Unjustified attack

A European Union commissioned report released last Wednesday reveals the results of the EU’s Fact-Finding Mission into last year’s conflict between Russia and Georgia.

The report, written by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, with the assistance of 30 European military, legal and history experts, places the majority of blame on Georgia, claiming that the war was the result of an unjustified Georgian attack.

“The shelling of Tskhinvali by the Georgian armed forces during the night of the seventh to the eighth in August 2008 marked the beginning of the large-scale armed conflict in Georgia, yet it was only the culminating point of a long period of increasing tensions, provocations and incidents,” the report says.

The Fact-Finding Mission concludes that although the strike came on the heels of months of provocation, it was not justified under international law. “There is the question of whether use of force … was justifiable under international law. It was not,” the report states.

War between the two countries broke out on Aug. 7, 2008 when Georgia shelled South Ossetia in an attempt to regain control over the breakaway region. Russia repelled the assault by driving its forces further into Georgia. A ceasefire was agreed upon after five days of fighting. Although Russia originally pulled back as a condition of the agreement, it has since increased military presence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In analyzing the legality of Russia’s military retaliation, the report explains it is important to divide the Russian’s response into two phases. The first phase was Russia’s “immediate reaction in order to defend Russian peacekeepers.”

The second was “the invasion of Georgia by Russian armed forces reaching far beyond the administrative boundary of South Ossetia.”

Furthermore, the report states that in the first instance Russia “had the right” to defend its personnel using military means. However, in the second instance, the report states that, although it is difficult to determine where a line is to be drawn, much of Russia’s military action “went far beyond the reasonable limits of defense.”

Georgia has continuously claimed that it does not matter who started the war but that the central issue is Russia’s “occupation” of Georgia’s sovereign territory. The report, however, says that the mission cannot “consider as sufficiently substantiated the Georgian claim concerning a large-scale Russian military incursion into South Ossetia before 8 August 2008.”

The BBC reports that Russia said that the report produced an “unequivocal answer” to the question of who started the war.

The countries of the EU have said in a statement that the purpose of the report was not to place blame, but rather to “contribute toward a better understanding of the origins and the course of last year’s conflict.”