The 2008 South Ossetia War was a land, air and sea war fought between the Georgia, on one side, and the separatist regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and the Russian Federation, on the other. Ongoing occasional skirmishes escalated to a war early in the morning of 8 August 2008, with an attack by Georgia into the break-away region of South Ossetia.
A preliminary ceasefire was signed by Georgia and Russia on 15 August 2008. The Russian military has announced a ten-day withdrawal from advance positions, while Georgian authorities have expressed discontent with the rate and extent of the pull-back, and with the continuing Russian presence in the port of Poti.
The number of refugees from South Ossetia fleeing into Russia reached an estimated 30,000 of the 70,000 overall population. Meanwhile by 18 August, about 68,000 ethnic Georgians had fled their homes due to the conflict.
On August 26, the Russian President formally recognised the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Georgia denounced this move as an annexation of its territory. Certain observers blame an increasing unilateral assertiveness in Russian foreign policy, while others view it merely as responding to threats to its interests, primarily from NATO expansion into Eastern Europe.
- See also: Georgian-Ossetian conflict, South Ossetian independence referendum, 2006, and 2008 Georgia-Russia crisis
The Ossetians are a Iranian ethnic group whose origin lies along the Don River. They came to the Caucasus after being driven out of their homeland in the Mongol invasions of the 13th century. Some clans settled in the territory now known as North Ossetia-Alania (currently part of Russia), and South Ossetia (currently part of Georgia).
South Ossetia, which has a Georgian ethnic minority of around one fifth (14,000) of the total population (70,000), broke away from Georgia in the 1991–1992 war (in which more than 2,000 people are believed to have died). Russian as well as Georgian and South Ossetian peacekeepers were then stationed in South Ossetia under JCC mandate and monitoring. 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. In a 2006 South Ossetian independence referendum, held by the secessionist government, full independence was supported by 99% of the voters. Georgia accuses Russia of the annexation of its internationally recognised territory and installing a puppet government led by Eduard Kokoity and several officials who previously served in the Russian FSB and Army. Restoring South Ossetia and Abkhazia (a region with a similar separatist movement) to Georgian control has been a goal of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili since the Rose Revolution.
According to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, 90% of South Ossetians possess Russian passports and thereby qualify for protection under article 80 of the Russian constitution. BBC and other sources say that Russia has issued most South Ossetians with Russian passports, thus potentially justifying future intervention on the grounds of protecting "its own" citizens. Reuters describes the South Ossetian separatist government as "dependent on Russia," which "supplies two thirds of their 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 there.
In the opinion of the Russian defence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer, Novaya Gazeta's member of staff, "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." Such view is supported by a former political counselor of Putin in his presidency time Vladimir Milov, who also pointed out that the South Ossetian government had been infiltrated by Russian siloviki.
Timeline of events
- August 1 - Late evening, intense fighting began between Georgian troops and the forces of South Ossetia. Georgia claimed that South Ossetian separatists had shelled Georgian villages in violation of a ceasefire. South Ossetia denied provoking the conflict.
Russian troops crossing the Russian-Georgian border.
- August 2 - South Ossetians started to evacuate into Russia.
- August 7 - President Mikheil Saakashvili ordered Georgian troops to cease fire.
- According to Georgian military, despite the declared ceasefire, fighting intensified. Hours after the declaration of the ceasefire, in a televised address, Mikheil Saakashvili vowed to restore Tbilisi's control over what he called the "criminal regime" in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and reinforce order.
- August 8 - During the night and early morning, Georgia launched a military offensive to surround and capture the capital of separatist Republic of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali thus breaking the terms of the 1992 ceasefire and crossing into the security zone established therein. According to Russian military, some Russian peacekeepers have been killed during this attack. The heavy shelling, which included Georgian rockets being fired into South Ossetia left parts of the capital city in ruins, causing a humanitarian crisis which Russian government sources claimed amounted to genocide. The news of the shelling was extensively covered by Russian media prior to the military reaction that followed, as Russia claimed to have responded in defence of South Ossetians against what they called "a genocide by Georgian forces." Russia claimed up to 2,000 dead in Tskhinvali following the shelling. The extent of civilian casualties was later disputed in a number of sources. President Saakashvili later claimed that the Russian side has deployed tanks into the disputed region before he gave the order for Georgian forces to attack. At Russia’s request, the United Nations Security Council held consultations on 7 August at 11pm (US EST time), followed by an open meeting at 1.15am (US EST time) on 8 August, with Georgia attending. During consultations, Council members discussed a press statement that called for an end to hostilities. They were unable, however, to come to a consensus. In the morning, Georgia announced that it had surrounded the city and captured eight South Ossetian villages. An independent Georgian TV station announced that Georgian military took control of the city.
- Russia sent troops across the Georgian border, into South Ossetia. In five days of fighting, the Russian forces captured the regional capital Tskhinvali, pushed back Georgian troops, and largely destroyed Georgia’s military infrastructure using airstrikes deep inside the smaller country's territory.
- 9 August - An action in the Black Sea off Abkhazia resulted in one Georgian missile boat being sunk by the Russian Navy. The Russians claimed that the Georgian ships entered the security zone of the Russian war ships, and the action of the Russian Navy was in accordance with international law. After the skirmish, the remaining Georgian ships fled in defeat.
A second front was opened by the military of the Georgia's separatist Republic of Abkhazia in the Kodori Valley, the only region of Abkhazia that was, before the war began, still in effective control of Georgian loyalists.
Most international observers began calling for a peaceful solution to the conflict. The European Union and the United States expressed a willingness to send a joint delegation to try and negotiate a cease-fire.
- August 11 - Russia ruled out peace talks with Georgia until the latter withdrew from South Ossetia and signed a legally binding pact renouncing the use of force against South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
On that night, 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 entered and left the military base near the town of Senaki outside Abkhazia on the 11th, leaving the base there destroyed. Gori was shelled and bombed by the Russians as the Georgian military and most of residents of the Gori District fled. Since Gori is along Georgia's main highway, its occupation by Russian forces, combined with destruction of a railway bridge, cut Georgia's lines of communication and logistics in two.
An independent Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer speculated 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." A US Defence official said that there was no obvious buildup of Russian forces along the border that signaled an intention to invade.
- August 12 - Russian President Medvedev said that he had ordered an end to military operations in Georgia. Later on the same day, Russian president Medvedev approved a six-point peace plan brokered by President-in-Office of the European Union, Nicolas Sarkozy, in Moscow; both sides were to sign it by the 17th.
Russian troops drove through the port of Poti, and took up positions around it.
- August 13 - All of the remaining Georgian forces, including at least 1,500 civilians in the Kodori Valley, had retreated to Georgia proper.
Russian tanks were seen at Gori. Russian troops were seen on the road from Gori to Tbilisi, but turned off to the north, about an hour from Tbilisi, and encamped. Georgian troops occupied the road six miles (about 10 km) closer to Tbilisi.
- 14 August - Efforts to institute joint patrols of Georgian and Russian police in Gori broke down due to apparent discord among personnel.
- August 15 - Reuters stated that Russian forces had pushed to 34 miles (55 km) from Tbilisi, the closest during the war; they stopped in Igoeti , an important crossroads. According to the report, 17 APCs and 200 soldiers, including snipers, participated in the advance; the convoy included a military ambulance, and initially, three helicopters. A Reuters witness said the Russian military convoy advanced to within 55 km (34 miles) of Tbilisi on Friday. That day, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also traveled to Tbilisi, where Saakashvili signed the 6-point peace plan in her presence.
- 16 August - The Russians had occupied Poti, as well as military bases in Gori and Senaki.
- August 17 - the BBC's Richard Galpin, who has spent the past two days travelling from the Black Sea port of Poti to Tbilisi, says Georgian forces seem to be surrendering control of the highway to the Russians. According to BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse, there is a "much-reduced" Russian military presence in Gori and lorries can be seen delivering humanitarian aid. But he says Russian soldiers still control the town's key entry and exit points.
Referring to a major ground exercise Russia held in July, just north of Georgia’s border, Dale Herspring (an expert on Russian military affairs at Kansas State University) described Russia's intervention as being "exactly what they executed in Georgia just a few weeks later... a complete dress rehearsal".
- August 19 - The Russian forces in Poti took prisoner 21 Georgian troops who had approached the city. They were taken to a Russian base at Senaki; there is dispute whether they were later released.
Some Russian armour left Gori for an uncertain destination. On the same day, Russian and Georgian forces exchanged prisoners of war. Georgia said it handed over 5 Russian servicemen, in exchange for 15 Georgians, including two civilians.
- August 22 - At least 40 Russian armoured personnel carriers left Gori; other Russian troops remained in Georgia proper and dug in the outskirts of Poti with a checkpoint manned by 20 men on the main road, while a Reuters reporter apparently saw a checkpoint in Karaleti 6 km north of Gori. At a news conference Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn insisted "These patrols were envisaged in the international agreement, Poti is outside of the security zone, but that does not mean we will sit behind a fence watching them riding around in Hummers." President Sarkozy thanked President Medvedev for fulfilling commitments concerning the withdrawal of Russian troops. While stressing the importance of early withdrawal of Russian military presence on the axis Poti / Senaki.
- August 23 - Russia declared the withdrawal of its forces to lines it asserted fulfilled the six points: into Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and the "security corridor" around South Ossetia. The bulk of its forces left Georgian soil altogether; yet, checkpoint installations remained on the main road from Tbilisi to Poti where it passed within 8 kilometers of South Ossetia; two Russian outposts remained outside Poti.
US, Russia Anchor Military Ships in Georgian Ports
Peace plan: Roadmap to end of military hostilities
Demands to end conflict
On 7 August 2008, a few hours before Georgia began its main offensive operation, Saakashvili ordered a unilateral ceasefire and called for talks "in any format"; reaffirmed the long-standing offer of full autonomy for South Ossetia; proposed that Russia should guarantee that solution; offered a general amnesty; and pleaded for international intercession to stop the hostilities. On 10 August Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin ruled out peace talks with Georgia until it pulled back its forces beyond the borders of South Ossetia and signed a legally binding pact renouncing the use of force against South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway territory of Georgia.
On 11 August, Russian President Medvedev hinted at an end to the conflict saying, "A significant part of the operation to force the Georgian authorities to make peace in South Ossetia has been concluded," and "Tskhinvali is under the control of a reinforced Russian peacekeeping contingent." Russian Prime Minister Putin added Moscow would take its mission in the region to "a logical conclusion." Later the same day, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili signed an EU-backed ceasefire, but the document was rejected by Moscow. According to a Reuters witness, Georgian troops did not cease fire, as six helicopters attacked Tskhinvali on 11 August. An Associated Press reporter saw 135 Russian military vehicles, including tanks, driving toward the Kodori Gorge, held by Georgian forces. The acting Georgian ambassador to Britain told Sky News that Russian jets bombed civilian targets in Georgia despite Moscow's announcement that the war had ended.
On 12 August 2008 at 09:00 UTC Russian president and Russian Army Supreme Commander-in-Chief Dmitry Medvedev stated that the "peace enforcing operation in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone" was over. Later, Russian General Staff Deputy Chief Anatoliy Nogovitsyn said armed actions would stop, but reconnaissance operations would continue.
On 13 August, a reporter for the UK The Guardian stated that "the idea there is a ceasefire is ridiculous," and that he could see villages near Gori burning, amidst claims that Chechen, Cossack and Ossetian irregulars were advancing through Georgian villages. CNN reported that journalists in Gori said they had seen no Russian tanks, contrary to claims by the Georgian president. According to Sky News, Georgia's deputy interior minister said "I'd like to calm everybody down. The Russian military is not advancing towards the capital." The same report said "Sky News correspondents Stuart Ramsay and Jason Farrell confirmed there were tanks in Gori, which has suffered extensively from Russian bombing raids" Al Jazeera reported a "continuous build up" of Russian forces in Poti throughout the day, and the destruction of several Georgian vessels. Russia's deputy chief of General Staff Colonel-General Anatoliy Nogovitsyn said sporadic clashes continued in South Ossetia between Georgian snipers and Russian troops. "We must respond to provocations," he said. On 19 August Medvedev said that Russia will pull its troops in Georgia back to the positions set out in the ceasefire agreement on 22 August.
Six-point peace plan
On 12 August Russian President Medvedev met the President-in-Office of the European Union, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and approved a six-point peace plan. Late that night Georgian President Saakashvili agreed to the text. Sarkozy's plan originally had just the first four points. Russia added the fifth and sixth points. Georgia asked for the additions in parentheses, but Russia rejected them, and Sarkozy convinced Georgia to agree to the unchanged text.
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. Georgian military forces must withdraw to their normal bases of encampment.
5. Russian military forces must withdraw to the lines prior to the start of hostilities. While awaiting an international mechanism, Russian peacekeeping forces will implement additional security measures (addition rejected: six months).
6. Opening of international discussions on the modalities of lasting security in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (addition rejected: based on the decisions of the UN and the OSCE).
According to RIA Novosti, "Sarkozy told a briefing after talks with his Georgian counterpart that the deal also includes some changes requested by Georgia... 'we have removed the issue of South Ossetia's status from the document'". But the The New York Times, citing a Georgian negotiator, reported that Sarkozy convinced Georgia to accept the Russian version unchanged, after Medvedev waited two hours to return his phone call and then rejected the proposed changes. The U.S. newspaper further asserted that the fifth point was crucial, and Russia used it to justify continuing hostilities into Georgia proper after the agreement. The International Herald Tribune reported on 15 August 2008, that the agreement included a letter from Sarkozy, clarifying a provision that allowed Russia a continued military presence outside the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, said Giga Bokeria, Georgia's deputy foreign minister. The letter stated that Russia's permission to conduct continued security operations in Georgia does not extend to populated areas or the main east-west highway that is the country's lifeline, Bokeria said. On 14 August Medvedev met with South Ossetia President Eduard Kokoity and Abkhazia President Sergei Bagapsh, where they signed the six principles.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has 200 personnel in the area, of which nine are military observers. OSCE is preparing to send 100 more observers to monitor the ceasefire, of which 20 are to be deployed immediately. On 18 August, Russia also initially opposed the deployment of 100 new observers into the region, but later accepted them. There have been difficulties with delivering humanitarian aid to the area, because OSCE personnel were initially blocked access into Tskhinvali or Gori by Russian forces and various irregulars, according to the head of the OSCE mission to Georgia. The Russian-backed South Ossetian president Kokotyi has also refused to accept international peacekeepers.
Russian statements on withdrawal
On 19 August, Reuters reported that the Kremlin had said that Russian troops would pull back from Georgia's heartland by the end of the week. A Russian officer said that "today we can say that the process has started," although the withdrawal from Gori might be slowed down by badly congested roads. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he expected the withdrawal to pre-conflict positions to be completed within three to four days. As of the 19th, Russian checkpoints still blocked the main east-west highway linking Tbilisi with Georgia's Black Sea ports. Also on the 19th, President Dmitry Medvedev also said that by August 22 Russia would pull its troops in Georgia back to the positions set out in a French-brokered ceasefire agreement. Also on the 19th, the BBC reported that Medvedev had told his French President Nicolas Sarkozy that the pull-out would be complete by 21-22 August, with the exception of some 500 troops, who would be installed in peacekeeping posts on either side of South Ossetia's border.
On 20 August, Russian spokesmen made a number of statements: One, speaking to the Moscow Times anonymously at the Kremlin, announced the small troop movement then under way, but explained that it was a "pullback", not a "withdrawal". Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian military's General Staff, said that Russia would hold "buffer zones" around South Ossetia and Abkhazia; the latter would include the Georgian city of Senaki. Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian army general staff, told reporters that Russia would establish 18 long-term checkpoints inside Georgian territory, including at least eight within undisputed Georgian territory, with one just outside the Georgian city of Gori.
On 21 August, The Times reported that Nogovitsyn had said: “The pullback has started at such a pace that by the end of 22 August all the forces of the Russian Federation will be behind the line of our zone of responsibility.” It also reported that Russian checkpoints were still in operation within 25 miles of Tbilisi, and that local military sources were suggesting that it could take up to two weeks for troops to be withdrawn in accordance with the ceasefire agreement brokered by Sarkozy. "Pulling out this much equipment takes time," said a spokesman for the Russian government traveling with journalists through occupied Georgian territory. "If you want me to estimate how much time, I'd say a couple of weeks before you see a major pullout."
On 22 August, Reuters reported that, as Russian soldiers were beginning to leave Gori, the extent of the final Russian withdrawal was in doubt; Moscow insisting that it would maintain checkpoints in an unspecified area adjacent to South Ossetia inside Georgia proper. Russian sources cited the Joint Control Commission report of 1999, which provided for a 5 mile (8 km) "security corridor" around South Ossetia which peacekeepers could patrol. Russia says that this provision implies authority to keep its troops on at least parts of Georgia's main east-west highway. "All activities of the Russian peacekeeping contingent are based on the six principles that were signed in agreement by the presidents of Russia and France," said Nogovitsyn, in Moscow. He said that Russian troops would patrol and keep control over Poti, Georgia's main commercial port.
On 23 August, Russia’s Ria news agency reported that Nogovitsyn had said that Poti was not in the buffer zone, but that Russian troops would continue to patrol the city.
On August 25 2008, the Russian Parliament voted to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations.
Russian recognition of breakaway regions
On 25 August 2008, the Federal Assembly of Russia unanimously voted to urge President Medvedev to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. On the following day, Medvedev agreed, signing a decree officially recognizing the two entities. Georgia has rejected this move outright as an annexation of its territory; The unilateral recognition by Russia was met by condemnation from some members of the international community and other members of the United Nations, NATO, OSCE, European Council due to alleged violation of Georgia's territorial integrity, United Nations numerous resolutions and the international law. The move was however supported by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, with China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan issuing a joint statement vouching support for Russia's "active role" in resolving the conflict.
Georgia claimed Russia had bombed airfields and civil 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. Reuters reported an attack on the civilian Tbilisi International Airport, though Russia claimed otherwise. Georgian State Minister for Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili also denied this, reportedly stating, "There was no attack on the airport in Tbilisi. It was a factory that produces combat airplanes."
According to Russia, about 20% of the Tskhinvali's buildings have suffered various damage, including 10% of "beyond repair". Russia's military claimed the retreating Georgian forces have mined civilian infrastructure in South Ossetia.
According to an 18 August report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), at the start of the military conflict on 7 August 2008, Georgian military used indiscriminate and disproportionate force resulting in civilian deaths in South Ossetia. The Russian military has since 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. HRW said that ongoing looting, arson attacks, and abductions by militia are terrorizing the civilian population, forcing them to flee their homes and preventing displaced people from returning home.
The organisation called the conflict a disaster for civilians, and said an international security mission should be deployed to help protect civilians and create a safe environment for the displaced to return home. HRW also called for international organisations to send fact-finding missions to establish the facts, report on human rights, and urge the authorities to account for any crimes.
One correspondent of Pervy kanal, witnessing live the Georgian incursion on Tskhinvali recounts that the heavy artillery had fired at the quarters with civilians, at hospitals and on the Russian peacekeepers, which stunningly are there on Georgian request, the Georgian army had not used any precise weapons and had not aimed at the military targets, but fired at random, trying to obliterate Tskhinvali and all of its inhabitants from the Earth. According to him their motivation was: Tskhinvali is the only city in south Ossetia, if it ceases to exists, so will the republic too.
On 8 August the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) urged the combatants to make a humanitarian corridor to evacuate the wounded and civilians from Tskhinvali. The fighting interrupted electricity and telephone service in Tskhinvali, and some inhabitants sheltered in basements with no access to water or medicines. Russian media reported on 9 August that several journalists were hiding in the basements, as they appealed to world society for a peace corridor to let them out of Tskhinvali. On 10 August the Russian Ambassador in Tbilisi claimed that "at least 2,000" people had been killed, and the chief of Russian ground forces said that the Georgian shelling has destroyed "all the hospitals" in Tskhinvali. However, it turned out that the city hospital, which was hit in the roof by a single Grad rocket, did not collapse at all; the rocket damaged part of the second and third floors. Hospital, whose outer walls were also hit by either small arms fire or shrapnel, continued to operate in the building's basement until 13 August, when all the patients were evacuated to Russia.
According to western media who arrived in the city and were toured by the Russian military on 12 August, "[s]everal residential areas seemed to have little damage", while the heaviest hit appeared to be buildings in and near the government district. Despite the early claims that "the city was burnt to the ground, leveled. (...) like Stalingrad", on 17 August Russia reported that 20% of some 7,000 buildings in Tskhinvali suffered any damage, with 1/10 of buildings being beyond repair.
From 8 to 13 August, the Tskhinvali hospital treated 273 wounded, both military and civilians. Forty-four bodies had been brought to the hospital; these represented the majority of Ossetians killed in Tskhinvali, because the city morgue was not functioning due to the lack of electricity. On 14 August South Ossetian officials claimed they have identified 200 corpses of South Ossetian civilians, saying that 500 are missing; at the same time, Russian investigators said they had identified a total of 60 civilians killed during the fighting. By 18 August, following an investigation in South Ossetia and amongst refugees, the number of dead civilians identified was put by Russia at 133; nevertheless, South Ossetian officials said 1,492 people died.
The UN refugee agency, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that thousands of refugees left South Ossetia, mostly for North Ossetia-Alania in Russia within the first days of the conflict. On 10 August, HRW obtained official figures on the number of displaced persons tallied by the Russian government agency in Vladikavkaz, according to which, the Federal Migration Service registered 24,032 persons who crossed the border from South Ossetia into Russia. However, 11,190 of those went back after the Russian intervention in the war; the government stated that “the overall number [of the displaced] was decreasing because of the people who return to join to volunteer militias of South Ossetia”; furthermore, the figures cannot be considered accurate, as many people cross the border back and forth and thus get registered two or more times. On 15 August the UNHCR, relying on figures provided by Georgian and Russian officials, said at least 30,000 South Ossetians have fled across the border into North Ossetia. On 16 August Russia put this number at over 10,000 refugees, indicating that majority has already returned.
HRW entered the mostly deserted Tskhinvali on 13 August and reported that it saw numerous apartment buildings and houses damaged by shelling. It said some of them had been hit by "inherently indiscriminate" weapons that should not be used in areas populated by civilians, such as rockets most likely fired from BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers. Since Georgian and Russian forces use identical Soviet-era weapons systems including Grad rockets, HRW couldn't definitely attribute specific battle damage to a particular belligerent, but witness accounts and the timing of the damage would point to Georgian fire accounting for much of the damage. In Tskhinvali, HRW saw numerous severely damaged civilian objects, including a hospital, apartment buildings, houses, schools, kindergartens, shops, administrative buildings, and the university. However, the group also noted that Ossetian militias in some neighborhoods took up defensive positions inside civilian apartment buildings, which drew fire from Georgian forces.
On 18 August South Ossetians alleged that they "estimate 500 Ossetian civilians were kidnapped and taken away by Georgian forces from the south of Tskhinvali". Georgian government answered: "They want to exchange [Georgian hostages] for our hostages. The problem is we don't have any hostages so we can't do any exchange." By 20 August the South Ossetian estimate was scaled down to some 170 "peaceful citiziens" allegedly held by Georgia.
On August 26, Russian investigators said they found evidence of genocide by the Georgian military against South Ossetians. The Head of Russia's Investigative Committee, Aleksandr Bastrykin, said that witnesses reported that Georgian soldiers were throwing cluster bombs into shelters where civilians were hiding. He also said that investigators came across the body of a pregnant women shot in the head.
Most refugees in the conflict are ethnic Georgians. Before the war started, one estimate of the population of Georgians living in South Ossetia was 18,000 people, or one quarter of the population of the break-away republic. On 15 August UNHCR said that up to 15,000 ethnic Georgians have fled into the other parts of Georgia from South Ossetia. In addition, as of 15 August, some 73,000 people were displaced in Georgia proper (most of them from the city Gori); many also fled from Abkhazia. Most had no possessions with them, save for the clothes they were wearing when they fled, and were crammed into makeshift centres without even basic amenities. By 19 August the UNHCR figure of the displaced persons rose to 158,000, the vast majority of them ethnic Georgians.
Between 9 and 12 August, residential districts and a media center in the Georgian city of Gori were attacked by Russian Air Force, including by cluster bombs on 12 August, killing and injuring numerous civilians (including several journalists, among them the Dutch cameraman Stan Storimans who died). On 15 August HRW said it had collected evidence of Russian warplanes using cluster bombs; the international rights group urged Russia to stop using the weapons, which 107 nations have agreed to outlaw. On the same day, Russian General Nogovitsyn claimed: "We never use cluster bombs. There is no need to do so." During the final strikes, an air-to-ground missile smashed into the Gori hospital with deadly effect. On August 21, HRW reported that civilians continued to be killed and injured later due to contact with unexploded cluster munitions in Gori and at other locations.
On 10 August Georgia charged that ethnic cleansing of Georgians was occurring behind Russian lines. On 12 August HRW researchers in South Ossetia claimed that they witnessed at least four ethnic Georgian villages still burning from fires set by South Ossetian militias and witnessed looting by the militias. A HRW researcher said that "the remaining residents of these destroyed ethnic Georgian villages are facing desperate conditions, with no means of survival, no help, no protection, and nowhere to go." On 13 August an interviewed South Ossetian officer said that the separatist forces "burned these houses (...) to make sure that they [the Georgians] can’t come back." HRW also learned from an Ossetian officer about the summary execution of a Georgian combatant, and that the looters, who were "everywhere" in the Georgian villages in South Ossetia, have been "now moving to Gori".
On 12 August Associated Press (AP, U.S. source) journalists toured by the Russian military through Tskhinvali claimed that they witnessed numerous fires in what appeared to be deserted ethnic Georgian neighborhoods and saw evidence of looting in those areas; they said that while a Russian army officer touring claimed said some of the buildings had been burning for days from the fighting, in fact none of the houses was burning before more than 24 hours after the battle for the city was over. By14 August, already after the official ceasefire, many international media outlets reported Georgian government and refugee stories that Ossetian and often also other pro-Russian irregulars (including reports of Cossack and Chechen paramilitaries, and even some Russian regular soldiers) were looting and burning Georgian villages in South Ossetia and near Gori. Some of the emerging stories featured reports of atrocities, including kidnapping, rape and indiscriminate murder. These reports could not be independently confirmed; as BBC News summed it up on 14 August, "The testimonies of those who have fled villages around South Ossetia are consistent, but with all roads blocked and the Russian military now in charge of the area, the scale of alleged reprisal killings and lootings is difficult to verify." The new waves of Georgian refugees bringing reports of the widespread pillage and "revenge" killings in the territories occupied by the Russian forces kept coming over the next days.
On 13 August Russian interior minister Rashid Nurgaliev said there would be "decisive and tough" measures taken against looters; according to Russia's Interfax, two looters were executed by firing squad in South Ossetia. Nevertheless, on 15 August, The Daily Telegraph reporter witnessed South Ossetian irregulars continuing to loot and pillage around Gori, often with the encouragement of Russian troops, including a Russian officer shouting to "take whatever you want." Vehicles were even carjacked from the UN aid officials by paramiliaries while Russian soldiers watched. According to HRW, Russian military had indeed blocked the road from Java to Tskhinvali in an effort to prevent further attacks there, and by 14 August, researchers saw no more fires in this area; however, looting and burning of Georgian villages has continued in ethnic Georgian villages in Georgia's Gori district. On August 13, Major General Vyacheslav Borisov, the Russian commander in Georgia, was quoted as saying that "now Ossetians are running around and killing poor Georgians in their enclaves." Also on 15 August, the Russia-allied president Eduard Kokoity of South Ossetia, in the interview for Kommersant, officially acknowledged that the alleged ethnic cleansing of South Ossetia was in fact committed against ethnic Georgians, saying that his forces "offered them a corridor and gave the peaceful population the chance to leave" and that the Ossetians "do not intend to allow" their return.
Russian (Novaya Gazeta) and British (The Sunday Times) journalists embedded with the Russian and Ossetian forces reported that irregulars are abusing and executing captured Georgian soldiers and suspected combatants captured during the "mopping-up operations" in South Ossetia and beyond.
On 16 August an AP (American news agency) reporter witnessed groups of Georgian forced laborers in Tskhinvali under armed guard of Ossetians and Russians; South Ossetia's interior minister Mikhail Mindzayev acknowledged this, saying that the Georgians "are cleaning up after themselves." The Independent reported that around 40 Georgian civilian captives, mostly elderly men, were "paraded" through the city and abused by South Ossetians. On 18 August South Ossetian leaders put the number of the hostages at more than 130, roughly half of them women and mostly former Georgian guest workers. The kidnapping of civilians by warring parties is a war crime according to the Article 3 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
On 17 August HRW appealed to Russian authorities to "immediately take steps to end Ossetian militia attacks on ethnic Georgians" in the Gori district of Georgia and for the Russian military to ensure safe passage for civilians wishing to leave the region and for humanitarian aid agencies to enter. The organisation said hundreds of vulnerable civilians still in the area, including many elderly; they said they are afraid to leave after learning about militia attacks on those who fled. The UN, which has described the humanitarian situation in the Russian military-controlled Gori as "desperate," has been able to deliver only limited food supplies to the city.
The Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs and the OSCE chairman Alexander Stubb twice visited the war-affected area in Georgia and accused the Russian troops of "clearly trying to empty southern Ossetia of Georgians."
On August 26, 2008, the recently returned IDPs to the villages north of Gori which are still under the Russian military control had to flee a renewed harassments by the South Ossetian militias. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said that 365 Georgian villagers arrived in Gori because of security concerns.
On August 27, the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner accused the Russian troops of "ethnic cleansing, creating a homogeneous South Ossetia."
Reactions to the conflict
Russia faced strong criticism from the US, the United Kingdom, Poland, Sweden and the Baltic states; US Vice President Dick Cheney stated "Russian aggression must not go unanswered, and that its continuation would have serious consequences for its relations with the United States, as well as the broader international community."
The Swedish government stated on August 11 2008 "that Russia's conduct in Georgia is unacceptable and contravenes the international regulatory framework." Carl Bildt , foreign minister of Sweden and Chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, was quoted, Russia's claims it was defending Russian citizens in Southossetia "recalled Hitler’s justifications of Nazi invasions".
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel called on both sides on August 13 2008 "to suspend all hostilities and to respect the territorial integrity of Georgia." On August 15 2008 German Government stated that "territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia is not open to negotiation for the German government." The military attaché of German embassy in Moscow stated in an internal document of August 11 2008 that "Russian response to Georgia was appropriate".
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 are planned on 8 September 2008.
Financial market reaction
The effect of the war on the Russian financial markets was first noticed on the stock market benchmark index RTS which fell 6% by August 8, 2008 at 12:45 GMT in its lowest level (1,732.26) since May 2007, including blue chips such as Lukoil Holdings shares, and Russian analysts expect the fall to continue for some time but then to rise upwards again, recovering losses. The Russian ruble also fell by 1% relative to a basket of currencies.
The Georgian financial markets also suffered negative consequences as Fitch Ratings lowered Georgia's debt ratings from BB- to B+, commenting that there are increased risks to Georgian sovereign creditworthiness, while Standard and Poor's also lowered Georgian credit ratings.
While Georgia has no significant oil or gas reserves on its own, it is an important transit route that supplies the West, and journalists expressed fear that the war may damage the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, 30% of which is owned by BP. The BTC pipeline was shut down before the conflict because of the blast in Turkey on August 6, 2008, that was threatened and then claimed by the PPK' and the war created further problems for the operating company Botas International Ltd. Georgia claims Russia is targeting the pipeline. On August 8, 2008, Russian air forces devastated the port of Poti, which the Georgian government calls "a key port for the transportation of energy sources," close to the Baku-Supsa pipeline and the Supsa oil terminal. On August 12, 2008, BP, an operator of the main pipelines through Georgia, closed the BTC pipeline, the Baku-Supsa Pipeline and the South Caucasus Pipeline for the safety reasons. Gas supplies through the South Caucasus Pipeline were resumed on August 14, 2008.
An extensive information war was conducted during the military conflict.
Cyberattacks and censorship
South Ossetian officials stated that two Ossetian news media sites were attacked. Dmitry Medoyev, the South Ossetian secessionist envoy in Moscow, claimed that Georgia was trying to cover up reports of deaths.
The National Bank of Georgia website was defaced and replaced with a gallery of 20th century dictators, with Saakashvili added. Georgian news portals were under Internet denial-of-service attacks and reportedly the site of the Georgian Ministry of Defence was attacked as well. The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs site was defaced and replaced with a collage of Saakashvili and Adolf Hitler photos. According to the New York Times, Georgian websites crashed frequently on August 8.
Estonian media claimed that the attacks are similar in nature to the 2007 cyberattacks on Estonia and were carried out with the same techniques. Estonian authorities have pledged to provide Georgia assistance in cyber-warfare. Estonia has sent to Georgia two specialists in information security from the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) Estonia, and Georgia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs website is currently hosted on Estonian server. The Office of the President of Poland has provided the website for dissemination of information and helped to get access to the Internet for Georgia's government after breakdowns of local servers caused by cyberattacks.
Georgia had stopped broadcasting Russian television channels across the country. Web sites hosted on domains with addresses ending in .ru “were briefly blocked” from Georgia. Some pro-Russian sites in other zones were also reported to be blocked. Both actions were taken due to Georgia's belief that Russia was conducting an information war.
RIA Novosti news agency's website was disabled for several hours on August 10 by a series of computer cracker attacks. "The DNS-servers and the site itself have been coming under severe attack," said Maxim Kuznetsov, head of the RIA Novosti IT department. On August 11, Russia Today TV stated: "In the course of the last 24 hours RT’s website (www.russiatoday.com) has endured numerous DDoS attacks, which have made it unavailable for some time. Channel’s security specialists say the initial attack was carried out from an IP-address registered in the Georgian capital Tbilisi.
The Russian internet news source, Gazeta.ru, reported that the Fox News channel cut off an American-Ossetian girl, Amanda Kokoeva, after she stated that she was attacked by Georgian forces and saved by the Russian troops, although this is not seen in the Fox News interview. The New York Times published an article about the interview discrediting the claims of biased treatment. Fox News was also accused of censorship by the television channel Russia Today which showed its own interview with Amanda and earlier by several internet blogs and forums. The video also allegedly experienced multiple problems with the counters available on YouTube. The video rating and view count are not being updated and new comments are being deleted, according to some sources. Gazeta.ru stated, "... the counter was at 347,000. At midday the view count on YouTube, fell without any sort of explanation to 45,747." However the counter was seen being reset, and stopping at around 4000. As of August 16 the counter, seems to be up and running again. The reasons for the counter freezes remain unclear.
Military situation in the Black Sea
According to Russia, the NATO military alliance has increased its naval presence in the Black Sea substantially since the war in Georgia broke out, up to ten vessels - four Turkish warships, three US ships, one Polish, one German, and one Spanish ship - outnumbering the Russian fleet near the Georgian coast. Eight more ships would be underway. Russia is concerned that NATO is building up its forces in the region and questioned why a US military ship was necessary to deliver humanitarian aid to Georgia, accusing the country of shipping weapons into Georgia. Russian General Anatoly Nogovitsyn warned that NATO had already exhausted the number of forces it is allowed to have in the Black Sea, according to the 1936 Montreux convention, and warned Western nations against sending more ships. Russia ordered its navy to monitor the activities of the NATO ships in the Black Sea region.
Also in response to the war in Georgia, Viktor Yushchenko, the president of Ukraine, said he considers opening negotiations with Russia to increase the rent on the Russian naval base at Sevastopol in Crimea, Ukraine. Abkhazia, on the other hand, said it would invite Russia to establish a naval base at his 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 USD a year until 2017.
Georgian, Russian and South Ossetian forces are equipped with predominantly Soviet-made weapons, in particular, Sukhoi Su-25 attack aircraft, T-55 and T-72 tanks, and AK-74 rifles; however, Georgia has recently also been acquiring some western-made weaponry, including the UH-1 Iroquois helicopters and M4 Carbine rifles from the United States, 152mm SpGH DANA self-propelled guns and RM-70 Multiple rocket launchers from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Turkish Otokar Cobra armoured vehicles, and German Heckler & Koch G36 and Israeli IMI Tavor TAR-21 rifles. Ukraine has supplied Georgia with weapons, reportedly including AA missiles, Armoured Personnel Carriers and small arms.
Georgian order of battle
As of 8 August 2008, Georgia had a total armed Forces Personnel of 26,900, 82 T-72 Main Battle Tanks, 139 Armoured Personnel Carriers (BMP and BTR variants), 7 Combat aircraft (Su-25 ground attack) and 95 Heavy artillery pieces (including Grad BM-21 122mm multiple rocket launchers), according to Jane's Sentinel Country Risk Assessments.
- 1st Brigade - Re-deployed from Iraq to Georgia. It was deployed to defend the Capital from Russian troops.
- 2nd Brigade - Suffered heavy losses in the Battle of the Kodori Valley.
- 3rd Brigade - Supported 4th Brigade's advances on South Ossetia. Survived the battle relatively intact.
- 4th Brigade - Most powerful of Georgia's Brigades. Spearheaded the attack onto South Ossetia. Suffered heavy loses in men and equipment.
- 5th Brigade - Kept in reserve, deployed in defensive position after Russian incursions into Gori
In the combat for Tskhinvali, Georgia reportedly committed several infantry battalions supported by T-72 tanks and artillery. The Georgian Air Force has also been engaged in the conflict. Following the Russian response, Georgia recalled all 2,000 of its troops that had been stationed in Iraq. The troops and their equipment were transported by the United States Air Force using C-17 Globemaster aircraft. The Americans were training Georgia's forces to use the U.S. military's M-4 rifles. However, when fighting broke out the Georgians went back to the Soviet AK-47, the only weapon they trusted. They appeared incapable of firing single shots, letting off bursts of automatic fire, which is wildly inaccurate and wastes ammunition. The U.S. military training program has been interrupted and critically damaged by the war. The Georgian army has been dealt a harsh blow. While official statistics claim 215 fatalities, soldiers and civilians, the number of dead or missing soldiers is probably higher. According to an "Intelligence Briefing" published at an independent news website, the 1st and 2nd Brigade, the Independent Tank Battalion with headquarters at Gori and most of Georgia's front line artillery units are no longer combat capable.
Russian order of battle
South Ossetian Sector
- Unnamed units formerly used for peacekeeping
- At least two strengthened battalions of 19th Motor Rifle Division (North Ossetia) of 58th Army.
- Units of Airborne Troops (VDV)
- Units of GRU (direct or operational subordination)
- Army of South Ossetia
- Units of 131st Separate Motor-Rifle Brigade (formerly used for peacekeeping)
- Unnamed units of VDV
- Army (land and air forces) of Abkhazia
- Naval Task Force consisting of following units from the Black Sea Fleet
- Slava Class Cruiser RFS Moskva
- Kashin Class (Upgraded) Destroyer Smetlivy (Russian: Сметливый)
- Alligator Class Landing Ships Saratov.
- Ropucha-I Class Landing Ships Caesar Kunikov and Yamal.
- Grisha-V Anti-Submarine Corvettes Kasimov, Povarino and Suzdalets.
- Nanuchka-III Class Corvette Mirazh.
- Bora Class Missile Boat Samum
- Moma Class Surveillance ship Ekvator.
- Natya Class Minesweepers Zhukov and Turbinist.
- Small Landing Ship Koida
- Sorum Class Fleet Tug MB-31.
- Fighter, attack, bomber and reconnaissance aircrafts of 4th Air Army (acting over South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Georgia)
- 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
- Russian news services, notably RTR Planeta, have reported wide-scoped assembly of Ossetian Narodnoe Opolcheniye being joined by volunteers from the Vladikavkaz region and other parts of Russia. The groups being formed at "various locations" are reported to range from "tens" to "hundreds." The members of these groups as shown on video reports are identified by white armbands, but appear to be otherwise clothed and equipped predominantly in Russian Army issue camouflage clothing and firearms. One such group in the Northern Ossetia has been formed on the Staff of North Ossetia okrug Cossack Voisko (Russian: штаб североосетинского округа казачьего войска).
|2008 South Ossetia war|
|Part of Georgian-Ossetian conflict |
and Georgian-Abkhazian conflict
Location of Georgia (including Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and the Russian part of North Caucasus
| Russia |
| Georgia |
| Eduard Kokoity |
| Davit Kezerashvili |
| 18,000 including reservists; unknown number of volunteers |
Est. at least 15,000 regulars in Georgia (as of 13/07/08), not including support and rear troops (in Russia and on the sea); unknown number of irregulars
5,000 not including reservists; unknown number of volunteers
More than 38,000 total
| 17,500 regulars, including 2,000 initially in Iraq; 70,000 conscripted reservists and volunteers; unknown number of Georgian Police deployed in the conflict zone |
According to S. Ossetia: supposedly unknown number of alleged tank crews
At least 37,000 total
|Casualties and losses|
| 64 soldiers killed, 323 wounded |
Unknown number of losses among the volunteers
Confirmed by Abkhazia:
1 soldier killed, 2 wounded
Confirmed by Georgia:
Independent Georgian estimate:
400 military casualties
|South Ossetia's latest estimate of "1,492 civilians" killed|
At least 158,000 civilians displaced (including 56,000 from Gori, Georgia and 15,000 South Ossetian Georgians per UNHCR).
Estimate by Georgian Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs: at least 230,000.