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THE AUGUST WAR SOUTH OSSETIA 2008. HOW IT ALL HAPPENED

FIGURES

Georgia lost 412 civilians and military personnel in the 2008 August War. The Ossetian side reported 365 military and civilian losses.

According to official data from Russia, the war also claimed the lives of 67 Russian military personnel.

Around 20,000 residents of Georgian villages on South Ossetian territory became refugees.

Georgia lost control of territory spanning 125 villages.

Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

PHOTO: Georgian reservists in Gori. 9 August 2008. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Background

In the Soviet Union, South Ossetia was an autonomous region within the Georgian Soviet Republic.

After the collapse of the USSR, Georgia began actively building an independent state, while South Ossetia preferred closer, allied relations with Russia. Nationalist leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia came to power in Georgia in 1991, and a separatist movement arose in South Ossetia: relations between the region and Tbilisi quickly became tense.

A rally in the town of Leningori, South Ossetia, 1989. Photo by Jemal Kasradze. The archive of the National Library of Georgia

In fact, the ethnic-territorial conflict between Georgians and Ossetians goes back to the end of the 1980s, and later erupted in a war from 1990 to 1992. Russia formally supported Georgia in this conflict, but behind the scenes supported South Ossetia.

In 1991, South Ossetia announced that it was no longer an oblast within Georgia, but a republic. Not only did the Georgian parliament not recognise the republic, but they also stripped it of its autonomous status. As a result, South Ossetia ended up without any special status in the country.

In 1992, South Ossetia announced its independence from Georgia, which neither Georgia, nor any other country in the world including Russia, recognised.

Georgia lost control of South Ossetia as a result of the war. After the active phase of the war had come to an end, Georgian, Russian and Ossetian peace-keepers were deployed to the region.

A fragile peace of sorts settled in for 10 years, interrupted by short periods of flare-ups. People on both sides of the conflict were able to move and trade freely, and visit their relatives and cemeteries.

In 2004, the newly-elected president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili stated on the day of his inauguration that the main aim of his presidency would be to restore the territorial integrity of Georgia. He and members of his government stated on several occasions that they intended for Georgia to regain control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The international community continued to unequivocally support the principle of Georgia’s territorial integrity. This was the position that Russia also professed publicly, though it actively supported South Ossetia financially and politically. Moreover, residents of South Ossetia were given the possibility of receiving Russian passports.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili came up with several peace initiatives, which offered wide-reaching autonomy for both Abkhazia and South Ossetia inside a federative state, and also the position of vice prime minister for a representative of Abkhazia.

In 2006, Tbilisi restored the [pre-conflict] status of the South Ossetian Autonomous Region, while also creating an alternative position of president of South Ossetia. Two presidential elections were held simultaneously: one by the Tskhinval(i) administration, and the other, informally, by Tbilisi.

Eduard Kokoity won the presidential elections led by Tskhinval(i), while Dmitri Sanakoev won the elections supported by Tbilisi.

Two administrations appeared in South Ossetia, neither of which recognised the other.

THE RECOGNITION OF KOSOVO

On 17 February 2007, after many years of conflict, the majority of the international community recognised the independence of the Kosovo region, which had up until then been a part of Serbia.

Russia opposed the decision to recognise Kosovo and threatened to retaliate. It was then that Moscow started taking measures regarding Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Specifically:

  • On 6 March 2008, Russia withdrew from the Commonwealth of Independent States agreement of 1996, which forbade member countries of the agreement from setting up political, military or economic relations with Abkhazia
  • On 21 March, the Russian Duma passed a resolution in which it called upon the Russian state to examine the possibility of recognising the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
  • On 16 April, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill calling for direct relations to be established with Sukhum(i) and Tskhinval(i).

PHOTO: South Ossetian women standing outside their destroyed house in the capital, Tskhinval/i, on 11 August 2008. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

The summer of 2008 – how the war began

Starting in the summer of 2008, flare-ups occurred regularly in rural areas. Residents of both Ossetian and Georgian villages reported nocturnal shoot-outs. Both sides accused one another of opening fire first and reported the numbers of their injured and dead.

3 July 2008

An attempt was made to assassinate the head of the Georgian government's temporary administration of South Ossetia at the time, Dmitry Sanakoyev. His car was blown up near Georgian villages in South Ossetia. The de-facto leadership of South Ossetia and Moscow stated that the attempt was ordered by the Georgians, Tbilisi denied this.

Many experts believe that the event became the ‘point of no return’ for the war.

PHOTO: A Georgian soldier in Ergneti, a village in the conflict zone, on 5 August 2008. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

10 July 2008

The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came to Georgia. She stated that a military resolution to the Georgian-Ossetian conflict was unacceptable:

“The paths towards regulating the conflicts must be peaceful, and Georgian and Russian relations should not only be normalized but improved and aimed at a better future”

Russia viewed her visit in a negative light. Russian politicians and experts, both then and now, say that Rice’s visit to Georgia was a sign that Tbilisi had received the ‘green light’ to begin a military operation in South Ossetia.

PHOTO: Russian peacemakers near the checkpoint in the village of Ergneti, in the conflict zone, on 5 August 2008. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

15 July 2008

Russia began conducting large-scale military training exercises, called ‘Caucasus-2008’. They took place across the North Caucasus and in the immediate vicinity of Georgia’s borders. Eight thousand military servicemen took part in the training exercises. A field hospital was erected in North Ossetia not far from Georgia’s border, where those who would later be injured in the August War were treated.

On the same day, Georgia began military training exercises as well called ‘Immediate Response-2008’, with the participation of the US, in addition to Ukraine, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

1 August 2008

In Georgia’s Shida Kartli region, in the zone of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict, an automobile exploded after a remote controlled mine was triggered. The vehicle was transporting Georgian police officers, of whom five were injured.

The incident triggered an escalation, as Georgian and Ossetian villages both in Shida Kartli and South Ossetia came under fire in an attack that lasted for a whole day.

The incident triggered an escalation, as Georgian and Ossetian villages both in Shida Kartli and South Ossetia came under fire in an attack that lasted for a whole day.

Tskhinval(i) stated that six people died and 15 were injured on that day.

The attacks on the Ossetian and Georgian villages continued unabated until the day the war broke out, as the sides traded accusations.

PHOTO: Elderly Georgian villagers waiting to be evacuated from the village of Kheiti, near Tskhinval/i, to Tbilisi, on 21 August 2008. Later, the village would be razed to the ground by the South-Ossetian troopers. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

3 August 2008

The Georgian media reported that Russian army units were entering the Java Region in South Ossetia from North Ossetia in Russia.

Meanwhile, residents of Shida Kartli, in the zone of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict, reported a growing Georgian military presence.

PHOTO: Georgian soldiers passing through the checkpoint set up by the Russian peacemakers near the town of Tskhinval/i, on 8 August 2008. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

4 August 2008

Several important events take place on this day.

  1. The Russian-language media outlet The Caucasian Knot reported that women and children evacuated from South Ossetia had arrived in Russia.
  2. The president of unrecognized South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, stated that Georgian special service units were preparing terrorist attacks on the territory of South Ossetia. He claimed that more than 300 volunteers from North Ossetia had come to the republic and that up to 2 000 volunteers were expected to join. He also said that members of the Federation of Veterans of the Afghan War would come from Russia to South Ossetia. In response, Tbilisi announced that South Ossetia and Abkhazia were purposefully stoking the fires in the conflict zones.
  3. Georgia announced that it had refused to continue working within the framework of the Joint Control Commission, which at the time was the only official negotiating platform with the participation of Tbilisi, Tskhinval(i), Vladikavkaz and Moscow. Tbilisi stated that Moscow should withdraw from the negotiation process and that a new, bilateral Georgian-Ossetian format for the peacekeeping process should be created.
PHOTO: President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili talking to a wounded Georgian soldier in the military hospital in Gori on 7 August 2008. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

7 August 2008

A tumultuous day

1. Shoot outs continued in Georgian and Ossetian villages, with both injuries and deaths reported.

2. Discussions continued around the Joint Control Commission. The Georgian State Minister for Reintegration Timuri Yakobashvili and the co-chairman of the Joint Control Commission on the Russian side Yuri Popov worked together in South Ossetia.

3. The Georgian Foreign Ministry officially demanded that Russia speak to the ‘criminal regime of South Ossetia’ to stop the shelling of Georgian villages and for the Ossetian side to join in on the bilateral Georgian-Ossetian settlement process.

4. Yakobashvili and Popov came to the conclusion that a meeting should be held between the Commission and the mediation of Russia on 8 August at 13:00.

5. At 19:10, all Georgian television channels aired a speech of the President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili in which he stated that he had issued an order that

‘no Georgian compound, no police or other compound subject to our control, open fire [in response] in order to stop the very intensive shelling’.

Saakashvili stated that Tbilisi offer South Ossetia ‘unlimited autonomy’.

“I also offered and continue to offer Russia to be the guarantor of South Ossetian autonomy on the territory of Georgia,” Saakashvili said.

Saakashvili appealed to residents of South Ossetia with the following words:

“I beg you. We do not want to fight with you. Do not test the patience of our state. Let us stop the escalation and begin negotiations - direct, multilateral, as you want”

6. At 20:30, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia announced that ‘all Georgian positions around Tskhinval(i) are under fire’.

7. At 23:35, the Georgian side began shelling Tskhinval(i) en masse and the Georgian army entered the territory of South Ossetia.

8.Towards midnight, an official from Georgia’s Ministry of Defence, MamukaKurashvili, told journalists that South Ossetia had rejected Tbilisi’s request to unilateral ceasefire and renewed its attack on Georgian villages in the conflict zone.

“We decided to restore constitutional order in the region”, Kurashvili said.

The president of Georgia, and other officials, rejected any thought of restoring constitutional order, while Kurashvili said that his statement had been impulsive.

Georgian military on the South-Ossetian territory near Ergneti, a village 95 km away from Tbilisi, on 8 August 2008. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

8 August 2008

Battles were being fought on the territory of South Ossetia, in which the Georgian army and military detachments of South Ossetia were participating.

In the first half of the day, Tbilisi said that Georgian forces controlled all the villages around Tskhinval(i) and 70 per cent of the city.

9 August 2008. A destroyed Georgian tank on a street in the South-Ossetian capital. REUTERS/Said Tsarnayev

The Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin, stated:

“The actions of Georgia against South Ossetia will lead to reciprocal measures’

Wounded South-Ossetians in the basement of a hospital in Tskhinval/i on 10 August 2008. REUTERS / Denis Sinyakov
South-Ossetians taking shelter in the basement of a hospital in Tskhinval/i on 10 August 2008. REUTERS / Denis Sinyakov
Wounded South-Ossetians in the basement of a hospital in Tskhinval/i on 10 August 2008. REUTERS / Denis Sinyakov
A woman crying over the body of an Ossetian killed in Tskhinval/I. 11 August 2008. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
South-Ossetians and Russian journalists in a bombshelter during an air attack on the capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinval/i. 9 August 2018. REUTERS / Said Tsarnayev

Russian planes bombed cities and other locations in Georgia:

  • The Georgian city of Gori (the centre of the Shida Kartli region, close to the conflict zone);
  • The military base in Vaziani (near Tbilisi);
  • Military airfield in Marneuli (Kvemo Kartli region, 40 km from Tbilisi in the opposite direction of the conflict zone);
  • The military airfield, military base and railway station in Senaki (Samegrelo region, Western Georgia, far from the conflict zone);
  • The port, a shipyard and a railway junction in the Black Sea Georgian town of Poti (Samegrelo region, Western Georgia, far from the conflict zone).

On this day, two Georgian journalists were killed in Tskhinval(i) - Grigori Chikhladze and Aleksandr Klimchuk. Another two were injured - Georgian journalist Temuri Kiguradze and American Winston Featherly

Georgian soldiers running outside a building on fire, shortly after a Russian attack on a residential area in Gori, 80 km away from Tbilisi. 9 August 2008. REUTERS / GlebGaranich
Doctors aiding a wounded woman in the town of Gori on 9 August 2008. REUTERS / David Mdzinarishvili
A Georgian refugee in Gori. 11 August 2008. REUTERS / GlebGaranich
A Georgian man sobbing over his dead brother in the town of Gori. 9 August 2008 REUTERS / David Mdzinarishvili
A Georgian woman holding a child outside her ravaged house in Gori on 10 August 2008. REUTERS / David Mdzinarishvili

The leaders of many western countries condemned the war, and called on the various sides to put an end to the fighting and sit down at the negotiating table.

Russia demanded that the UN Security Council hold an emergency meeting The text of the resolution put forward by Russia was not accepted. At the end of the meeting, the UN expressed that it was 'deeply concerned’, but no resolution was passed.

9 August 2008

A presidential decree was made in which Saakashvili accused both Tskhinval(i) and Russia of organizing a mass attack against the peaceful Georgian population, and that ‘Georgia has taken adequate measures’.

The document officially stated for the first time that Russian troops entered the territory of South Ossetia. It is reported that this took place on 8 August.

Russian planes continued to bomb cities and other locations in Georgia:

  • The Kopitnari airport near the city of Kutaisi (Imereti region, not in the conflict zone);
  • The railway station and residential homes in Gori. Local residents lost their lives.

Russian PM Vladimir Putin arrived in Vladikavkaz (North Ossetia) where he stated:

“The actions of the Georgian authorities in South Ossetia are, of course, criminal. Moreover, this is a crime against one’s own people because a fatal strike has been laid against the territorial integrity of Georgia itself, and that means to its statehood. It is difficult to imagine how, after all that has happened and that which continues to happen, that South Ossetia will be convinced to enter the Georgian state.”

Combat broke out in the Kodori Valley of western Georgia, in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict zone.

Photo: Russian military vehicles heading for South Ossetia. Photo taken not far from the border between North Ossetia and South Ossetia on 9 August 2008. REUTERS / Denis Sinyakov

10 August 2008

Russian detachments, including heavy weaponry, entered Tskhinval(i) in the morning.

Georgia announced a regrouping of its forces and began to withdrawal units from Tskhinvali(i).

Russian forces moved towards Gori.

Russian planes continued to bombard cities and other locations in Georgia:

  • The aviation factory in Tbilisi;
  • The communication centre near Zugdidi (western Georgia, in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict zone).

Russian military ships established a maritime corridor in the Black Sea and blocked Georgian access to the sea.

Saakashvili addressed Moscow, with a calling for a ceasefire and to sit down to at the negotiation table.

The PM of Russia, Vladimir Putin, called on Georgia to end its military incursion into South Ossetia.

Photo: Georgians leaving their homes, not far from Tskhinval/i. 8 August 2008. REUTERS/ David Mdzinarishvili

11 August 2008

President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev said that Russia had embarked on a ‘peace enforcement operation’ in Georgia and was determined to see it through.

Russian airplanes bombed a communication tower in Tbilisi.

Units of the Russian army crossed from Abkhazia into the towns of Zugdidi and Senaki in Georgia’s Samegrelo region and seized most of the local government buildings.

Georgian troops had to withdraw from the conflict zone.

Photo: A refugee woman sitting in a bus in the South-Ossetian village of Java. 10 August 2008. REUTERS / Said Tsarnayev

12 August 2008

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev ordered his troops to wrap up the military operation.

The Georgian army withdrew not only from South Ossetia, but also from the Kodori Gorge, which had until then been the only part of Abkhazia controlled by Tbilisi.

Moscow came under fire from the governments of the USA and Great Britain.

Russian military planes bombed the central square in the town of Gori, killing eight locals and wounding 15 others. Dutch cameraman Stan Storimans died in the attack too.

A Russian attack helicopter opened fire on a minibus carrying civilians on a highway near Georgian city of Gori. Nine passengers were killed as a result.

The presidents of Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, as well as the prime minister of Latvia came to Tbilisi to show their support for Georgia.

After negotiations with the Russian leaders in Moscow, the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, came to Tbilisi, bringing a peace plan with him.

Ceasefire agreement

The peace plan brokered by Sarkozy contained six points, which the Kremlin had already agreed to.

However, Sarkozy said, the president of Georgia had refused to sign the document and demanded that the sixth point be changed.

The point in question was a proposal to start international negotiations to define the political status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Mikheil Saakashvili came up with his own wording of the point:

“The opening of international discussions on the modalities of security and stability of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.”

This became the sixth point of the agreement that was eventually signed by the presidents of Georgia, Russia and France.

Photo: Nadezhda Plieva, 73, sitting in the village of Java outside of Tskhinval(i), after fleeing a bombing attack on her home village. 11 August 2008

The fallout of the 2008 August war

According to the findings by a special international commission set up by the EU, 412 Georgian military personnel, including civilians, were killed in the 2008 August war. On the Ossetian side, the death toll came to 365.

Georgian militaries burying Georgian soldiers killed in the war. Tbilisi, 19 August 2008. REUTERS / David Mdzinarishvili

Official Russian statistics have it that 67 Russian military personnel died in the conflict.

Around 80 000 residents of Georgian villages on the territory of South Ossetia were forced to leave their homes, joining Georgia’s legions of IDPs.

The majority of them returned home, however there are still about 20,000 forcibly displaced persons.

On 26 August 2008, Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

Tskhinval(i), 7 August 2015. Photo: REUTERS/ Kazbek Bassayev

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov explained the aforementioned as follows:

“There had been no intention to recognize [them as such], but then we started to receive revanchist signals from Tbilisi. Saakashvili turned down the proposal by the presidents of Russia and France to observe the armistice and, most importantly, to begin international discussions to define the status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Saakashvili said: ‘no discussions’.”
“His subsequent revanchist statements led us to conclude that the recognition of their independence was the only way to ensure the safety and survival of the two nations.”

After Moscow recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent, Georgia severed diplomatic relations with Russia.

Report by the EU-funded fact-finding commission on the 2008 August war in the South Caucasus

To date, there is but one official document offering an independent analysis of what happened in August of 2008. This is the report by the EU international fact-finding commission.

The investigation was led by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini and lasted for ten months. The report was released on 30 September 2009.

The document is available here:

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