been signed, hostilities did not immediately stop. According to Moscow Defense Brief, active raids on Georgian territory to capture and destroy Georgian weapons, and the "demilitarization of the Georgian armed forces" continued.[15] 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."[49] On 14 August, efforts to institute joint patrols of Georgian and Russian police in Gori broke down due to apparent discord among personnel.[198][199][200] Reuters stated on 15 August, that Russian forces had pushed to 34 miles (55 km) from Tbilisi, the closest during the war; they stopped in Igoeti 41°59′22″N 44°25′04″E / 41.98944°N 44.41778°E / 41.98944; 44.41778, an important crossroads.[201] That day, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also travelled to Tbilisi, where Saakashvili signed the 6-point peace plan in her presence.[202][203] Russian and Georgian forces exchanged prisoners of war on 19 August. Georgia said it handed over 5 Russian servicemen, in exchange for 15 Georgians, including two civilians.[204]

Russian withdrawal[edit]

Despite numerous calls for a quick withdrawal from Georgia by western leaders,[205] Russian troops occupied some parts of Georgia proper for about two months. In late August, some troops were withdrawn, however Russian troops and checkpoints remained near Gori and Poti, as well as in so called "buffer zones" around Abkhazia and South Ossetia.[206] Withdrawal from the buffer zones around South Ossetia and Abkhazia was completed when control was handed over to a EU observer mission on 9 October.[207] 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". On the other hand, Georgia considers Abkhazia and South Ossetia "Russian-occupied territories".[208] Russia maintains 3,700 soldiers in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia and is planning to open military bases in Java, Tskhinvali, and Gudauta in 2010.[205][209][210][211][212] Russia is planning to spend $400 million on the bases.[213] According to the British House of Lords, Russia is in violation of the six-point peace plan by keeping troops stationed in areas they did not previously control.[51]

International monitors[edit]

As of June 2009, there are 225 EU ceasefire monitors operating in Georgia.[214][215] 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.[215][216]

A number of incidents have occurred in both border conflict zones since the war ended, and tensions between the belligerents remain high.

File:'On the outskirts of Tshkinvali'.jpg
Russian investigation committee at Dubovoy Woods (on the outskirts of Tskhinvali), where the bodies of about 50 dead Georgian soldiers were found


According to the Russian Prosecutor's Office, identities and circumstances of death of 162 victims were collected.[31] South Ossetian officials are still claiming the number of 365 victims.[32][33][217][218] During the conflict, the number of deceased victims was initially claimed to be much higher, at 1,492 civilians. These numbers were disputed by Human Rights Watch, Memorial and the Georgian side.[219][220] Human Rights Watch believes Russian and South Ossetian figure of 300-400 civilians is a "useful starting point".[143][221] When interviewed by Memorial, Ossetian residents revealed that most of the killed were the representatives of armed resistance, as the majority of the civilian population had already left Tskhinvali during the week before the attack on the city.[222]

South Ossetian military and militia deaths, including various volunteers, are estimated at about 150.[15] An additional 41 South Ossetian militiamen were captured. Russia confirmed its military casualties as being 64 soldiers killed, 283 soldiers wounded, and 3 soldiers missing. Russia also confirmed that 5 of its soldiers, 3 of them ground troops and 2 of them pilots, had been captured. Abkhazia confirmed its military casualties as being 1 soldier killed and 2 soldiers wounded.[223][citation needed] Georgia confirmed the loss of 161 soldiers killed, 9 soldiers missing, 42 soldiers captured, and 1,964 wounded. The Georgian police, which also fought in the conflict, suffered the loss of 14 policemen killed and 22 policemen missing. Georgian civilian casulties are estimated to be higher than 228. An additional 872 Georgian civilians are listed as missing. One Dutch journalist was killed in the conflict[224][225] and another 3 foreign civilians were wounded.

Humanitarian impact and war crimes[edit]

File:South Ossetian refugee girl.jpg
Refugee from Tskhinvali in a refugee camp in the city of Alagir, North Ossetia, Russia
Refugees from South Ossetia outside the Georgian parliament in Tbilisi, Georgia

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), all parties committed serious violations of 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."[226] 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 Grad multiple rocket launchers, an indiscriminate weapon, to destroy targets situated in civilian areas.[5] 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.[227] Russian warplanes bombed civilian population centers 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 criminal gangs and Ossetian militia have committed looting, arson attacks, rape and abductions in Georgian villages and towns, terrorizing the civilian population, forcing them to flee their homes and preventing displaced people from returning home.[5][227] In the Georgian city of Gori, Ossetian militia have terrorized the civilian population and attacked anyone who tried to flee.

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.[228][229] Russia denies the use of cluster bombs, but is accused of having used them in its attacks against Gori, Ruisi and Karbi.[228][229][230] Russia denied use of cluster bombs, but according to Georgian civilians, Russian forces used cluster bombs against Georgian civilians, causing casualties.[231] 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.[5][227]

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."[228]

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.[232] Furthermore, the civilians willing to live in South Ossetia are obliged to accept a Russian passport in order to be authorised to.[233][234] According to Memorial the villages of Kekhvi, Kurta, Achabeti, Tamarasheni, Eredvi, Vanati and Avnevi have been "virtually fully burnt down".[222] The South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity stated in an interview that Georgian villages were successfully demolished and none of the Georgian refugees will be allowed to return back.[235]

In November 2008, Amnesty International released a 69 page report citing both Georgia and Russia of serious international law violations on the conduct of war.[236] 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, but eventually lowered the figure. The official Ossetian civilian casualty figure is 365 dead. Georgian authorities claimed that 228 civilians had died in Georgia and 872 were missing, but retracted that claim. According to the Georgian government, 69 Georgian civilians were killed during the conflict. Stan Storimans, a Dutch journalist, was the only foreigner killed in the conflict.

Infrastructure damage[edit]

1993 US map showing the defense industries of Georgia at the time: Tbilaviamsheni, an aircraft assembly plant in Tbilisi which was bombed during the war,[237] and component plants in other cities.

On 12 August local authorities stated that approximately 70% of Tskhinvali's buildings, both municipal and private, had suffered damage during Georgian offensive.[238] 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".[239][240]

According to Human Rights Watch, on the night of 7–8 August, Georgian forces subjected the city of Tskhinvali and several nearby Ossetian villages to heavy shelling. 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.[241] 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 organization has discovered evidence of widespread destruction in Tskhinvali caused by indiscriminate fire from Georgian artillery and rocket launchers.[241] Tskhinvali residents are almost unanimous in blaming the Georgian troops for the destruction of the city.[242]

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.[243] "When aircraft started bombing our positions in Tskhinvali, this is when most civilian buildings were burned", explained Davit Kezerashvili.[7] Russian journalist Julia Latinina also blames Russia for damaging the city.[244] According to a Georgian police officer, "the city was unimpaired" when they entered into it.[245]

Georgia claimed Russia had 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.[246][247] On 16 August 2008, Russian forces advancing towards Tbilisi exploded the railway bridge near Kaspi, about 50 km 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.[248][249]

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).[250] 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[251]) between 5.4% and 51.9% of the total buildings were affected.[252] 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.[253] 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.[254] reported that retreating Georgian forces mined civilian infrastructure in South Ossetia, including some private house basements civilians used to hide in during the Georgian offensive.[255]

Many countries and institutions promised reconstruction aid for the affected regions.

Responsibility for the war and motives[edit]

The combatants' positions[edit]

On 7 August Saakashvili gave two reasons for his decision to go to war: the need to defend Georgian villages from Ossetian shelling and to "restore constitutional order" in South Ossetia, following repeated incidents that had led to several deaths in the region. Later Saakashvili said the aim of the Georgian attack was to counter a Russian invasion.[116] 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.[256] In a decree ordering the general mobilization, 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.[111] 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, Mikheil 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."[17]

Russia says it acted to defend Russian citizens in South Ossetia, and its own peacekeepers stationed there.[257] 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.[257][258] 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.[148] Defending Russia's decision to launch attacks on Georgia proper, 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.[259] Initially, Russia went as far as accusing Georgia of committing genocide against Ossetians,[138][256] noting that Georgia codenamed their attack "Operation Clear Field"[260] Russia codenamed their operation as "Operation to force Georgia to peace".[154][261]

Georgian intelligence and journalistic evaluation[edit]

Georgia has 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 Aug. 7; Russian military played down the significance of the intercepted conversations, saying the troop movements to the enclave before the war erupted were part of the normal rotation and replenishment of longstanding peacekeeping forces there. In a 16 September article, the New York Times described the intercepted calls as "credible if not conclusive."[262]

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."[116]

OSCE monitors[edit]

A former senior OSCE official, Ryan Grist, who was in charge of unarmed monitors in South Ossetia at war's start and in mid of August 2008 forced to resign by OSCE,[263] told the BBC in November 2008 that he had been warning of Georgia's military activity before its move into the South Ossetia region, saying there was a "severe escalation" and that this "would give the Russian Federation any excuse it needed in terms of trying to support its own troops."[264]

According to Grist, it was Georgia that launched the first military strikes against Tskhinvali. "It was clear to me that the [Georgian] attack was completely indiscriminate and disproportionate to any, if indeed there had been any, provocation,” he said. “The attack was clearly, in my mind, an indiscriminate attack on the town, as a town.”[123] Grist's views were echoed and confirmed by Stephen Young, who was another senior OSCE official in Georgia at the time. According to him, there had been little or no shelling of Georgian villages on the night Saakashvili’s troops began their onslaught on Tskhinvali. Young added, that if there had been shelling of Georgian villages that evening as Georgia has claimed, the OSCE monitors at the scene would have heard it. According to him, the monitors only heard occasional small arms fire.[116][123]

Western military experts[edit]

NATO officials interviewed by Der Spiegel believed that the Georgians had started the conflict. The officials treated the exchanges of fire in the preceding days as minor events and didn't see them as a justification for Georgian war preparations. The NATO experts however did not question the Georgian claim that the Russians had provoked them by sending their troops through the Roki Tunnel. But their evaluation of the facts was dominated by skepticism that these were the true reasons for Saakashvili's actions.[43]

Western intelligence agencies, quoted by Der Spiegel, believed that Russian troops from North Ossetia did not begin marching through the Roki Tunnel until roughly 11 am on 8 August. The Russian army also did not begin firing until 7:30 am on 8 August.[17] Wolfgang Richer, a military expert to the German OSCE mission, said that he could find no evidence to support Saakashvili's claim that the Russians had sent troops through the Roki Tunnel before the Georgian attack, but he could not rule it out either.[17]


United States On 8 September Dana Rohrabacher (a senior Republican member of the United States House of Representatives) Foreign Affairs Committee, argued at a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, according to The Daily Telegraph, that "the Georgians had initiated the recent military confrontation in the on-going Russian-South Ossetian conflict", citing unidentified U.S. intelligence sources. Further, Telegraph reported that "Mr. Rohrabacher insisted that Georgia was to blame", citing him: "The Georgians broke the truce, not the Russians, and no amount of talk of provocation and all this other stuff can alter that fact." Telegraph stated: ""His comments got little attention in the United States but have been played prominently on state-run Russian television bulletins and other media."[265][266]

Georgia (country) On 25 November Erosi Kitsmarishvili, Georgia's former ambassador to Russia, has given a testimony to a parliamentary commission in which he said that Georgian authorities were responsible for starting the conflict. According to Kitsmarishvili, Georgian officials told him in April 2008 that they planned to start a war in Abkhazia and that they had received a green light from the United States government to do so. He said that the Georgian government later decided to start the war in South Ossetia and continue into Abkhazia. According to him, "Russia was ready for the war, but the Georgian leadership started the military action first."[267][268]

United Kingdom A report prepared for the British House of Lords comes to the conclusion that "The precise circumstances surrounding the August 2008 outbreak of the conflict are not yet clear but responsibility for the conflict was shared, in differing measures, by all the parties. There is evidence of a Russian military build-up prior to the August war. In addition, Russia’s use of force was disproportionate in response to provocative statements and military action by President Saakashvili. President Saakashvili seems to have drawn unfounded confidence in confronting Russia as a result of mixed signals from the US Administration. The origins of the conflict lie in both distant and more recent history in the region, involving population transfers, national grievances, commercial, political and military interests."[51]

Statements by analysts[edit]

Russia On 14 August, 2008, Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer, observer of Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and regular contributor to U.S. based think-tank Jamestown Foundation speculated in a Novaya Gazeta article that "Russia's invasion of Georgia had been planned in advance, with the final political decision to complete the preparations and start war in August apparently having been made back in April."[269]

Russia On 16 November, 2008, Ivan Kotlyarov, economist by training, wrote, that Saakashvili launched the war to bring South Ossetia back to Georgian control, but also to boost his falling popularity by creating a small war which he could win. However, Kotlyarov points out that a thorough analysis of the causes of the war "It is impossible at this point".[58]

United States In December 2008, Professor Charles King described the Georgian attack on South Ossetia as "an ill-planned reconquista" in his article published in the Foreign Affairs journal.[42]

Sweden In August 2008, Svante Cornell, Johanna Popjanevski and Niklas Nilsson from the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Sweden commented that preceding the war, "Moscow’s increasingly blatant provocations against Georgia led to a growing fear in the analytic community that it was seeking a military confrontation," adding "Russia had been meticulously preparing an invasion of Georgia through the substantial massing and preparation of forces in the country’s immediate vicinity." The paper pointed out that its assertions were "initial conclusions," and due to the recent nature of the event, the information might possibly need correction as more solid evidence arrives.[97]

United States On 11 November an editorial in the International Herald Tribune stated: "There is no reason to doubt the OSCE monitors. The inescapable conclusion is that Saakashvili started the war and lied about it. The Kremlin may have done its part to provoke Georgia — and its reaction to the Georgian attacks was deliberately harsh — but that is no excuse for Saakashvili allowing himself to be provoked."[270][271]

Russia The Moscow Defense Brief pointed out that:

external observers frequently miss the point that Russia’s stake in the conflict over the unrecognized republics is much higher that that of Georgia’s entry into NATO or the destabilization of energy transit routes that bypass Russia. Russia simply could not afford to lose: in view of the harsh nature of the conflict in Abkhazia and Georgia in the early 1990s, Georgia’s seizure of these territories would mean ethnic cleansing, and the flight to Russian territory of many tens of thousands of embittered and armed refugees. The loyalty of the North Caucasus republics of North Ossetia and Adygeya, tied by blood relation to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, would be undermined. North Ossetia, moreover, is the largest and most loyal autonomous republic in the region. Russia would have been shown to be weak before the entire North Caucasus, and this would have marked a return to the situation of the 1990s.[272]

Reactions to the conflict[edit]

International reaction[edit]

In response to the war, Russia faced strong criticism from the US, the United Kingdom,[273] Poland, Sweden and the Baltic states.[274] George W. Bush warned Russia: "Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century."[275][276][277] In contrast, Italy was more supportive of Russia, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini stating "We cannot create an anti-Russia coalition in Europe, and on this point we are close to Putin's position". France and Germany took an intermediate position, refraining from naming a culprit while calling for an end of hostilities.[278][279]

Also in response to the war, Viktor Yushchenko, the president of Ukraine, said he intended to negotiate increasing the rent on the Russian naval base at Sevastopol in the Crimea.[280] On the other hand, the Abkhazian government said it would invite Russia to establish a naval base in the port of Sukhumi. According to Russia, any re-negotiation of the use of the Ukraine naval base would break a 1997 agreement, under which Russia leases the base for $98 million a year until 2017.[281] A controversy arose over how Ukraine should respond to the Ossetia war, which contributed to the 2008 Ukrainian political crisis.

Although many Western leaders initially showed solidarity with Georgia, the findings of possible war crimes committed by Georgia in South Ossetia later raised concerns among Georgia's supporters in the West. 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".[143]

Recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia[edit]

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

On 25 August 2008, the Federal Assembly of Russia unanimously voted to urge President Medvedev to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.[282] On 26 August 2008, Medvedev agreed, signing a decree officially recognising the two entities,[283] 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."[284] Georgia rejected this move outright as an annexation of its territory.[285] Nicaragua recognised the republics on 5 September 2008.[286] In January 2009, Belarus said it would make a decision on recognizing South Ossetia and Abkhazia on 2 April,[287] but the The European Union is demanding Belarus not to recognise the republics and is threatening to cancel Belarus' invitation to its Eastern Partnership program.[288] 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.[289]

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 due to alleged violation of Georgia's territorial integrity, and United Nations Security Council resolutions.[290][291][292][293] Russian sought support for its recognition from the states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (the biggest members are Russia and China). However, due to concerns about their own separatist regions in states of the SCO, especially in China, the SCO did not back the recognition.[294][295] According to Alexei Vlassov from Moscow State University, even Russia's closest allies did not show any willingness to support Moscow.[58]

Judicial reaction[edit]

On 12 August 2008, Georgia instituted proceedings in the International Court of Justice against Russia for violations of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The case (Georgia v. Russian Federation) was accepted by the court on 15 August. The first public hearings started at the Peace Palace in The Hague, seat of the Court on 8 September 2008.[296]

The Court held three days of hearings in September and issued its Order, stating both Parties must "do all in their power to ensure the security of persons, the right of persons to freedom of movement and residence, and the protection of property of displaced persons and of refugees. The Parties are also called upon to facilitate humanitarian assistance."[297]

South Ossetians have sent over 300 lawsuits to the International Criminal Court in The Hague seeking to bring Georgian authorities to justice for genocide. Russian prosecutors are also gathering evidence to support the allegations of genocide committed by Georgians against the South Ossetians but have not given a detailed statement on the legal grounds for the accusation.[298]

Media reaction[edit]

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.[299][300][301] Blogs sprang up on the Internet where individuals and professionals alike reported on events from different locations and different points of view as they happened in real time.[302] An international debate continued about access to accurate and reliable information.[116]

Censorship of Russian media in Georgia during the war[edit]

The Georgian government stopped translation of Russian TV channels and blocked access to Russian websites, limiting news coverage in Georgia. This has been continued even after war has ended (for example, access to Russian sites was recovered only in October 2008)[303]. Temur Yakobashvili, the minister for reintegration, publicly claimed responsibility for blocking access to the Russian TV broadcasts.[5][304][305][306]


During the war, Georgian, Russian, South Ossetian, and Azerbaijani websites were attacked by hackers, causing a breakdown of local servers.[305][307][308][309] Estonia responded to the Georgian need for web hosting by sending information security specialists from the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) and by hosting the web site for the Georgia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[310] The Office of the President of Poland provided Internet access for the government of Georgia to disseminate information.[311][312]

NATO reaction in the Black Sea[edit]

NATO increased its naval presence in the Black Sea significantly,[313] with ships docking in Georgian ports, and (according to the US navy) delivering humanitarian aid.[314] 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.[315][316] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev denied the claim and alleged delivery of military support.[317] Russian General Anatoly Nogovitsyn warned that NATO had already exhausted the number of vessels allowed in the Black Sea, under the 1936 Montreux convention, and warned Western nations against sending more ships.[318][319]

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.[320]


Military equipment[edit]

Type Georgia (country) Georgia Russia Russia
Deployed Lost or captured by Russia Deployed Lost or captured by Georgia
Armored vehicles Tanks 82 T-72[321] 65 T-72 captured (44 in operational condition)[15] 100-150; mostly T-72, T-62, some T-80[15][322]
APCs 139 (BMP and BTR), Otokar Cobra[321] 15 BMP captured[15] BMP-1, BMP-2, BTR-80[323]
Artillery SpGH DANA 100 pieces[322]
Rocket launchers 27 Grad BM-21[19] BM-21 and BM-30
Anti-aircraft systems Buk-M1 (1-2 battallions), Osa-AK (8 units), Osa-AKM (6-10 units),[324] Tor-M1[325] At least 6 Buk-M1, 5 Osa-AK units captured[324]
Combat aircraft 7 Su-25, some L-29, Mi-8, Mi-24 3 Su-25, 2 L-29, 1 Mi-8, 1 Mi-24 destroyed[15][326] Su-24, Su-25, Su-27, Tu-22M3[15][322] 2 Su-24, 4 Su-25, 1 Tu-22MR destroyed[15]
Ballistic missiles none none 15 Tochka-U (SS-21), a few Iskander (SS-26) launched[15] n/a
Small Arms M-4, AK-74, TAR-21, AK-47, Glock 19, Sig P226, G36, SVD rifle, Barrett M82[327] AK-74, AS Val, OTs-14, Saiga-12, MP-443 Grach,

Military analysis[edit]


According to a US military trainer, the Americans had trained Georgian soldiers with M-4 rifles, but when the fighting started, the Georgian regulars went back to using Soviet AK-74s and AK-47s, the only weapons they trusted. They had serious firing problems because they seemed unable to fire in single shot.[327] Israeli companies supplied UAVs, night-vision equipment, anti-aircraft equipment, ammunition and electronic systems as well as advanced tactical training.[328] According to HRW, the Israeli-made M85 cluster bombs used by the Georgian military had a high rate of submunitions that failed to explode on impact as designed.[329]

U.S analysts mention that the air defense was "one of the few effective elements of the country's military" and credit the SA-11 Buk-1M with shooting down a Tupolev-22M and contributing to the losses of the 3 Su-25s.[322] A view mirrored by Russia's deputy chief of General Staff, Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, who said the Ukrainian Tor and Buk missile systems were responsible for the downings of 4 Russian aircraft in the war, and independent Russian analysis.[324][330] Georgia also possessed Israeli-made Spyder-SR short-range self-propelled anti-aircraft systems, according to some reports.[331] The Georgian air defense 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-defense system.[331]

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.[332] Konstantin Makienko of CAST saw a low efficiency of Georgian air raids due to inadequate pilot training.[324] According to Batu Kutelia, Georgia's first deputy defense minister, in the future Georgia will need a very sophisticated, multi-layered air-defense system to defend all its airspace.[332] 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.[332] 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.[332] According to their American trainers, the Georgian soldiers don´t lack "warrior spirit", but weren´t ready for combat.[327] It has also been pointed out that, though neither Saakashvili nor his Defence Minister Davit Kezerashvili had any military experience, they both still commanded troops in battle.[333][334]


An editorial in RIA Novosti claimed that forces deployed by the Russian army lacked unmanned combat aerial vehicles, which hurt their intelligence efforts and forced Russia to send a Tupolev Tu-22M3 long-range bomber on a reconnaissance mission.[335] The same editorial 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-defense areas.[335] Independent 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."[324] Moscow Defense Brief strongly criticised the performance of the Russian military in the war, claiming that there was "a total absence of co-operation between the Russian army and the Russian air force," and that half of the Russian aircraft losses were due to friendly fire.[336]

The South Ossetia war was the first time in history that air power faced off against new-generation SAM systems, like the Buk-M1, which was developed in the 1980s. In all previous wars, such as the Iraq, Kosovo and the Arab-Israeli conflicts, the air defense systems used were designed in the 1950s and 1960s.[331]

According to Russian General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the General Staff, no new arms were tested during the war.[323]

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 made up entirely of professional soldiers, according to commanders. 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, has pointed out 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."[337]

American researchers working for the Heritage foundation praised the Russian command, stating that, because of comprehensive and systematic planning, the operations "were well prepared and well executed" and that the Russian offensive achieved a strategic surprise.[131]

Georgian order of battle[edit]

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.[338]

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.[20] The 4th Brigade carried out the main mission of capturing Tskhinvali, while the 2nd and 3rd Brigades provided support.[20] Of all Georgian military units, the 4th Brigade suffered the heaviest casualties.[23]

The 1st infantry brigade, being the only one trained to a NATO level, served in Iraq at the start of the war.[327] 2–3 days into the war, it was airlifted to Georgia by the U.S. Air Force, too late to take part in the Battle of Tskhinvali.[339]

Military instructors and alleged use of foreign mercenaries[edit]

At the outbreak of the war 127 U.S. military trainers including 35 civilian contractors were present in Georgia. Additionally, 1,650 personnel, including troops from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Ukraine, had participated in the military exercise "Immediate Response 2008" which ended only days earlier.[340] Several of these soldiers were still in the country. EUCOM stated that neither participated in the conflict.[341] 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. No one contested that the passport wasn't real. However, the passport owner and the US authorities denied the claims, saying the passport was lost elsewhere.

Russian-South-Ossetian and Russian-Abkhazian order of battle[edit]

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 premiere 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.[342]

South Ossetian Sector

Abkhazian Sector

Air support

  • Fighter, attack, bomber and reconnaissance aircrafts of 4th Air Army[16] (acting over South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Georgia proper)
  • Unnamed transport aviation units used for air-lift of units of 76th and 98th Airborne Divisions, Spetsnaz of 45th Detached Reconnaissance Regiment to South Ossetia and unnamed units of VDV to Abkhazia

Equipment losses and cost[edit]

In the aftermath of war Reuters cited some Stratfor analysts who believed that "Russia has largely destroyed Georgia's war-fighting capability".[349] During its retreat from South Ossetia the Georgian army left behind much of its military equipment. Large parts of its tank forces, artillery and relatively modern anti-aircraft defense units were either destroyed or captured. Almost the entire Georgian navy was sunk in their harbor, Poti, after Russian forces occupied the city.[15][324][350] Only 19 vessels of the Georgian navy remain in action. Russia confirmed the loss of 3 Su-25 strike aircraft and 1 Tu-22M3 supersonic bomber.[330] Russia estimates, that 3 Georgian Su-25 strike aircraft and 2 L-29 jet trainers were destroyed in the war.[351] According to Moscow Defense Brief, overall losses of Russian Air Force in the war amounted to seven aircraft: one Tu-22M3 long-range bomber, one Su-24M Fencer frontal bomber, one Su-24MR Fencer E reconnaissance plane, and four Su-25 attack planes.[15] Losses for the Georgian Air Force were allegedly 3 aircraft and 4 helicopters, with the confirmed loss of one AN-2 airplane, one Mi-14 transport/asw helicopter and two Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters.[352]

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, figures from the Center 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 2,5 billion rubles. According to the estimate, no less than 1,2 billion rubles per day went on fuel.[353]


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  353. ^ "[ Google translation". 2008-08-20. Retrieved 2009-05-10. 

External links[edit]



South Ossetia