It’s a classic case of whodunit. Everyone can agree that there was a war in South Ossetia a year ago, but no one can agree on who started it. Russia says that Georgia attacked the disputed area within the former Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, while Georgia says that it was responding to invading Russians. Surprisingly, this time around it looks like global opinion will favour the Russian version of events.
A number of news sources speculate that a European Union report to be released in September will place most of the blame for the August 2008 conflict on Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. So Saakashvili has issued a pre-emptive strike: a 190-page counter-report concluding that Russia “launched a large-scale assault on Georgia,” which necessitated a response.
“Our beloved nation was fighting for its very existence,” he explained earlier this month. “The heirs of the old KGB decided to put an end to what they call the ‘Georgian project,’ our collective attempt to build a European state.” Saakashvili’s report alleges that Georgian troops began shelling South Ossetia’s capital, Tskhinvali, only after 150 Russian tanks and armoured vehicles entered. Experts have been unable to verify these claims.
An international condemnation would be striking, given that Georgia has been touted as a bulwark against Russian territorial ambitions, and a leader of post-Soviet democratic states. That has earned it the friendship of many—including the U.S. But without more convincing evidence of Russian provocation, that will change quickly.
Most importantly, a damning report will likely stall Georgia’s bid to join NATO. “Georgia’s dream is shattered,” concedes Christopher Langton, a retired British Army colonel and commission member. “But the country can only blame itself for that.”
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