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The AWOL War Monitor

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The Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece today on a very influential former British Army captain, Ryan Grist, who was serving as an OSCE war monitor in Georgia before he went AWOL across the Russian line on his own improvised fact-finding mission.  Grist’s comments to the media on the start of the war have been twisted and turned by both parties, and it’s clear in this article that he’s eager to clear up confusion.  (RA also had a post yesterday on the war debate)

Mr. Grist was in charge on the ground for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe when fighting erupted in Georgia’s separatist enclave of South Ossetia on the night of Aug. 7. Last month, he caused a stir when he told interviewers that his ceasefire monitors never heard Russian-backed provocations that Georgia says triggered the war.

He also says he repeatedly warned OSCE diplomats that Georgia might attack, but was ignored. Since giving his reports on the war, “I’ve been accused of working for MI6 and the KGB and I have been called a liar,” says Mr. Grist. “I just wanted to find out what was going on.” (…)

A veteran of military and diplomatic missions from Northern Irelandto Bosnia and Kosovo, Mr. Grist remains scathing about Georgian actionsbefore and during the war. But he now says some of his comments havebeen over-interpreted.

“I have never said there was no provocation by the South Ossetians,”said Mr. Grist, who was OSCE deputy mission chief in Georgia. OfficialOSCE reporting said a unilateral cease-fire Georgia declared on Aug. 7was broken around 10 p.m., nearly two hours before the Georgianartillery assault on Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital. “What Ihave said is that the response from the Georgian authorities wasabsolutely disproportionate,” said Mr. Grist. “To react withindiscriminate shelling — there just had to be a Russian response.”(…)

Georgia believes Mr. Grist is a spy. “I can’t say Grist works forRussia. I don’t know. But our secret service thinks so,” says TemuriYakobashvili, a top Georgian official. “What was he doing goingsomewhere without his boss knowing?” The government has distributedtapes of someone he stayed with discussing foreigners with SouthOssetia’s KGB chief, but neither the fact not the content of theconversations is conclusive.