Heidi Tagliavini: Lessons of the Georgia Conflict

Roundup: Talking About History

[Heidi Tagliavini, a Swiss diplomat, led the E.U. investigation into the 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia.]

A year ago, the European Union helped mediate an end to a war that left 850 Georgians (including South Ossetians) and Russians dead and 138,000 displaced.

Then, for the first time in its history, the E.U. created an independent fact-finding commission to determine what went so badly wrong and how to avoid a repetition.

I was honored to be chosen to lead that initiative. Our report is now public, and it has important lessons for Europe.

Like most catastrophic events, the war of August 2008 had several causes. The proximate cause was the shelling by Georgian forces of the capital of the secessionist province of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, on Aug. 7, 2008, which was followed by a disproportionate response of Russia. Another factor was the lack of progress, for more than 15 years, in the resolution of the two “frozen conflicts” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

As the special representative of the United Nations secretary general in Georgia from 2002 to 2006, I saw a narrow window of hope open and close in the first half of 2005, after which the differences between Russia and the West over Kosovo, and the deterioration of relations between Georgia and Russia, destroyed any prospect for a substantive negotiation.

Russia systematically gave passports to residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, asserting responsibility for Russians in what it called its “near abroad” without any consultation with Georgia, whose territorial integrity was thus increasingly challenged.

Meanwhile, Georgia was pressing to accelerate its accession to NATO, and embarking, with the support of the United States, Ukraine and Israel, on a major modernization of its armed forces. Georgia’s military budget grew from 1 percent of G.D.P. to 8 percent, and military bases near Abkhazia and South Ossetia were modernized.

In 2007 and the first half of 2008, cease-fire arrangements made after the first Georgia war came under increasing strains. Russian forces did not refrain from shooting down Georgian drones over Abkhazia, and dangerous incidents provoked by both sides occurred more and more frequently...

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Arnold Shcherban - 10/2/2009

<the differences between Russia and the West over Kosovo...>
It should have been mentioned what these "differences" were (and still are): obvious violation by NATO of the
territorial integrity and soveregnity of Serbia (not mentioning already a war crime of bombing civilian installations in Serbian cities), whose historical territory of Kosovo was granted by willfull decision of US and other NATO countries, under the cover of "ethnical cleansing", or "genocide" allegedly perpetrated by Serbians towards Albanians in that Serbian province, the proof of which
has never materialized. Any sovereign country that observes international laws, UN charter and resolutions must have differed with those actions, but among permanent members of UN security council only Russia has.
Unfortunately, it was not a first and is not going to be the last occurrence
of the violation by NATO countries of the very laws they signed on.
Thus, Kosovo case created a bad and dangerous precedent for imitation in other parts of the world.
It has become apparent, however, that NATO countries, not the UN usurped the right to determine which of those imitations are legitimate (if any) and how non-NATO (and, in general, non-aligned with the West) countries should behave in that respect.
In case of Georgia, despite many undisputably proven cases of ehtnic cleansing and aggression perpetrated by previous and latest Georgian authorities/governments against Abhkazians and South Ossetians, NATO,
and especially, the US, have never interfered before the August of 2008 to stop these violations of those people's human rights leaving the burden of peacekeeping actions and negotiations on Russian shoulders.
Only when Russia responded militarily
to Georgian aggression and killing
its peacekeeping troops and responded
a way modestly comparing to, say,
the actions of NATO related to Kosovo case (when Serbs, did not kill any of
NATO troops, in particular), NATO countries screamed "murder"...
And adding insult to an injury, that
murder scream was not about Georgian aggression, but about Russian response to it. Moreover, to crown all the lies being propagated by Western governments and Georgian pseudo-democrats and electorial frauds Russia was accused of being an aggressor!? The US and other NATO countries recently attacking Iraq and Afghanistan (and many other countries in the past) under openly false, not even flimsy premises (which unequivocally constitutes aggression by UN definition) has never been publicly called aggressors even by Russian high-ranked government officials, whatever the latter might have thought privately...
Further, Russian government before the start of the 2008 war repeatedly
requested the help of Western representatives to mediate new negotiations with Georgia specifically addressing all pertaining
issues. Not only Georgian government refuse to meet for that purpose, but the US and UK, especially would turn deaf ear to all those requests.
Quite understandable, since they were the ones who created, trained, armed, and financially sponsored the army of the aggressor and were permanently trying to weaken Russia by surrounding it with NATO states and provoking conflicts with its neighbors. Russian (as well as other countries') intelligence servcies and government possesses a heavy load of irrefutable evidence of my last statement.
Russian peacekeepers had stayed in Abkhazia and Georgia according to the agreement signed by former Georgian government to prevent mutual acts of terrorism and ethnical cleansing between Georgian and citizens of those provinces.
Unless that agreement is not renegotiated the new Georgian government has no legitimate rights to resort to violence first, as it did.
NATO and UN representatives are well aware that, at the least, nowadays Russia has no intentions, let alone plans to commit an act of aggression against Georgia, unless Georgia strikes first, in which case, Ossetians and Russians (whom the former have willingly chosen as their protectors) has a full legal and moral right to respond.
The only fault Russia can be blamed for is the distribution of Russian passports to South Ossetians (road to hell is paved with good intentions, isn't it?)
The conclusion of EU commission about disproportionality of Russian response to the aggression in question is wrong on one simple legal reason.
The disproportionality blame
must be "proportionately" applied to all countries-participants of any military conflict/war. Since it was not, and quite "fresh" (such as Israel's, American, and other NATO countries') cases were no exceptions, by the internationally accepted principle of equal justice it could not be applied to Russia either.
(I hope I don't have to to present relevant details of those cases well-known to every international observer and, especially so, to UN.)
Taken all the above indicated facts and arguments in consideration the countries of NATO (US - the most) have to be cited along with Georgia and Georgia.
But, of course, it cannot happen in the one-superpower, one-sided world we live in now with, plus UN headquarters located in the New York City, USA.