Russia: a new confrontation? - Defence Committee Contents

3  The Georgia conflict

Figure 1: Map of Georgia including the disputed territories

Source: BBC online

54. The conflict between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia has had a profound impact on Western-Russian relations. In the immediate aftermath of the August 2008 fighting, NATO suspended its formal engagement with Russia on the NATO-Russia Council and the EU was prompted to reassess its strategy towards Russia. The potential for continuing instability in the Caucasus region remains. It is difficult to foresee Western relations with Russia improving significantly, unless progress is made in reaching an agreement that calms tensions in the disputed territories.

The causes of the conflict

55. On 7 August 2008, fighting erupted between Georgian and Russian forces in the breakaway Georgian territory of South Ossetia. Georgia launched an overnight strike against separatist and Russian forces, which it claims was in response to Russian shelling. The Russian military response was swift and overwhelming: Russia sent its forces deep into sovereign Georgian territory, far beyond the conflict zone. Russia also deployed its forces to Abkhazia—Georgia's other breakaway territory—prompting Abkhazian separatist forces to mobilise against the Georgian army. On 12 August, Russia and Georgia reached a ceasefire agreement, negotiated by the then President of the EU, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

56. In the run-up to the conflict, there was a heightening of tension in the region. The table below shows the events in the immediate lead-up and during the August conflict.

Table 4: Timeline of the Georgia conflict and immediate lead-up in 2008
4 MayTwo Georgian UAVs shot down by Abkhazian forces, bringing the total to four since March.
5 May Georgian news agency reports of the construction of a new Russian military base for peacekeepers in Abkhazia.
26 MayUN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) confirms Georgian UAV shot down by Russian jet in Abkhazia on 20 April; Russian Foreign Minister claims video has 'serious inconsistencies'.
31 MayRussia deploys 300 'unarmed' soldiers to Abkhazia, claiming they are required for railway repair works. Georgia indicts Russia in planning a military intervention.
JuneAbkhazia breaks all ties with Georgian government
6-7 JuneSaakashvili and Medvedev meet, but agree that they cannot resolve 'all of their problems'; Georgia declares the two sides must meet for a longer discussion.
14-15 JuneReports of an 'intensive' exchange of fire outskirts of Tskhinvali between Georgian and South Ossetian troops.
17 JuneFour Russian peacekeepers detained in Abkhazia for allegedly transporting illegal ammunition; Russian Defence Ministry demands their return.
3-4 JulyExplosions in South Ossetia prompt Russia to accuse Georgia of military intervention and to condemn its 'aggression'.
10 JulyIn a press conference with President Saakashvili, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for an end to violence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
29-30 JulySouth Ossetia accuses Georgia of shelling villages outside of Tskhinvali. Georgia asserts that South Ossetians directed fire towards its monitoring group.
1 AugustExplosion in South Ossetia; Georgia reports injury of two policemen.
7 AugustGeorgia sends in its military to Tskhinvali. Russia retaliates with military force.
8 AugustBoth South Ossetia and Georgia lay claim to the disputed territory during intense shelling of Tskhinvali by both sides. Georgia accuses Russia of provoking 'undeclared war.' Russia warns Georgia that its 'aggression' will not go 'unpunished.'

President Saakashvili declares a 'state of war.'

9 AugustGeorgia claims to have shot down two Russian warplanes.

Abkhazian Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba claims Abkhaz forces have embarked upon an operation to drive Georgian forces out of the hotly-disputed Kodori gorge.

10 AugustReports of bombs dropped outside of Tbilisi, near a military airport.

Russian diplomat reports death count of 2,000 in South Ossetia; the numbers have not been verified.

Georgia reports to have offered Russia a peace deal, saying it would withdraw its troops from South Ossetia. Russia denied any cessation of armed conflict by the Georgians, and demanded an unconditional withdrawal from South Ossetia.

Georgia reports death of 130 Georgian civilians and 1,165 injuries. Russia rejects the claim that it has hit civilians.

US President George W. Bush declares Russia's troop build-up to be a 'disproportionate response'; UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband denounces Russia's bombing of targets 'well beyond' South Ossetia.

11 AugustRussia stationed more than 9,000 paratroopers in Abkhazia, thus exceeding the limit of 3,000 from the 1994 peace agreement. It continues to move more troops and armour across the border; there are reports that the movement also includes T-72 tanks and Hurricane rocket launchers.

European Commission calls on Russia to 'stop immediately all military activity on Georgian territory.'

Russia delivers an ultimatum to Georgia: that it must disarm 1,500 troops in Zugdidi, near Abkhazia, which Georgia rejects.

16 AugustPresident Medvedev signs six-point EU-brokered ceasefire, which includes a promise to withdraw troops to pre-conflict positions.
17 AugustMedvedev tells President Nicolas Sarkozy in a telephone conversation that Russian troops will begin to withdraw from Georgia on Monday 18th of August.
19 AugustMedvedev tells Sarkozy that—contrary to the EU ceasefire—Russian troops will remain in a buffer zone inside Georgia proper on the border with South Ossetia, and the remainder of troops will go back to South Ossetia and to Russia.

NATO freezes its partnership with Russia, and declares normal relations with Russia to be impossible. Statement issued by NAC (North Atlantic Council) emphasizes concern over Georgia's territorial integrity and the humanitarian situation.

22 AugustRussia promises a 'partial' withdrawal of troops by the end of the day, but claims some "peacekeepers" will be left inside Georgia. US General Craddock calls the move 'far too little, far too slow'.
26 AugustRussian President Medvedev formally recognizes the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and accuses Georgian President Saakashvili of using 'genocide to solve his political problems.'

Source: Adapted from RUSI's timeline of events compiled by Alexis Crow,

57. The causes of the conflict are complex. There were, at least, four sides directly involved: Russia, Georgia, the South Ossetian separatists and the Abkhazian separatists—the Russians would also claim that the US was involved as a supporter of Georgia. The first of many issues of dispute is the question of who struck the first blow—Russia or Georgia—with both sides accusing the other. The Georgian Government stated that its forces advanced into the Tskhinvali region in South Ossetia:

Only after days of intensive shelling that causes civilian deaths in villages under Georgian control and after confirmation that an armoured Russian land force had begun invading Georgia through the Roki tunnel.[90]

During our visit to Georgia, we met President Saakashvili. He told us that the decision to send in troops was taken to stop a Russian advance and to secure Georgian territory. In contrast, the Russians claim that the Georgians struck the first blow. President Medvedev made a statement on 8 August 2008 in which he described the Georgian's actions in the following terms:

Last night, Georgian troops committed what amounts to an act of aggression against Russian peacekeepers and the civilian population in South Ossetia. What took place is a gross violation of international law and of the mandates that the international community gave Russia as a partner in the peace process. 

Georgia's acts have caused loss of life, including among Russian peacekeepers. The situation reached the point where Georgian peacekeepers opened fire on the Russian peacekeepers with whom they are supposed to work together to carry out their mission of maintaining peace in this region. Civilians, women, children and old people, are dying today in South Ossetia, and the majority of them are citizens of the Russian Federation.    

In accordance with the Constitution and the federal laws, as President of the Russian Federation it is my duty to protect the lives and dignity of Russian citizens wherever they may be.[91]


58. Blame for the conflict can not be apportioned without considering the history of provocation on all sides. Edward Lucas told us that there had been a series of provocations from the Russian side and a series of peace initiatives from the Georgian side that had not been followed up.[92]

59. The Georgian Government claimed that one of the key Russian provocations was the build-up of troops in the breakaway territories. In the months preceding the conflict:

Russia continued to increase unilaterally its troop strength in Abkhazia, without fulfilling its legal obligations to seek the consent of Georgia; among other moves, it deployed paratrooper units, which were incompatible with peacekeeping.[93]

The United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) confirmed that Russia had "reinforced the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping force [comprising former Soviet States] with a 525-strong airborne battalion in the restricted weapons zone".[94] It also confirmed that, in May 2008, Russia brought in railway troops to repair a railway south of Sukumi, in Abkhazia. The Russians justified these deployments on the grounds of providing humanitarian assistance.[95]

60. A further claimed Russian provocation was the shooting down of a Georgian Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) over Abkhazia on 20 April 2008. UNOMIG reported that Russia's actions were in violation of the ceasefire agreement, yet stated that Georgia was also in breach of the ceasefire agreement as heavy weaponry in the area was prohibited.[96] Despite the overwhelming evidence that Russia shot down the UAV, Russia denied responsibility.[97]

61. In Spring 2008, Russia withdrew from a 1996 CIS agreement that placed an arms and economic embargo on Abkhazia. Russia also established legal links with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia claimed that this was aimed at supporting its citizens in the territory. On the other hand, Georgia claimed that it amounted to a de facto annexation of their territory.[98]

62. The conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia have been a continuing source of instability since Georgia declared its independence in 1991. Major fighting between Georgian forces and secessionist rebels ended in South Ossetia in 1992 and in Abkhazia in 1994. Both regions are legally within Georgian territory, but in practice have been beyond the control of the Georgian government in Tbilisi.[99] The Georgian Government stated:

Russia has been fostering conflict in the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia since the fall of the Soviet Union, aiming to destabilize Georgia—and to send simultaneously a message to countries throughout the post-Soviet space.[100]

It also claimed, "as of 2005, Russian military and civilian officials seconded from Moscow effectively have been governing South Ossetia and Abkhazia".[101] One of the methods that Russia has been fuelling separatist sentiment in the region is through the distribution of Russian passports to "manufacture 'Russian citizens' to protect".[102] Dr Jonathan Eyal also argued that Russia had handed out passports "like confetti" in the region to "give the Kremlin the required justification to intervene inside Georgia".[103]

63. During our visit to Georgia, interlocutors suggested that one of Russia's motives in invading Georgia was to secure its control over the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which runs through Georgia. John Roberts, Energy Security Specialist at Platts, told us that this was one of the world's largest transnational oil pipelines and that it:

currently accounts routinely for around two per cent of the world's trans-border flows and is probably going to account for about four per cent of it in the next five to six years. It is already a corridor for gas supplies to Turkey and, indeed, to part of the EU, to Greece, and has the potential to play a much more important role as a major conduit for Caspian gas, not only for Azerbaijan but, in time, from Turkmenistan.[104]

The BTC pipeline is strategically important to Russia and the EU. Russia opposed the pipeline's construction in the 1990s, as it wanted oil to be transported through its territory.[105] The pipeline is important to the EU as it provides the only transit route of oil from the Caspian region to the EU that avoids Russia and Iran.

64. Although it is clear that Georgia has a strategically important role as an energy transit country, it is less clear that energy played any role in determining Russia's behaviour in Georgia. Two days before the conflict broke out the BTC pipeline was attacked in Turkey. The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) claimed responsibility for the attack. Despite this claim, it is not certain who carried out the attacks: some western diplomats and Turkish officials believe that the attacks were "too sophisticated for the PKK".[106] However, John Roberts said that "on the whole" he did not believe that energy was a factor in the Georgia conflict.[107] He argued that during the conflict Russia "took just about every step that they could not to be seen to be targeting specifically energy installations".[108] Denis Corboy also told us that he too was "sceptical" about whether Russia targeting the BTC pipeline, although he noted that it would "suit the Georgian case that it was presented" as such.[109]

65. As well as provoking Georgia, there was a shared view by the EU, NATO and G7 that Russia acted disproportionately and illegally in response to the events of 7 August.[110] Russia immediately responded by launching its own offensive military operations against Georgian troops in South Ossetia and well beyond the conflict zone. This included an attack on the town of Gori, the strategically important port of Poti on the Black Sea and on targets on the outskirts of Tbilisi.[111] Russia also extended the conflict by sending in troops to Abkhazia. Edward Lucas commented:

There is no doubt that Russia went well beyond any kind of peacekeeping or war-ending mandate by pushing deep into Georgia and blowing up all sorts of infrastructure, threatening civilians, ethnic-cleansing and all the rest of it.[112]

The Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. Gordon Brown MP, stated, "Russia's actions were in clear breach of international law and of successive UN Security Council Resolutions".[113] Russia is signatory to a number of international legally-binding agreements which its actions in Georgia can be seen to be breaching: the UN Charter, Article 2 (4), and the Helsinki Final Act, the Founding Charter of the OSCE, both commit Russia to refrain from using force against the territorial integrity of another state.


66. In contrast to those witnesses who blamed Russia for starting the conflict, some of our witnesses laid blame on Georgia. Martin McCauley told us:

the consensus seems to be that it [Russia] was provoked by Georgia, that they were the ones who in fact initiated—although they deny this—and it led to a situation where the Russians then penetrated Georgia.[114]

President Saakashvili is viewed by many Russians as having personally provoked the crisis. Two of his central policy goals were to reassert Georgian sovereignty over the breakaway areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and to enable Georgia to join NATO. Both of these objectives were seen as deliberately antagonistic towards Russia. The widely reported personal animosity between the Russian and Georgian Presidents was also seen as a factor in fuelling the conflict.

67. There has been much speculation on President Saakashvili's motives for launching a strike in Tskhinvali. Some argue that Saakashvili acted under the misguided impression that the West would come to his country's aid. Dr Jonathan Eyal argued that President Saakashvili:

misread even the intentions of his backers: there was never any chance that either the US or European countries would come to his aid, in any shape or form.[115]

However, during our meeting with the President, he firmly denied that he held any expectation of Western aid. He told us that he thought that the Georgian military would be able to secure Tskhinvali. This belief was based on the assumption that Russia would not deploy all its forces simultaneously—as it in fact did. Dr Jonathan Eyal also argued that Saakashvili was under this impression.[116] Some commentators suggested that he did not expect that Russia would dare to take military action against Georgia on the opening day of the Olympic Games in Beijing.[117]

68. One of the reasons why commentators have dwelled on President Saakashvili's motives for taking military action in South Ossetia is that the decision appears irrational in the face of stark evidence of Russia's overwhelming military strength. Edward Lucas said:

To launch a war against a country that is 30 times [bigger] or against something that is backed by a country 30 times bigger than you at a time when your best troops are in Iraq and your second-best troops have just come back from Iraq and are still recuperating is an odd thing to do.[118]

The Financial Times described the Georgian decision as a "spectacularly ill-conceived military adventure" given the Georgian's inability to block Russian reinforcements coming through the Roki tunnel.[119] Despite acknowledging that Saakashvili's decision was "impetuous and misguided", Edward Lucas also argued that it was important to remember that Georgian sovereign territory and ethnic Georgian villages were being shelled in South Ossetia.[120]

69. During our visit to Georgia, interlocutors suggested that the President's decision to take military action was not made on the basis of a rational assessment of the likelihood of military success. Rather, it was suggested that the Georgians would rather fight and die for their country than not fight at all—an impression which was confirmed by our meeting with the President. Georgian politicians stressed that at the time the decision was made it believed that the state's existence was under threat from Russia. Its actions should therefore be seen in this context.


70. Some witnesses suggested that the West should bear some responsibility for the conflict. Dr Alex Pravda, told us: "I think in the past we [the West] have not made enough moves which clearly signalled disapproval" to Russia.[121] Georgian Government representatives told us that the US had not responded robustly enough to Russian military flights over Georgia in July 2008. They also told us that NATO's decision at the Bucharest Summit not to grant Georgia Membership Action Plan (MAP) status was a contributory factor to the conflict. Edward Lucas, among others, argued that NATO's decision emboldened Russia. He told us that the result of NATO's decision was that:

Medvedev actually thought he could get away with things that he should not have been able to get away with.[122]

71. It can be argued that the West should have taken greater action to prevent the crisis given its pre-existing involvement in Georgia. The United Nations (UN) and the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have long-standing commitments to stability in Georgia. Their observer missions have been in Georgia since 1993. UNOMIG warned of rising tension in the Abkhazia region in the weeks leading up to the August conflict.[123] The Chairman of the OSCE, Finnish Foreign Minister, Alexander Stubb, also expressed "profound concern" about tensions in the Georgian conflict areas.[124]

72. Despite reports warning of rising tensions in the region, the West was to a large extent caught be surprise by the outbreak of conflict. Oksana Antonenko argued that NATO was caught "completely unprepared".[125] However, Baroness Taylor told us "everyone was aware that there were problems" in the area but explained "it was the scale and nature of what happened that took people by surprise". She also stated:

I do not think that anyone could have foreseen that President Saakashvili would launch an attack on Tskhinvali […] we were well aware of the indicators and warnings. What we were not aware of was the disproportionate reaction on the Russian side after President Saakashvili launched the attack.[126]


73. The European Commission initiated an enquiry to assess the causes of the conflict, which is expected to report by 31 July 2009 to the EU, UN and OSCE on its findings. The investigation has been led by Heidi Tagliavini, a former United Nations special representative for Georgia. It has examined the causes of the conflict and according to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Rt Hon. David Milliband MP, "at the request of the UK a requirement for the inquiry to look at war crimes and breaches of international and humanitarian law" was included.[127]

74. We welcome the EU's investigation into the causes of the Georgian-Russian conflict. Understanding the history and causes of the conflict is a prerequisite to achieving peace in the region. While awaiting the EU's forthcoming report that should provide a more detailed assessment of the causes of the conflict, we conclude that:

  • Responsibility for the conflict was shared, in differing measures, by all parties. Both Russia and Georgia share responsibility for the humanitarian consequences of the conflict that have left hundreds dead and thousands displaced from their homes.
  • Russia provoked Georgia through its actions over many years. Russian provocation included fuelling separatism in the region through the distribution of passports in the breakaway Georgian territories, building up its military forces in the region and through its recognition of the separatist territories in Spring 2008.
  • President Saakashvili's decision to launch an offensive on 7 August was politically reckless. Russia reacted swiftly to remove Georgian forces from South Ossetia. Russia also acted with disproportionate and illegal use of force by encroaching deep into Georgian territory, far beyond the conflict area.

75. There was a collective international failure at a political level to read the warning signs of an escalating conflict. The UK Government has stated its commitment to securing peace in Georgia. Ministers need to learn from history, and should carefully monitor intelligence on the situation in the Caucasus, to ensure that any future outbreak of conflict in the region does not come as a surprise.

The aftermath


76. The conflict resulted in many deaths, human rights abuses and large numbers of people being displaced from their homes. The exact number of deaths is not clear. The chair of the Ad Hoc Committee established by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) estimated that between 300 and 400 military personnel and civilians were killed.[128] Human Rights Watch's investigation concluded that Georgian and Russian forces committed human rights violations. It found that Georgian forces failed in their responsibility to minimise civilian casualties in their offensive in the Tskhinvali area, particularly in the "indiscriminate" shelling of Tskhinvali.[129] Russian forces were found to have committed violations of international humanitarian law through their use of indiscriminate aerial, artillery and tank fire strikes. Human Rights Watch also concluded that Russia:

failed in its duty as an occupying power to ensure as far as possible public safety and order in areas under its effective control in South Ossetia. This allowed South Ossetian forces, including voluntary militias, to engage in wanton and widespread pillage and burning of Georgian homes and to kill, beat, rape and threaten civilians.[130]

Both Georgian and Russian forces have also been criticised for causing indiscriminate and excessive harm to civilians through the use of cluster munitions.

77. Human Rights Watch estimated that as many as 20,000 ethnic Georgians were displaced from their homes in South Ossetia by the fighting and are unable to return to their homes.[131] The UK Government estimated that overall over 100,000 people were displaced.[132] In Georgia, we met residents of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) village at Tserovani. They explained that they had been forced to leave their homes in South Ossetia because of attacks by separatists on their property; others told us they had fled out of fear. They explained that they hoped to be able to return to their homes, but only after the Russians had left. It was explained that one of the main challenges faced by the IDP villagers was the lack of work opportunities available. We were told that the Georgian Government were taking steps to try and provide work opportunities and land for the villagers to grow their own food.


78. The EU, NATO and G7 Foreign Ministers, including the UK, condemned Russia's use of force in Georgia as disproportionate. The NATO Council issued a statement on 19 August 2008:

Russian military action has been disproportionate and inconsistent with its peacekeeping role, as well as incompatible with the principles of peaceful conflict resolution set out in the Helsinki Final Act, the NATO-Russia Founding Act and the Rome Declaration.[133]  

NATO suspended formal engagement with Russia on the NATO-Russia Council and declared that there would be 'no business as usual'. The European Council held a meeting on 1 September 2008 where Russia was unanimously condemned for its decision to recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; and the Council expressed its grave concern about the consequences of the conflict and Russia's disproportionate military action.[134] The European Council also decided to suspend negotiations with Russia on a new EU Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) until Russian troops withdrew from Georgia to their pre-conflict line. On 27 August 2008, the G7 Foreign Ministers, in an unprecedented step, issued a statement condemning Russia.

79. International efforts to end the conflict were led the French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the then President of the European Council. He brokered a ceasefire agreement between Georgia and Russia which was signed in August 2008. The agreement committed both countries to the following six principles:

  • Not to resort to force;
  • To end hostilities definitively;
  • To provide free access for humanitarian aid;
  • Georgian military forces will have to withdraw to their usual bases;
  • Russian military forces will have to withdraw to the lines held prior to the outbreak of hostilities. Pending an international mechanism, Russian peace-keeping forces will implement additional security measures;
  • Opening of international talks on the security and stability arrangements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.[135]

80. The 12 August agreement was supplemented by an implementation plan, again brokered by the EU and OSCE, and agreed on 8 September 2008. The plan reaffirmed the commitment of all parties to implementing the 12 August agreement, including the withdrawal of military forces to their pre-conflict positions. It also included agreements on the deployment of international observers and set a date for the opening of talks in Geneva on the future of the disputed territories.

81. Despite signing this agreement, Russia has not met all its commitments under the ceasefire agreements. Although it withdrew its forces from most of Georgia outside of the breakaway territories, it retained a checkpoint at Perevi, outside South Ossetia, until 11 December 2008.[136] Russia has also consolidated its military forces in the breakaway territories, rather than withdraw to its pre-conflict positions. Russian forces are now stationed in the Upper Kodori Valley in Abkhazia and the Akhalgori region of South Ossetia. Neither area was under Russian control before hostilities began. The Georgian Government stated, "there are approximately 4,000 Russian troops" stationed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.[137] It has been reported widely that Russia is planning to establish in a naval base in the Abkhazian port of Ochamchire and an airbase at Bombora.[138] On 30 April 2009, an agreement was signed between Russia and the de facto authorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Under the agreement, the two regions delegated their border guard duties to Russia. NATO and the EU have said the pact is in contravention of the ceasefire agreement.[139] Russia is failing to honour its ceasefire commitments under the agreements of 12 August and 8 September 2008. We recommend that the UK Government send a strong message to Russia that it needs to withdraw its military forces to its pre-conflict positions as previously agreed.

82. Some commentators criticised the EU and NATO for a weak response to the conflict. Edward Lucas argued that the Georgian conflict exposed the EU and NATO "as divided, irresolute and ineffective".[140] He argued that the EU:

came out with the weakest possible sanction it possibly could which was to suspend partnership and cooperation agreement talks, which was something Russia had already said it did not really care about.[141]

In contrast, Caroline Flint told us: "I believe that the international community did as much as it could at the time in response to the conflict".[142] In response to a question on why the EU and not NATO brokered the ceasefire agreement, Caroline Flint stated that a number of organisations had responded. Baroness Taylor added:

You could say that if NATO had been the body to take the lead at that time it could have been seen potentially as more likely to escalate the situation or make it more difficult […] I am not saying that it would have been justified but it could have been interpreted in that way.[143]

83. The international community has provided practical assistance in the region through the three monitoring missions in Georgia—provided by the UN, OSCE and EU. Each has operated under different mandates with unarmed personnel. During our visit to Georgia, we heard that the missions had helped in creating some stability and security for civilians. Yet we also heard that the missions had major limitations owing to their narrow mandates.

84. The UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) was established in 1993. It was originally created to monitor the implementation of a ceasefire agreement between Georgia and Abkhazia—known as the Moscow Agreement. Its mandate included observing the operation of the CIS peacekeeping force and helping to create the conditions under which displaced people could return to their homes. During our visit, we heard about the mission's limitations: for example, monitors are able to enter Abkhazia, yet are not able to monitor troop movements properly as they are subject to curfew restrictions placed on them by Russia.

85. The OSCE monitoring mission was established in 1992, and its remit has widened significantly since it was established. Its original mandate was to promote conflict resolution between Georgia and South Ossetian separatists. Its role was extended to support UNOMIG's work in relation to the Georgian/Abkhazian conflict and to promote human rights and the rule of law across Georgia. The work of the OSCE mission has been severely limited by its inability to gain access to Russian-controlled territory. At the outbreak of the conflict, its eight monitors in South Ossetia were evacuated and were not allowed to return.

86. The EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) started on 1 October 2008. Its mandate is to monitor the implementation of the 12 August and 8 September ceasefire agreements of that year and, in particular, the withdrawal of Russian and Georgian forces to their pre-conflict positions. It is also tasked with contributing to the stabilisation and normalisation of the situation in the areas affected, with monitoring the deployment of Georgian police forces and with observing compliance with human rights and rule of law. We saw the work of the EUMM at first-hand: we participated in a security patrol of the South Ossetian administrative border-line and a human rights patrol which visited an IDP village. Despite having a mandate covering the entire Georgian territory, the EUMM has also not been able to enter Russian-controlled territory.

87. Negotiations on the future of these missions have been taking place in Geneva. On 19 May 2009, Caroline Flint told the House of Commons that the Government was "disappointed that the Russian and South Ossetian delegates pulled out of the afternoon sessions of the Geneva talks on Monday 18 May, and that Abkhazia did not participate at all".[144] The UNOMIG mandate expired on 15 June 2009. The Security Council failed to extend the presence of the UN mission after Russia vetoed the draft resolution.[145] The OSCE mission's mandate expired on 31 December 2008, although a limited extension was agreed until 30 June 2009 for the OSCE observers in Georgia near South Ossetia. The OSCE mandate has now expired, following a failure to reach an agreement between Russia and Georgia on an extension. Russia wanted the OSCE to agree to establish separate missions in Tbilisi and Tskhinvali under separate commands, a proposal that was unacceptable to Georgia as it would have recognised the independence of the territory. The Head of the OSCE mission in Georgia, Terhi Hakala, has said that the organisation would continue to operate in the rest of Georgia, excluding the disputed territory of South Ossetia.[146] The EUMM mission expires at the end of September 2009. Its mandate may be extended, yet its effectiveness is in doubt if it remains unable to enter Russian-controlled territory.

88. The continuing presence of international monitors provides tangible benefits on the ground and is politically important. In Georgia we heard that the Georgians living in the conflict areas valued the presence of international monitors as it helped to maintain law and order; they also believed that it prevented human rights abuses. Dr Roy Allison, of the London School of Economics, believed that the role of EU monitors was "particularly important because of the uncertain security situation around South Ossetia". He considered that their presence deterred Russia from taking further military action.[147] Denis Corby also argued:

The presence of EU monitors is very different from the presence of OSCE or UNOMIG for this reason. For Russia to take action in Georgia this year would mean a confrontation with the EU, and the EU is a very different animal as far as they are concerned. It is their largest customer. They want good relations with the EU and they would not be prepared to face EU sanctions.[148]

89. We regret that the UN and OSCE monitoring missions have been forced to close. Their closure increases the vital importance of the EU monitoring mission in Georgia and the need for its mandate to be strengthened as well as extended. The EU monitoring mission has a vital role in acting as a deterrent to further military action and promoting stability. The UK Government should increase its diplomatic efforts to secure an extension in time and strengthening of the EU monitoring mission in Georgia, including enabling the mission to have full access to the disputed territories.


90. Russia recognised the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on 26 August 2008. During our visit to Russia, officials argued that their action in recognising the independence of these territories was comparable to Western recognition of Kosovo. We also were told that the West had walked into a trap in recognising Kosovo's independence. Andrew Wood told us that the Russians saw:

what we [the West] did in Kosovo as a legitimate reason for them to do similarly 'humanitarian' actions elsewhere […] it gave them a plausible excuse."[149]

Caroline Flint argued that Kosovo "is a different situation".[150] David Milliband gave a speech in which he explained why Kosovo was not a comparable situation:

NATO's actions in Kosovo followed dramatic and systematic abuse of human rights, culminating in ethnic cleansing on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War.  NATO acted over Kosovo only after intensive negotiations in the Security Council and determined efforts at peace talks at Rambouillet. Special Envoys were sent to warn Milosevic in person of the consequences of his actions. None of this can be said for Russia's use of force in Georgia.  

And our decision to recognise Kosovo's independence came only after Russia had made clear it would veto the deal proposed by the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy, former Finnish President Ahtisaari. Even then we agreed to a further four months of negotiations by an EU-US-Russia Troika in order to ensure that no stone was left unturned in the search for a mutually acceptable compromise.[151]

91. Russia is isolated in its recognition of the breakaway territories. As Baroness Taylor pointed out:

55 of the 56 countries of the OSCE condemned the action [Russia's action in Georgia] and that only Nicaragua has acknowledged South Ossetia and Abkhazia shows the weight of international opinion is against them.[152]

The EU and NATO, including the UK, condemned Russia's unilateral stance. Russia's action in recognising the breakaway territories' independence is in violation of the sovereignty of Georgia, which Russia had previously accepted; In April 2008, Russia was a signatory of UN resolution 1808 which reaffirmed the commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders.[153] State sovereignty is one of the most essential principles of international law, and is laid down under Article 2 (1) of the UN Charter.

92. Moreover, the viability of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states is questionable. The level of democracy in both areas is dubious, as recent elections can be argued to be unfair as the thousands of ethnic Georgians who were forced to flee from the territory were unable to vote. The ability of the territories to function as independent economic entities is also uncertain: South Ossetia has a population of only 70,000, and Abkhazia's population is approximately 250,000.

93. Russia has breached internationally accepted principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity by unilaterally recognising the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The prospect of South Ossetia and Abkhazia returning under the sovereign control of Georgia in the near future appears slight while the Russian military presence remains in these territories. It is vital for international security that NATO, EU and the UK Government remain resolute in their commitment to Georgia's sovereignty and international law. The international community has a vital role in securing stability and peace in the region. UK Ministers should press for the EU, UN and OSCE to secure a lasting peace settlement in the disputed territories.


94. There is a real possibility of further conflict in Georgia. In April and May 2009 opposition parties who called for President Saakashvili's resignation held demonstrations. Tension in the region was heightened by NATO's training exercises which were held in Georgia between 6 May and 3 June 2009. These exercises were planned a year in advance, yet Russia argued that they were provocative.[154] On 5 May 2009, a Georgian tank battalion mutinied in an apparent attempt to disrupt the NATO exercises.[155] On 29 June 2009, Russian forces began a large-scale military exercise in the Caucasus near the Georgian border. The BBC has reported that the exercises are due to end on the day that the US President arrives in Moscow—6 July 2009. It has also been claimed by some that Russia is fuelling the Armenian separatists in Georgia and Azerbaijan. However, Denis Corboy told us that although Russia was supporting Armenia, as its strongest ally in the Caucasus, it did "not want to see greater hostilities" in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.[156]

95. Russia's invasion of Georgia has fuelled the fears of other former Soviet States that Russia is willing to use its military might in their territories. During our visit to Estonia, officials and politicians voiced concerns about Russian resurgence. Professor Yury Fedorov in evidence to us stated that Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Ukraine were concerned "about the growing possibility of Russian use of force".[157] James Sherr argued,

Russia's brutal demonstration of power in South Ossetia […] marks the latest—and most alarming—sign of the Kremlin's determination to reclaim control over former Soviet States.[158]

In chapter 4, we discuss the effect of Russia's actions in Georgia on NATO members, particularly the Baltic States.

90   Ev 105 Back

91   Speech by President Medvedev, 8 August 2008, Back

92   Q 18 Back

93   Ev 105 Back

94   UNOMIG, Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, 23 July 2008, para 10 Back

95   UNOMIG, Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, 23 July 2008, para 10 Back

96   UNOMIG, Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, 23 July 2008, para 16 Back

97   "Russia 'shot down Georgian drone", BBC news online, 21 April 2008 Back

98   UNOMIG, Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, 23 July 2008, para 8 Back

99   House of Commons Library, Georgia: The conflict with Russia and the crisis in South Ossetia, SN/IA/4819, 18 August 2008 Back

100   Ev 104 Back

101   Ev 104 Back

102   Ev 104 Back

103   Dr Jonathan Eyal, Royal United Services Institute, Who Lost Russia? An enquiry into the failure of Russian-Western Partnership, Whitehall Paper 71, April 2009, p 73 Back

104   Q 108 Back

105   "Russia/Georgia conflict sounds alarm bells at threat to vital link in the energy chain", Times Online, 9 August 2008 Back

106   Q 109 Back

107   Q 108 Back

108   Q 108 Back

109   Q 223 Back

110   The G7 nations are the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Japan and Italy. Russia is a member of the G8.  Back

111   House of Commons Library, Georgia: The conflict with Russia and the crisis in South Ossetia, SN/1A/4819, 18 August 2008 Back

112   Q 20 Back

113   Written ministerial statement, 10 September 2008 Back

114   Q 120 Back

115   Dr Jonathan Eyal, Royal United Services Institute, Who Lost Russia? An enquiry into the failure of Russian-Western Partnership, Whitehall Paper 71, 2009, p 71 Back

116   Dr Jonathan Eyal, Royal United Services Institute, Who Lost Russia? An enquiry into the failure of Russian-Western Partnership, Whitehall Paper 71, 2009, p 71 Back

117   The New Statesman, Georgia and the Soviet Union, 13 August 2008 Back

118   Q 19 Back

119   "The message from Moscow: Resurgent Russia bids to establish a new status quo", The Financial Times, 13 August 2008 Back

120   Q 18 Back

121   Q 129 Back

122   Q 21 Back

123   UNOMIG, Report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, 23 July 2008, para 14 Back

124   "OSCE Chairman expresses serious concern about series of recent incidents in Georgian conflict areas", OSCE press release,4 July 2008, Back

125   Ev 148 Back

126   Q 271 Back

127   HC Deb, 26 November 2008, col 1790W Back

128   Human Rights Watch, Up in Flames, January 2009, p 51 Back

129   Human Rights Watch, Up in Flames, January 2009., p 27 Back

130   Human Rights Watch, Up in Flames, January 2009., para 3.1 Back

131   Human Rights Watch, Up in Flames, January 2009., para 3.1 Back

132   Written ministerial statement on Georgia from the Prime Minister, 10 September 2008 Back

133   "Meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Foreign Ministers held at NATO Headquaters", NATO press release, 19 August 2008, Back

134   Written ministerial statement on Georgia from the Prime Minister, 10 September 2008 Back

135   Council of the European Union, Council Conclusions on the situation in Georgia, 13 August 2008, para 2 Back

136   "Dismantling by the Russian Armed Forces of the Perevi Checkpoint", Statement by the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Back

137   Ev 106 Back

138   For example see "Russia plans three military bases in Abkhazia", Eurasianet Insight, 2 May 2009, and "Navy to build base in Abkhazia", Russia Today, 26 January 2009, Back

139   "Russia's border pact with rebels", BBC News online, 30 April 2009, Back

140   Q 20 Back

141   Q 21 Back

142   Q 266 Back

143   Q 265 Back

144   HC Deb 19 May 2009, col 1332 Back

145   "Russia vetoes extension of UN mission in Georgia", The United Nations News Centre, 15 June 2009 Back

146   "OSCE mission to leave Georgia on 30 June", Rustavi News, 30 June 2009, Back

147   Q 153 Back

148   Q 190 Back

149   Q 213 Back

150   Q 274 Back

151   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Foreign Secretary's speech in Ukraine, 27 August 2008  Back

152   Q 298 Back

153   United Nations Security Council Resolution 1808, 15 April 2008 Back

154   "NATO kicks off Georgia exercises", BBC News online, 6 May 2009 Back

155   "Georgian troop rebellion over", BBC News online, 5 May 2009 Back

156   Q 194 Back

157   Ev 81 Back

158   "Georgia: Russia demands to be regarded as number one", The Telegraph, 10 August 2008 Back

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