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Georgia Started the South Ossetia War

Map of GeorgiaOver a year after the fact, that is the central conclusion of a report commissioned by the Council of the European Union, which was released today. To a fair amount of international attention. The BBC has a write-up, including a pdf of the report. And even the Wall Street Journal, which has published a fair amount of columns by the Georgian President Saakashvili, had a headline that reads 'Report: Georgia Triggered War With Russia' (via Jerome).

The report itself is readable, and contains a useful timeline of the events. It is also critical of Russia, which is found to have reacted disproportionally to the attacks. In fact, no one comes away well from the report. It even ventures into some muted criticism of the support for the buildup of the Georgian army by the United States, which it calls a 'sensitive issue', while calling for such military support to 'stay within the boundaries set by common sense and due diligence'.

But, wait a second, no one? Well, there is one French President...
After five days of fighting, a ceasefire agreement was negotiated on 12 August 2008 between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the latter acting on behalf of the European Union. An implementation agreement followed on 8 September 2008, again largely due to the persistent efforts of the French President. This successful political action stood in contrast to the failure of the international community, including the UN Security Council, to act swiftly and resolutely enough in order to control the ever-mounting tensions prior the outbreak of armed conflict.
That is actually clear language.

Although the decision for this report was taken by the Council of the European Union, for which Christine Lagarde did the signing, the idea is one thing Sarkozy can't take credit for. The initiative for the report came from the then and acting foreign minister of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. His name is now being floated for the post of High Representative (pretty much EU foreign minister), should the Lisbon Treaty be ratified. Steinmeier lost the German elections and faces an uncertain future as faction leader of the German social democrats. He would be happy to be promoted to a significant international post. Or so the reasoning goes.

The extent to which the common foreign policy still needs to be created in the first place should be evident from the EU statement upon release to this report: "Underlining the independent nature of the report, the EU hopes that its findings can contribute towards a better understanding of the origins and the course of last year's conflict and, in a broader perspective, serve as an input to future international efforts in the field of preventive diplomacy". Quite.

Regardless of the capability of the EU to formulate foreign policy, it should be evident that Georgia is not going to be a NATO candidate for the forseeable future.

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Marie Claude on :

from WSJ : "For Moscow, the report's finding on who shot first is a significant victory, one that's likely to undermine efforts by Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili to rally Western support behind " "While the report did not suggest Mr. Saakashvili walked into a Russian trap, as many analysts believe, it said the shelling of Tskhinvali was only the "culminating point of a long period of increasing tensions, provocations and incidents" nothing that we ignored Now nothing tha t can change too, Ossetia and Abkhazia will remain independant, who's gonna tell them to become Georgians now ! I see none ! Saakashvili has played his dices, too late for him.

Nanne Zwagerman on :

The report does state that the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia would go against established international law. Implicitly this also means that the independence of Kosovo does.

Zyme on :

"The report states that while Russia's initial actions in fighting back against attacks on its personnel in South Ossetia were justified, its subsequent actions, in pushing far into Georgia proper "went far beyond the reasonable limits of defence" and was "in violation of international law"." Comparing to his share of gearing up for war, Saakashvili got pretty good away didn't he? I mean, he still is both alive and in office, right? "Frank-Walter Steinmeier. His name is now being floated for the post of High Representative (pretty much EU foreign minister)" Where did you get this info from? I haven't found anything on this rumor. "should the Lisbon Treaty be ratified." Yes, this is the most important job now. Tomorrow is high noon! I heard that entire Dublin is placarded with posters. Hopefully it is going to work this time.

Nanne Zwagerman on :

I got the rumour from [url=http://bruxelles.blogs.liberation.fr/coulisses/2009/09/tony-blair-pr%C3%A9sident-du-conseil-europ%C3%A9en-frankwalter-steinmeier-ministre-des-affaires-%C3%A9trang%C3%A8res-de-.html]Quatremer[/url], who writes in French, so his sources (if any) would presumably be anonymous French diplomats. The best sources you can get!

Zyme on :

The points in that article are convincing, but would the invigorated Conservatives in Europe really accept two formally leftist leaders (Blair and Steinmeier) with Barroso being the only Conservative one?

Nanne Zwagerman on :

Well, Blair is a LINO. But I doubt that he'll get the post. The buzz over Balkenende is pretty strong. Myself, I favour Juncker, but he's not being mentioned as often anymore.

Marie Claude on :

Lellouche said it doesn't matter if Ireland votes "no" it's rather Vaklav Klaus who is the problem while Czech senate signed the treaty, he doesn't want to ratify it

Zyme on :

It is just a futile attempt to prevent the Treaty by reassuring potential No-Voters that no European consequences would follow when the Treaty is not accepted. Given the reports in Irish Times, people feel "better informed" this time. Many of whom voted against the Treaty last time have changed their mind due to an omnipresent effective "information" campaign ;) Regrading Klaus - first things first Marie: Let us wait for the results tomorrow, and THEN a way will be found to deal with the man calling himself Czech President! :D

John in Michigan, US on :

I found myself wondering, why does everyone act as if a Yes vote is binding, apparently forever, but a No vote merely means "not yet, but ask again soon". So I did a little research and found that it may be possible for nations to withdraw from the Lisbon treaty after they have ratified it. It may even be possible to withdraw from the EU itself. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Withdrawal_from_the_European_Union To Zyme and the other Lisbo-philes -- what is your impression of the accuracy of this Wikipedia article? Do you think the Lisbon treaty should be clarified to spell out the exact circumstances (if any) under which a nation can withdraw?

Zyme on :

"I found myself wondering, why does everyone act as if a Yes vote is binding, apparently forever, but a No vote merely means "not yet, but ask again soon"." As I read again and again among Irish commenters, "In the world of the EU, Yes means Yes and No means Yes as well!" :) It already was technically possible to withdraw from the EU. Greenland did so in 1986 when it became independent from Denmark. Lisbon does enact this right officially for the first time. But it is economical suicide for a country not so far away to do so due to the amount of economical integration reached. International companies would avoid the outsider and seek to establish itself within the Common Market. But it might be used in the future to discipline small slowly progressing countries - telling them to leave this way should they not want to speed up their integration.

Marie Claude on :

you can also paralyse EU decisions, Veto is still the rule under Nice agreement, I believe in Lisboa's, no more Well I find it not convenient to not have this liberty, that would mean that you assume your argumentation, otherwise, you walk off, it would have been fine if Czechs and, for a while, the Poles, if they had walked out, uh the Brits too ! Now, I am still regretting the times when our policies were decided in our capital, (idem for the other nations)

Zyme on :

The cases in which Vetos are still possible are greatly reduced, yes. "Now, I am still regretting the times when our policies were decided in our capital, (idem for the other nations)" In a slightly different way our policies still are decided in our capitals - as long as you are a citizen of the biggest nations ;)

John in Michigan, US on :

"economical suicide" The economic integration of Europe is (mostly) already in place, the Lisbon treaty mostly deals with political integration. Withdrawing from the EU completely might be economic suicide, but I don't see why withdrawing from Lisbon (in the future, after ratifying it) would be economic suicide for a country like Ireland. Wouldn't a future withdrawal from Lisbon basically return Ireland to the status quo ante? Presumably, the answer is no, but this is only because the countries remaining in the EU would probably try to punish Ireland for withdrawing. Sticking with the death metaphor, wouldn't this punishment be more correctly described as an economic death penalty, rather than economic suicide?

Zyme on :

Oh I think I misunderstood you then. I thought you were merely talking about the right of withdrawing from the Union altogether. It is not possible to simply withdraw from Lisbon Treaty. My goodness, it took half an hour to find this one. It is a tiny part of the Lisbon Treaty, amending the Treaty on the European Union as follows: "The following new Article 49 A shall be inserted: ‘Article 49 A 1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements. 2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 188 N(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. 3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period. C 306/40 EN Official Journal of the European Union 17.12.2007 4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it. A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 205(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. 5. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49."

John in Michigan, US on :

Assuming the report is factually correct, Tbilisi started [i]something[/i], but I don't see how it is reasonable to say that they started a war. As far as I can tell, Russia and Georgia have been at war for most of the 1990's and have never made peace. You can't start a war if a war already exists. It would be more accurate to say that in 2008, Tbilisi ended a cease fire or resumed a war. International law regarding cease fire violations is notoriously vague and lax. Even if Tbilisi's termination of the cease fire wasn't, strictly speaking, purely defensive, there is an obvious case to be made that when a tiny country is facing an immanent threat from a much, much larger and more powerful adversary, then preemptive action may be justified, particularly when those two countries are already at war. Meanwhile, international law regarding the duties of an occupying power to police the occupied territories and protect civilians from militias, is quite clear, or so I keep hearing. 'The roughly 1,000-page report, released on Wednesday by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, found no evidence to support Russian claims Georgia committed genocide the night of Aug. 7-8, 2008.' 'Moscow acted illegally in the extent of its invasion of Georgia and allowed "ethnic cleansing."' Where is the outrage? Why is Russia being treated as just another European country, when in fact it is the only European power that is still practicing actual, literal, imperial colonialism? Given its recent, ultra-violent history, why shouldn't Russia be held to the same high standard of anti-militarism that is expected of Germany?

Nanne Zwagerman on :

The report as reproduced on the BBC is only 44 pages. I guess that it is over 1000 pages including all documentation. It goes into questions of international law and finds that Russia was justified to react but overreached in its reaction (which is indeed also characterised as a violation of international law). The report indicates that the fact finding mission could not find support for the view that the war launched by Georgia was 'pre-emptive'. The report does highlight escalating tensions and incursion of irregulars from Russian territory prior to the conflict, and finds that there was an earlier air reaction by Russian forces than stated by the Russian side (still well after the Georgians started their artillery barrage), but it clearly states that there was no evidence found of an immanent invasion by Russia, and that the Georgian attack was in violation of international law. So, we should try to face up to the fact that Saakashvili lied when he tried to sell his war as pre-emptive. The fact that we don't hold Russia to the same standards as Germany has to do with realism.

Don S on :

"The fact that we don't hold Russia to the same standards as Germany has to do with realism." What does the fact that you DO try to hold the US to the same standards as Germany indicate? ;)

Nanne Zwagerman on :

Good question. I don't expect the US to conform to the same standards of anti-militarism as Germany either. I do expect it to behave with more circumspection with regard to international law than Russia, as it is part of the community of liberal democracies. I think some elements of the report are rather unrealistic, such as those stating that Russia's notion of a sphere of interest would go against international law. Not sure what that would do to the Monroe doctrine.

John in Michigan, US on :

"The fact that we don't hold Russia to the same standards as Germany has to do with realism." You are correct, of course. Realism is a maddeningly vague word at the best of times. Here we must distinguish between political realism, by which you mean realpolitik, as contrasted with empirical realism, which requires factual accuracy, completeness, independent assessment, and balanced judgment that is free of political influence. Where in the mandate for this fact-finding mission is the basis for permitting realpolitik into the report? "I do expect [the US] to behave with more circumspection with regard to international law than Russia, as it is part of the community of liberal democracies." So liberal democracies should be held to a higher standard than other nations. Morally, this is plausible or even defensible, since without this double standard, there will be a tendency for democracies to regress to the lowest common denominator. But legally, this is very problematic. Shouldn't international law, like Lady Justice, be blind? Shouldn't international law hold all countries to the same standard? If double standards are acceptable in international law, why stop with the one for liberal democracies? Shouldn't there be a double standard, for example, when a large and powerful country is in conflict with a small, weak country? Certainly, the US, as both a super-power and a liberal democracy, is often held to a more severe double-standard than are other, liberal democracies. Why does the report let Russia let off the hook in this regard? Perhaps the liberal democracy standard doesn't apply to Russia (paradoxically, Putin would claim grave offense at that and [i]insist[/i] that they do qualify as a liberal democracy!) but the big guy vs. little guy double standard certainly does apply. So we are left with a bizarre oxymoron -- a "fact-finding" mission that suffers from an excess of "realism"!

Nanne Zwagerman on :

As stated before, the report goes into questions of international law and finds that Russia has also violated it. Its language on Russia is a bit harsher than mine. It does not venture into questions of how we should conduct foreign policy, although it does studiously avoid certain conclusions for what are likely political reasons. When I say that I or 'we' hold Russia to a different standard, I do not intend this in legal terms, but in personal terms or political terms (characterising the 'sentiment' or 'stance' you will see from most European countries).

John in Michigan, US on :

"The report indicates that the fact finding mission could not find support for the view that the war launched by Georgia was 'pre-emptive'." Nanne, what is the basis for your statement? I've search the BBC article, the WSJ article, and the PDF excerpt of the commission report, and cannot find any instance of the words 'pre-emptive', 'preemptive' nor any of its variations. I've also looked for similar concepts like 'prevent'. Can you give me a page number or something? Also, please note, I did not say that the war was preemtive, or was possibly justified by pre-emption. I said that breaking the cease-fire might have been pre-emptive. The report's logic has a flaw. It correctly observes that all sides agree that the artillery strike of 7-8 Aug actually happened, and that it was an act of war. But, it offers no evidence that the artillery strike STARTED the war, rather, it merely assumes that peace existed in the region before the artillery strike. But I see no evidence of peace. The report did not document a peace treaty, just a peacekeeping agreement (which, in spite of the name, actually isn't necessary in times of actual peace). The report documents small, ongoing, clashes that had a military character. Permitting a "civilian" force operate in another country or region in ways that would be military, if the civilians were in uniform, is itself an act of war (unless the source country is willing to police these civilians). It seems to me the report ducks all these questions because it can't find agreement as to the facts. But if one can't agree on the facts of incidents, it doesn't follow logically that countries are at peace! The correct conclusion should have been, the report was unable to determine the state of peace/war prior to 7-8 Aug.

Pat Patterson on :

John-I took the reference to mean the cease-fire monitored by the OCSE under the Sochil Agreement where the belligerents were supposed to withdraw from agreed upon contested areas unless attacked by heavy weapons from those supposedly neutral areas.

John in Michigan, US on :

Generally speaking, yes, that is what I am referring to. There were a number of cease-fire agreements, initiatives, peace-keeping groups, etc. over the decades, but the OCSE seems to be the main one. ---- Here is another example of what I am talking about when I ask, "what is the evidence that the countries were at peace before 7 Aug?" In the report, there is no mention of the violation of Georgian (NOT S. Ossetian!) airspace by Russian (NOT S. Ossetian!) fighter jets that both sides agree happened on 9 July, 2008. In peacetime, that would qualify as an act of war under international law (nations own their airspace just as they own their land). In a cease-fire situation, the legal threshold for resuming hostilities is even lower. If a cease-fire agreement bound parties as tightly as a peace agreement, no-one would bother with a cease-fire! There are so many gaps like this in the report (at least the parts that are available to us), it makes me wonder if the start and end dates of the conflict were negotiated ahead of time, before a single fact was gathered! Still, the fact-finding report is a valuable contribution, since it gathered valuable documents and testimony that otherwise might have been lost or remained obscure. I just think that in light of the report's own disclaimers, and other limitations, statements in the report such as 'X violated international law' must be treated merely as informed opinions, rather than legal conclusions.

John in Michigan, US on :

I am reading the 44 page PDF file at the BBC. It has some important disclaimers, such as: "In summary, it should be noted that the factual basis thus established may be considered as adequate for the purpose of fact-finding, but not for any other purpose. This includes judicial proceedings such as the cases already pending before International Courts as well as any others." (page 9) So none of the found facts are suitable for admission in a court of international law?!? In other words, this is not a legal document, it is a political and diplomatic exercise. At least they're honest about that. "the end of the period under review has generally been set at 8 September 2008" (page 10) And yet, Russians occupied parts of Georgia ([i]outside[/i] of South Ossetia and Abkhazia) for at least another month; militia and mafia activity continued during that month. Even today, Russia still occupies South Ossetia and Abkhazia, in violation of the same six-point plan that supposedly forms the basis of this report's decision to limit the duration of the period under review! This is a major failure of the report. Nothing in their mandate requires them to limit themselves to the period before 8 Sept. In fact, the whole purpose of the report was to investigate what happened, and form judgments, based on facts (not diplomatic declarations) as to when the conflict began and ended.

Zyme on :

Marie !! It is looking very favorable - do you know what I mean? Jahahahaaa :D

Marie Claude on :

yeah, more than 65% seen as favorable :lol:

Zyme on :

This is a day of celebration! VICTORY !!! It is done. Finally. Never ever will there be a need for such a referendum again. Thanks to Lisbon, the European Council will be able to conduct further integration on its own. Now Klaus is next. I hear that an impeachment might be started to get rid of him, should he still refuse signing the document. Or the European Parliament may deny any future Commission that includes a Czech Commissioner. And Sarkozy wants an extraordinary summit to be held so that all other European Heads of States can put combined pressure on him, while the Swedish Presidency considers it to be counter-productive, as Klaus is considered to be hungry for public attention. (http://www.economist.com/blogs/charlemagne/2009/09/europe_ponders_how_to_pressure.cfm) That is why I like this one best: "According to a Social Democrat (CSSD) leading official, the [Czech] government also has "other methods of exerting pressure on the president," for instance, through next year's budget of the Presidential Office or limiting foreign visits." "The Tyden.cz server then wrote that a plan was being considered in the CSSD of how to put the president on trial for treason or "at least" to strip him of his powers on the grounds that he is incapable of performing his function." (http://www.ceskenoviny.cz/news/zpravy/government-can-force-klaus-to-sign-lisbon-treaty-czech-lawyers/399935) It is going to be a pleasure to see how much pressure he can take when he only needs to deliver a teeny-weeny signature to be released :D

John in Michigan, US on :

I was prepared to congratulated the EU-philes on their victory. But then I read this: "on trial for treason" !?! Let's hope this is just an Internet rumor. If not...that treason charges could even be considered, without being immediately rejected, means the EU will likely become just another power-hungry monster. When was the last time a politician was tried for treason in Western Europe? How long before they take away the special exemptions they gave the Irish to win their vote? On the other hand, "British Conservatives leader David Cameron sent a letter to Klaus in summer assuring him that if he delayed the signature of the Lisbon treaty on behalf of Prague, the Conservatives would call a referendum on the treaty and would seek its rejection after their expected victory in the British elections." Hard to say if this is desperation by Cameron, or if this could actually work.

Zyme on :

Yes John that is the reason why Klaus has brought the Lisbon Treaty before the highest Czech court for the second (!) time. He hopes it takes long enough for them to decide until the British Conservatives have won the elections there and can then remove their ratification. A bold move, one has to give him credit for. And a move that demands a swift answer. The charge of treason seems to result out of the fact that he as a president is bound by the constitution to sign every law that has passed Czech legislation. Not fulfilling his duties in such an elementary case can thus be seen as an act of treason or justify an impeachment. In the end it does not matter how this obstacle is cleared, but no options should be neglected right from the beginning. Now is the turn of the Czech elites to proceed so that the country can save its face. Regarding the power-hungry monster: I do not share your judging worries, but your observation is correct. This is the essence of what the road of integration is about - the accumulation of power, as only when a critical mass is reached the EU is able to pursue European interests in the world. Today we are seeing a weak union. Disorganized and unharmonized in its foreign policy. Only when the interior structure is strong, we can turn to the outside in a powerful manner. And the Treaty of Lisbon is a milestone in this development, the last one that could be prevented by a simple referendum :) The fact that to this day the USA has supported and encouraged the process will never cease to amaze me :D

John in Michigan, US on :

"The fact that to this day the USA has supported and encouraged the process will never cease to amaze me :D" It shouldn't. We really do like to see our allies become stronger, rather than weaker! In spite of all my objections, I too am in favor of a European Union of some type. My concern all along is that, without sufficient democratic safety valves to release the pressure, Europe will be subject to the sort of violent populist uprisings that have been such a problem in the past. I guess we shall see. I haven't examined the Czech constitution closely, but I have to believe that the President's signature isn't 100% automatic, otherwise, why even require his signature? Perhaps the situation is similar to the British monarch's role in signing laws (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Assent). Royal Assent exists because it was, in the past, a necessary political compromise between the monarchy and parliament. Therefore it could be seen as a relic of the past that should be ignored or abolished. That argument is hard to make in the case of the Czech Republic, since the role of the Presidency was created recently, and as far as I can tell, did not arise out of the need of some political faction to be appeased. So, why is presidential assent part of the Czech constitution? Surely it was created as some form of check or balance against a runaway parliament? It follows, therefore, that the check or balance against a runaway President, is impeachment. But, that the some Czechs seem prepared to equate an impeachable offense with treason, is disturbing. It suggests not merely removing him from office, but punishing him as a criminal. Once Libson enters into force, there will be a consolidation of power and a settling of scores against the euro-skeptics. Also, the temperature record is making it increasingly clear that Klaus is fundamentally correct about global warming (or lack thereof). These things will make Klaus seem somewhat vindicated. Accusing him of treason smacks of Soviet tactics, and could easily backfire.

Marie Claude on :

I can't have your links, some sort of vague google page appears WellKlaus is the last Mohican that was lately bred by the american state department,after being one KGB comrad of Putin (they still have close relations). This kind of psychological reaction is quite pathological for that,being pro-soviet, he reversed pro-America ; would you say it isn't opportunism ? Now, he is quite isolated in EU, I don't expect that the majority of Czechs are following his suicidal behaviour. and yes, I think he is quite a narcissic person, though I share a few of his reflexions on the "global warming" cheat

Zyme on :

Did you make sure the brackets are not included? I also think his perception on global warming issue is correct. Nonetheless with the Irish voting Yes, his stance towards the EU has become unbearable. He will either have to bow or to go.

John in Michigan, US on :

This is a great discussion, I am learning a lot about European politics! Congratulations to Marie-Claude for the impossible: connecting the topic of this post, to the Irish referendum. I bow in your direction! Jorg, Editors: When there's breaking news like this, perhaps you could create a quick, simple post on the topic so we can comment? "bred by the american state department" Many said that about Sarko, it isn't true, and it isn't true for Klaus. "would you say it isn't opportunism" When Klaus moves closer to Russia, it is opportunism (bad) or even pathological (very bad). And yet, when France or Germany move closer to Russia, it is realism (good) and not gas greed (bad)? Politics makes strange bedfellows. I remember that brief moment (2003?) when Putin's scientists announced that Russia was officially skeptical of global warming. But I had forgotten that Klaus seemed to give Russia permission to invade Georgia, perhaps that was the trade the Kremlin demanded...I condemn that decision to sacrifice Georgia, while admiring Klaus's ability to punch above his weight in European affairs...so confusing!

Zyme on :

I think we should not forget the enormous effort put into this by the Irish government. It bound its future to the passing of the Treaty and every member fought to the last hour. How heroic. And by lifting the "fairness" rules on referendums which were in place to allow each side an equal amount of investment for media campaign, the Yes-supporters were able to aquire a 10 to 1 advantage in funds (or so the critics claimed). As a result, the Irish voters felt better informed this time :) Also the British Prime Minister should be rewarded for his stubborness, keeping his government alive no matter how many resign, so that the Conservatives cannot aquire power before the Treaty is in effect. Does anyone remember the trouble resulting from the referendums in France and the Netherlands? Or the concessions made to Ireland after its first referendum? I am confident that after all this effort put into it, a way will be found to overcome the final hurdle in Prague.

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