As widely anticipated, an EU report on last year’s Russian invasion of Georgia finds plenty of blame to go around, finding that Tblisi “triggered” the conflict but that Moscow violated international law by its invasion and with numerous atrocities thereafter.
Marc Champion for WSJ:
A nine-month European Union investigation into the 2008 war in the Caucasus has concluded that Georgia triggered the conflict, but that Russia prepared the ground for war to break out and broke international law by invading Georgia as a whole.
Conclusions to the roughly 1,000 page report, released on Wednesday by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, also found that Russia-backed South Ossetian militias committed atrocities and “ethnic cleansing” of Georgian villages during and since the war. It faulted Russian forces in control of the territory that either “would not or could not” control the South Ossetians. The report found no evidence to back Russian claims that Georgia committed genocide on the night of Aug.7-8.
The report itself said there was evidence that regular Russian troops as well as volunteers and mercenaries had entered South Ossetia in Georgia before the start of the conflict. But that did not amount to invasion on the night of Aug. 7-8. Even escalating attacks on Georgian villages could not be claimed as justification for Georgia’s decision to attack the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, the report said, because the response had to be proportionate and the use of heavy artillery on a town was not. South Ossetia had evacuated most civilians several days before the war, but many were still in their homes.
In a series of “observations,” the report’s authors also take to task the international community for failing to intervene with effective and timely diplomacy when it was already clear that conflict was likely. The report notes that the United States, Ukraine and Israel supplied large scale economic and military aid to Georgia that allowed the country to double its military in the space of a few years. “Military support must stay within the boundaries set by common sense and due diligence, keeping in mind both the intended and the unintended use of the arms and equipment supplied,” the report’s observations say.
The report also backs the positions of the EU and the U.S. that Abkhazia and South Ossetia have no right to secede from Georgia. Russia, followed by Nicaragua and Venezuela alone have recognized the two territories as independent since the war. Georgia considers the Russian military presence there as annexation.
Stefan Wagstyl, reporting for FT, notes that both sides are claiming vindication:
Russia immediately said the report had pinned the blame on Georgia. Vladimir Chizhov, the Russian ambassador to the European Union, said: ”Who started the war? On that question the report gives an unequivocal answer.”
Georgia said the probe proved Moscow had been preparing for conflict all along. ”The report proves that Russia was all the time preparing this war and August 7 and 8 were the culmination,” said Temur Iakobashvili he minister for re-integration.
The EU’s findings are, quite frankly, bizarre.
Only the most ardent Georgian nationalists believe that Mikheil Saakashvili was other than a reckless fool in his actions leading up to the Russian invasion. However, once one recognizes — as the EU panelists here explicitly do — that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are part of Georgia, it no longer much matters.
If sovereignty means anything, it means that leaders of a state have license to take actions within the confines of their borders as they see fit, so long as they don’t create adverse spillover effects for their neighbors. Saakashvili’s actions against internal groups conducting illegal activities within the borders of his country, while unwise and perhaps even provocative, are simply no justification for an illegal invasion of its sovereign territory by another member of the United Nations. Period. End of story.
Similarly, the United States, Israel, Ukraine, and Georgia are all member states of the United Nations. Georgia was not under any sort of UN Security Council sanction nor was it or is it now a threat to its neighbors. Why, then, are the first three not allowed to sell or give arms to Georgia as they please? Georgia is a staunch ally in the war on al Qaeda and were even participants in helping secure Iraq until illegal violation of its own territory forced them to bring troops home. The United States is particular, then, had every reason in the world to augment Georgia’s military power and none not to. Indeed, if their military were weaker, there’s plenty of reason to believe Russian forces would be even further into “Georgia Proper” now, perhaps even going so far as to remove the duly elected president by force.
The European Union’s moral equivalency and blatant disregard for the basic notions of international relations as they have existed since since the Treaty of Westphalia is simply astounding. But perhaps it was to be expected from an organization that it itself a strange presence in the international system, neither quite a sovereign actor and yet more than a consortium of independent states.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.