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The Russo-Georgian War (also known as the South Ossetia War, Five-Day War, August War or Russia's invasion of Georgia), a conflict between Georgia and Russia, along with the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, took place in August 2008.

The 1991–92 South Ossetia War between ethnic Georgians and Ossetians had left the part of South Ossetia under the de facto control of a Russian-backed, internationally unrecognised government.[1][2] A joint peacekeeping force of Georgian, Russian and Ossetian troops was stationed in the territories,[3] and a similar situation existed in Abkhazia after the 1992–93 war.[1]

Tensions began escalating in April 2008.[4] Georgia launched a large-scale military offensive against South Ossetia during the night of 7–8 August 2008,[5] recapturing most of Tskhinvali.[6] The Georgian government said it was responding to Ossetian separatists shelling on its villages in South Ossetia [7] and Russia moving of non-peacekeeping units into the country.[8][8] Russia officially deployed units of the Russian 58th Army and airborne troops into South Ossetia on 8 August, launching air strikes against targets in Georgia proper.[9][10] Russia claimed that its aim was "peace enforcement".[11] Russian and Ossetian forces battled Georgian forces throughout South Ossetia for four days, with the heaviest fighting in Tskhinvali.[6]

On 9 August, Russian naval forces blockaded part of the Georgian coast.[12][13] Russian and Abkhaz forces opened a second front by attacking the Kodori Gorge, held by Georgia. Georgian forces put up a minimal resistance, and Russian forces raided military bases in western Georgia. After the Georgian forces retreated, Russia temporarily occupied the Georgian cities of Zugdidi, Poti, Senaki, and Gori.[6] During the war, South Ossetians razed most ethnic-Georgian villages in South Ossetia.[14] There was an active information war during and after the conflict.[15] This was the first war in history when cyber warfare coincided with military action.[16]

The West condemned Russia for its actions.[17] Through mediation by President of France Nicolas Sarkozy, the parties reached a ceasefire agreement on 12 August.[18] Russia recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia on 26 August.[19] In response, the Georgian government cut diplomatic relations with Russia.[20] Russia mostly completed its withdrawal of troops from Georgia proper on 8 October.[21] In the aftermath Russia's international relations were largely unharmed.[22] The war displaced 192,000 people,[23] and while many returned to their homes after the war, 20,272 persons remain displaced as of 2014.[24] Russian forces remain in Abkhazia and South Ossetia under agreements with the corresponding governments.[25] Georgia and its Western allies consider Abkhazia and South Ossetia as occupied by Russia, in violation of the ceasefire.[26]


Situation in Georgia before the war

The Soviet Georgian government, established after the Red Army invasion of Georgia in 1921, created the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast in April 1922 under pressure from Kavburo (the Caucasian Bureau of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party).[27] Some historians believe that autonomy was granted to the Ossetians by the Bolsheviks in return for their assistance in fighting against independent Georgia, since this territory had never been a separate entity.[28]

A military conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia broke out in January 1991, when Georgia sent troops to subdue a South Ossetian separatist movement. The separatists were aided by former Soviet military units now under Russian command.[1][2] The war resulted in South Ossetia achieving de facto independence from Georgia.[1] After the Sochi agreement in 1992, Georgian, South Ossetian, Russian and North Ossetian peacekeepers were stationed in South Ossetia under the Joint Control Commission's (JCC) demilitarisation mandate.[3] Some parts of South Ossetia remained under the Georgian control.[2] The situation was mirrored in Abkhazia, an autonomous republic in the Georgian SSR, where the Abkhaz minority seceded from Georgia during the early 1990s.[1] Following a process of ethnic cleansing of Georgians, the population of Abkhazia was reduced to 216,000, from 525,000 in 1989.[29] Similar to South Ossetia, an unrecognised government did not control the entire territory of Abkhazia.[30]

The conflict remained at a stalemate until 2004,[31] when Mikheil Saakashvili came to power after Georgia's Rose Revolution, which ousted president Eduard Shevardnadze.[32] One of Saakashvili's primary goals was Georgian NATO membership,[31] which Russia opposes;[33] this has been one of the major stumbling blocks in Georgia-Russia relations.[34] Restoring South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Georgian control had been a top-priority goal of Saakashvili since he came to power.[35][36]

Emboldened by its success restoring control in Adjara during early 2004, the Georgian government launched an initiative to retake South Ossetia;[36] intense fighting took place between Georgian forces and South Ossetian militia between 8 and 19 August. According to researcher Sergey Markedonov, the brief 2004 war was a turning point for Russian policy in the region; Russia (which had previously aimed to preserve the status quo) now felt that the security of the Caucasus depended on the situation in South Ossetia.[37]

From 2005 to 2008 Georgia proposed autonomy for Abkhazia and South Ossetia within a unified Georgian state. The proposals were rejected by secessionist leaders, who demanded full independence.[38][39] In 2006 Georgia sent security forces to the Kodori Gorge, in eastern Abkhazia, when a local militia leader rebelled against Georgian authorities.[30] Georgian forces remained in the gorge until the 2008 war.[37] In 2007 Georgia established what Russia called a puppet government, led by former South Ossetian prime minister Dmitry Sanakoyev, calling it a provisional administration (alarming Tskhinvali and Moscow).[40][41] President Saakashvili promised to bring the breakaway regions back under Georgian control during his 2008 re-election campaign.[42]

Multi-coloured regional map

BTC pipeline (green) and planned Nabucco gas pipeline (tangerine)

In 2008 most residents of South Ossetia were Russian citizens with Russian passports.[9][43] From the viewpoint of Russian constitutional law, the legal position of Russian passport-holders in South Ossetia is the same as that of Russian citizens living in Russia.[44] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that he would "protect the life and dignity of Russian citizens wherever they are".[9] According to an EU report, this position is inconsistent with international law (which considers the vast majority of allegedly-naturalised persons as not Russian citizens).[45] According to Reuters, before the war Russia supplied two-thirds of South Ossetia's annual budget.[43] Russian officials had de facto control of South Ossetia's institutions, including security institutions and forces; South Ossetia's de facto government was largely staffed with Russians and South Ossetians with Russian passports, who had occupied equivalent government positions in Russia.[44] In mid-April 2008, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin instructed the federal government to pursue economic and administrative relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia as de facto subjects of Russia.[46]

Although Georgia has no significant oil or gas reserves, its territory hosts part of the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline supplying Europe.[47] This has been a key factor in the United States' support for Georgia, allowing the West to reduce its reliance on Middle Eastern oil and bypass Russia and Iran.[48]


Military buildup

In 2008, Georgia and Russia accused each other of preparing for war.[49][50] Both countries accused each other of flying jets over South Ossetia, a violation of the ceasefire.[51]

On 16 April, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a decree authorising official relations between Russian governmental bodies and secessionist leaders in Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The decree recognised the legal acts issued by the separatist authorities and entities registered under Abkhaz and South Ossetian laws.[52]

On 20 April, a Russian jet shot down a Georgian reconnaissance drone flying over Abkhazia.[53][54] Abkhazia claimed that the drone was shot down by an "L-39 aircraft of the Abkhaz Air Force".[53] After the incident, Saakashvili deployed 12,000 Georgian troops to Senaki.[54] On 26 May, the UN mission released the results of its investigation. It concluded that the jet belonged to the Russian air force; it was either a MiG-29 "Fulcrum" or a Su-27 "Flanker".[55]

In late April 2008, Russia said that Georgia was amassing 1,500 soldiers and police in the upper Kodori Gorge area and planning to invade Abkhazia;[56] Russia, boosting its forces in the separatist regions, would "retaliate" against Georgian attack.[57] The United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) denied any buildup in the Kodori Gorge or near the Abkhaz border by either side.[58][59]

In May Russia increased the number of its peacekeepers in Abkhazia to 2,542, but its troop levels remained under the limit of 3,000 imposed by a 1994 decision of Commonwealth of Independent States heads of state.[60] Georgia showed video footage to the BBC allegedly proving that Russian troops used military hardware in Abkhazia and were a fighting force, rather than peacekeepers; Russia denied the accusations.[61] On 31 May, Russia sent railway troops (unarmed, according to the Russian defence ministry) to repair a rail line in Abkhazia. Georgia condemned the move as an act of aggression.[49] In May 2008, there were about 1,000 Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia.[49]

From July to early August, Georgia and Russia conducted two parallel military exercises: the joint US-Georgian Immediate Response 2008 and the Russian Caucasus Frontier 2008.[62][63] The Georgian 4th Brigade (which later participated in the war) took part in the Georgian exercise with 1,000 American troops, and Russia accused the United States of aiding Georgian attack preparations.[64] Russian troops remained near the Georgian border after the end of their exercise on 2 August, instead of returning to their bases.[59] According to Colonel Wolfgang Richter, a military adviser to the German Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) mission, Georgia concentrated troops along the South Ossetian border in July.[65]

On 5 August, Russian ambassador-at-large Yuri Popov declared that his country would intervene in the event of military conflict.[66] South Ossetian presidential envoy Dmitry Medoyev said in Moscow that volunteers, primarily from North Ossetia, were arriving in South Ossetia to offer aid in the event of Georgian aggression.[67]

According to Moscow Defence Brief, an English-language defence magazine published by the Russian non-governmental organisation, Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, the Georgians concentrated troops and equipment on the South Ossetian border in early August under the guise of providing support for an exchange of fire with South Ossetian formations. The Georgian forces included the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Infantry Brigades, the Artillery Brigade, elements of the 1st Infantry Brigade and the separate Gori Tank Battalion, plus special forces and Ministry of Internal Affairs troops—as many as 16,000 troops, according to the magazine.[6] International Institute for Strategic Studies and Western intelligence experts provide a lower estimate, saying that the Georgians had amassed about 12,000 troops on the South Ossetian border by 7 August.[8][64] According to an estimate in Der Spiegel, there were 500 Russian soldiers and 500 South Ossetian fighters defending Tskhinvali.[68] According to former economic policy adviser to Vladimir Putin Andrey Illarionov, by August 2008 South Ossetia had become the most militarised territory per capita in the world (surpassing North Korea).[69]

Pre-war clashes

From 14 June to the early morning of 15 June, clashes erupted in South Ossetia. South Ossetian authorities claimed that Georgian forces began shelling Tskhinvali with mortars from Georgian villages, and Georgia claimed that it was responding to Ossetian shelling of the Georgian villages of Ergneti, Nikozi and Prisi. One person was killed and four injured in the clashes, and several houses were reportedly damaged. In a separate incident, a 14-year-old boy was injured by a land mine near Ergneti; he later died of his injuries.[70]

On 3 July, an unsuccessful assassination attempt on chairman of the Georgian-backed Ossetian government (the Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia) Dmitry Sanakoyev injured his bodyguards. Six days later, four Russian Air Force jets flew over South Ossetia to dissuade the Georgian Air Force from continuing drone patrols in Ossetian airspace. Throughout July, a series of bomb blasts targeted Georgian police patrols; Ossetian militia fired on Georgian villages in South Ossetia, forcing Georgian police to return fire.[71] On 1 August, a Georgian police lorry was blown up at 8 am by an IED on the road near Tskhinvali, injuring five Georgian policemen.[72]

On August 1, a Georgian police pickup truck was blown up at 08:00 by an IED on the road near Tskhinvali, injuring five Georgian policemen. The Georgians suspected that South Ossetian separatists were responsible and, at 18:17, snipers from Georgian Interior Ministry retaliated by attacking the border checkpoints of the South Ossetia Interior Ministry, killing four Ossetians and injuring seven. Late evening on August 1, intense exchanges of fire broke out across the border between Georgian troops and the forces of South Ossetia. The sides used grenade launchers and mortars. Georgia said that South Ossetian separatists had shelled Georgian villages causing the injury of six civilians and one Georgian policeman. South Ossetia accused Georgia of opened fire causing the death of six people and the injury of 15.[4][72][73][74] The events were assessed by the OSCE mission as "the most serious outbreak of fire since the 2004 conflict".[75]

An evacuation of Ossetian women and children to Russia began.[76] On 3 August, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned that an "extensive military conflict" was about to erupt.[68] On 4 August South Ossetian media reported that Eduard Kokoity said about 300 volunteers had arrived from North Ossetia to help fight the Georgians, and thousands more were expected from the North Caucasus.[77] The evacuation of the civilians was complete by 6 August.[68] About 35,000 people were evacuated from South Ossetia.[76]

Beginning on the night of 6–7 August, continuous artillery fire was exchanged.[68][78][79] At 2 pm on 7 August, the Georgian peacekeeping checkpoint in Avnevi was shelled and two Georgian peacekeepers killed.[72][78] At about 2:30 pm, Georgian tanks, 122mm howitzers and 203mm self-propelled artillery guns began heading towards the South Ossetian border to deter further separatist attacks.[80] During the afternoon, OSCE monitors confirmed Georgian artillery and Grad rocket launchers on roads north of Gori.[78][81] At 2:42 pm, according to Russian ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov, Georgia withdrew its personnel from the joint peacekeeping force headquarters in Tskhinvali.[82][83] At 3:45 pm, Georgian forces opened fire on targets in Khetagurovo and on the southern outskirts of Tskhinvali with self-propelled artillery guns and tanks; South Ossetian forces at Khetagurovo were held. Due to Georgia's use of heavy weaponry, Russian forces based near South Ossetia were put on high alert.[72]

At 4 pm, Georgian Minister for Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili arrived in Tskhinvali for a previously-arranged meeting with South Ossetians and chief Russian negotiator for South Ossetia Yuri Popov;[80] however, Russia's special envoy (who cited a flat tire) did not appear.[4] Neither did the Ossetians appear.[83] One day earlier the South Ossetians refused to participate in bilateral talks, demanding a JCC session.[84] Tbilisi had withdrawn from the JCC in March, demanding that the format include the European Union, the OSCE and the Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia.[59] Temur Iakobashvili met with the Russian commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Force (JPKF), General Marat Kulakhmetov, who said that Russian peacekeepers could not stop Ossetian attacks and Georgia should implement a ceasefire.[80]

At about 7 pm President Saakashvili ordered a unilateral ceasefire,[59][85] which reportedly held for about three hours.[75][86] Russia regarded the ceasefire as an attempt to buy time while Georgian forces positioned themselves for an offensive.[78] Attacks on Georgian villages intensified after Saakashvili's address. Avnevi was almost completely destroyed, Tamarasheni and Prisi were shelled and a police station in Kurta (seat of the Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia) was destroyed by shelling. Civilian refugees began fleeing the villages.[71] Georgian senior official from the Ministry of Defence said that his country was going to "restore constitutional order" in response to the shelling.[7]

According to Georgian intelligence,[87] and several Russian sources, parts of the 58th Russian Army moved to South Ossetian territory through the Roki Tunnel before the Georgian offensive.[88][89][90][91][92][93]


Battle of Tskhinvali

Tank-like vehicle with soldiers aboard

Russian BMP-2 from the 58th Army in South Ossetia

Burned tank amid other debris

Destroyed Georgian tank in Tskhinvali

File:Georgian army leaving South Ossetia.jpg

Georgian servicemen leaving South Ossetia (August 2008)

At 11:35 pm on 7 August, Georgian artillery units began firing smoke bombs into South Ossetia. Fifteen minutes later, Georgia opened fire against fixed and moving enemy targets; the interval was intended to allow the civilian population to leave dangerous areas.[94] Equipment used in the artillery and rocket barrage included 27 rocket launchers, 152-millimetre guns and cluster munitions.[95]

Early in the morning on 8 August, Georgia launched a military offensive. The Georgian 4th Brigade from Vaziani spearheaded operations on the left flank of Tskhinvali; the 3rd Brigade launched operations on the right flank. The flank operations aimed at attacking key positions, and then at moving further northwards to seize the Gupta bridge and the road leading from the Roki Tunnel to block a Russian counterattack.[94]

When their positions around Tskhinvali were secured after several hours of bombardment, Georgian forces began advancing towards the city. At 4:00 am they began engaging South Ossetian forces and militia, with Georgian tanks shelling South Ossetian positions from a safe distance. Georgian special forces attempted to take the village of Kvaysa (west of Tskhinvali), but were repelled by a platoon of South Ossetian troops manning fortified positions and lost several wounded. At 6:00 am the Georgian 3rd Brigade launched an offensive into the Eredvi region (east of the city), seizing villages and strategic vantage points. It soon encountered resistance from a company-sized South Ossetian force firing from the Prisi Heights.[72]

At the same time, Georgian Interior Ministry commandos (supported by artillery and tanks) entered the city.[94] By 8:00 am, Georgian infantry and tanks were engaged in a fierce battle with Ossetian forces and the Russian JPKF battalion stationed in the city.[6] Georgian shelling left parts of the capital city in ruins.[96] According to a Russian military commander, more than 10 Russian peacekeepers were killed.[97] The peacekeepers' cafeteria was completely destroyed, and all of their buildings went up in flames.[98]

That day Russia officially sent troops across the Georgian border into South Ossetia,[99] claiming to be defending both peacekeepers and South Ossetian civilians.[100] Russia accused Georgia of committing "genocide".[101] Although Russian authorities claimed that civilian casualties in Tskhinvali might reach 2,000,[102] the figures were later revised down to 162.[103]

On 8 August the Russian air force mounted attacks on advancing Georgian infantry and artillery, but suspended sorties for two days after taking early losses from anti-aircraft fire.[104] Fifteen hundred Georgian ground troops reached the centre of Tskhinvali by 10 am, but were pushed back within two hours by Russian artillery and air attacks.[78] Georgian flank operations failed to block the Gupta bridge and the main roads to Tshkinvali from the Roki Tunnel and the Java base.[105] At about 2:00 pm, a Russian air strike killed more than 20 Georgian soldiers.[72] The Georgian advance was stopped.[72][105]

The passage of Russian forces through the narrow Roki Tunnel and along the mountain roads was slow; the Russians had difficulty concentrating their troops, forcing them to bring their forces into battle battalion by battalion.[6] A fierce battle took place on 9 August in the region of Tskhinvali, and the Georgians mounted several counterattacks, including some with tanks.[6] The attacks were repulsed with Georgian losses, and they withdrew.[105] Because of their gradual troop increase, Russian forces in South Ossetia outnumbered the Georgians for the first time on 9 August.[59] That day a Russian advance column, led by Lieutenant-General Anatoly Khrulyov, moved into Tskhinvali from the Roki Tunnel and was ambushed by Georgian special forces with heavy casualties; Khrulyov was wounded in the leg by shrapnel.[106]

According to Moscow Defence Brief, by the morning of 10 August the Georgians captured almost all of Tskhinvali and forced Ossetian militia and Russian forces to retreat to the northern part of the city. The fighting took a turn toward the evening of 10 August, when Russian and Ossetian troops (bolstered by Russian reinforcements from the Roki Tunnel) counterattacked. By the end of 11 August, South Ossetia was cleared of Georgian forces.[6]

According to the Georgian Defence Minister, the Georgian military tried to push into Tskhinvali three times. During the last attempt they were met with a heavy Russian-led counterattack with air support, which Georgian officials described as "something like hell."[78] Fighting in the Tskhinvali area lasted for three days and nights.[107] According to the EU fact-finding mission, 10,000–11,000 soldiers took part in the Georgian offensive in South Ossetia.[75]

Russian forces advanced into Georgia. Retreating from South Ossetia, the Georgian forces regrouped at Gori.[6]

Bombing and occupation of Gori

Large, severely-damaged building

Apartment building in Gori, damaged during the war

Gori is a strategic city in central Georgia,[108] about 25 km (16 mi) from Tskhinvali.[109] The city was bombed several times by the Russian air force.[110][111] On 9 August a Russian air attack targeted military barracks in Gori, damaging the base, several apartment buildings and a school. Russia denied deliberately targeting civilians.[112] The Georgian government reported that 60 civilians died when bombs hit an adjacent apartment building.[110]

On 10 August, many civilians began fleeing the city after the Georgian Interior Ministry declared it unsafe.[113] By the following day, 56,000 people had evacuated the Gori District.[114] After the Russians were confirmed to be advancing towards Gori, the Georgian army began withdrawing from the city at 5 pm on 12 August.[115]

Two men looking at a missile lying across a sofa

Nearly-intact Russian missile booster in the bedroom of a Gori house

That day, Dutch television journalist Stan Storimans was killed and another foreign correspondent injured when Russian warplanes bombed Gori's central district; seven people were killed, and over thirty injured. Georgian officials said that Russian forces targeted the city's administrative buildings, and Gori University and the city's post office were ablaze after the bombings.[116][117] A helicopter-fired air-to-ground missile struck Gori Military Hospital,[118] (despite a Red Cross flag flying over the roof), killing Dr. Goga Abramishvili.[119]

When Russian ground forces entered Gori around 13 August,[120][121] the city was free of Georgian forces.[115] Military spokesmen said that they were removing military hardware and ammunition from an abandoned arms depot outside the city.[122] On 14 August, Major General Vyacheslav Borisov (Russian commander of the occupying troops) claimed that Gori was jointly controlled by the Georgian police and Russian troops. He also said that Russian troops would begin leaving Gori in two days.[123] That day, efforts to establish joint patrols by the Russian Army and Georgian police in Gori broke down.[124]

Russian forces denied some humanitarian aid missions trying to assist civilians access. The United Nations, which described the situation in Gori as "desperate", was able to deliver only limited food supplies to the city.[125] HRW reported that its researchers interviewed Georgians from Gori and the surrounding villages who described armed South Ossetian militias attacking their cars and kidnapping civilians trying to flee attacks on their homes after the Russian advance. Villagers in the region told HRW by telephone that they witnessed looting and arson by South Ossetian militias, but were afraid to leave after learning about attacks on those who did flee.[125] On 17 August, humanitarian supplies were reported as being delivered to the city.[126]

The occupation lasted until 22 August.[127] Georgian police then re-entered the city.[128]

Abkhaz front

Grey military ship with missiles

Russian guided-missile ship 12341 Mirazh (Mirage) in Sevastopol

At 4:00 pm CET on 9 August, Russian naval vessels began patrolling off the coast of Abkhazia. The following day, a naval skirmish between the Russian task force and several Georgian ships took place. According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, four Georgian missile boats breached the "security zone" around the Russian Navy ships off Abkhazia. After trying to hail the ships, the Russian units opened fire with naval artillery; one Georgian warship was sunk, and the remaining three withdrew towards the port of Poti.[12] Abkhaz officials said that on 9 August several Georgian warships tried to approach the Abkhaz coast, but were deterred by Russian vessels.[129] The Georgian coast was blockaded by vessels of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.[10][13]

On 11 August, Russian paratroopers deployed in Abkhazia carried out raids against military bases in Georgian territory. Russian forces, meeting little resistance, reached the military base near Senaki on 11 August, destroyed it and seized rich trophies;[6][130] Russian troops also surrounded Poti.[131]

Abkhaz aircraft and artillery began a two-day bombardment against Georgian forces on 9 August.[132] Three days later, Abkhaz authorities announced a military offensive against Georgian troops in the Kodori Gorge area.[133] Abkhaz foreign minister Sergei Shamba said that "Russian troops were not involved" in the operation.[134] That day, Georgia said it was withdrawing its troops from the Kodori Gorge as a "goodwill gesture".[135] Casualties were light on both sides; one Abkhaz soldier was accidentally killed by his comrades,[136] and two Georgian soldiers were also killed.[137] About 2,000 people living in the upper Kodori Valley fled during the Georgian retreat.[138]

Occupation of Poti

Russian warships were deployed near Georgian Black Sea ports, including Poti, on 10 August 2008.[133] The next day, Georgian and Russian officials said that Russian forces had entered Poti (although Russia claimed it had only sent a reconnaissance mission).[139] On 13 August Russian troops in Poti destroyed six Georgian naval vessels,[140][141] denying its presence in the port the following day.[142] On 19 August Russian forces in Poti took twenty-one Georgian soldiers prisoner and seized five US Humvees, taking them to a Georgian military base occupied by Russian troops in Senaki.[143] That day, The Wall Street Journal said that Russia's seizure of Poti was another blow to Georgia's economy.[144]

Bombing of Tbilisi

During the fighting in South Ossetia, Tbilisi and its surrounding area underwent repeated attacks by the Russian air force. On 8 August, the Georgian Interior Ministry reported that a Russian fighter dropped two bombs on Vaziani Military Base near the city.[145][146] Russian military aircraft bombed a Georgian military airbase in Marneuli, killing three soldiers.[147] Correspondents for Reuters in Tbilisi reported hearing three loud bangs in the early-morning hours of 10 August, and a Georgian Interior Ministry senior official said that Russian jet fighters dropped three bombs on Tbilisi International Airport.[148] Russia bombed the Tbilisi Aircraft Manufacturing plant twice that day, and a radar station near Tbilisi the following day.[149]

Peace plan

Two men standing at podiums

Joint press conference by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy after negotiations on the six-point peace plan

On 8 August, the European Union and the United States expressed their willingness to send a joint delegation to negotiate a ceasefire.[150] By 10 August, an attempt by the UN Security Council to agree a statement calling for a truce had failed for the third day.[151] Russia ruled out peace talks with Georgia until the latter withdrew from South Ossetia and renounced the use of force against South Ossetia and Abkhazia.[152]

On 12 August, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said that he had ordered an end to military operations in Georgia: "The operation has achieved its goal, security for peacekeepers and civilians has been restored. The aggressor was punished, suffering huge losses."[11][131] Later that day he met the President-in-Office of the European Union, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and approved a six-point peace plan;[153] President Saakashvili signed a preliminary ceasefire agreement brought from Moscow by Sarkozy.[6] The plan originally had four points, but Russia insisted on an additional two. Georgia requested that the additions be parenthesised; Russia objected, and Sarkozy prevailed upon Saakashvili to sign the agreement.[18] According to Sarkozy and Saakashvili, a sixth point in the Sarkozy plan was deleted with Medvedev's consent.[154] On 14 August, South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity and Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh also signed the peace plan.[155] The following day United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice travelled to Tbilisi, where Saakashvili signed the plan in her presence.[156][157] On 16 August, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the peace plan.[158]

The peace plan embodied the following principles:

  • No recourse to the use of force
  • Definitive cessation of hostilities
  • Free access to humanitarian aid (addition rejected: "and to allow the return of refugees")
  • The Armed Forces of Georgia must withdraw to their normal positions
  • The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation must withdraw to the line where they were stationed prior to the beginning of hostilities. Prior to the establishment of international mechanisms, Russian peacekeeping forces will take additional security measures. (addition rejected: "six months")
  • An international debate on the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and ways to ensure their lasting security will take place. (addition rejected: "based on the decisions of the UN and the OSCE")[18][159]

After the ceasefire was signed, hostilities did not immediately end. According to Moscow Defence Brief, raids began on Georgian territory to capture and destroy Georgian weapons and equipment in what was termed the "demilitarization of the Georgian armed forces".[6] Noting that civilians were fleeing before advancing Russian tanks, soldiers and irregulars, a reporter wrote for The Guardian on 13 August that "the idea there is a ceasefire is ridiculous."[160]

On 8 September, Sarkozy and Medvedev signed a new agreement on a Russian withdrawal from Georgia. After meeting with the French president, Medvedev said the withdrawal depended on guarantees that Georgia would not again use force; his troops would pull out "from the zones adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia to the line preceding the start of hostilities". However, he did not mention withdrawing troops from South Ossetia or Abkhazia.[161][162]


Russian withdrawal

Territories controlled by Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh after August 2008

On 17 August, Medvedev announced that Russian forces would begin withdrawing the following day;[163] Russia and Georgia exchanged prisoners of war on 19 August. A Georgian official said that although his country exchanged five Russian servicemen for fifteen Georgians (including two civilians), Georgia suspected that Russia still held two more Georgians.[164] On 22 August, Russian forces withdrew from Igoeti and Georgian police advanced towards Gori.[165] Russia claimed that its military withdrawal was completed; however, Russian checkpoints remained near Gori. Two Russian observation posts remained near Poti.[166] On 13 September, Russian troops began withdrawing from western Georgia. By 11:00 am MSK the posts near Poti were abandoned, followed by withdrawals from Senaki and Khobi.[167] On 8 October Russian forces withdrew from the buffer zones adjacent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The control of zones was handed over to the EU monitoring mission in Georgia.[21]

A single checkpoint remained in the border village of Perevi. On 12 December, Russian forces withdrew; eight hours later the Russian troops re-occupied the village, and Georgian police withdrew after the Russians threatened to fire.[168] Russian forces then manned three checkpoints in the village. On 18 October 2010 all Russian troops in Perevi withdrew to South Ossetia, and a Georgian Army unit moved in.[169]

On 9 September 2008, Russia announced that its troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia would remain under bilateral agreements with their respective governments. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that a military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia was necessary to prevent Georgia from regaining control.[25] In November 2008 Russian bases in South Ossetia and Abkhazia each numbered 3,700 soldiers, and Russia planned new bases in Tskhinvali and Gudauta.[170] In August 2010 Russia deployed S-300 long-range air defence missiles in Abkhazia, and air defence in South Ossetia were equipped with other systems.[171] According to the British House of Lords, Russia is violating the peace plan by stationing troops in areas it did not previously control.[172]

Georgia considers Abkhazia and South Ossetia Russian-occupied territories.[173] In 2010 Lithuania became the first European country to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia as occupied territories.[174] In 2014, when tensions between Ukraine and Russia escalated, US Secretary of State John Kerry denounced Russia's continued military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in violation of the ceasefire.[26]

International monitors

The mandate of the OSCE mission in Georgia expired on 1 January 2009, after Russia vetoed its extension. OSCE monitors had been denied access to South Ossetia since the war.[175] The mandate of the UNOMIG expired on 16 June 2009. Russia also vetoed its extension, arguing that the mandate did not properly reflect Russia's position (recognising Abkhazia as an independent state). According to UN mission head Johan Verbeke, about 60,000 ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia would be left unprotected after the mission's end.[176]

As of 4 August 2014, 269 European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) monitors operate in Georgia and two in Brussels.[177] Russia does not allow EUMM monitors into Abkhazia and South Ossetia.[176][178]

Humanitarian impact and war crimes

Group of people, primarily women

South Ossetian refugees in a camp in Alagir, North Ossetia

Woman talking to a group of men

Refugees from South Ossetia outside the Georgian parliament in Tbilisi

According to Human Rights Watch all parties seriously violated the law of war, resulting in many civilian casualties. Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia "with blatant disregard for the safety of civilians".[179] The Georgians used Grad multiple rocket launchers, self-propelled artillery, mortars and howitzers during the attack. The South Ossetian parliament building and several schools and nurseries were used as defence positions or operational posts by South Ossetian forces and volunteer militias, and targeted by Georgian artillery fire. In many of the shelled villages, Ossetian militia positions were near civilian housing. Georgia stated that the attacks only intended to "neutralize firing positions from where Georgian positions were being targeted." HRW documented witness accounts that civilian objects were used by South Ossetian forces (making them legitimate military targets), concluding that South Ossetian forces were responsible for endangering civilians by setting up defensive positions in near (or in) civilian structures. Georgia was responsible for indiscriminate attacks, with little concern for minimising civilian risk.[96]

The Russian military used indiscriminate force in South Ossetia and the Gori district, apparently targeting civilian convoys attempting to flee the conflict zones.[180] Russian warplanes bombed civilian population centres in Georgia and Georgian villages in South Ossetia.[180] Armed gangs and Ossetian militia engaged in looting, arson attacks, rape and abductions in Georgian areas under Russian control, forcing the civilian population to flee.[5][180] HRW called the conflict a civilian disaster, calling for international organisations to send fact-finding missions to establish the facts, report on human rights and urge authorities to account for crimes committed.[180]

On 8 September 2008 Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg issued a report, "Human Rights in Areas Affected by the South Ossetia Conflict", stating that during the conflict "a very large number of people had been victimised. More than half of the population in South Ossetia fled, the overwhelming majority of them after the Georgian artillery and tank attack on Tskhinvali and the assaults on Georgian villages by South Ossetian militia and criminal gangs." The report said that the main Tskhinvali hospital had been hit by rockets, some residential areas in Tskhinvali were "completely destroyed" and "the main building of the Russian peace keeping force as well as the base's medical dispensary had been hit by heavy artillery." Villages with ethnic-Georgian majorities between Tskhinvali and Java had been destroyed by South Ossetian militia and criminal gangs.[181]

It was reported that Georgians and Russians used M85S and RBK 250 cluster bombs, causing civilian casualties. Georgia was also reported to have used cluster munitions twice to hit civilians fleeing through the main escape route, and admitted using cluster bombs against Russian troops and the Roki Tunnel.[181] Russia used cluster bombs in its attacks on Gori and Ruisi;[181][182] however, Russia denied using them.[183][184]

One-story house on fire

A house burns in the Georgian village of Kekhvi, on the road from Tskhinvali to Java.

Human Rights Watch reported that during the war, South Ossetians burned and looted most ethnic-Georgian villages in South Ossetia (preventing 20,000 residents displaced by the conflict from returning).[14] Civilians willing to live in South Ossetia were forced to accept a Russian passport.[185][186] According to Memorial, the villages of Kekhvi, Kurta, Achabeti, Tamarasheni, Eredvi, Vanati and Avnevi were "virtually fully burnt down".[187] South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity said in an interview that Georgian villages had been demolished, and no Georgian refugees would be allowed to return.[188] The EU commission reported that "several elements suggest the conclusion" that ethnic cleansing was practised against Georgians in South Ossetia during and after the war.[45]

Large group of small, identical homes

Tserovani, one of the villages built by the Georgian government for IDPs from the conflict zone

Russian officials initially claimed that up to 2,000 Ossetian civilians were killed by Georgian forces; these high casualty figures were, according to Russia, the reason for the military intervention in Georgia.[103] Nearly one year after the conflict, Georgia reported more than 400 deaths in the war.[189] Thomas Hammarberg reported that 133 confirmed deaths was received by the commissioner from Russian authorities.[181] Claims of high casualties influenced public opinion among Ossetians; according to Human Rights Watch, some Ossetian residents they interviewed justified torching and looting Georgian villages by referring to "thousands of civilian casualties in South Ossetia" reported by Russian television.[103]

In November 2008, Amnesty International released a 69-page report detailing serious international-law violations by Georgia and Russia.[23] Georgia and South Ossetia have filed complaints with international courts, including the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights.[190][191][192]

The war displaced 192,000 people,[23] and while many were able to return to their homes after the war, a year later around 30,000 ethnic Georgians remained displaced.[193] As of May 2014, 20,272 persons remain displaced whose return is denied by the separatist authorities.[24]

Infrastructure damage

Map of Georgia, indicating defence plants

1993 US map of Georgia's defence industry: Tbilaviamsheni, an aircraft-assembly plant in Tbilisi which was bombed during the war,[194] and component plants in other cities

On 12 August, local authorities claimed that about 70 percent of Tskhinvali's buildings (public and private) had been damaged during the Georgian offensive.[195] According to later Russian statements, about 20 percent of Tskhinvali's buildings had been damaged and 10 percent were "beyond repair".[196] In late August, South Ossetian parliament deputy speaker Tarzan Kokoity claimed that according to a preliminary assessment, Georgian damage in South Ossetia was valued at 100 billion rubles.[197]

According to Human Rights Watch, during the night of 7–8 August Georgian forces heavily shelled Tskhinvali and several nearby Ossetian villages; the city was also heavily shelled during the daytime on 8 August. HRW reported that South Ossetian fighters took up positions in civilian locations (including schools), turning them into military targets. Several of these locations were then hit by Georgian artillery.[96] Shelling resumed on a smaller scale on 9 August, when Georgian forces targeted Russian troops who had moved into Tskhinvali and other areas of South Ossetia.[96]

The Georgian government reported that Tskhinvali was largely reduced to rubble as a result of Russian air attacks.[198] "When aircraft started bombing our positions in Tskhinvali, this is when most civilian buildings were burned", explained Davit Kezerashvili.[78] Russian journalist Yulia Latynina also blamed Russia for damaging the city, claiming that when Georgian forces entered Tskhinvali it was intact. After they were driven out by the Russians, the city was in ruins.[199]

Russia bombed airfields and other economic infrastructure, including the Black Sea port of Poti. Eight to eleven Russian jets reportedly hit container tanks and a shipbuilding plant in the port.[200] On 15 August 2008 Russian forces advancing towards Tbilisi blew up the railway bridge near Kaspi, about 50 km (31 mi) from the Georgian capital. The cement factory and civilian area in Kaspi were also reportedly damaged by Russian air raids.[201] The destruction of the railway bridge disrupted Georgian east-west communications and Armenia's main trade route.[202]

The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) released a series of detailed satellite maps of the regions affected by the war, acquired on 19 August from UNOSAT.[203] Damage was assessed primarily from satellite images with a resolution of 50 cm. Since it was an initial assessment, it was not independently validated on the ground. UNOSAT reported that 230 buildings in Tskhinvali (5.5 percent of the total) were destroyed or severely damaged. In the villages north of the city, up to 51.9 percent of buildings were damaged.[204] UNOSAT provided imagery of six Georgian naval vessels partially or completely submerged in Poti; no other damage to physical infrastructure or ship-related oil spills were revealed.[205]

Human Rights Watch used the satellite images to confirm the widespread burning of ethnic-Georgian villages by Ossetian militia in South Ossetia.[206] Amnesty International noted that the most of the damage in Tskhinvali was sustained on or before 10 August and was likely caused by the intense fighting between the Georgian and Russian militaries around 8 August. However, a number of Georgian villages near Tskhinvali were damaged after the major hostilities ended.[207]

Responsibility and motives

Combatants' positions

Georgia first said that it responded to Ossetian shelling of Georgian villages, intending to "restore constitutional order" in South Ossetia.[7] Georgia also said that it intended to counter a Russian invasion.[81] During a United Nations Security Council meeting on 8 August, Georgia said that the first Russian troops entered South Ossetia at 5:30 am on 8 August.[208] In a decree ordering a general mobilisation published on 9 August, Saakashvili noted that Russian troops had advanced through the Roki Tunnel on 8 August (after the Georgian attack).[209] The Georgian government continued to maintain its position that at about 11:30 pm on 7 August, intelligence information was received that 150 Russian army vehicles had entered Georgian territory through the Roki Tunnel. In an interview with Der Spiegel, Saakashvili said that he "wanted to stop the Russian troops before they could reach Georgian villages." "When our tanks moved toward Tskhinvali, the Russians bombed the city. They were the ones – not us – who reduced Tskhinvali to rubble."[8] Georgia released intercepted telephone calls purporting to show that part of a Russian armoured regiment crossed into South Ossetia nearly a full day before Georgia's attack on the capital, Tskhinvali, late on 7 August.[87]

Russia says it acted to defend Russian citizens and peacekeepers in South Ossetia.[31] According to a senior Russian official, the first Russian combat unit was ordered to move through the Roki Tunnel at around dawn of 8 August (after the Georgian attack had begun).[210] Defending Russia's decision to launch attack in uncontested Georgia, Sergey Lavrov has said that Russia had no choice but to target the military infrastructure sustaining the Georgian offensive.[211] Russia initially accused Georgia of genocide against Ossetians,[101][208] claiming that Georgia codenamed its attack Operation "Clear Field".[212] Russia codenamed its military action "Operation to Force Georgia to Peace".[110][213]

According to political scientist Svante Cornell, Moscow spent millions in a public-relations campaign to convince the world that Georgia began the war (despite abundant evidence, including some in Russian media, to the contrary).[214] Three years after the August war, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev admitted that NATO would have admitted former Soviet republics if Russia had not invaded Georgia to defend a rebel region. "If you ... had faltered back in 2008, the geopolitical situation would be different now," Medvedev said in a speech to soldiers at a Vladikavkaz base.[215][216] In August 2012, Vladimir Putin said that Russia had drawn up a plan to counter a Georgian attack long before the August 2008 Caucasus conflict. He said the plan was developed by the Russian General staff in late 2006-early 2007, and negotiated with him (Putin was serving his second presidential term). According to Putin, South Ossetian militia were trained under this plan; however, he refused to reveal if he insisted on the use of force when the war began.[217]

South Ossetia's government in Tskhinvali called for Russian help to prevent "genocide" when the Georgian bombardment began, saying that Tskhinvali was under "the most frightful fire".[218]

International fact-finding mission

An independent, international fact-finding mission headed by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini was established by the EU to determine the causes of the war. The commission, with a budget of €1.6 million, relied on the expertise of military officials, political scientists, historians and international-law experts.[45][219]

The report claimed that the conflict began " ... with a large-scale Georgian military operation against the town of Tskhinvali and the surrounding areas, launched in the night of 7 to 8 August 2008"; but " ... it was only the culminating point of a long period of increasing tensions, provocations and incidents .... ", and all sides shared responsibility.[45] The beginning of the armed conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia was 7 August 2008 at 11:35 pm, and open hostilities between Georgia and Russia are considered to have begun on 8 August.[75] The report noted that the Georgian attack on 7 August was a response, albeit not proportionate, to ongoing South Ossetian attacks.[75]

According to the report, Russian citizenship conferred on most Abkhaz and Ossetians may not be legally binding under international law; therefore, their defence may not be used as a rationale for military action.[45] The report concluded that an attack on Russian peacekeepers "does not constitute a sufficient condition for self-defence" by Russia, and the Georgian attack on the Russian peacekeepers "could not be definitely confirmed by the mission."[75] Later actions were characterised as "the invasion of Georgia by Russian armed forces reaching far beyond the administrative boundary of South Ossetia" and considered "beyond the reasonable limits of defence". As for the war's second theatre, the report found the Abkhaz-Russian attack on the Kodori Gorge unjustified under international law.[45]


International reaction

Woman and man standing in front of podiums, with flags in background

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili at a Tbilisi press conference, August 2008

Two men shaking hands, one also waving

President of France Nicolas Sarkozy, President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev, and Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union Javier Solana at Nice summit, November 2008


Demonstration in Tbilisi on 12 August for a free, undivided Georgia; the sign says "imperial appetites" in Russian

In response to the war, Russia was criticised by the West:

  • United States – US president George W. Bush said to Russia, "Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century."[220] "Russia has invaded a sovereign neighbouring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people," said Bush. "Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century."[221] The US Embassy in Georgia, describing a Matthew Bryza press conference, called the war an "incursion by one of the world's strongest powers to destroy the democratically-elected government of a smaller neighbor".[222] Although the Bush administration considered a military response to defend Georgia, it was ruled out because of the conflict it would provoke with Russia.[223][224] Instead, Bush opted to send humanitarian supplies to Georgia on military (rather than civilian) aircraft.[224] US sanctions against Russia imposed by the Bush administration were lifted by the Obama administration in May 2010.[225]
  • Poland – The presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine and the prime minister of Latvia (Lech Kaczyński, Valdas Adamkus, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Viktor Yushchenko and Ivars Godmanis), who met with Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili at Kaczyński's initiative, appeared at a 12 August 2008 Tbilisi rally held in front of the parliament which was attended by nearly 150,000 people. The crowd responded enthusiastically to the Polish president's speech, chanting "Poland, Poland", "Friendship, Friendship" and "Georgia, Georgia".[226] Godmanis, Yushchenko, Kaczynski, Ilves and Adamkus held their joined hands aloft to cheers from spectators in the Georgian national colours of red and white, waving flags of the US, the European Union, France, Estonia, Lithuania and Ukraine.[227]
  • Ukraine – Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko said that he intended to increase the rent for the Russian naval base at Sevastopol in the Crimea.[228]
  • Hungary – Hungarian opposition leader Viktor Orbán drew parallels between the Russian intervention and the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.[229]
  • United Kingdom – British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, after being informed of Human Rights Watch and BBC findings of possible Georgian war crimes, calling Georgia's actions "reckless"; he added that "the Russian response was reckless and wrong".[230]

France and Germany took an intermediate position, refraining from naming a culprit:[231]

  • European Union – On 8 August, France (who held the rotating presidency of the European Union) announced that the EU and the US would send a joint delegation to negotiate a ceasefire.[150]
  • Germany – German chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her concern about the humanitarian situation in Georgia and called for immediate ceasefire.[232]

A few leaders supported Russia's position:

  • ItalyItalian Minister of Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini said, "We cannot create an anti-Russia coalition in Europe, and on this point we are close to Putin's position." He stressed that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was a close ally of Vladimir Putin.[231]
  • Belarus – President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said, "Russia acted calmly, wisely and beautifully."[233]

Although the West criticised Russia for its actions in Georgia,[17] relations with Russia were considered too important to risk a worsening relationship over "tiny and insignificant" Georgia. Western policy makers argued that Russia "should not be isolated" because "international problems cannot be solved" without it.[22] The war compromised Georgia's bid for NATO membership.[234]

International recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Three young people holding a Russian (tricolour white, blue and red) flag

South Ossetian rally in Tskhinvali after the war

On 25 August 2008, the Russian parliament unanimously urged President Medvedev to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.[235] On 26 August 2008 Medvedev signed a decree recognising the two states,[236] saying that recognising the independence of the two republics "represents the only possibility to save human lives."[19] Nicaragua recognised the republics on 5 September 2008.[237]

The unilateral recognition by Russia was condemned by the United States, NATO, the G7, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the OSCE chairman because of its violation of Georgia's territorial integrity, United Nations Security Council resolutions and the ceasefire agreement.[238][239][240][241][242] Russia sought support for its recognition from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. However, because of concerns about separatist regions in SCO states (especially China), the organisation did not support recognition.[243][244] In January 2009, Belarus said it would make a decision about recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia on 2 April;[245] however, the European Union threatened that recognition would jeopardise improving relations.[246]

On 10 September 2009 President of Venezuela Hugo Chávez announced Venezuelan recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, making it the third UN member to support South Ossetian independence.[247][248] On 15 December 2009 Nauru recognised and established diplomatic relations with Abkhazia;[249] on the following day it recognised South Ossetia.[250]

Vanuatu recognised Abkhazia in May 2011,[251] but withdrew its recognition on 12 July 2013.[252] Tuvalu recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia in September 2011,[253][254] but withdrew its recognition on 31 March 2014.[255]

Severance of diplomatic relations between Georgia and Russia

In response to Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Georgian government cut diplomatic relations with Russia.[20] Georgia announced on 12 August 2008 that it would leave the Commonwealth of Independent States, which it blamed for failing to prevent the conflict. Its departure became effective in August 2009.[256]


The media became a crucial battleground as the conflict unfolded.[15] The Russian military attempted a few new steps to support an information campaign. Russian journalists were brought along to report on the progress of the Russians in protecting Russian citizens and to propagandise Georgian atrocities. The Russians used television footage to gain psychological affect as well with the local population in the separatist regions. The Russian government also used a military spokesman in television interviews to provide information on the conduct of the campaign, a first for Russia. However, the Russians did not achieve success in their international information campaign.[257] The Georgian government stopped broadcasting Russian TV channels and blocked access to Russian websites during and after the war, limiting access to news coverage in Georgia.[258] Georgian and Russian websites were attacked by hackers, disabling host servers.[259][260][261][262] According to some experts, it was the first time in history a known cyberattack coincided with a shooting war.[16]

Smaller military boat passing a larger one

Georgian Coast Guard patrol boat P-24 Sokhumi passes the USS McFaul on its arrival at the port of Batumi

NATO reaction in the Black Sea

NATO increased its naval presence in the Black Sea significantly, with ships docking in Georgian ports,[263] and (according to the US Navy) delivering humanitarian aid.[264] NATO said that its increased presence in the Black Sea was not related to the Georgian crisis; its vessels were conducting routine visits and carrying out preplanned naval exercises with Romania and Bulgaria.[265][266] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev questioned the claim that ships going to Georgia were bringing only humanitarian assistance, alleging the delivery of military support.[267] Russian General Anatoliy Nogovitsyn reminded NATO of the limit on the number of vessels allowed in the Black Sea under the 1936 Montreux convention.[268] According to political analyst Vladimir Socor the United States maintained an uninterrupted naval presence in the Black Sea (constrained by the Montreux Convention's limitations on naval tonnage and duration of naval visits), rotating its Black Sea ships at intervals consistent with that convention.[269]


Military analysis


Analysts said that air defence was "one of the few effective elements of the country's military", crediting the SA-11 Buk-1M with shooting down a Tupolev-22M bomber and contributing to the loss of some Su-25s;[270] this view was echoed by independent Russian analysis.[104] Russian deputy chief of general staff Col. Gen. Anatoliy Nogovitsyn said the Soviet-made Tor and Buk anti-aircraft missile systems, bought by Georgia from Ukraine, were responsible for downing Russian aircraft during the war.[271] A Russian assessment, reported by Roger McDermott, said that Russian losses would have been significantly higher if the Georgians had not abandoned a portion of their Buk-M1 systems near Senaki (in western Georgia) and several Osa missile launchers in South Ossetia.[272] According to some reports, Georgia had a battery of the Israeli-made SPYDER-SR short-range self-propelled anti-aircraft system.[273] The Georgian air-defence early-warning and command-control tactical system was connected to a NATO Air Situation Data Exchange (ASDE) via Turkey, allowing the country to receive data directly from the unified NATO air-defence system.[273]

Georgia has said that its decisive vulnerabilities were its weaker air power and its inability to communicate effectively during combat.[274] Konstantin Makienko of CAST saw inadequate pilot training as the primary reason for the low efficiency of Georgian air raids.[104] According to Georgian first deputy defence minister Batu Kutelia, Georgia would need a sophisticated, multi-layered air-defence system to defend its airspace.[274] However, Western military officers experienced with Georgian military forces suggested that Georgia's military shortcomings were too great to be eliminated by equipment upgrades.[274] According to a 2 September 2008 New York Times article, "Georgia's Army fled ahead of the Russian Army's advance, turning its back and leaving Georgian civilians in an enemy's path. Its planes did not fly after the first few hours of contact. Its navy was sunk in the harbor, and its patrol boats were hauled away by Russian trucks on trailers."[274]

A Western military officer reported that Georgia's logistical preparations were poor, and its units interfered with each other in the field.[274] The Georgian Army never conducted exercises pitting its forces against a potential adversary: the 58th Army. During the war, communications failed in the mountains and troops resorted to mobile phones. There was insufficient planning; according to Giorgi Tavdgiridze, no calculations were made of how to block the Roki Tunnel connecting North and South Ossetia. The arrival of 10,000 Georgian reservists in Gori on 9 August was poorly organised; they had no specific targets, and returned to Tbilisi the following day. With very little video recording of military action, journalists called it the war "that was hidden from history."[275] According to their American trainers, although Georgian soldiers had "warrior spirit" they were unprepared for combat.[276] Georgia had few well-trained, educated officers in its higher ranks,[277] and Saakashvili's government had no military experience.[278]


The Russian Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (C³I) performed poorly during the conflict.[272] The Russian communication systems were obsolete, with a 58th Army commander allegedly communicating with his combat forces via a satellite phone borrowed from a journalist.[272] Without the modern GLONASS, precision-guided munitions could not be used; the US-controlled GPS was unavailable, since the war zone was blacked out.[272] The Russian defence minister failed to authorise unmanned aerial vehicles;[272] an RIA Novosti editorial said that Russian forces lacked dependable aerial-reconnaissance systems and a Tupolev Tu-22M3 bomber was used for a reconnaissance mission.[279] However, Russian reconnaissance battalions and regiments were also deployed during the war.[72] General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the General staff, said that no new arms were tested during the war.[280]

The RIA Novosti editorial also said that Russian Su-25 ground-attack jets lacked radar sights, computers for calculating ground-target coordinates and long-range surface-to-air missiles which could be launched outside enemy air-defence areas.[279] Opposition-affiliated Russian analyst Konstantin Makienko observed the poor performance of the Russian Air Force: "It is totally unbelievable that the Russian Air Force was unable to establish air superiority almost to the end of the five-day war, despite the fact that the enemy had no fighter aviation."[104]

According to Russian expert Anton Lavrov, on 8 August Russian and South Ossetian troops deployed in South Ossetia were unaware that Russian aviation was involved in the war. Russian aircraft were frequently assessed as hostile by Russian troops and South Ossetians, and were fired upon before they could be accurately identified. The air force flew 63 sorties on 8 August to support Russian ground troops. Russia lost a total of six aircraft during the war: one Su-25SM, two Su-25BMs, two Su-24Ms and one Tu-22M3; three were shot down by friendly fire.[72] Lavrov denied that Tu-22M was used for reconnaissance.[72]

There was also confusion about the command relationship between the North Caucasus Military District commander and the air force. Air-force operations were directed by commander-in-chief of the Air Force Colonel-General Aleksandr Zelin from his office on a mobile phone, without his entering the command post. He decided all matters concerning air operations, not meeting with his air-defence assistants. The air force was accused of failing to support ground operations.[272]

Swedish analysts Carolina Vendil Pallin and Fredrik Westerlund said about the performance of the Russian Black Sea Fleet that although the fleet did not meet serious opposition, it proved effective at planning and implementing elaborate manoeuvres.[281] A contributing factor to the speed of the Russian military victory was the opening of a second front in Abkhazia with mechanised infantry.[272]

Heritage Foundation researchers praised Russian general-staff planning, saying that the operations "were well prepared and well executed" and the Russian offensive achieved a strategic surprise.[99] A Reuters analyst described Russia's army as "strong but flawed"; the war demonstrated that Russia's "armed forces have emerged from years of neglect as a formidable fighting force, but revealed important deficiencies." The weaknesses, especially in missiles and air capability, left Russia still lagging behind the image of a world-class military power it projected to the rest of the world.[282] Unlike the Second Chechen War, Russia's force in Georgia was composed primarily of professional soldiers instead of conscripts.[283] Reuters reporters on the ground in Georgia saw disciplined, well-equipped troops. CAST director Ruslan Pukhov said that "the victory over the Georgian army ... should become for Russia not a cause for euphoria and excessive joy, but serve to speed up military transformations in Russia."[282] Roger McDermott wrote that slight differences in criticism by civilian media or official sources after the conflict was "an orchestrated effort by the government to 'sell' reform to the military and garner support among the populace."[272]

However, the Russian Army's professionalisation was not praised as success. General Vladimir Boldyrev admitted in September 2008 that many of the professional soldiers were no better trained than conscripts. Russian Airborne Troops conducted most of the ground fighting. Airborne troops could not be airlifted behind Georgian lines due to the Russian Air Force's inability to penetrate Georgian air defence. An ambush of a ground-troop commander, in which only five of thirty vehicles in his convoy survived, indicated intelligence and surveillance failures. Many Russian ground units were reportedly insufficiently supplied with ammunition.[277]

Georgian order of battle

The Georgian army contained five infantry brigades. A tank battalion was stationed at Gori.[284] According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, when the war began the Georgians had amassed ten light infantry battalions of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th infantry brigades, special forces and an artillery brigade (totaling about 12,000 troops).[64] The 4th Brigade carried out the primary mission of capturing Tskhinvali, with the 2nd and 3rd Brigades providing support.[64] The 4th Brigade suffered the heaviest casualties of any Georgian military unit.[64] The 1st Infantry Brigade, the only one trained to NATO standards, was serving in Iraq at the beginning of the war;[276] on 11 August, the United States Air Force airlifted it to Georgia.[285]

Units of Ministry of Defence deployed were:[286]

  • Special Forces Brigade
  • 1st Infantry Brigade
  • 2nd Infantry Brigade
  • 3rd Infantry Brigade
  • 4th Infantry Brigade
  • 5th Infantry Brigade
  • Military Engineering Brigade
  • Separate Light Infantry Battalion
  • Separate Tank Battalion
  • Naval Forces
  • Air Forces
  • Logistic Support Department of Army
  • National Guard
  • M/R Department, I Operative Division

Units of Ministry of Internal Affairs:[287]

  • Special Tasks Main Division
  • Regional Police units in the regions near the conflict areas
  • Special Operations Department
  • Constitutional Security Department
  • Special Operations Centre

Russo-South Ossetian-Abkhaz order of battle

The Russian order of battle involved a significant portion of the Russian 58th Army.[288] According to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies the 58th Army is one of Russia's premier combat formations, boasting more than twice the number of troops, five times the number of tanks, ten times the number of armoured personnel carriers and twelve times the number of combat aircraft as the Georgian Armed Forces.[288]

South Ossetian sector

2,500 South Ossetian troops were initially present.[289]

Russian peacekeeping forces:

  • 496 from Russian battalion[290]
  • 488 from North Ossetia[290]

Arrived as reinforcements:

  • Two battalions of the 135th Separate Motorised Rifle Regiment[87]
  • 503rd Motorised Rifle Regiment of the 19th Motorised Rifle Division[6]
  • 693rd Motorised Rifle Regiment of the 19th Motorised Rifle Division[6]
  • 42nd Motorised Rifle Division
  • 70th Motorised Rifle Regiment[6]
  • 71st Motorised Rifle Regiment[6]

Chechen units:

  • One company of Special Battalion Vostok[291]
  • One company of Special Battalion Zapad[291]

Airborne Troops (VDV):

Units of GRU:

Abkhaz sector

  • 7th Novorossiysk Air Assault Division[6]
  • 76th Pskov Air Assault Divisions[6]
  • Elements of the 20th Motorised Rifle Division[6]
  • Two battalions of Black Sea Fleet Marines[6]
  • Armed Forces (land and air forces) of Abkhazia[132][136]


Equipment losses and cost

After the war Reuters cited Stratfor, which believed that Russia "has largely destroyed Georgia's war-fighting capability".[294] According to Moscow Defence Brief, Georgia lost its air and naval forces and its air-defence systems. The Georgian army lost large quantites of small arms to the Russians during the conflict.[6] Russian Ground Forces official Igor Konashenkov said that during the war the Russians captured 65 Georgian tanks, over 20 of which were destroyed because they were beyond repair or too old.[295] Russia estimated that the Georgian Air Force lost three Su-25 attack aircraft and two L-29 jets.[296] Three AN-2 aircraft were destroyed during the bombardment of Marneuli Air Force Base. On 11 August 2008, Russian airborne troops burned two Mi-24 helicopters and one Mi-14.[297] Georgian Defence Minister Davit Kezerashvili said that Georgia lost materiel worth $250 million.[275] According to Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, his country saved 95 percent of its armed forces.[275]

In 2009, Russian Army Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov claimed that Georgia was rearming, although the United States was not directly supplying weapons. According to Makarov, Georgian armed forces exceeded their pre-war strength in 2009.[298]

Russia confirmed the loss of three Su-25 strike aircraft, one Tu-22M3 long-range bomber,[271] at least three tanks, 20 armoured and 20 non-armoured vehicles.[299] Moscow Defence Brief provided a higher estimate, saying that Russian Air Force overall losses during the war amounted to one Tu-22M3 long-range bomber, one Su-24M Fencer fighter-bomber, one Su-24MR Fencer E reconnaissance plane and four Su-25 attack planes.[6] Anton Lavrov listed one Su-25SM, two Su-25BM, two Su-24M and one Tu-22M3 lost.[72] According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the five-day war cost Russia an estimated 12.5 billion rubles, a daily cost of 2.5 billion rubles.[300]


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