“The main problem of the South Caucasus is Georgia’s revanchist policy”

This week’s briefing by Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Nesterenko was devoted to the Ossetian war and the consequences it brought upon the region and international community.

August 8 marks a year since the tragic events in South Ossetia. On that night, Mikhail Saakashvili’s regime launched a cowardly and ruthless attack against its peaceful residents and against Russian peacekeepers, who had been for years guarding peace and security of the peoples living in the volatile region of the South Caucasus.

In its aggression, Georgia widely used inhumane weapons, including cluster bombs, multiple rocket launchers and 500-kilogram bombs. As a result, hundreds of civilians and dozens of Russian soldiers, including peacekeepers, were killed in Tskhinval and surrounding villages. The number of those wounded and otherwise harmed is much greater. Many of the bodies have not been identified to this day. The scale of ruin was truly terrible.

The vast number of casualties and thousands of refugees indicate that this was not a “mistake” or an “accident”; this was a well-planned crime, as is clearly evidenced by the documents that were found on captured Georgian officers, including the notorious Clear Field plan.

Russian people recall the events of last August with anger and pain. We mourn together with the people of South Ossetia. We remember those who were killed. We promise we will continue to support everybody who has suffered in this conflict.

South Ossetian soldier standing near a burnt-out building and wrecked cars in Tskhinvali. / AFP Photo / Kazbek Basayev

The tragic events in South Ossetia have once again demonstrated to the entire international community that there is no alternative to peaceful methods of settling disputes and conflicts. Unfortunately, this lesson came at a great price: innocent people were killed. This cannot and will not be left unpunished. War criminals must suffer appropriate punishment. Europe’s modern history has many examples of this sort.

Georgia’s barbaric aggression against a former part of its own nation has clearly manifested serious defects in the current system of European security. The system proved not capable of stopping an unexpected and large-scale attack in an area which was closely monitored by major international organizations.

The Russian Federation has consistently promoted the political principles of peaceful settlement in the South Caucasus. Russia was an unbiased and diligent mediator in the UN- and OSCE-brokered talks. For 17 years, we have been performing responsible peacekeeping missions. Should the parties reach a settlement, we were ready to become a guarantor of the agreement between the conflicting parties. However, the Georgian authorities preferred to destroy the territorial integrity of their nation with heavy artillery, thus dashing any hope of establishing an interethnic community with neighboring ethnic groups. Moreover, days after the Tskhinval bloodshed, Mr. Saakashvili’s regime made the situation even worse, accusing Russia of starting the conflict and continuing to threaten Georgia’s neighbors.

In this situation, we had no other way to ensure peace and stability of the peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia but to recognize their independence and to provide them with a free and democratic choice as regards their national development. Russia was the first country that had the courage to acknowledge the objective reality. This was the most effective solution, which everybody benefited from—even those who won’t admit it.

The presence of our troops and border guards, based on bilateral agreements which have been ratified by the parliaments, is fully legitimate. It safely ensures the security of the two republics and enables them to develop independently. Russia will continue to provide social and economic support to the brotherly nations of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on a large scale, primarily in matters of rebuilding housing and civilian infrastructure, and also in defending their territory and guarding their borders.

A year after the Georgian aggression, the peoples of the South Caucasus are still facing many challenges and problems. The main problem is Georgia’s revanchist policy and the possibility of it resuming military actions. Even though the August adventure has failed miserably, it seems that the Georgian authorities are not willing to give up their plans to restore what they call Georgia’s “territorial integrity” by force. Therefore, we insist on adopting a legally binding document on non-use of force. Moreover, Georgia should take up such an obligation not with respect to Russia but with respect to its neighbors, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This is the only way Tbilisi can re-gain at least minimal trust on the part of its neighbors and the international community. These agreement on non-use of force must include clear guarantees of security for the nations of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This will make it impossible for the tragedy to be repeated. All democratic states and peoples must be interested in preventing new outbursts of violence in the region.

Two Russian Emergency Ministry workers repair a hospital in South Ossetia's capital of Tskhinvali. / AFP Photo / Konstantin kirillov

Also, it is extremely important that, for an extended period of time, all countries refrain from supplying offensive—or, preferably, any—types of weapons and military hardware to Georgia. Massive deliveries of arms from abroad in recent years gave the Georgian leadership the illusion that it was free to do whatever it pleased and go unpunished. They made the prospect of solving the problem through military actions so tempting. The ruinous consequences of this approach are obvious today. The international community must act responsibly in this matter and acknowledge the new geopolitical reality which emerged in the South Caucasus after the August events.

As a result of attempts to carry on as if nothing had happened and to ignore the completely independent existence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, international organizations recalled from these two countries and from Georgia their missions, which on the whole provided useful assistance to the nations of the region. This wasn’t our choice. It is not Russia’s fault that international missions chose to leave, regardless of how some misrepresent this issue.

Nevertheless, we believe that, as long as all involved parties learn the lessons of last August’s tragedy, the international community can help establish constructive interaction in the South Caucasus. The main guidelines for this have been presented in the Medvedev-Sarkozy Plan, which Russia has scrupulously followed and will continue to follow. It is only through joint effort that we will be able to maintain peace on the European continent.

The events of August 2008 will long attract the attention of politicians and political analysts. As we consider them, it is very important to be free from ideological or bloc bias. These studies must help us find appropriate ways and means to ensure stability and security in the South Caucasus.