I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Winston Churchill

Dec 19, 2008

British Monitor Complicates Georgian Blame Game

Observer Whose Reporting Supported Russian Claims About War Went AWOL, Lost His Job and Is Now Under Scrutiny


TBILISI, Georgia -- Since Russia invaded Georgia in August, Moscow has turned the tide of international opinion that initially put Russia squarely at fault in the conflict.

For that, the Kremlin largely has to thank Ryan Grist, a 47-year-old former British army captain in charge of international monitors when war broke out. But his objectivity is now being questioned by Georgia and some Western diplomats in Tbilisi.
[Ryan Grist]

Ryan Grist

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, he acknowledged for the first time that once war broke out he went AWOL across Russian lines on his own freelance fact-finding mission, which ultimately cost him his job.

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."

Mr. Grist's bona fides matter. When French President Nicolas Sarkozy eased off the European Union's confrontation with Moscow over its role in the Georgia conflict, he cited news reports based largely on Mr. Grist's account. Former allies of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili cited the reports as they called for early elections to oust him.

Mr. Saakashvili recently replaced the defense minister who conducted the war and the foreign minister responsible for selling Georgia's version of events. Georgian leaders say they worry accusations that Georgia shot first will make President-elect Barack Obama unwilling to confront Moscow over Russian troops that remain in South Ossetia.

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Damage incurred six miles from Tskhinvali after Russian tanks and troops entered Georgia's breakaway republic of South Ossetia in August. The war left 100,000 refugees and badly hurt the Georgian economy.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Damage incurred six miles from Tskhinvali after Russian tanks and troops entered Georgia's breakaway republic of South Ossetia in August. The war left 100,000 refugees and badly hurt the Georgian economy.
Damage incurred six miles from Tskhinvali after Russian tanks and troops entered Georgia's breakaway republic of South Ossetia in August. The war left 100,000 refugees and badly hurt the Georgian economy.
Damage incurred six miles from Tskhinvali after Russian tanks and troops entered Georgia's breakaway republic of South Ossetia in August. The war left 100,000 refugees and badly hurt the Georgian economy.

A veteran of military and diplomatic missions from Northern Ireland to Bosnia and Kosovo, Mr. Grist remains scathing about Georgian actions before and during the war. But he now says some of his comments have been 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. Official OSCE reporting said a unilateral cease-fire Georgia declared on Aug. 7 was broken around 10 p.m., nearly two hours before the Georgian artillery assault on Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital. "What I have said is that the response from the Georgian authorities was absolutely disproportionate," said Mr. Grist. "To react with indiscriminate shelling -- there just had to be a Russian response."

Western diplomats in Tbilisi say they are confused by the narrow debate over who started the fight. They say it ignores equally important evidence, including Russia's actions during the lead-up to war. Ambassador Terhi Hakala of Finland, head of the OSCE mission to Georgia and Mr. Grist's former boss, called what three monitors heard just from villages nearest them on Aug. 7 "a bit irrelevant." She added, "We're very limited in what we can monitor." Ms. Hakala also said Mr. Grist didn't give any warnings that were ignored.

Georgia believes Mr. Grist is a spy. "I can't say Grist works for Russia. I don't know. But our secret service thinks so," says Temuri Yakobashvili, a top Georgian official. "What was he doing going somewhere without his boss knowing?" The government has distributed tapes of someone he stayed with discussing foreigners with South Ossetia's KGB chief, but neither the fact not the content of the conversations is conclusive.

When the war began, Mr. Grist was in charge of the OSCE monitors and Ms. Hakala was home in Finland on vacation. Firefights in South Ossetia had been escalating for weeks. In the days before the war, Russian-backed South Ossetians were evacuating civilians and -- unusually -- had denied OSCE monitors access to several Ossetian villages. "It looks like all sides (including Russians) are waiting for the other side to make a fatal mistake in order to retaliate," said an Aug. 5 report by a European Union diplomat, viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Georgia began pulling thousands of troops and equipment toward Tskhinvali on Thursday, Aug. 7. But with a cease-fire in place, Mr. Grist, who was in Tbilisi, says he thought it was safe to let three OSCE monitors stay in the town. By midnight, Georgian artillery was raining down on Tskhinvali. The OSCE office was hit; the monitors were in the basement. Friday morning, Ms. Hakala called the Finnish major leading the team and ordered them to evacuate as soon as possible.

Mr. Grist was furious. He says he had been organizing a wider evacuation. When he and Ms. Hakala met alone at 2 a.m. in Tbilisi the following Monday night, as Georgia's army fled the battle zone and rumors swirled that Russian tanks were headed for Tbilisi, they argued bitterly, they both say. Ms. Hakala ordered him to take an immediate vacation.

"I thought then, that's probably it with the OSCE. So I went home and I thought, OK, I'll find out what's going on. So I did," says Mr. Grist.

At dawn on Tuesday, Aug. 12, he set out on the road to South Ossetia in an unarmored OSCE car. He rolled down the windows so he could hear any firing as he drove through emptying Georgian villages. A column of Russian tanks refueling on the road outside Tskhinvali let him through, he says.

In Tskhinvali, Mr. Grist says he went to the apartment of a friend, Lira Tskhovrebova, who worked for a nonprofit organization and was well connected with the local authorities. Friends hid his car and took him to see two top South Ossetian officials.

The OSCE in Tbilisi told him to return right away. On the road home, he says, he was stopped by one of the gangs of South Ossetian militia that had begun rampaging through Georgian villages, killing, looting and burning houses. "They pulled me out of the car and threw me down on the road, and then it got pretty heavy," says Mr. Grist. He says he shouted the names of the officials he had just been meeting "so they wouldn't shoot me."

On foot, Mr. Grist then had to take cover from crossfire under the rear of a Russian tank. Then he was caught by a second gang of South Ossetian militia, he says. Finally he decided to stay indoors until the Russian army could bring him out, which it did three days later, on Aug. 15. The OSCE asked the British consulate to remove him from the country, debriefed him and then forced him to resign.

Dec 14, 2008

Georgia for Peace

This short was made for III International Film Festival of Peace and Human Rights in Valencia.
Director: Flavio Signore

Summary - In September 1st, the director came to Tbilisi, Georgia. This was the day of the Human Chain protest of the Georgians. Almost all the citizens were out creating a huge peace chain showing their will for peace and solidarity to the refugees, showing the unity of civil society. Film scenario collected a lot of interviews with the representatives of the civil society of Georgia - different people - human rights' defenders, social workers, refugees and eye-witnesses, priests in the bombed monastery of Nikozi...

The movie was shot mainly in Tbilisi, Gori, Nikozi and Karaleti 1-5 September.


Russian - Georgian war, documentary
Official site: http://georgiainflames.com/

Documentary movie 'Georgia in Flames' is about the Russia-Georgia conflict. This 15 minute film gives a factual overview of how the conflict developed over decades and why it resulted in August 2008 war. It gives an account of the military conflict and encourages the viewer to think about the underlying reasons and interests that serve as a basis for such conflicts not only in Georgia but anywhere in the world. Informing society on these issues, we hope, will prevent such conflicts from happening in the future. We are interested in showing this movie to different audiences and we thank in advance every person or organization who will decide to help us in disseminating it.

Part I

Part II

Nov 25, 2008

Russian computer game acts out new Georgia war

By Denis Dyomkin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian computer game simulating a new war between Russia and Georgia, in which NATO-member Poland backs a fresh bid by Tbilisi to take back its rebel regions, is to hit shops soon.

Russia fought a short war with U.S. ally Georgia in August after Tbilisi sent troops to re-take the Russian-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia, sparking an outcry in the West.

In the computer game "Confrontation -- Peace Enforcement," which will go on sale in Russia next month, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili gets support from unnamed Western powers and decides to launch another attack to seize back South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

"NATO does not stay out of it, pushing Poland forward as its representative and Ukraine blockades the Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol," according to the description of the game supplied by its creators on Friday.

"Russia cannot remain out of it and launches a strike in response," said the game's creators, two Russian software and multimedia companies.

Russia's Black Sea fleet rents a base in Ukraine's Crimean port of Sevastopol, a source of tension with Kiev. The armies of Russia, Poland, Georgia and Abkhazia take part in the war game.

The title of the game is a reference to the way President Dmitry Medvedev described Russia's actions in Georgia -- an operation to enforce peace.

The war with Georgia, Moscow's biggest military operation outside its borders since the collapse of the Soviet Union, drove relations with the United States to a post-Cold War low.

The Kremlin complained that the West had supported and helped arm Georgia and thus undermined stability in the Caucasus, a key transport route for oil and gas from the Caspian Sea and an area Russia sees as its sphere of influence.

Since the war, tensions have remained high in Georgia with shooting incidents and explosions along the de-facto borders between the Russian supported rebel regions -- which Moscow recognized as independent states -- and Georgia proper.

But the makers of "Confrontation -- Peace Enforcement" said the game should not be taken too seriously.

"Politics are politics and a game is a game. These things should not be confused," Alexander Dmitrevsky, the business development director at one of the game's makers, Russobit-M, told Reuters.

More than 20,000 Georgians are still displaced from the fighting, though Amnesty International estimates that up to 200,000 fled from both sides last August. A final death toll from the conflict has not been independently established.

(Reporting by Denis Dyomkin; writing by Conor Sweeney; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

source: http://www.reuters.com/article/technologyNews/idUSTRE4AK64D20081121

Oct 27, 2008

EU: Most Russian cease-fire allegations overblown


Most Russian claims that Georgia is violating a cease-fire agreement in the breakaway region of South Ossetia appear to be inflated, the head of the European monitoring mission there said Friday.
Russia should provide more details if it has evidence that Georgia is breaching the deal, Hansjoerg Haber said.
A war erupted in August when Georgia launched an attack to regain control over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Russian forces swiftly repelled the attack and drove deep into Georgia.
Russia withdrew its forces from parts of Georgia according to the terms of an EU-brokered cease-fire, and the EU sent more than a 200-member mission to monitor the situation.
But Moscow has complained that Georgian troops have failed to withdraw from areas near South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another separatist province, and have instigated shootings against Russian forces.
"In general, the observation is that such reports are overblown," Haber told reporters. "There may have been isolated shootings, but no major incidents have been registered."
If Russia and its allies in South Ossetia have evidence of Georgian wrongdoing, they should end their refusal to allow the EU monitors into the breakaway region so they can investigate, Haber said.
"We are pleased to come over to their side of the administrative boundary and inspect what has happened there," Haber said. "We invite them to invite us."
On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the 225 EU monitors of turning a blind eye to Georgian troops' failure to withdraw from areas near South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
"We don't get any details from the Russians, we just get general allegations," Haber said.
Asked specifically about allegations that Georgian special forces were in areas near South Ossetia, Haber said that some lightly armed units were there, but said their presence was "commensurate and adequate" for policing the region.
Georgia, meanwhile, accused Russian forces of destroying a bridge leading into Abkhazia in order to isolate ethnic Georgians living there. Russian troops demolished the bridge between Gali, in Abkhazia, and Zugdidi, in Georgia proper, Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said.
The bridge was one of the last remaining border crossings into Abkhazia, Utiashvili said. Most of Gali's citizens are ethnic Georgians.
Russia's Defense Ministry was not immediately available for comment Friday. But the defense minister for Abkhazia's de-facto government blamed the bombing on Georgia.
Russia, meanwhile, appointed ambassadors to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations after the war and plans to keep 3,800 troops in each region a much bigger presence than before the war.
Georgia straddles a key westward route for oil and gas from the Caspian Sea region, and has become a focus of competition between Russia and the West for regional clout.
Associated Press writer Matt Siegel contributed to this report from Tbilisi, Georgia
source: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/oct/24/eu-most-russian-cease-fire-allegations-overblown/

Oct 23, 2008

Separatist bans operation of OSCE in South Ossetia

23.10.08 10:44

Leader of the South Ossetian separatist regime Eduard Kokoit has taken a decision to ban any kinds of activities of the OSCE representatives at the territory of the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

He said that none of missions would be able to operate at the territory of the South Ossetia, which had been registered in Georgia; the OSCE mission had lacked moral rights to operate within our territory, because they had known about expected aggression and had done nothing for preventing it.

source: http://rustavi2.com/news/news_text.php?id_news=28434&pg=1&im=main&ct=0&wth=

Oct 22, 2008

Humanitarian catastrophe in Tskhinvali Region

22.10.08 16:33

Humanitarian catastrophe occurs in Tskhinvali Region. There is a serious deficiency of medicines and food for the population. The nearby villages are being assailed by beasts, specifically by wolves. For distracting the local population's attention from the problem provocations are being planned.

The Russians do not seem to intend to help resolving the problem. The occupants are basically concerned with clearing the road, connecting Akhalgori and Tskhinvali, and the territory for constructing a military base.

source: http://rustavi2.com/news/news_text.php?id_news=28426&pg=1&prior=2&ct=0

Questions for Mikheil Saakashvili / NY Times

Published: October 17, 2008
source: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/19/magazine/19WWln-q4-t.html?partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

Did you watch our presidential debates? It sometimes seems like the one subject the candidates agreed on is the necessity of supporting your country, a former Soviet satellite state that has recently been warring with Russia. I was personally very surprised that the candidates were so passionate about Georgia. Of course, John McCain has been many times to Georgia and knows it firsthand. Obama said absolutely all the right things.

How often do you talk to the candidates on the phone? Pretty often. And I think they are very competent.

Why are American politicians so interested in Georgia? First of all, democracy is a strategic interest. And second, there are energy issues. If Russia shuts off central Asia and the Caspian Sea from Europe, the European allies of the United States will be totally dependent on Russian gas and energy.

Why is our friendship with you worth it if it causes a rift between the U.S. and Russia? Look, the rift with Russia is not connected to Georgia. It is connected to values. Russia has become very authoritarian. It doesn’t accept free speech or real elections anymore.

What is it with those Russians? The more insecure you are, the more prone you are to create crises.

Do you think Putin wants to kill you? Well, killing me makes no sense because Georgia already has a Western-educated political class.

Have the Russians made any attempts on your life? President Medvedev has called me “a political corpse” publicly several times. Putin told several Western leaders, “I want Saakashvili’s head.” If they want my head, for me it’s more funny than troubling.

Are you connected to the C.I.A.? No. I told President Bush two years ago that I am sick and tired of trying to convince Putin that I am not a C.I.A. officer. I said: “Mr. President, can you tell him I am a C.I.A. officer? Maybe he will take me more seriously.”

For all your lofty talk about democracy, last November you shut down the opposition television station in Tbilisi. The interference with Imedi TV was an exception, not a rule. This action was taken during mass riots when Imedi TV started to incite overthrow of the democratically elected government. It should be noted that the government did pay damages.

You studied law at Columbia and came to power through the peaceful Rose Revolution in 2003. What sort of salary do you earn? When I became president of Georgia, they brought me money, and I said, “What is this?” They said, “It is your monthly wage.” It was roughly $40. I said: “Well, excuse me, I cannot survive on that. Give me some salary.”

You got a raise? It is up to $6,000 a month, plus all expenses. We’re still a poor country.

How would you describe Georgia in general? It’s spontaneous, it’s open-minded, it’s a little bit chaotic. It’s about wine and beautiful landscapes. It’s about good food.

What kind of good food? Like khinkali. It’s a big dumpling — with juice inside and meat.

It sounds fattening. Well, it should be a little bit fattening. President Bush loved it. Every time I call, he says, “I’m still on my bike, trying to lose the eight pounds I gained in Tbilisi.”

Do you think Georgia will be accepted into NATO in December, when the next vote is scheduled? It’s the $100 million question. I was reassured by Senator Obama, who said that we should have a NATO Membership Action Plan. Whether we get it, we’ll see.

What do you think of Sarah Palin? When she was nominated, she called me. She was lively, she was interactive, she was engaged.

Can she see Georgia from her front porch? No, we are looking in different directions. With the most powerful binoculars, I cannot see Alaska.


Oct 20, 2008

Russians killed in Ingushetia

By Charles Clover in Moscow

Published: October 20 2008 03:00 | Last updated: October 20 2008 03:00

Three Russian soldiers were killed and as many as 10 were injured when rebels ambushed a military convoy in Ingushetia, one of the worst incidents so far in an increasingly brutal conflict between the central Russian government and Islamist militants in the region.

Up to 10 militants attacked a convoy of vehiclesin a forest, said Pavel Belyakov, Ingushetia's deputy prosecutor. Attacks against Russian government forces in the region, which is part of the Russian federation, have become more organised and more frequent since the conflict with Georgia in August.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for yesterday's raid, the worst since September 17, when four government troops died in a similar ambush. A Chechen rebel website, kavkazcenter.com, identified the attackers as mujahedeen, or Islamic holy warriors, and claimed the Russian death toll was closer to 50. Russia's interior ministry denied this.

The growing conflict in Ingushetia comes as Russia's military has begun a restructuring, in the wake of the Georgia conflict, to transform itself into a lighter and more agile force.

While the Russian campaign was successful in Georgia, the war exposed a lack of modern equipment, and a top-heavy military bureaucracy.

General Nikolai Makarov, head of Russia's general staff, said that military officers' pay would rise in the next three years as reforms reduced their number by about 50 per cent. Many senior military officers earn less than the national average wage of 16,000 roubles per month ($600, €450, £350). Gen Makarov told a television station that under the new rules, a lieutenant would earn at least 70,000 roubles per month within three years, making the profession's pay more competitive. Soon, he said, the available pool of recruits for the officer corps would be half of what it was in 2001, due to falling birth rates, and the higher salaries were necessary to attract talented people to serve.

The accompanying drastic cuts in the army, particularly the officer corps, have caused tensions between uniformed military and the civilian ministry of defence.

Russia's senior generals prefer the tactics of mass mobilisation and huge numbers of cheaper, mass-produced armaments to a less numerous, better equipped and more professional force. The move to reform the gigantic military also comes as the Kremlin seeks to heal the rift with the west that followed the war in Georgia.

The BBC yesterday reported that Sergei Ivanov, a deputy prime minister, had said that the Russian Black Sea fleet would pull out of its base in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol in 2017, when the lease on the base expires, if Kiev demanded it.

Tension over the base rose during the war with Georgia after Kiev sided with Tbilisi in the conflict.

source: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/39e721b4-9e40-11dd-bdde-000077b07658.html

More in Russian


Oct 15, 2008

Improper Signalling from the Western Europe in Georgian Crisis

Recent conflict in Georgia left much space for evaluation and analysis. These events turned out to be absolutely unexpected for western leaders. Russia’s step - invading into sovereign country, occupying parts of its territory and declaring there independence was something that western leaders thought could have happened in 19-20th centuries, but deemed unacceptable for world of 21st century. Most probably West considered such a scenario having the same chance as an gigantic asteroid falling on the planet earth and probably that was why it took west so long to respond to this challenge. Besides the nature of this response left an impression that it was made without any clear strategy or plan. Initially EU leaders talked about imposition of economic sanctions, exclusion of Russia from G8 and preventing it from WTO membership. However later on they found these proposals to be unfeasible and eventually EU just expressed “concerns” several dozen times and “deep concerns” a bit fewer times that seems quite weak measure in the given circumstances.

Actually why this crisis was allowed to happen was improper signaling. It is important to understand that Russia is not a typical European country sharing values of liberal politics. Russia is a country with difficult background, present and maybe even future. Geopolitical location and cold climate has always been natural defensive fortress for Russia, therefore an empire that emerged in 15-16 centuries had tremendous potential. It gradually expanded its territories for the last three centuries reaching the peak during Soviet times. However after the collapse of Soviet Union Russia lost direct control over surrounding states (countries of Former Soviet Union), but for last 17 years still retained indict control over them.

Improper Signalling from the Western Europe in Georgian Crisis

I have been to "buffer zones"

Story by Rusudan Tsiskreli

photos: Goga Chanadiri

Yesterday 14 of October I visited the villages that just one week ago were in "buffer zone".
I saw Karaleti, Tkviavi, Tedznisi, Megvrekisi and Ergneti.
In Karaleti, Tkviavi and Tedznisi many houses across the main road are burned. All are robbed. Locals, who did not leave their houses, said that this was mostly done by Ossetian militias. Russians never interfere. But after Russians left Gori, they started preventing looting in buffer zones too.
First of all, after passing Gori we entered Karaleti, which was so frequently mentioned in news. Burned houses across the road... In the center there was building where just several flats were burned. Window frames were missing. People were looking out of the windows, looking at the workers on street and at us. In front of building were lieing several metal window frames and workers were installing them back to their places.
We drove off from Karaleti to Tkviavi. There we saw EU monitoring mission from france in front of burned house. The owner of the house, an old man had been being interviewed by monitors. Many neighbours gethered around, everybody wanted to gain more attention to their problems - burned or looted houses. We continued our way to Ergneti.
Megvrekisi and Ergneti are complitly burned. In Ergneti is our block post. Just in the middle of the village. In 500 meters are russians and ossetians are located. There are still bombs and ours are exploding them. We heard a sound. We meet several men and one woman there.. they are left houseless. They don't complain.... woman told us how her husband was killed but absolutely without emotions. Seems they lost ability of expressing feelings. Men were sitting in the street by their lorry even joking. "We live like Gipsys. Here in car we have sleeping bags and sleep here."
Then we drove to Megvrekisi. There people had returned. Most houses were burned or bombed. We met several people there. We were told story about one old ossetian woman, who was married to a Georgian in this village. Ossetians killed her brutally and her corpse remained in her yard.
Then some neighbors burred her in her own garden. We saw the grave.
People were complaining, they need more attention from government. Waiting for the commission to count their loses. They are trying to save left harvest. Some of them live at neighbors places which have survived, others - in the ruins of their homes.
We met 103 years old woman. Her house was complitely burned, she lost everything except her hope and sense of humor. Her youngest son told us his story. He studied in Tbilisi, afterwards he moved to Tskhinvali, where he got house and made a good carrier. In the 91-92-ies' war he lost everything and went to Tbilisi as a refugee. According to his words at that time the attitude to refugees in Tbilisi was good. Everybody tried to help, but it changed after Abkhazia war, when in east Georgia came up to 300 000 refugees. After some time in Tbilisi, he moved back to village Megvrekisi, he managed to build a new house, but now he lost everything again. He was telling his story without emotions, as he was telling not his own but someone other's story. They suffered too much to have a luxury of emotions.
Afterwards he took out of ruins hidden bottle of vine, gathered some grapes and apologized that can't serve us better according to the traditions of hospitality. He had to look up for glass in neighborhood. Only one glass could be found.
We drank to their health. After we gave some warm clothes, which we took with us, to them. It was clear that they were much richer then we before war. Their houses were big and very nice. It was clear even by ruins, but now they were thankful even to our modest help.
Young man said that his garden of apples had survived, but he has no boxes, nothing to gather the apples in. In other villages we saw boxes but their apple gardens were bombed. People try to collect survived potatoes and onion. Even if it is very dangerous. There are many unknown unexploded mines around... 4 caws had been exploded on them already.
Few people didn't leave village during the Russian occupation.
They said that they were hiding all time or in cellars either in the gardens. Several people, who were suspected having a relation to our forces were executed. The most part of the population escaped when the Russians entered through the gardens and forests. They walked to the village Igoeti, which is approximately in 45 km away. After they were picked up and moved to Tbilisi or Kakheti refugee camps. They learned who was alive and who died only when they returned.
We left village Megvrekisi and drove to Tkviavi - a big village which was almost deserted during occupation and people had just returned. Here many houses survived, but most of them were robbed. So they returned to empty houses... but still some of them remain homeless. Here people are complaining more then in Megvrekisi, seems they still have power to complain. Everybody was asking how government is going to help them. Who remained in village during occupation say the same story...
Ossetians were behaving like animals and at first russians were not preventing them to do so. Afterwards Russians started preventing looters and executing them. But it didn't help much. Most of the gardens were bombed, too few harvest survived.. people are sitting outside of burned and looted houses and discussing who is guilty. Opinions are very different.
We visited house of f0rmer governer of this region Mikhail Kareli. His father remains there. House is not on the main road, and in the neighborhood it's the only burned house. Kareli started with fighting against smuggling and finished by becaming the only chief of smugglers. But in neighborhood everybody is loyal to him - it is Kareli's neighborhood, everybody there are having relative ties.
In the yard I saw many boxes, so needed in Megvrekisi...
We left village on sunset. It was such beautiful sunset in black, burned fields...
When we drove through Karaleti, work there had been finished. New, white, metal frames installed in the backround of the black from fire wall

Oct 10, 2008

Satelite imagery describing the damage as of 10-19 August

source: here

Russia only partly fulfils Georgia ceasefire: France (10 Oct.'08)

By Margarita Antidze

GORI, Georgia (Reuters) - Russia has not fully complied with the terms of a ceasefire in Georgia, France's foreign minister said on Friday, casting fresh doubt on whether frozen EU-Russia partnership talks will resume soon.

Russian soldiers and tanks pushed into Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and adjacent "buffer zones," as part of a massive counter-strike in August to crush an attempt by Georgian forces to retake South Ossetia.

Moscow pulled out of the buffer zones this week, before an October 10 deadline set out in the French-brokered ceasefire. But Georgia says the Kremlin has not fully complied because Russian soldiers remain inside the two separatist regions.

Asked in the Georgian town of Gori, near South Ossetia, if Russia had honored the ceasefire deal, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters: "I think so, but partly."

"This is not complete. This is not perfect. It's just the beginning. This is not the end," Kouchner, whose country holds the European Union's rotating presidency, said in a tent camp for Georgians displaced by the fighting.

After a tour of the buffer zone vacated this week by Russian forces -- where human rights groups say hundreds of ethnic Georgian homes were wrecked after the ceasefire came into force -- Kouchner took a swipe at the Russian military.

"It's always very sad to see houses destroyed and people coming back and discovering their belongings in desperate state," said Kouchner, speaking in English. "It was not a good march of the Russian army. Not at all.


In a statement released in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana confirmed Russian forces had withdrawn from areas outside Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"This withdrawal will, we hope, allow internally displaced people to return to their homes and contribute to the normalization of living conditions," he said.

EU foreign ministers could decide next week whether to restart talks on a strategic partnership treaty with Russia that the 27-member bloc has put on hold until it is satisfied Russia has complied with the ceasefire deal.

Kouchner said he did not know if this would happen and pointed to differences among EU members. "Some are not in agreement. There are people supporting Russia, and there are people fighting against Russia," he said.

Kouchner and EU observers will present the findings of his trip at a meeting of foreign ministers on Monday which will prepare a possible decision two days later by European leaders to restart the talks.

Moscow says it is now in full compliance with the ceasefire and that it will keep a total of 7,600 troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which it has recognized as independent states, to protect them from further Georgia aggression.

The Kremlin said it was morally obliged to enter Georgia to prevent what it called a genocide by Georgian forces.

Western states said its response was disproportionate, but analysts say the European Union's reaction has been tempered because Russia supplies a quarter of Europe's gas and is a major trade and investment partner.

"It seems that the Russians are keeping their word," an official with the EU's French presidency said early on Friday.

But diplomats in Brussels said others, including Britain, Poland and the Baltic nations, argue the EU should wait.

"Giving the green light is a very important moment in terms of the signal to Russia about how we feel about how things have ended up," said one EU diplomat.

Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/GCA-Russia/idUSTRE4973IZ20081010

Sep 29, 2008

What the Russians Left In Their Wake in Georgia

SEPTEMBER 24, 2008

Having devastated vast areas of its own lands in the Caucasus, such as Chechnya and Ingushetia, in order to "protect" them from instability, Moscow's obliterating shadow has settled deep over Georgia -- with the usual consequences. The full barbarism of Russian actions in Georgia may not emerge for years; much of the evidence lies behind the lines in terrain newly annexed by Russia. But some details are now beyond dispute. Alongside the various human atrocities, such as the bombing and purging of civilian areas, the invaders looted and destroyed numerous historical sites, some of which were profoundly revered by the Georgians as sacred building blocks in their national identity. This is especially true of the region around South Ossetia that served as a kind of cradle of early Georgian culture. The Georgian Ministry of Culture lists some 500 monuments and archaeological sites now mostly under Russian occupation and out of sight. read full text

Sep 24, 2008



63rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly
New York, 23 September 2008

Mr. President,
Mr. Secretary-General,
Distinguished delegates,

I thank you for the opportunity today to address this, the 63rd annual gathering of the General Assembly, at such a critical moment in the history of my own country and of the United Nations.

Sometimes, the most extreme tests of this institution’s towering ideals arise in small, even obscure places.

I come to you as the representative of one of those places, the country of Georgia, a land of fewer than 5 million, that last month was invaded by our neighbor.

Despite our small size, the legal, moral, political, and security implications raised by that invasion could not be larger in consequence.

Indeed, those issues cut through to the heart of the UN’s founding charter.

The principles enshrined in that charter included the inviolability of sovereign borders; the sanctity of human rights; the supremacy of international law; and the global rejection of armed aggression.

All of these principles were put to the test by the invasion, and now hang in the balance.

The invasion violated Georgia’s internationally recognized borders.

The subsequent recognition of the so-called “independence” of our two regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia challenged our territorial integrity.

The ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of our people did violence to the very idea of human rights.

This General Assembly, therefore, faces a General Challenge. read full text

Sep 15, 2008

Russian ‘brand’ takes a hit after losing the media wars

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Monday, September 15, 2008

Vladimir Putin all but conceded defeat last week in Russia’s war with Georgia, acknowledging that Russia had been whipped by Georgia’s better-prepared high-tech forces.

Really, he did.

In traditional military terms, Russia won that war easily, rolling over the Georgian army and seizing territory.

But as Putin now realizes, his country has come out of the war far more damaged than Georgia did.

That’s because it got outfought on the battlefield on which most modern wars are now decided, in the media.

“I am surprised at how powerful the propaganda machine of the so-called West is,” Putin admitted, calling it “awesome” and “amazing.”

More specifically, Putin said he had been struck by the media’s silence when Georgia’s military started the war by trying to retake two rebellious provinces by force.

There was “absolute silence, as if nothing was happening, as if this was commanded,” he said. “I congratulate you. I congratulate those who were involved in this.”

Russia’s defeat in the information war has cost it considerably. Its global strategic situation has declined, its enemies are more firmly united, its friends aren’t quite so friendly and its economy has suffered.

Up to $35 billion in foreign capital has fled Russia since the war, which in turn has sent Russia’s stock market spiraling.

The recent war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon offers another example of the media as the deciding battlefield.

By traditional standards, the war was an overwhelming Israeli victory. The Israeli Defense Force moved deep into Lebanon, inflicting many more casualties on Hezbollah than it took in return and destroying civilian and military infrastructure.

But as even Israeli officials acknowledge, they lost the war.

International opinion swung so hard against them that they were forced to abandon the fight before achieving their goals, leaving Hezbollah to claim victory.

In the Georgia-Russia war, public-relations and public-diplomacy experts marvel at the preparation and effectiveness of Georgia’s media “blitzkrieg.”

As soon as Russia counterattacked with tanks and troops, Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili went on the media offensive, logging five hours of airtime on global news stations in just a few days.

Journalists around the world were flooded with e-mails explaining Georgia’s situation, and pro-Georgian Web sites were advertised in major newspapers.

Darren Spinck, a principal with Global Strategic Communications Group, points out that Georgia even reached into “new media.”

“One Facebook group, ‘Stop Russian Aggression against Georgia,’ has 22,000 subscribers, more than the registered subscribers for both the Obama/Biden and McCain/Palin groups,” writes Spinck. “Many of these young and educated Facebook subscribers supporting Georgia have turned the blogosphere against Russia, whipping up Russophobic sentiments not seen in such abundance since the Cold War.”

“It seems to me that the price Russia will pay for its minuscule territorial gains will be global and long-lasting,” writes Ira Strauss, the U.S. coordinator on NATO’s Committee on Russia. “And this has nothing to do with media bias; it is the bitter reality of a logical and unavoidable consequence of what was done.”

There are lessons in Russia’s experience for U.S. policymakers and citizens, lessons involving the limits of pure military power and the importance of what might be called a nation’s “brand.”

“Countries … lucky or virtuous enough to have acquired a positive reputation find that everything they or their citizens wish to do on the global stage is easier,” according to Simon Anholt, a British expert on the marketing of nations.

“Their brand goes before them like a calling card that opens doors, creates trust and respect.

“The only sort of government that can afford to ignore the impact of its national reputation is one that has no interest in participating in the global community,” he says.

And these days, not even insular Russia fits that bill.


Sep 13, 2008

RuSSian children about RuSSia-Georgia war and Ukraine...

This is a very good parody on Russian propaganda machine.
The guys cannot convince anybody... But actually, it's a habit... coming from USSR. Dear Medved and Vovan - have you ever heard: O tempora, O mores?
The world has changed - hello???

The Putin System - a movie

For three years, filmmakers Jean-Michel Carré and Jill Emery interviewed dozens of people to gain insight into the life and political motivations of Russia's most powerful politician, Vladimir Putin. They spoke to long-time supporters, like Putin's former schoolteacher, Vera Gurvich, to his harshest critics, like world chess champion Garry Kasparov, as well as many KGB and Kremlin insiders. What emerged is a point-of-view documentary that presents an ominous view of what Putin is willing to do to ensure Russia regains its position on the world stage.

A backroom bureaucrat in the KGB, Putin waited patiently and played by all the rules of the game in order to gain power. According to
The Putin System, Putin succeeded in framing the general prosecutor, who had pried into former Russian president Boris Yeltsin's business affairs, and in 2000, Yeltsin himself named Putin as successor to the presidency.

The Putin System chronicles the remarkable life of Putin, a tough, young leader who is not afraid to make harsh decisions and holds a secret purpose-to restore the old Russia of his dreams. Since March 2000, he has orchestrated a new system: Putin turned against the oligarchy that supported him, and turned their wealth into state-run corporations designed to finance his dream of a new Soviet empire. He also re-ignited the war in Chechnya in the name of Russian sovereignty, and launched a crackdown on political opposition. In the filmmakers' view, today, the former KGB agent is more powerful than ever before, and any opponents to Putin's system are seen as the enemy.

The Putin System is directed by Jean-Michel Carré in association with Jill Emery for the French production company Les Films Grain De Sable.

Sep 10, 2008

From Russia With Hate - CURRENT TV

Current TV's Christof Putzel investigates a growing movement in Russia where neo-Nazi groups are brutally attacking immigrants and spreading their hate by posting violent videos online.
Watch the whole 20-minute pod on current.com

Why Communist Russia hates Democratic Georgia

First Russia tried to kill Georgia economicaly increasing 3 times on gas prices and blocking Georgian export.
Georgia, instead, istablished good relations with the west and started to prosper.

Sep 8, 2008

Gori after bombing (video)

I remember discussions about the Reuters famous photos from Gori, where we have a tragic image of brother mourning over his killed brother. Some of the Russian nationalists called it fake and staged. It is such a misery.... And people make fun of it.

Here you have the video of the bombing:

And here you have the video of ongoing restoration works of the same neighborhood in Gori:

Russia opposes EU monitoring in Georgia

September 8, 2008

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman says Moscow is against an independent European Union monitoring mission in Georgia.

Andrei Nesterenko says the deployment of an EU monitoring force would lead to unnecessary "fragmentation" of international monitoring efforts by the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Nesterenko's statement sets a tough tone for Russian officials in talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Sarkozy arrived in Moscow on Monday to push for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia and the deployment of EU monitors. read more here

Sep 6, 2008

Photos from Refugee Camps in Gori

Victims of the war - Children

Other material:ეს სურათები გადაღებულია ჩემი და ჩემი მეგობრების მიერ. დანიშნულება - გავრცელება/ These photos are taken by me and my friends in Gori, Nikozi, Karaleti.

გორი, დევნილთა ბანაკი - 1-5 გვერდი/ Gori, refugee camp

ნიქოზი - სოფელი, დანგრეული მონასტერი. მე-5 გვერდიდან./ Nikozi - village and the Monastery destroyed. 5th page

ცხინვალის ხედები შორიდან მე-11, 12 გვერდები/ Tskhinvali view from Nikozi. pages 11,12


კარალეთი/ Karaleti


აქედან იწყება ბორჯომი და სხვა დანარჩენი სურათები, რომლებიც ჩვენი გადაღებული არაა./ Page 15 - other photos not taken by us - Borjomi, Demonstrations etc

Sep 4, 2008

Second Russian journalist in three days killed / another out of 220 journalists, who have been killed in Russia since 1991.

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- A Russian journalist died Wednesday from gunshot wounds sustained the night before -- the second Russian journalist fatally gunned down this week.

Abdulla Alishayev -- a host on one of the most popular Islamic television stations in the Russian republic of Dagestan -- was shot in the head and shoulder late Tuesday while he was in his car, police told CNN.

Police said he was attacked by two unknown assailants in the Dagestan capital of Makhachkala, and the incident is under investigation.

His death comes less than three days after another journalist and prominent Kremlin critic Magomad Yevloyev was shot and killed in Ingushetia, a small Russian republic in the Caucasus region.

Dagestan and Ingushetia, which lie on opposite sides of Chechnya, are predominantly Muslim republics in southern Russia where Russian forces have sought to quell Islamist rebels.

Reporters Without Borders said authorities are looking into whether Alishayev's murder was linked to his professional work.

Last week, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists denounced what they called Russian authorities' month-long offensive against a weekly opposition newspaper in Dagestan. read full text

Sep 3, 2008

Two Estonian farms establish 'Soviet republic,' seek recognition

source: http://en.rian.ru/world/20080903/116519145.html

ST. PETERSBURG, September 3 (RIA Novosti) - Two farms in north-east Estonia have joined forces to declare an independent "Soviet republic" and intend to seek Russia's recognition, a Russian communist organization said on Wednesday.

"We no longer want to live in bourgeois Estonia, where nobody cares about the common people...with raging unemployment and corruption, and where everything depends on NATO and the Americans," Russian communists from St Petersburg, who are assisting the 'republic,' quoted its founder, Andres Tamm, as saying.

Residents and founders of the 'Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic' have already formed a national 'Soviet government,' a police force, and have begun demarcating the state's borders.

Meanwhile, residents of the republic claim that the "bourgeois" Estonian government has sent a "squad of relatives of Estonian Nazi SS veterans" to regain control over the breakaway territory.

The republic is currently drafting a treaty of friendship with Russia to be submitted to the Russian president in the next few days.

Estonia is a former Soviet republic and a current member of both NATO and the EU.

Sep 2, 2008

Russia recognises Disneyland

The new Cold War crisis deepened yesterday following Russia’s decision to recognize the breakaway region of Disneyland in Florida. Previously part of the United States, Disneyland has for many years been a semi-autonomous, self-governing region, with distinctive traditions, culture and strict border controls which requires United States visitors to queue at length before presenting their papers (such as the 7 Day ‘Magic Your Way’ e-ticket)American servicemen yesterday entered the disputed territory, and screams and sirens were heard by witnesses. The servicemen then emerged looking excited and soaking wet, clutching a photo of themselves sliding down a water chute. The crisis comes after other nations have expressed concerns about worker exploitation in Disneyland, where it is rumoured that dwarves are employed in the diamond mines and forced to sleep seven to a room, despite the huge diamonds that are unearthed, ready-cut from the ground. There are also a number of on-going power struggles within the area, between local leaders such as Cruella De Ville and Pongo, Sheer Khan and Bagheera, Gaston and the Beast and Maleficent and Sleeping Beauty. ‘These are complex disputes’ said one UN observer, ‘there is no simple right and wrong in any of these cases.’But now with Russia’s formal communiqué to Mickey Mouse, the spiritual leader of Disneyland, a huge boost has been given to the region’s hopes for full independence, prompting jubilant scenes outside the Enchanted Palace, where Disneyland inhabitants paraded through the streets, dressed in giant cartoon animal costumes, waving at the crowd. ‘It makes me so proud,’ said a Disney merchandise vendor from Main Street, ‘We haven’t seen a parade like this since, well, yesterday…’

Georgia Splits the Kremlin - By Andrei Piontkovsky (Opinion)

(Andrei Piontkovsky is an independent political expert and a researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences)

The Georgia crisis revealed a new strategic force in the Kremlin that
opposes both Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev. We
still cannot name its players, but we are aware of its interests and impact
on events in the same way that astronomers discern a new but invisible
planet by recording its impact on known and visible objects in space.

One after another, loyal Kremlin pundits have appeared on television and
radio to denounce "provokers," whom they dare not name, for "planning the
incursion of Russian troops all the way to Tbilisi and the establishment
there of a pro-Russian government."

The line in the sand that U.S. President George W. Bush drew on the night of
Aug. 11, warning against Russian air strikes on Tbilisi's airport and
shortly thereafter sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to visit
Tbilisi, provoked a split in the Kremlin. The split divides those who are
and are not concerned about the fate of Russian elites' vast personal
holdings in the West.

I call these camps Russia's global and national kleptocrats. Both sides
firmly agree that there is nothing that the "weakened and cowardly West" can
do to restrain Russia, a nuclear and petroleum superpower, beyond financial
retribution against those Russian rulers with vast assets abroad.

But the national kleptocrats seem to believe that they can live without
overseas assets, or without educating their children and maintaining
residences in the West. Instead, they are content to own properties in elite
areas around Moscow and in Sochi.

Both Putin and Medvedev (and their television propagandists) currently
reflect the views and goals of the global kleptocrats. Neither leader wants
to capture Tbilisi. Putin, of course, would have been glad to see Georgian
President Mikheil Saakashvili, his sworn enemy, put in a cage. But other,
more down-to-earth considerations are more important to him.

That said, Putin is keeping his options open to join the national
plutocrats, in case their position dramatically strengthens. If he crosses
over to their side, he could even become their leader and triumphantly
return to the throne that he formally abandoned only recently.

While no one yet knows the national plutocrats' names, I believe that they
are new, influential players in or associated with the Kremlin, and that
they have now become bold enough to challenge both Putin and Medvedev.
Russia's military chiefs, for whom it is psychologically difficult to be
ordered by politicians to abruptly end a large-scale and successful military
operation, are their natural allies.

I cannot predict who will win this growing confrontation. But even if the
global kleptocrats sustain their more "moderate" position on Georgia, theirs
could be a Pyrrhic victory. Every day and every hour, by means of their own
propaganda, these globally minded kleptocrats, are setting the path to power
for the nationalists.

In order to justify their authoritarian rule and camouflage from the Russian
public their massive theft of the country's resources, the global
kleptocrats have already convinced ordinary Russians that they are
surrounded by ruthless enemies who are trying to dismember and destroy
Russia. Now it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to explain why
their wives and children are buying palaces in the capitals of countries
that are supposedly Russia's sworn enemies.

By contrast, the national kleptocrats' position is more consistent. They are
not constrained by huge assets in the hated West. It would not be difficult
for them to convince ordinary Russians, who have already been primed by
today's xenophobic propaganda, that Tbilisi, Sevastopol, Astana, and Tallinn
belong to Russia and should be taken by force.

Putin once said that "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth
century was the fall of the Soviet Union." The national kleptocrats may soon
start calling for its reversal, and they are in an increasingly strong
position to do so.

(c) Project Syndicate

source: http://www.sptimesrussia.com/index.php?action_id=2&story_id=27004

Sep 1, 2008

European Union Summit Conclusions - Sept. 1, 2008

12594/08 2

The meeting of the European Council was preceded by an exposé by the President of the European Parliament, Mr Hans-Gert Pöttering, followed by an exchange of views.

1. The European Council is gravely concerned by the open conflict which has broken out in Georgia, by the resulting violence and by the disproportionate reaction of Russia. This conflict has led to great suffering on both sides. Military action of this kind is not a solution and is not acceptable. The European Council deplores the loss of human life, the suffering inflicted on the population, the number of displaced persons and refugees, and the considerable material damage.

2. The European Council strongly condemns Russia's unilateral decision to recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. That decision is unacceptable and the European Union calls on other States not to recognise this proclaimed independence and asks the Commission to examine the practical consequences to be drawn. It recalls that a peaceful and lasting solution to the conflict in Georgia must be based on full respect for the principles of independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity recognised by international law, the Final Act of the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and United Nations Security Council resolutions. read full text

Rally in Georgia - HUMAN CHAIN calling for PEACE

(c) G. Zghuladze

HUMAN CHAIN in GEORGIA calls for PEACE!!! 12:00 GMT, 01.09.08. GEORGIA is OURS!

Russia's cruel intention - In South Ossetia, I witnessed the worst ethnic cleansing since the war in the Balkans

 Luke Harding 
The Guardian, Monday September 1 2008 
Article history

After three weeks in Georgia reporting on the war and its aftermath, I find one conversation sticks with me. I had arrived in Karaleti, a Georgian village north of Gori. I had gone there with a group of foreign journalists in a Russian army truck; our ultimate destination was Tskhinvali, in South Ossetia. Several houses along the main road had been burned down; an abandoned Lada lay in a ditch; someone had looted the local school.

Refugees from Karaleti and nearby villages gave the same account: South Ossetian militias had swept in on August 12, killing, burning, stealing and kidnapping. Sasha, our Kremlin minder, however, had a different explanation. "Georgian special commandos burned the houses," he told us. I demurred, pointing out that it was unlikely Georgian special commandos would have burned down Georgian villages north of Tskhinvali, deep inside rebel-held South Ossetia. Sasha's face grew dark; he wasn't used to contradiction. "Those houses suffered from a gas or electricity leak," he answered majestically. 

Despite Sasha's inventive attempts to lie, it's evident what is currently happening in Georgia: South Ossetian militias, facilitated by the Russian army, are carrying out the worst ethnic cleansing since the war in former Yugoslavia. Despite the random nature of these attacks, the overall aim is clear: to create a mono-ethnic greater South Ossetia in which Georgians no longer exist. 

Before Georgia's attack on Tskhinvali on August 7/8, South Ossetia was a small but heterogeneous region, a patchwork of picturesque Georgian and Ossetian villages. Georgia's government controlled a third; the separatists and their handlers from Russia's spy agencies controlled another third, principally around the town of Tskhinvali; the other third was under nobody's control. Surprisingly, both groups coexisted in South Ossetia. 

A week after the conflict started I drove up to Akhalgori, a mountain town, 41km north-west of Tbilisi. South Ossetian militias, together with Russian soldiers from Dagestan, had captured the town the previous evening. Most residents had already fled; by the bus stop I found a group of women waiting for a lift. The town had no history of ethnic conflict, they said. Its population was mixed. Now almost all the Georgians had fled. I asked a militia leader, Captain Elrus, whether his men had ethnically cleansed Georgian villages between Tskhinvali and Gori. "We did carry out cleaning operations, yes," he admitted. 

The Kremlin's South Ossetian allies have re-established the old Soviet borders of South Ossetia. This new, greater territory will, as South Ossetia's parliamentary speaker made clear on Friday, become part of the Russian Federation: a large Georgian-free enclave stretching almost to the suburbs of Tbilisi. 

Back in Karaleti, meanwhile, villagers are continuing to flee. After August 12, dozens escaped on foot, walking for three days across the fields, hiding from the militias and eating wild plums. South Ossetian gunmen are preventing refugees from returning, and forcing the few elderly residents who remain to leave as well. The Russian military has done nothing to stop this. Its peacekeeping mandate is little more than a pretext for occupation. There are Russian checkpoints between Gori and Tskhinvali. 

EU leaders meet today in Brussels to discuss how to respond to Russia's invasion and occupation of Georgia, and President Dmitry Medvedev's unilateral recognition of South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence. Already the European appetite for sanctions appears to be fading, with the French and the Germans signalling an unwillingness to punish Moscow. But the EU needs to be clear about what is happening. Russia is not merely redrawing the map of Europe but changing its human geography too.