The armed conflict between Georgia and Russia in 2008 is an officially undeclared warfare that happened from 8 [sākās 7. datumā] until 12 August between the Georgian Armed Forces and the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. In Georgia, the conflict was called a war, but in Russia – an operation to implement peace. In history, the events of August 2008 are known as the Five-Day War.
The official reason for the start of the war is considered as Georgian Armed Forces offensive against the separatist South Ossetia on 7 August 2008 [23:30]. It should be taken into consideration, that the armed conflict was a natural outcome after years of tension in the Russian and Georgian relationship.
By starting the land offensive against separatist South Ossetia, Georgia occupied several separatist region villages in the highlands to south, south east and north from the capital city of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali.
On 8 August 2008, The Georgian Armed Forces arrived at the outskirts of Tskhinvali and began a battle with the armed groups of South Ossetia's police and volunteers. Initially, the Georgian troops were unsuccessful in neutralising the positions of the Russian Peace-keeping Forces. By announcing the need to protect its compatriots in South Ossetia, Moscow made a decision to attack Georgia. On 8 August 2008, around 12 pm, Russian army crossed the Georgian border, but before entering the Georgian territory, Russian Air Force had already started bombing and missile launching sorties. In the period between morning of 8 August 2008 and afternoon of 9 August, Georgian soldiers took in their control the largest part of Tskhinvali and withdrew from the city only on the morning of 10 August. Separate battles in Tskhinvali and its outskirts took place all of 10 August. On the afternoon of the same day, Mikheil Saakashvili ordered the Georgian Armed Forces to retreat, and on 11 August, the Georgian troops began to retreat from the territory of South Ossetia. The initially peaceful retreat slowly turned into chaotic, sometimes leaving behind military equipment and vehicles. The Russian Armed Forces attack and partial country's occupation already on the fifth day of the warfare (12 August) distinctly marked Georgia's military defeat.
On 12 August 2008, with help of mediation of the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, agreement was made with the President of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, for ceasefire between Georgia and Russia.
The parties signed a six-point agreement that foresaw an immediate suspension of force, abandonment from further conflict settlement in a military way, the Georgian army's return to their bases, Russian army's return to the positions they were in before the war. The agreement also gave Russia the right to carry out additional security measures in Georgian separatist regions, until the development of international security mechanism, and begin international discussion about the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
The main home policy priority after the 2004 Rose Revolution and Mikheil Saakasvili's election as President of Georgia was named the renewal of territorial unity. There were also certain achievements in this field – in 2004, Tbilisi managed to renew control over Adjara and in 2006 – over the Kodori Valley.
At the same time, efforts to strengthen the political influence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia were implemented and that provoked backlash from Russia and governments of separatist republics. It only created a stronger political and economic tension between Georgia and Russia. During the period between 2006 and 2008, Georgia sharply raised its military expenses and considerably increased its military potential. The separatist regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which were supported by Russia, also showed a growing military potential. The number of armed incidents and victims within them considerably grew in the Georgian conflict zone and that fundamentally worsened the already complicated situation. In the first half of 2008, Presidents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia at the time, Sergei Bagapsh and Eduard Kokoity refused the Tbilisi offer that would foresee Abkhazia and South Ossetia to be assigned broad autonomy in Georgia's territory and positions in Georgian government for the representatives of the separatist republics.
In March 2008, the official Moscow announced about the decision to unilaterally end the 1996 economic sanctions by the Commonwealth of Independent States against Abkhazia and begin a close bilateral co-operation. In April 2008, Russia deployed a battalion size tactical combat group of the Airborne Troops in Abkhazia and increased the collective peace keeping contingent of CIS, the basis of which were composed of Russian troops. Units of Russian Railway Troops were brought in; Russia justified it with the intention to perform repairs on the railway section Ochamchire – Gudauta. In reaction to Russia's implemented policy in Abkhazia, Georgia accused Moscow in the implementation of a hidden annexation. In July 2008, in the territory of Russian North Caucasus war region a broad military exercise Kavkaz-2008 began. Even though the military exercise was planned and the officially announced goal of it was to assess the co-operation of force structures in the conditions of terrorism threats in the south of Russia, during the training, the ability to participate in specific peace keeping operations in the armed conflict zones was improved. Taking into the account the escalation of the situation in Georgia's separatist regions, it cannot be ruled out that the military exercise Kavkaz-2008 was a preparation stage for the Russian Armed Forces intervention in Georgia.
As the situation was continuing to escalate in the conflict zone of Georgia and South Ossetia, the parties kept accusing one another of preparing a military conflict, building fortifications on the field and deploying troops and artillery units in the border area.
On 3 August 2008, South Ossetia's government began evacuating civilians to Russia. Moscow gave an official warning that there are serious military operation threats from Georgia. Mobilization in Georgia was not announced, but high combat readiness was established in the forces of the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Internal Affairs.
On 7 August 2008, the official Tbilisi announced that South Ossetia was shelling the Georgian territory, in the result of which the Georgian troops had lost 10 soldiers and 50 more were injured.
The official Tbilisi explained the reasons of its actions (the offensive operation in South Ossetia) with the information at their disposal that Russian army's column has already entered South Ossetia on 7 August 2008 and the goal of Georgia's operation was to stop invasion of the Russian troops in Georgia. At the same time, no independent source has confirmed the proofs provided by the Georgian side to international society regarding the Russian military aggression.
South Ossetia's police and volunteer armed groups were involved in the conflict of August 2008.
The following arms and services of the Georgian side were involved in the war: the Armed Forces’ separate tank battalion, as well as infantry and artillery units, special-purpose brigade, Air Force, Navy and different other combat groups, as well as troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
In the Georgian Armed Forces military action, approximately 10 000 soldiers, 70 tanks, 100 other types of armoured vehicles 130 artillery equipment pieces, as well as 500 combatants of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia were involved.
While the Russian side involved tank and mechanized squadrons, heavy artillery and missile brigades, spetsnaz units in the offensive operation in North Caucasus (now South Military District). Pskov and Ivanovo airborne divisions of the Russian Airborne Troops, Chechen battalions Zapad and Vostok, and other Russian Armed Forces units were also involved in the conflict.
Overall, approximately 35 000–40 000 men of the Russian armed services participated in the Georgian war.
The Russian-Georgian war fundamentally affected all the parties involved in the conflict. The Russian Armed Forces attack and partial country's occupation already on the fifth day of the warfare (12 August) distinctly marked Georgia's military defeat. Units of Russian Armed Forces until the end of warfare on 12 August occupied large Georgian territories alongside South Ossetia's administrative border and city of Gori, taking over the important motorways that connect the country's east and west regions.
In the west of Georgia, units of Russian Armed Forces occupied Zugdidi area and on 12 August stopped on the line of Poti-Senaki. The territories occupied in August 2008, including the harbour of Poti, Russia controlled until 10 October 2008, when Georgia's territories that were included in the safety zones unilaterally declared by Russia, went into control of the EU mission.
According to the official data of the Ministry of Defence of Georgia, during the conflict 17 soldiers of Ministry of Internal Affairs and 144 soldiers of Georgian Armed Forces lost their lives, while 1260 soldiers were injured and 25 soldiers were declared missing. In the result of the conflict, the infrastructure of Georgian Armed Forces also suffered substantial losses, lost a large amount of military equipment. Considerable damage was also done to the civil infrastructure.
Between 1600 and 2000 people are estimated to be lost in South Ossetia. City of Tskhinvali suffered greatly.
According to the information provided by Russia, during the war they lost 74 people, 11 of them were Russia's peace keepers. 171 person was injured and 19 were declared missing. During the conflict, Russia lost four aircraft (three Su-25s and one Tu-22M).
Even though, the five-day war ended with a complete Georgia's military defeat, it also showed many essential imperfections in Russian Armed Forces, it made Russia conclude that in a conflict with a worthy opponent they might lose.
During the warfare, several important flaws were discovered: slow organisation of the army for the warfare, flaws in reconnaissance, incompetence of the commanding officers, problems in the communication, weak mutual co-operation of Armed Forces units as well as problems with the equipment and the shortage of it.
In autumn 2008, following the experience gained after the Georgia's conflict, under the leadership of Russia's Minister of Defence Anatoliy Serdyukov, reform was started in Russian Armed Forces and its goal as to improve battle ability and responsiveness of Russian Armed Forces as well as administration's work in the decision making process.
Georgia's political and military administration, by starting warfare in South Ossetia, insufficiently evaluated the large possibility of Russia invading Georgia's main territory and was unprepared for Russia's battle aviation attacks on the strategically important objects in whole Georgia. The decision in Tbilisi to start the operation in South Ossetia was made spontaneously, without preparing protractedly and in detail.
After the armed conflict of August 2008, the situation in Georgia became worse. Opposition parties demanded the resignation of President Mikheil Saakasvili, reproaching him for the unilateral decision to start bombing Tskhinvali. Members of the opposition blamed the President for the lost territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and for the distant possibility to join NATO.
Georgia's attack on Tskhinvali gave Russia a reason not only to answer them in a military way, but to also change the rules of the game in South Caucasus, enhancing the situation in Georgia and creating threats to the stability of the region and security altogether.
By engaging in the Georgia and South Ossetia's armed conflict, Russia acknowledged the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and put veto on the prolongation of the UN and OSCE observer mission mandates. The war also complicated Georgia's integration in the Euro-Atlantic structures, which Mikheil Saakasvili was set as the strategic goal.
On 25 August 2008, in an extraordinary meeting of the Russian Federation Council and State Duma, a decision was made unanimously to reach out to President Dmitry Medvedev with an appeal to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
On 26 August 2008, President of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, signed an order for recognition of the independence of Georgian separatist provinces, occupied by Russia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. He invited other countries to follow his example.
On 17 September 2008, President of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev signed amity, co-operation and mutual assistance Treaties with Presidents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Treaties foresee military, diplomatic and economic co-operation between Moscow and Sukhumi, Moscow and Tskhinvali. The treaties also foresee the right for the parties of the Treaty to use and improve the infrastructure and military objects of other side's Armed Forces.
On 24 November 2014 (on the basis of the Treaty signed in 2008), President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and President of Abkhazia, Raul Khadzimba, signed a new union and strategic partnership Treaty between Russia and Abkhazia that foresees the opening of the mutual borders, the foundation of a united force group and, in case of aggression, the right to protect the common border. The Treaty foresaw that Russia will offer support to Abkhazia in the modernization of their army, in preparedness of Abkhazia's Armed Forces and in equipping with modern equipment. It is also anticipated that Russia will offer support increasing the salaries of Abkhazia's budget institution employees by equalizing them to the average level of salary for budget institution employees in the South Federal District of the Russian Federation. Within three years, Abkhazia must equalize their custom laws to the laws of Eurasian Economic Union. The Treaty also foresees to simplify the procedure for Abkhazians to obtain Russian citizenship.
On 18 March 2015, Presidents of Russia and South Ossetia, Vladimir Putin and Leonid Tibilov signed a Treaty for the union of both states and strategic partnership. The Treaty foresees foundation of common security and defence space, Russian and South Ossetia border that can be freely crossed, integration of customs structures, expansion of co-operation between internal affair structures of both parties, simplification in obtaining Russian citizenship as well as social support programs, which includes increasing salaries and pensions.
Georgia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has pointed out that the signed co-operation and integration Treaties between Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are against standards of international law and are a continuation of aggression towards Georgia. The signed Treaty and its further implementation will only complicate the lives of people living in the occupied regions and will negatively affect the safety of Georgia and the whole region.
After the political coalition Georgian Dream came to power in 2012 and tried to improve the relationship with the big neighbour, Tbilisi has managed to decrease the tension with Moscow, but Russia still in regards to Georgia is implementing the annexation policy and is not following the agreement on ceasefire made in August 2008 through EU’s mediation. Moscow still has not brought back their forces in positions they were until the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008 and has not ensured the international observers' access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moreover, Russia is still opening polling stations in the occupied territories, thus clearly violating standards of the international law.
Russia has occupied 20%, of Georgia's territory, because of it approximately 400 000 people were forced to leave their homes, but the citizens living in the occupied territories are subjected to rude violations of human rights and discrimination. Their rights to property, freedom of movement and rights to acquire education in their native language are violated.
Used internet sources:
Georgia War: Finding The Facts, Losing The Message;
Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia, Report, Volume I-III,2009;
Krievijas drošības politika iepretim kaimiņvalstīm līdz 2020. gadam: draudi un iespējas Latvijai;
NATO Commander in Tbilisi: “Russia tries to divide free world and trigger new challenges”;
The Pipeline War: Russian bear goes for West's jugular;
The Russo-Georgian War and the Balance of Power;
The Still-Topical Tagliavini;
Russian Military Reform and Defense Policy; http://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/lv/document.html?reference=EPRS_IDA%282015%29554213
Russian Military Reform;
Война в Южной Осетии и Грузии (Фотографии войны); http://oblicomorale.blogspot.com/2008/08/blog-post_08.html
Квирикашвили: оккупация остается основным вызовом грузинского правительства; http://www.golos-ameriki.ru/a/georgian-pm-adresses-un-general-assambly/3521039.html
Пятидневная война (8-12 августа 2008 года);
Россия и Франция согласовали принципы урегулирования конфликта в Грузии; https://lenta.ru/news/2008/08/12/principles/
СМИ: российские войска вошли в Южную Осетию еще до начала боевых действий; http://www.forum-tvs.ru/index.php?showtopic=57330