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

Oct 2, 2009

The wolf that ate Georgia – Guardian.Co.Uk

Civilians are still suffering in Georgia and it is imperative for the world community to promote a lasting solution
Antonio Cassese guardian.co.uk, Monday 1 September 2008 08.00 BST

In Phaedrus's well-known fable of the wolf and the lamb, the wolf could easily have eaten the lamb without a word, but prefers to set out his "reasons". First, he scolds the lamb for muddying his drinking water (even though the wolf was upstream). Then he argues that last year the lamb had called him bad names (but the lamb was only six months old). The wolf then snarls that if it was not the lamb, it was his father; after that, he immediately moves into action.

The wolf's "justifications" for his evil action were a luxury that he allowed himself. At present, the United Nations Charter legally binds wolf-states – that is, the Great Powers – to offer justifications for their use of armed violence. This is all the more necessary for the Security Council's five permanent members because, aside from condemnation by public opinion, no sanctions are available against them for any serious breach of the charter.

Russia has set forth various reasons to justify its armed intervention in Georgia where the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are nonetheless under Georgian sovereignty. Russia argues that its invasion was aimed at (1) stopping Georgia's aggression against South Ossetians; (2) ending ethnic cleansing, genocide, and war crimes committed by Georgia there; (3) protecting Russian nationals; and (4) defending South Ossetians on the basis of the peace-keeping agreement signed by Boris Yeltsin and Eduard Shevardnadze in 1992.

None of these legal grounds holds water. By sending its troops to South Ossetia, Georgia no doubt was politically reckless, but it did not breach any international rule, however nominal its sovereignty may be. Nor do genocide or ethnic cleansing seem to have occurred; if war crimes were perpetrated, they do not justify a military invasion. Moreover, South Ossetians have Russian nationality only because Russia recently bestowed it on them unilaterally. Finally, the 1992 agreement authorises only monitoring of internal tensions, not massive use of military force.

Hence, as in Phaedrus's fable, the Kremlin's "justifications" are empty. Russia has breached Article 2 of the UN Charter, which enjoins member states to "refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state."

There are several morals to the tale. First, when a lamb like Georgia gets smart and requests the protection of another wolf – in this case Nato – he must be careful, for every wolf guards his territory and is bent on "protecting" all those lambs that fall under his "jurisdiction".

Second, although Great Powers are de facto unbound by international rules on the use of force, they abide by a sort of unwritten "agreement between scoundrels" to behave similarly. The west violated that agreement in 1999 in Kosovo: Nato powers first attacked Kosovo and Belgrade, in breach of the UN Charter (although they were morally justified to do so, because there was a need to stop the serious atrocities underway); the west then promoted and blessed Kosovo's secession. As a result of that perilous precedent, Russia no longer feels bound by the unwritten agreement.

Finally, because it is mostly civilians that have suffered and are still suffering in Georgia, it is imperative for the world community to promote a lasting solution, as is stipulated in the agreement promoted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. But a lasting solution is nowhere in sight, because Russian forces, in blatant breach of that agreement – and of international customary law – remain in many parts of Georgia beyond Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These two regions have now proclaimed their independence, and Moscow has given its blessing to a secession that is likely to be the stepping stone to incorporation by Russia.

Georgia has taken the path that lambs (small countries) normally choose when facing wolves (major powers), brandishing law as a weapon. It has instituted legal proceedings against Russia before both the International Court of Justice for alleged violations of the UN Convention on Racial Discrimination and the European Court of Human Rights for alleged breaches of Articles 2 (right to life) and 3 (prohibiting inhuman and degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Because Georgia is a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, it could have requested the ICC Prosecutor to investigate Russia's allegations of war crimes and genocide as well as its own allegations of Russian crimes. Strangely, it has not done so, though, fortunately, the ICC Prosecutor has announced that he is keeping the situation in Georgia "under analysis".

Plainly, by itself the law may not be able to offer the right solution in such a complex and dangerous situation. Only politics and diplomacy can offer a lasting solution. Nevertheless, with both sides claiming the mantle of international law, authoritative legal decisions about these issues might perhaps push the parties to reach a lasting agreement.

Antonio Cassese, the first President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and later the chairperson of the United Nations' International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur, teaches law at the University of Florence.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2008.


Oct 1, 2009

WSJ: Europe Exposes Russia's Guilt in Georgia

In an invasion, when can a spade be called a spade?

This week's much-anticipated European Union-commissioned report into the causes of the Russian-Georgian war of August 2008 predictably spread the blame for the conflict around. While Georgia was also censured, the text is devastating to Russia's narrative of the conflict.

Assisted by a small army of experts, Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini has spent close to a year investigating the origins of the war that initially shocked Europe but then was relatively quickly forgotten in the midst of the global economic crisis that succeeded it. As expected, both sides have claimed that the 40-page report—with a thousand pages of appendices—vindicates their version of events. Yet anyone who bothers to read the document will find that the Tagliavini Commission apportions the overwhelming part of the responsibility for the conflict on Moscow. In fact, it rejects practically every item in Russia's version of what supposedly happened last year.

The press has so far focused on the commission's conclusion that Georgia started the war. That should, however, not be confused with the question of responsibility: Firing the first shot does not necessarily mean being the aggressor. The report acknowledges this, concluding that, "there is no way to assign overall responsibility for the conflict to one side alone." The report details the extended series of Russian provocations, accelerating in the spring of 2008, that precipitated the war.

The report faults Georgia for lacking a legal basis for its attack on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, and for the use of indiscriminate force there. But on the crucial Georgian claim that it was responding to a Russian invasion, the report equivocates: The mission is "not in a position" to consider the Georgian claims "sufficiently substantiated." This is an exercise in semantics, since the next sentences acknowledge that Russia provided military training and equipment to the rebels, and that "volunteers and mercenaries" entered Georgian territory from Russia before the Georgian attack. One is left wondering what would be necessary for a spade to be called a spade.

But the report is far more devastating in its dismissal of Russia's justification for its invasion—in fact surprisingly so for an EU product. As will be recalled, Russia variously claimed it was protecting its citizens; engaging in a humanitarian intervention; responding to a Georgian "genocide" of Ossetians; or responding to an attack on its peacekeepers. The EU report finds that because Russia's distribution of passports to Abkhazians and Ossetians in the years prior to the war was illegal, its rationale of rescuing its "citizens" is invalid as they were not legally Russian. It also concludes that Moscow's claim of humanitarian intervention cannot be recognized "at all," in particular given the Kremlin's past opposition to the entire concept of humanitarian intervention.

The list goes on. The report finds Russian allegations of genocide founded in neither law nor evidence. In other words, they're not true. And whereas the report does acknowledge a Russian right to protect its peacekeepers, it finds that Moscow's response "cannot be regarded as even remotely commensurate with the threat to Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia." On the other hand, it faults Russia for failing to intervene against the ethnic cleansing of Georgians from South Ossetia and Abkhazia that took place during and after the war. Finally, it castigates Russia's recognition of the independence of the two breakaway territories as illegal, and as a dangerous erosion of the principles of international law.

In sum, the official EU inquiry found that none of Russia's various justifications for its invasion of Georgia hold water, and also faults Russia's behavior following the conflict, as Moscow continues to be in material breach of the EU-negotiated cease-fire agreement. While the report will be of great use to historians, its main implications should concern the present, because just as the war did not begin in August 2008, the conflict between Russia and Georgia is not over. While the war's military phase only lasted a few weeks, it continues in the diplomatic, political, and economic realms. Russia successfully evicted the international community from the conflict zones and expanded its military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, building large bases there. Its economic warfare against Georgia continues, as does its efforts at subversion inside the country. Most importantly, Russia's stated objective of regime change and the effective termination of Georgia's sovereignty goes on.

This conflict continues to destabilize a part of Europe to which the West has so far not paid sufficient attention. The EU, now engaged also on the ground in Georgia, must go beyond reluctantly accepting, as it has, that this conflict is a European problem. It needs to overcome its internal divisions and pursue a cohesive strategy toward Georgia—one that takes its basis in the country's European identity and aspirations, as well as its right to sovereignty and security. As for the White House, it would ignore at its own peril one of the EU report's final conclusions: "Notions such as privileged spheres of interest...are irreconcilable with international law. They are dangerous to international peace and stability. They should be rejected."

And doing so will take more than words and the scrapping of missile shields—it will take the type of serious engagement that neither the EU not the U.S. have so far been willing to pursue.

Mr. Svante E. Cornell is research director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University-Sais and director of the Institute for Security and Development Policy, and co-editor of "The Guns of August 2008: Russia's War in Georgia" (M.E. Sharpe, 2009).

source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704471504574446582737784064.html

Radio Liberty: EU-Backed Report To Split Blame For Russian-Georgia War

30.09.2009 13:06
By Ahto Lobjakas
BRUSSELS -- A long-awaited report on the causes of the five-day war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008 will split the blame between the two sides, according to EU officials familiar with the document.

The EU's Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, told RFE/RL that he believed the document -- which he said he had not seen yet -- contains nothing "fundamentally" new.

Officials in Brussels are acutely aware of the risks of alienating either Moscow, a key energy supplier whose cooperation is desired in a host of areas, or Tbilisi, whose political standing took a beating over the 2008 conflict despite broad Western support for its aims of keeping Georgian territory intact.

The report, compiled by a group of international experts led by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, was presented to EU and other ambassadors in Brussels on September 30 and later released to the public.

Initial reaction from Russia's envoy was that the document laid the blame for the outbreak of fighting on Tbilisi, while Georgian officials countered that it concluded that Moscow had planned the conflict.

But the unveiling of the "Tagliavini report" could be regarded as something of an anticlimax.

EU ambassadors will be briefed on its contents over a low-key lunch. There will be no formal ceremony to mark the handing over of the more than 500-page document. There will also be no formal discussion of the report's contents among EU member states, nor will an official EU position be adopted relative to its conclusions.

What the EU wants is closure, officials suggest. The bloc believes no one has anything to gain from protracted finger-pointing and wants to get on with the Geneva talks between Georgia, Russia, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia on defusing tensions and allowing refugees return to their homes.

"What I can say is that I believe that now, more than a year after the war and after quite a few studies and reports have been published on the topic, I think that most of the events are fairly well known,” Semneby said. “I expect that this study, which is quite a thorough one, is probably going to reveal a few new facts, but I would be surprised if it would reveal anything that would fundamentally change our picture of the course of events."

Privately, EU officials have told RFE/RL the report will not be a "one-way street," blaming Georgia alone, as some early leaks have suggested. Instead, it will apportion blame relatively equally on Georgia and Russia.

The report is expected to roughly follow the established Western take on the events, according to which Georgia overreacted to severe and long-standing Russian provocations. While the Georgian military may have fired the first shots, it was Russia's meddling in the irredentist territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia which had set in motion the chain of events leading up to the war.

Georgian officials appear to be resigned to being given some of the blame. But one senior official told RFE/RL that Tbilisi believes it has "the law on its side." The official also alluded to Russia's long history of involvement in Georgian affairs, noting that "the war did not start on August 7, 2008."

Recriminations Expected

To date, only Nicaragua and Venezuela have joined Russia in recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia's early charges of a Georgian-conducted genocide in South Ossetia and other war crimes have not been substantiated.

Georgia now expects a long cold war of attrition with Russia. The official quoted above said the report's release is likely to be followed by a few days of mutual recriminations between Georgia and Russia, which will then eventually subside.

This is broadly in line with EU expectations.

Semneby said the bloc will leave interpreting the report to others.

"It's not, obviously, the ultimate truth about the war, but rather should be seen as a contribution to highlighting the facts around what is a very complex series of events that started actually...long before the war in August of last year," Semneby said.

The EU, which helped to end the war in August 2008, is now a key mediator in the Geneva talks.

The bloc's interests, however, are broader. It needs a working relationship with Russia. Moscow is seen as a strategic partner in the EU. Its energy deliveries are vital for the bloc, as is cooperation with Moscow in many other fields.

Georgia, on the other hand, remains a key part of the EU's Eastern Partnership outreach program. Although Tbilisi's standing in EU eyes has slipped since the war -- a fact acknowledged by Georgian officials, too -- the bloc remains committed to helping the country.

The EU's monitoring mission (EUMM) along the demarcation lines between Georgia proper and Abkhazia and South Ossetia now represents the only involvement of the international community in the conflict zone. Earlier this year, Russia was instrumental in securing the ejection of observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from South Ossetia, and that of a UN mission from Abkhazia.

Meanwhile Georgian hopes of getting the United States to join the EUMM have been dashed. Objections from EU member states such as France, fearing complications in the EU-Russia relationship, have caused the idea to be shelved.

Adjusting to new realities, Georgia has toned down its expectations of the EU accordingly. Economic assistance is now foremost on the minds of Georgian officials.

On the political front, Tbilisi knows that hanging on to the status quo will be difficult enough, with the EU increasingly preoccupied with its own constitutional future, expected to be settled in the remaining months of the year. Then, Spain will take over the rotating half-yearly EU presidency from Sweden, to be followed by Belgium. Neither country is as interested in the eastern neighborhood as Sweden, so Tbilisi will face an uphill struggle to retain a presence on EU radar.

Correspondingly, Georgian officials can now only hope for signals of continued EU support.

Kahtleen Moore contributed to this report

source: http://www.rferl.org/content/EU_Sponsored_Report_To_Split_Blame_For_Russian_Georgia_War/1839451.html