During August this year, the likes of President-elect Obama (see his official website), Richard Holbrooke (see The Washington Post) and our beloved David Miliband (see The Times) all instantly mouthed off that Russia either invaded South Ossetia and Georgia reacted to this alleged invasion, or Russia provoked Georgia into invading South Ossetia by supporting separatists massively shelling Georgian military positions and villages.
Both these claims have now been proved false.
The New York Times yesterday ran a lead front page article on official reports from monitors from the OSCE.
1. Georgia started it without any obvious provocation, starting the military build up by 3pm on 7th August at the earliest (though as RIA Novosti reported plans for such an attack were known of on the 6th) and calling a ceasefire so that inhabitants of South Ossetia would be in their beds when the Georgian shelling began at 2335 on the 7th August.
2. Georgia subsequently lied to everyone about the war (though I suspect some in Washington and London at least suggested the attack if not directly ordered it.)
The observations are supported by two experienced British military personnel, British Army captain Ryan Grist and Wing Commander Stephen Young. Grist resigned under unclear circumstances soon after debriefing diplomats from the EU and giving his conclusions. You may recall that Russia's Foreign Minister was accused of very frequently using the F word in a phone call to Miliband, but it was later reported that Lavrov used the F word only once and used it in a verbatim quote from an EU diplomat regarding Saakashvili. Are the two related?
1. Russia acted swiftly and with cause to stop a slaughter started by Saakashvili (and unknown but suspected personnel in London and Washington)
2. Saakashvili must go (as must Miliband and Malloch-Brown; Miliband for being such an ass, and Malloch-Brown for installing Saakashvili in the first place!)
Newly available accounts by independent military observers of the beginning of the war between Georgia and Russia this summer call into question the longstanding Georgian assertion that it was acting defensively against separatist and Russian aggression.
Georgia moved forces toward the border of the breakaway region of South Ossetia on Aug. 7, at the start of what it called a defensive war with separatists there and with Russian forces.
Instead, the accounts suggest that Georgia’s inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm.
...“The Georgians have been quite clear that they were shelling targets — the mayor’s office, police headquarters — that had been used for military purposes,” said Matthew J. Bryza, a deputy assistant secretary of state and one of Mr. Saakashvili’s vocal supporters in Washington.
Those claims have not been independently verified, and Georgia’s account was disputed by Ryan Grist, a former British Army captain who was the senior O.S.C.E. representative in Georgia when the war broke out. Mr. Grist said that he was in constant contact that night with all sides, with the office in Tskhinvali and with Wing Commander Stephen Young, the retired British military officer who leads the monitoring team.
“It was clear to me that the attack was completely indiscriminate and disproportionate to any, if indeed there had been any, provocation,” Mr. Grist said. “The attack was clearly, in my mind, an indiscriminate attack on the town, as a town.”
Mr. Grist has served as a military officer or diplomat in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Kosovo and Yugoslavia. In August, after the Georgian foreign minister, Eka Tkeshelashvili, who has no military experience, assured diplomats in Tbilisi that the attack was measured and discriminate, Mr. Grist gave a briefing to diplomats from the European Union that drew from the monitors’ observations and included his assessments. He then soon resigned under unclear circumstances.
A second briefing was led by Commander Young in October for military attachés visiting Georgia. At the meeting, according to a person in attendance, Commander Young stood by the monitors’ assessment that Georgian villages had not been extensively shelled on the evening or night of Aug. 7. “If there had been heavy shelling in areas that Georgia claimed were shelled, then our people would have heard it, and they didn’t,” Commander Young said, according to the person who attended. “They heard only occasional small-arms fire.”
...Neither Georgia nor its Western allies have as yet provided conclusive evidence that Russia was invading the country or that the situation for Georgians in the Ossetian zone was so dire that a large-scale military attack was necessary, as Mr. Saakashvili insists.
...With a paucity of reliable and unbiased information available, the O.S.C.E. observations put the United States in a potentially difficult position. The United States, Mr. Saakashvili’s principal source of international support, has for years accepted the organization’s conclusions and praised its professionalism. Mr. Bryza refrained from passing judgment on the conflicting accounts.
“I wasn’t there,” he said, referring to the battle. “We didn’t have people there. But the O.S.C.E. really has been our benchmark on many things over the years.”
The O.S.C.E. itself, while refusing to discuss its internal findings, stood by the accuracy of its work but urged caution in interpreting it too broadly. “We are confident that all O.S.C.E. observations are expert, accurate and unbiased,” Martha Freeman, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail message.