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1 Oct, 2009 10:20

Georgia started South Ossetian war – EU report

Georgia is responsible for unleashing the Five-Day War in the Caucasus last August, says an investigative report carried out by the EU.

The report was commissioned by the Council of the European Union. More than 30 European military, history and legal specialists – headed by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini – compiled the document. The group concluded that it was Georgia who fired the first shot and the opening attack was not justifiable under international law.

"In the opinion of the mission, Georgia provoked the war when it attacked Tskhinvali early on August 8, using heavy artillery," Commission chief Heidi Tagliavini said during the presentation of the report, Interfax news agency reports.

The report is huge, made up of three volumes which make up more than a thousand pages in total. Russia’s envoy to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov received the document personally from Heidi Tagliavini and says he is satisfied with it.

“The part I managed to see already is unequivocal. It’s unequivocal on the main issue – who started the war,” Vladimir Chizhov told RT.When asked whether the report was a victory for Russia, Chizhov said “no, it’s been a victory for common sense.”

“I think this is more important for those who still might not have a clear picture of the events in that sense,” Russian official added.

From the very beginning of the war Russia was blaming Georgia to be an aggressor. And while Georgia was shelling Tskhinval the western media was bombarding Moscow with criticism for what they called a Russian invasion.

"Open hostilities began with a large-scale Georgian military operation against the town of Tskhinvali and the surrounding areas, launched in the night of 7 to 8 August 2008. Operations started with a massive Georgian artillery attack."

Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia

The report says that Russia was preparing for a possible conflict in the region and the war followed “long periods of increasing tensions, provocations and incidents” between Russia and Georgia.

Russia’s actions have been qualified as a response to the Georgian military operation. At the same time, the commission says that Russia used excessive force, which led to the conflict spreading outside South Ossetia to Georgia.

"The US embarked upon an extensive military aid programme for Georgia, both in terms of training and equipment, also providing financial means…
Considerable military support in terms of equipment and to some extent also training was equally provided by a number of other countries led by Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Israel …, all of them 16 adding to the new military strength of Georgia, which was proudly displayed on suitable occasions such as National Day parades."

Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia

The commission is reportedly “satisfied with the level of cooperation with all the sides involved in the conflict.”

Mixed reactions

South Ossetia’s President Eduard Kokoity believes the assessment contained in the report is belated but essential. At the same time he has said that the EU has double standards in regards to the Caucasus.

“Double standard policies are still there. Some are claiming that Russia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia do not let EU observers into South Ossetia. European organizations should draw conclusions from last year’s aggression as their lack of action contributed to it. Their connivance and criminal involvement in Georgia’s armament put Georgia on a warpath. So, attempts to shift responsibility to Russia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia won’t hold,” stated Eduard Kokoity.

He noted, though, that these attitudes are now changing.

Abkhazia has shown less optimism. Its Foreign Minister Sergey Shamba has said the report is unlikely to help in settling the situation in the Caucasus. He called the commission’s conclusions “important” but said that European policies are “dependent on the US, which fully supports Saakashvili.”

Russia has welcomed the conclusion made by the European Commission, the Russian President's Press Attaché Natalya Timakova told journalists.

“If the commission has admitted that Georgia first initiated military action, which is what the Russian side has repeatedly and constantly said since the beginning of the conflict, we can only welcome such a conclusion,” Timakova said.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry is also positive about the report, but nevertheless finds some of its parts to be ambiguous.

“A number of unclear and ambiguous phrases, as we see it, reflects still remaining politicized approaches from the European Union states to the events of August 2008 and its aftermath,” the official statement says.

Meanwhile Georgia doesn’t want to face the conclusions made in the report.

“It’s not said anywhere in this report that Georgia started this war,” insists Reintegration Minister Temur Yakobashvili, before adding that they haven’t fully studied the report yet.

“We also don’t agree that the Georgian side used excessive force at the beginning of the military conflict,” he said. “We consider that Russia behaved as an aggressor, as it was its military that invaded the Tskhinval region.”