Day: August 19, 2008

Russia’s response

In language that really does recall the days of the Cold War, or even the Third Reich, Russia’s foreign minister has responded to the NATO foreign ministers’ statement by calling it “an attempt to whitewash the criminal regime in Georgia”, “making the aggressor the victim”.

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Militias attack civilians in Gori Region

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH

http://hrw.org/english/docs/2008/08/16/georgi19630_txt.htm

Russia/Georgia: Militias Attack Civilians in Gori Region

Russia Should Curb Militias and Allow in Humanitarian Aid

(Tbilisi, August 17, 2008)  Russian authorities should immediately take steps to end Ossetian militia attacks on ethnic Georgians in the Gori district of Georgia, Human Rights Watch said today. The Russian military should also ensure safe passage for civilians wishing to leave the region and for humanitarian aid agencies to enter. 

“The Russian military has effective control of the Gori region, making it responsible for the security and well-being of all people living there,” said Rachel Denber, Europe and Central Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “Russia should prevent any further militia attacks and allow humanitarian aid to reach the hundreds of vulnerable civilians still in the area, including many elderly.” 

Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed ethnic Georgians from the city of Gori and surrounding villages who described how armed Ossetian militias attacked their cars and kidnapped civilians as people tried to flee in response to militia attacks on their homes following the Russian advance into the area. In phone interviews, people remaining in Gori region villages told Human Rights Watch that they had witnessed looting and arson attacks by Ossetian militias in their villages, but are afraid to leave after learning about militia attacks on those who fled. 

Russian military forces remain in Gori and the surrounding villages since advancing from South Ossetia on August 13, 2008. They have denied access to some humanitarian missions seeking to assist civilians. The UN, which has described the humanitarian situation in Gori as “desperate,” has been able to deliver only limited food supplies to the city. 

“Dato,” a victim of an Ossetian militia attack, told Human Rights Watch that on August 12, militia fighters stopped a minivan carrying him and several other civilians near Tkviavi. The militia fighters attempted to abduct the male passengers, but Dato and four others managed to escape. No further information is available about the fate of at least eight men whom the militia abducted from the vehicle. Kidnapping and enforced disappearances are both prohibited under international law, and may amount to crimes against humanity or war crimes, depending on the circumstances in which they occur. 

Vasiko Tevdorashvili, a Georgian official from a Gori district village, told Human Rights Watch that some 250 civilians remain trapped in three villages. He stated that they fear attacks by Ossetian militia and need help to leave the area. Acts intended to spread terror amongst the civilian population are also prohibited and may amount to a war crime. In a phone interview with Human Rights Watch, “Anna,” a school teacher trapped in the village of Mereti, described her plight: “There are about 60 people, mostly elderly, remaining in the village. We are hiding in the gardens and in the forest … Our [relatives] learned that three houses in our village were looted and burned by Ossetians, and we are scared that they will come for us as well. Many of us want to leave, but we are scared to do so … we are afraid that if we try to leave, Ossetians will kidnap us.” 

Although Human Rights Watch was able to speak by phone to people in Gori region villages, many of those who have fled the region have no information about the fate of their relatives who have remained. 

On August 12 and 13, Human Rights Watch documented how Ossetian militias looted and burned houses in ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia, along the road from Java to Tskhinvali (for more background, please visit: http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2008/08/13/georgi19607.htm; for a slideshow of the burning and looting, please visit: http://www.hrw.org/photos/2008/georgia0808/)

Russian forces controlling Gori also denied access to most journalists trying to enter the city. 

As the party to the conflict exercising effective control over Gori and the surrounding areas, Russia has an obligation under international humanitarian law to ensure the security and welfare of the civilians in the area. If it fails to take appropriate measures to protect civilians, ensure their security, and allow humanitarian access, it may be held responsible under humanitarian law for serious violations against civilians. 

“The Russian military should immediately establish a safe corridor to and from Gori,” said Denber. “No one should be forced to leave their homes, but those who wish to leave should be able to do so safely. Humanitarian relief workers should be allowed in to assist those who chose to remain or are unable to leave.”

NATO FMs Statement on Georgia, Russia [civil.ge]

NATO FMs Statement on Georgia, Russia

Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 19 Aug.’08 / 17:01

Statement

Meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Foreign Ministers held at NATO Headquarters, Brussels,
on 19 August 2008

The North Atlantic Council met in special Ministerial session on 19 August 2008, expressed its grave concern over the situation in Georgia and discussed its wider implications for Euro-Atlantic stability and security.  A peaceful and lasting solution to the conflict in Georgia must be based on full respect for the principles of Georgia’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity recognised by international law and UN Security Council resolutions.  We deplore all loss of life, civilian casualties, and damage to civilian infrastructure that has resulted from the conflict.  We are assisting humanitarian relief efforts.  We met with the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE, Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Alexander Stubb, to discuss the key issues which he believed needed to be addressed.

We welcome the agreement reached and signed by Georgia and Russia, through the diplomatic efforts of the European Union, the OSCE and the US, to end the hostilities and to bring about a political solution to the conflict.  We stand fully behind these efforts.  We stress the urgency of swift, complete, and good faith implementation of the agreement, including a new international mechanism to monitor respect for these engagements.  Military action must cease definitively and military forces must return to their positions held prior to the outbreak of hostilities.  Fully international discussions must begin on the modalities for security and stability in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Economic activity in Georgia, including international aviation and shipping, must not be hindered.

We are gravely concerned by the humanitarian situation.  Allied governments are working together, and in concert with international organisations and others in the international community, to ensure that the civilian populations affected by the conflict have the assistance they need to meet immediate and ongoing humanitarian needs.  We call on all parties, in accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law, to ensure access for international humanitarian relief efforts to all affected populations.

We have also agreed today to support Georgia, upon its request, in a number of areas.  In addition, we have agreed to task the North Atlantic Council in Permanent Session to develop with Georgia rapidly the modalities for a NATO-Georgia Commission.  This Commission will supervise the process set in hand at Bucharest, including the measures of support agreed at today’s meeting.  These measures are intended to assist Georgia, a valued and long-standing Partner of NATO, to assess the damage caused by the military action and to help restore critical services necessary for normal public life and economic activity.  Georgia’s recovery, security and stability are important to the Alliance.  NATO will continue to cooperate with Georgia in the framework of the Partnership for Peace and Georgia’s Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO, and will review any additional Georgian requests for assistance.  We also welcomed the fact that a number of our governments have indicated that they will actively support measures to help the economic reconstruction of Georgia.

The conflict between Georgia and Russia has compromised regional stability and security.  We deeply deplore the use of force in the conflict between Georgia and Russia.  We reiterate that there is no military solution to the unresolved conflicts.  We remind all parties that peaceful conflict resolution is a key principle of the Partnership for Peace Framework Document.

We remain concerned by Russia’s actions during this crisis and remind Russia of its responsibility for maintaining security and order in the areas where it exercises control, especially in light of continuing reports of Russia’s deliberate destruction of civilian infrastructure.  Russian military action has been disproportionate and inconsistent with its peacekeeping role, as well as incompatible with the principles of peaceful conflict resolution set out in the Helsinki Final Act, the NATO-Russia Founding Act and the Rome Declaration.  We call on Russia to take immediate action to withdraw its troops from the areas it is supposed to leave under the six-principle agreement signed by President Saakashvili and President Medvedev1.  The Alliance is considering seriously the implications of Russia’s actions for the NATO-Russia relationship.  In 2002, we established the NATO-Russia Council, a framework for discussions with Russia, including on issues that divide the Alliance and Russia.  We have determined that we cannot continue with business as usual.  We call on Moscow to demonstrate – both in word and deed – its continued commitment to the principles upon which we agreed to base our relationship.

We reaffirmed our commitment to the decisions taken by Heads of State and Government at the Bucharest Summit in April 2008, including those regarding Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations, and we will continue our intensive engagement with Georgia to address in December the questions pertaining to its Membership Action Plan application, taking into account developments until that time.

Who ordered the invasion of Georgia, and how?

Writing in his blog, Marko Mihkelson, head of the Estonian parliament’s EU affairs committee, asks (my tr.):

Do you know who decided to start the military invasion of sovereign Georgia, and how?

Paragraph d) of Part 1 of Article 102 of the Russian Constitution, which has been in force since December 1993, states specifically that permission to use the armed forces outside the territory of the Russian Federation is given by the upper chamber the Federation Council. Was such permission given? No, as you can see on the upper chamber’s home page. Thus it is no exaggeration to suppose that by sending troops into Georgia, Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev violated the constitution of his state.

In fact, this is sadly a clear demonstration of how undemocratic, secretive and unpredictable the decision-making mechanisms in modern Russia are. Prime minister Vladimir Putin was first to announce the start of military operations, and did so on the basis of public rhetoric He was followed, with a similar statement, by President Dmitry Medvedev.

If someone did make a decision authorizing an invasion, then we don’t know when this happened, or in which chamber (it might have been the Security Council, for example). When in 1994 President Boris Yeltsin sent troops to Chechnya, which lay within the borders of his State, he had to go at least through a meeting of the Security Council. But now we are talking about an independent state, and for this the Constitution stipulates that there must be a decision of parliament.

It’s obvious, however, that the Russian armed forces were ready for a rapid incursion into Georgia’s territory. The invasion took place less than a day after the alleged emergence of a pretext.

Against the backdrop of the events in Georgia President Medvedev has become a manifest shadow of President Putin. One should remember that a few days later, Medvedev announced that the military operation had been completed, and yesterday that Russian troops were leaving Georgian territory. But in reality everything is different.

Immediately after being elected president, Medvedev pledged the rule of law in Russia. Unfortunately, since the head of state himself has ignored the provisions of the Constitution, this is not convincing, The constitutional court’s opinion on the legality of the attack sounds more made-to-order than independent.

NATO-Georgia Commission to be formed

At a press conference in Brussels today, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer announced the project for the formation of a new NATO-Georgia Commission, to be set up in consultation between NATO and the Georgian government. The new Commission will be run on the same basis as the already-existing NATO-Ukraine Council.

The Secretary General said that there can be “no business as usual” with Russia, as it is currently occupying the territory of a sovereign state, Georgia, and is in violation of the 6-point peace plan which was brokered by the European Union and was signed by President Medvedev.

Russia blockades Poti, takes soldiers prisoner

Via IHT (C.J. Chivers and Andrew E. Kramer):

Russian soldiers in armed personnel carriers blockaded the main commercial port in the Black Sea town of Poti on Tuesday and took Georgian soldiers prisoner.

An explosion could be heard from the port, where Russian troops sank Georgian ships earlier this week. An Associated Press report said 22 Georgians were being held.

The situation was evolving, but if Russian forces have seized control of the port it is further evidence of continued Russian military activity on Georgian territory despite reassurances that they would withdraw.

Sky has more here.

Civil Georgia has a report here.

FSB stokes the tension

In a sign that Russia’s special services may be planning acts of violence on Russian soil which can then be conveniently blamed on Georgians, Lenta.ru reports the head of Russia’s FSB as warning that “Georgian special services” are planning “terrorist acts” [terakty] in Russia’s Southern Federal District. This method of incrimination was used quite widely by the FSB during the first and second Chechen wars – the Moscow apartment bombings being the most notable example –  and it’s no surprise to see it being resurrected in the Georgian context. For good measure, the announcement was coupled with warnings on an imminent reactivation of guerrilla activity in Dagestan, and the discovery of a “Georgian spy network” in the North Caucasus.