Probe Finds Georgia Violated Law, Provoked War With Russia

By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, September 30, 2009; 11:58 AM

MOSCOW, Sept. 30 -- An independent inquiry ordered by the European Union has concluded that Georgia violated international law and triggered last year's war with Russia by attacking the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

In findings released Wednesday that could redefine public views of the five-day war, European investigators said Russian forces appear to have entered Georgia before the assault but rejected as unsubstantiated the Georgian government's claim that a large-scale incursion was underway requiring a military response in self-defense.

"None of the explanations given by the Georgian authorities in order to provide some form of legal justification for the attack lend it a valid explanation," said Heidi Tagliavini, the Swiss diplomat asked to conduct the probe, in a statement accompanying a report of more than 1,000 pages. "In particular, there was no massive Russian military invasion underway, which had to be stopped by Georgia military forces shelling Tskhinvali," the capital of South Ossetia.

But Tagliavini stopped short of blaming Georgia for causing the August 2008 war, concluding that Russia also violated international law by issuing large numbers of passports to residents of separatist enclaves in Georgia before the fighting began and by sending its troops deep into Georgian territory afterward.

In addition, she said Russia's recognition of South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, as independent states was illegitimate, and accused the Russian-backed Ossetian militias of conducting ethnic cleansing of Georgian civilians.

"There is no way to assign overall responsibility for the conflict to one side alone," she wrote. "They all have failed, and it should be their responsibility to make good for it."

The European investigation is considered the most authoritative and independent inquiry into the causes of the war to date. Russia's more powerful troops quickly routed Georgian forces and continue to occupy parts of Georgian territory despite a cease-fire agreement to withdraw.

After days of intense lobbying and speculation, Russian and Georgian officials immediately highlighted portions of the report most favorable to their positions.

"The report is mostly objective, and it makes the conclusion that the conflict began with Georgia's aggression against South Ossetia," Vladimir Chizhov, the Russian ambassador to the European Union, told the Interfax news agency in Brussels, where Tagliavini briefed European leaders on her findings.

In Tbilisi, Temur Yakobashvili, the Georgian minister for reintegration, disputed Tagliavini's conclusion that Georgia's attack on South Ossetia was unjustified and emphasized the evidence of that Russian forces had entered Georgian territory.

"Everything that happened happened on Georgian soil," he said. "We never attacked Russia. We never conducted any military operation on Russian soil. . . . [But] Russians arming, training and supporting separatist forces and irregular mercenaries were already in South Ossetia before major hostilities erupted."

"'I think this report yet again proved we were right and yet again proved that Russia was the aggressor," he added.

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