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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Says Georgia Started 2008 War

ReutersRussia’s EU envoy, Vladimir Chizhov, showing an EU report on the Georgia war to reporters Wednesday in Brussels.

Georgia bears the brunt of the guilt for starting the war over South Ossetia last summer, but Russia also committed a number of violations of international law, the European Union said in a much anticipated report published Wednesday.

Despite criticism directed at both sides, Moscow and Tbilisi reacted positively to the report, each ostensibly picking the parts that suited its case most.

“In the mission’s view it was Georgia which triggered the war when it attacked Tskhinvali with heavy artillery on the night of 7 to 8 August 2008,” Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, head of an independent fact-finding mission on the conflict, said in e-mailed comments Wednesday.

The 1,150-page report, published online at Ceiig.ch, firmly rejected the main justification for the attack offered by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, saying flatly that “there was no massive Russian military invasion under way, which had to be stopped by Georgian military forces shelling Tskhinvali,” the capital of South Ossetia.

The report, however, also blames Russia for a substantial number of violations of international law. It lists the mass conferral of Russian citizenship to a majority of people living in South Ossetia and Abkhazia as a violation that happened well before the conflict.

Russian passports had been distributed to the local populations for years before 2008, and Moscow justified its large-scale military intervention after the Georgian attack by saying it had a duty to protect its citizens.

The report also charges that Russia’s military action on Georgian territory went “far beyond the needs of a proportionate defense of Russian peacekeepers in Tskhinvali,” who had come under fire in the Georgian attack.

Additionally, the authors say Moscow’s subsequent recognition of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states “must be considered as being not valid in the context of international law, and as violations of Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

The report also denies Russian allegations that Georgia carried out genocide against the South Ossetian population. “On the other side, there are serious allegations that ethnic cleansing did take place in many instances against ethnic Georgians,” Tagliavini said.

Moscow applauded the report’s findings about the attack on Tskhinvali but said the accusations of rights violations were ambiguous and would not stand up to scrutiny.

“We can only welcome that the commission found that the war was started by Georgia,” Kremlin spokeswoman Natalya Timakova told reporters.

The Foreign Ministry rejected the report’s allegations of disproportionate use of force. “In the same report, you can find arguments showing the artificial character of this,” the ministry said in a statement on its web site.

It said Russian forces had only attacked the positions that had been used to attack South Ossetia.

“The ambiguous formulations reflect the politicized approach of many EU countries toward the conflict,” the statement said.

Most Western governments criticized Russia during the conflict and no country has followed it in recognizing the two regions’ independence,  except Nicaragua and Venezuela. Moscow maintains that Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s split from Georgia cannot be reversed.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also noted gleefully that the report pointed a finger at countries that trained and equipped the Georgian armed forces. The report mentions Washington’s “extensive military aid program” with reportedly more than 100 U.S. military advisers in the Georgian armed forces in August 2008.

It also says “a number of other countries led by Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Israel” provided “considerable military support.

Georgian officials also welcomed the report.

The country’s EU ambassador, Salome Samadashvili, said the question of who fired first on Aug. 7, 2008, was immaterial without considering two decades of friction.

She said the “report gives the full context,” referring to Russia’s invasion of Georgia’s separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, The Associated Press reported from Brussels.

Temur Yakobashvili, the Georgian Cabinet minister responsible for the country’s breakaway regions, said the report proved Moscow had been preparing for conflict all along.

“The report proves that Russia was all the time preparing this war and Aug. 7 and 8 were the culmination,” he told Reuters.

Tagliavini, however, said the report’s basic message was a renewed call to all conflicting sides to comply with basic rules of international law, such as the respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity and the nonuse of force, thus quoting the main violations that Moscow and Tbilisi accuse each other of.

She said she hoped the report would encourage both sides to a fresh and sober assessment of the situation.

She said Georgia’s and Russia’s unwillingness to accept each other’s views was a main obstacle to conflict solution.

“They were never prepared to look at the truth of others,” she said.