Russia-Georgia War Countdown

russia080509.jpgAs the first anniversary of the Russia-Georgia war approaches, we can expect a heavy volley of accusations, finger pointing, and acerbic opinion articles regurgitating mostly information we are already familiar with.  My guess is that if you have been following all of this, you probably already have your mind made up … which means most people are just waiting for the “I told you so” bragging rights.

Much of this will be wrapped up in the conclusions of the EU fact finding report headed up by Uwe Schramm.  Back when we blogged about the early leaked version of the report, which pointed some blame toward Georgia, a rare but heated exchange took over our usually sparse comment board.  At the end of July, we heard the news that the presentation of the report would be delayed until the end of September, as the researchers reviewed dozens of new documents, many of which are likely to have been forged, alleging what was happening on both sides down to the final hours and minutes before the mortars started flying.

(As a side note, I will add that I was visiting Tbilisi on August 2-8, 2008, fortunately catching a flight out right as the invasion started.  From my experience, the political context behind this conflict is vastly more complex than is useful for anyone’s punditry.)

Today the Wall Street Journal has an interesting article about the competing evidence picking apart the core disputes over the origins, responsibility, and purpose of this war.  Check out an excerpt after the jump.

The commission has peppered both sides with questions about theimmediate period before Mr. Saakashvili ordered his forces to attack at11:35 p.m. last Aug. 7, and also about the months before, when Russiaalready appeared to begin integrating the two territories, andafterward, when Georgian villages were terrorized and people forced toflee.

Russian officials continue to claim that Georgian forces were guiltyof genocide, forcing Russian intervention. A special investigativecommittee of the Russian Prosecutor’s Office has found that 162 SouthOssetians died in the conflict. That is fewer than the 1,500 to 2,000that Russia claimed in the first days of the war, but Moscow now saysit has documents proving that Georgian intent was genocide, even if itwas unable to carry out the plan.

Moscow has produced a key piece of evidence for Ms. Tagliavini, adocument titled Order No. 2, allegedly issued by Georgian militarycommanders at 5:15 a.m. on Aug. 7, telling the soldiers they would berestoring “Georgian jurisdiction” in South Ossetia. If genuine, thatwould support Russia’s accusation that the Georgian attack was decidedearly on, and not, as Mr. Saakashvili claims, as a late-night responseto a Russian invasion. Shota Utiashvili, a senior Georgian interiorministry official, called the Russian document “a total fabrication.”

Georgia has provided the commission with what it says are interceptsof telephone conversations between members of a South Ossetian militiafrom 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. on Aug. 8, in which they say Russian armor andtroops had already passed through the 2.3-mile Roki tunnel thatconnects Russia with South Ossetia. One purported intercept, part ofthe report reviewed by the Journal, was timed at 2:20 a.m. The keypassage goes like this:

Lagoev: Where are our big brothers?

Gaseev: They are coming, they just passed through the tunnel.

None of these documents or intercepts could be independentlyverified. If genuine, the intercepts would support Mr. Saakashvili’sclaim that he received intelligence at around 11 p.m. on Aug. 7 that aRussian column was approaching the entrance of the tunnel. He says itwas in response to this news that he ordered his troops to moveforward. Russian officials didn’t return calls for comment.

Last year, however, Russian officials did acknowledge as genuineintercepted transcripts from 3 a.m. the previous night, Aug. 6, duringwhich Ossetian soldiers talked about the tunnel being “full” with aRussian column. Moscow said the troops were part of a routine rotation,though under terms of their peacekeeping mission no troops were allowedto pass through the tunnel at night. Georgian officials say it was thearrival of the first column that forced them to pull troops intoposition on Aug. 7. The news at 11 p.m. that day of the second column,officials say, triggered war.