Worldfocus producer Christine Kiernan writes about the reaction to the recently-released report on the Russia-Georgia war.
This week, the European Union released its long-awaited report on the five-day-war that broke out between Russia and Georgia in August 2008. The conclusions — the result of a ten-month-long mission to investigate the conflict’s origins led by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini — were mixed. The report cites as the immediate cause “the shelling by Georgian forces of the capital of the secessionist province of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, on Aug. 7.”
However, it also acknowledges that Russia had made preparations for armed hostilities by moving paramilitary forces into the Russian-backed republic, and that the shelling was only the “culminating point of a long period of increasing tensions, provocations, and incidents.” The report concludes that all sides violated international humanitarian and human rights laws and warns that the conflict in Georgia continues to threaten peace in the region.
Not surprisingly, both Russia and Georgia seemed to interpret the report’s findings in their own favor. Russian officialdom and media expressed satisfaction, more or less, over the commission’s findings, highlighting as the main conclusion the fact that Georgia started the war. The Russian press secretary said “we can only welcome the said conclusion.”
A headline in the “Gazeta” newspaper read: “The Russian Kremlin and Ministry of Defense welcomed the EU commission’s conclusion that Georgia began the war in South Ossetia.” The article noted that Russia’s ambassador to the European Commission, Vladimir Chizhov, deemed the report “Pro-Russian.” Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said it was about time the truth came out; the Echo Moscow radio station quoted him as saying Western politicians owed Russia an apology.
You can read an official reaction on the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Web site. There is little mention of the finding of Russian responsibility for ethnic cleansing and of disproportionate use of force by the Russian side, or the report’s refusal to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent entities.
My ability to interpret Georgian reaction is limited. But I did come across an English-language version of an official statement issued by the Georgian government. The Georgian government’s takeaway: “Almost all of the facts in the report confirm the Georgian version of events.” The government’s statement failed to mention that the EU mission put responsibility for the immediate commencement of shelling on Georgia. Instead, it stressed the report’s finding that Georgian civilians and peacekeepers were under attack, on Georgian soil, before August 7, and cited the “most important fact documented by the Commission […] that regular armed Russian forces and mercenaries illegally crossed into Georgia before August 8, 2009.”
Will the report’s release change anything? Probably not. Both Russia and Georgia will continue to adhere to their own version of events and blame the other side. My main takeaway comes from an editorial written by mission-head Tagliavini and published in Wednesday’s New York Times. In it, she focuses not on “whodunit;” instead, she raises the question of what responsibility the international community bears for failing to prevent the conflict. Are there actions Georgia’s and Russia’s neighbors could have taken to avoid the escalation of tensions? Did the involvement of outside powers harden positions, as Tagliavini claims, rather than build common ground? What is the role of the international community at large in deterring conflicts that arise between nation-states? Perhaps it is questions like these that merit further investigation.
– Christine Kiernan