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Russo-Georgian War

For the 1921 war, see Red Army invasion of Georgia.

Russo-Georgian War
Part of the Abkhaz–Georgian conflict and the Georgian–Ossetian conflict
Location of Georgia (including Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and Russian North Caucasus
Date7–12 August 2008

Russian, South Ossetian, and Abkhaz military victory

Georgia loses control of parts of Abkhazia and former South Ossetian AO
23x15px Russia
23x15px South Ossetia[note 1]
23x15px Abkhazia[note 2]

23x15px Georgia
Supported by:

Commanders and leaders
23x15px Dmitry Medvedev
23x15px Anatoliy Serdyukov
23x15px Vladimir Boldyrev
23x15px Marat Kulakhmetov
23x15px Vladimir Shamanov
23x15px Vyacheslav Borisov
23x15px A. Khrulyov (WIA)
23x15px Eduard Kokoity
23x15px Vasily Lunev
23x15px Anatoly Barankevich
23x15px Sergei Bagapsh
23x15px Mirab Kishmaria
23x15px Anatoly Zaitsev
23x15px Mikheil Saakashvili
23x15px Davit Kezerashvili
23x15px Zaza Gogava
23x15px Mamuka Kurashvili
23x15px David Nairashvili
23x15px Alexandre Lomaia
23x15px Vano Merabishvili
23x15px In South Ossetia:
10,000 soldiers.
In Abkhazia:
9,000 soldiers.[9][10]
23x15px 3,000 regular soldiers.[11]
23x15px 1,000 special troops.[12]
23x15px In South Ossetia:
10,000–11,000 soldiers, including MIA Special Forces.[13]
c.5,000 MIA Police Officers.[14]
10,000 reservists.[15]
In Iraq: 2,000 soldiers.[16]
Casualties and losses

23x15px Russia

23x15px South Ossetia

  • POWs: 27[14]
  • Ministry of Defence:
  • Killed: 26[20]
  • Wounded: 69[21]
  • Ministry of Internal Affairs:
  • Killed: 6[22]

23x15px Abkhazia

23x15px Georgia

  • Georgian Armed Forces:
  • Killed: 169[24]
  • Wounded: 947[25]
  • MIA: 1[24]
  • POWs: 39[14]
  • Ministry of Internal Affairs:
  • Killed: 11[25]
  • Wounded: 227[25]
  • MIA: 3[25]
  • POWs: 10[14]

Civilian casualties:
South Ossetia: 162, according to Russia;[26] 365, according to South Ossetia;[27][28] 255 wounded, according to Russia[26]
Georgia: 224 civilians killed and 15 missing, 547 injured[25]
One foreign civilian killed and 3 wounded[29]

At least 158,000 civilians displaced,[30] (including 30,000 South Ossetians that moved to Russia; and 15,000 Georgians from South Ossetia per UNHCR that moved to Georgia proper).[31] Estimate by Georgian official: at least 230,000.[32]
Template:Campaignbox Post-Soviet Conflicts

The Russo-Georgian War was an armed conflict between Georgia, the Russian Federation, and the Russian-backed self-proclaimed breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.[note 3] The war took place in August 2008 amidst worsening relations between Russia and Georgia, which were both formerly constituent republics of the Soviet Union. The fighting took place in the strategically important Transcaucasia region, which borders the Middle East. It was regarded as the first European war of the 21st century.[33]

As the Soviet Union weakened in early 1991, the Republic of Georgia declared its independence. Amidst this backdrop, a 1991–1992 war between Georgia and separatists in the South Ossetia region left parts of that region under de facto Russian-backed and internationally unrecognised separatist control. After the war was halted, a joint peacekeeping force of Georgian, Russian and Ossetian troops was stationed in the region. Meanwhile, a similar situation developed during 1992–1993 in the Georgian region of Abkhazia. After a prolonged lull, relations between Georgia and Russia began to worsen drastically in April 2008. Ossetian separatists began shelling Georgian villages on 1 August, with a sporadic response from Georgian peacekeepers in the region. The Georgian Army moved to South Ossetia on 7 August to defend civilians and restore order.[34] Most of Tskhinvali, South Ossetia's capital, was recaptured in hours. Georgia later said it was also responding to Russia moving non-peacekeeping units into the country.

Russia officially launched a large-scale land, air and sea invasion of Georgia on 8 August under the guise of "peace enforcement" operation. Russian and Ossetian forces battled Georgian forces throughout South Ossetia for four days, with the heaviest fighting in Tskhinvali, until Georgian forces retreated. Russian naval forces blockaded part of the Georgian coast. Russian and Abkhaz forces opened a second front by attacking the Kodori Gorge, held by Georgia. During the war, South Ossetians razed most ethnic-Georgian villages in South Ossetia and ethnically cleansed Georgians. This was the first war in history in which cyber warfare coincided with military action. An active information war was waged during and after the conflict.

President of France Nicolas Sarkozy negotiated a ceasefire agreement on 12 August. Russian forces temporarily occupied the Georgian cities of Zugdidi, Senaki, Poti, and Gori (the latter two after the ceasefire), and raided Georgian military bases. Russia recognised Abkhazia and South Ossetia on 26 August. In response, the Georgian government severed diplomatic relations with Russia. Russia mostly completed its withdrawal of troops from Georgia proper on 8 October. In the aftermath, Russia's international relations were largely unharmed. The war displaced 192,000 people, and while many returned to their homes after the war, 20,272 people remained displaced as of 2014. Russian military occupies Abkhazia and South Ossetia in violation of the ceasefire since August 2008.[35]



File:Georgia before August 2008.svg
Situation in Georgia before the war

In the tenth century, Georgia first emerged as the territories where the Georgian language was used to perform Christian rituals. After the Mongol invasions, the Kingdom of Georgia eventually was broken up into several kingdoms and principalities. In the nineteenth century, the Russian Empire gradually annexed the Georgian lands. In the aftermath of the Russian revolution, Georgia declared its independence on 26 May 1918.[36]

The indigenous motherland of the Ossetian people is North Ossetia (located in the North Caucasus).[37] Controversy surrounds the date of the Ossetian arrival in Transcaucasia. According to one theory, they first migrated there during the 13th and 14th centuries AD.[38] They lived alongside the Georgians peacefully for centuries.[39] 1918 was the year when the conflict began between the landless Ossetian peasants living in Shida Kartli (who were influenced by Bolshevism and demanded ownership of the lands) and the Georgian government backing ethnic Georgian aristocrats (who rightfully possessed the lands). Although initially the Ossetians were discontented by the economic policies of the Menshevik central authorities, the tensions then transformed into ethnic conflict. During the uprisings in 1919 and 1920, the Ossetians were covertly supported by Soviet Russia, but even so, were defeated.[40]

The independent Democratic Republic of Georgia was invaded by the Red Army in 1921 and the Soviet government was installed.[41] The government of Soviet Georgia created an autonomous administrative unit for Transcaucasian Ossetians in April 1922, called the South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast.[42] Historians (such as Stephen F. Jones, Emil Souleimanov and Arsène Saparov) believe that the Bolsheviks granted this autonomy to the Ossetians in exchange for their help in fighting the Democratic Republic of Georgia,[40][43][44] since this territory had never been a separate entity.[34][45]

Nationalism in Georgia emerged in 1989 when the weakening of the Soviet Union began. The Soviets endorsed the South Ossetian nationalism as a counter against Georgian independence movement.[46] On 11 December 1990, the Supreme Soviet of Georgia abolished the South Ossetian autonomous region.[47] Georgia declared its restoration of independence on 9 April 1991, thus becoming the first non-Baltic state to do so.[48] A military conflict that broke out between Georgia and South Ossetia in January 1991, lasted until June 1992.[49] The separatists were aided by former Soviet military units now under Russian command. The war resulted in South Ossetian separatists achieving de facto independence from Georgia.[50] After the Sochi agreement in 1992, Georgian, South Ossetian, Russian and North Ossetian peacekeepers were stationed in South Ossetian conflict zone under the Joint Control Commission's (JCC) mandate.[51] Some parts of the former South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast remained under the Georgian control.[49] The situation was mirrored in Abkhazia, an autonomous republic in the Georgian SSR, where the Abkhaz minority seceded from Georgia during the early 1990s.[50] The population of Abkhazia was reduced to 216,000 after an ethnic cleansing of Georgians; this was a decrease from 525,000 before the war.[52] Similar to South Ossetia, an unrecognised government did not control the entire territory of Abkhazia.[53]

Russian interests and involvement

Transcaucasia lies between the Russian region of the North Caucasus and the Middle East, forming a "buffer zone". It borders Turkey and Iran. The strategic importance of the region has been viewed as a security concern by Russia. Significant economic reasons (such as oil) also affect interest in Transcaucasia. Control of Transcaucasia, according to Swedish academic Svante Cornell, would enable Russia to control Western influence in the geopolitically important region of Central Asia.[54]

Russia saw the following strategic attributes of Georgia as invaluable: the Black Sea coast and the border with Turkey.[55] Russia had more crucial interests vested in Abkhazia than in South Ossetia, since the Russian military presence on the Black Sea coast was viewed as vital to Russian influence in the Black Sea.[56] South Ossetia was originally intended as a tool to retain a grip on Georgia.[46]

When Vladimir Putin became president of the Russian Federation in 2000, this had a radical impact on the Russo-Georgian relations. The Cold War between Russia and Georgia began in December 2000, when Georgia became the first and only member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on which the Russian visa regime was imposed. The Russian government began a massive distribution of passports to the residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2002 without Georgia's permission; by implementing "passportisation" policy Russia later would effectively lay claim to these territories.[57]

In 2008, most residents of South Ossetia were Russian citizens with Russian passports. According to Reuters, Russia supplied two-thirds of South Ossetia's annual budget before the war.[58] Russian officials had de facto control of South Ossetia's institutions, including security institutions and forces; South Ossetia's de facto government was largely staffed with Russians and South Ossetians with Russian passports, who had occupied equivalent government positions in Russia.[59]

Unresolved conflicts

The conflicts in Georgia remained at a stalemate until 2004,[60] when Mikheil Saakashvili came to power after Georgia's Rose Revolution, which ousted president Eduard Shevardnadze.[61] Restoring South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Georgian control was a top-priority goal of President Saakashvili.[62]

The Georgian government launched an initiative to retake South Ossetia in 2004 after its success in restoring control in Adjara;[62] intense fighting took place between Georgian forces and South Ossetian militia between 8 and 19 August; however, the hostilities were briefly ceased.[63]

At Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, Georgian president Saakashvili proposed a peace offer for South Ossetia within a unified Georgian state in January 2005. The proposal was rejected by South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity.[64] In 2006, Georgia sent security forces to the Kodori Gorge, part of Abkhazia, when a local militia leader rebelled against Georgian authorities.[53] In 2007, Georgia established what an alarmed Russia called a "puppet government" of South Ossetia, led by Dmitry Sanakoyev (former South Ossetian prime minister), calling it a provisional administration.[65]

Georgia began proposing an international peacekeeping forces in the separatist regions when Russia began to apply pressure on Georgia after April 2008. The West launched new initiatives for peace settlement, with peace plans being offered and conferences being organised by the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Germany. Georgia accepted the German project for Abkhazia, but the separatists dismissed it. Russia and the separatists did not attend an EU-funded peace conference on Abkhazia. They also dismissed an OSCE offer to renew talks regarding South Ossetia.[66]

Georgia's pro-Western policy

One of President Saakashvili's primary goals for Georgia was NATO membership;[60] this has been one of the major stumbling blocks in Georgia-Russia relations.[67]

Although Georgia has no significant oil or gas reserves, its territory hosts part of the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline supplying Europe.[68] The pipeline circumvents both Russia and Iran. Because it has decreased the Western dependence on Middle Eastern oil, the pipeline has been a major factor in the United States' support for Georgia.[69]

During the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008, American president George W. Bush lobbied offering Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Georgia and Ukraine. However, Germany and France said that offering MAP to Ukraine and Georgia would be "an unnecessary offence" to Russia.[70] NATO stated that Ukraine and Georgia would become members of the alliance and pledged to review the applications for MAP in December 2008.[71] At the end of the summit on 4 April, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that expansion of NATO to Russia's borders "would be taken in Russia as a direct threat to the security of our country".[72] After the Bucharest summit, Russia became more aggressive and began to actively prepare for pre-planned invasion of Georgia,[73] aiming to stop the latter's accession to NATO and also to bring about a "regime change".[74]


April–July 2008

Russian president Vladimir Putin authorised official ties between the Russian government and the separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia by signing a decree on 16 April. The separatist-issued legal acts and entities registered under them were also recognised.[75] After the United Nations Security Council meeting on 23 April (convened upon Georgia's request), the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany issued a statement saying: "We call on the Russian Federation to revoke or not to implement its decision." However, this was labelled as "a tall order" by Vitaly Churkin, Russia's Ambassador to the UN.[76]

A Russian jet shot down a Georgian reconnaissance drone flying over Abkhazia on 20 April. However, Russia denied responsibility for the incident and Abkhazia claimed that the drone was shot down by an "L-39 aircraft of the Abkhaz Air Force".[77] An allegation of an attack by a NATO MiG-29 was made by the Russia' Ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer reportedly commented that "he'd eat his tie if it turned out that a NATO MiG-29 had magically appeared in Abkhazia and shot down a Georgian drone."[78] On 26 May, the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) investigation concluded that the jet belonged to the Russian Air Force; it was either a MiG-29 "Fulcrum" or a Su-27 "Flanker".[79]

In late April, Russia said that Georgia was amassing 1,500 soldiers and police in the upper Kodori Gorge area and was planning to "invade" Abkhazia;[80] Russia, boosting its forces in the separatist regions, would "retaliate" against Georgian attack.[81] Any buildup in the Kodori Gorge or near the Abkhaz border by either party was not confirmed by the UNOMIG.[82][83]

Russia increased the number of its peacekeepers in Abkhazia to 2,542 in early May, but its troop levels remained under the limit of 3,000 imposed by a 1994 decision of CIS heads of state.[84] Georgia showed video footage (captured by the drone) to the BBC allegedly proving that Russian troops used heavy hardware in Abkhazia and were a fighting force, rather than peacekeepers; Russia denied the accusations.[85] On 15 May, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for the return of all refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to Abkhazia.[86] Russia voted against the Georgian-sponsored resolution. The Russian Foreign Ministry said that the resolution was "a counterproductive move".[87]

Russia sent railway troops (unarmed, according to the Russian defence ministry) on 31 May to repair a rail line in Abkhazia. Georgia in return condemned the move as an act of aggression.[88] The European Parliament adopted a resolution on 5 June, that condemned deployment of Russian forces to Abkhazia. The resolution stated that the peacekeeping format must be changed because Russia had lost its role of unbiased player.[89] Russian railway troops began withdrawal from Abkhazia on 30 July after attending the opening ceremony of the railway line.[90] The repaired railway was used to transport military equipment by at least a part of the 9,000 Russian soldiers who entered Georgia from Abkhazia during the war.[91]

Russian military expert Pavel Felgenhauer predicted in late June that Vladimir Putin would start a war against Georgia in Abkhazia and South Ossetia supposedly in August.[92]

In early July, the general situation in South Ossetia worsened significantly. On 3 July, a South Ossetian separatist militia official was killed by explosions and several hours later an unsuccessful assassination attempt on the leader of the Georgian-backed Ossetian government Dmitry Sanakoyev injured three policemen.[93] On 7 July, four Georgian soldiers were captured by South Ossetian separatists. The next day, the Georgian president ordered police to get ready to liberate soldiers.[94] Four Russian Air Force jets flew over South Ossetia on 8 July.[95] The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Georgia on a scheduled trip in less than a day after the intrusion took place.[96] Georgia summoned back its ambassador after Russia admitted its planes had intruded into Georgia's airspace to "let hot heads in Tbilisi cool down".[95] This was the first time in a decade that instead of denial Russia had actually admitted to the illegal overflight over Georgian territory.[97]

On 15 July, the United States and Russia began two parallel military exercises in the Caucasus, though Russia denied the timing was intentional.[98] The joint US-Georgian exercise was called Immediate Response 2008 and also included servicemen from Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Armenia. A total of 1,630 servicemen (including 1,000 American troops) took part in the exercise, which concluded on 31 July.[99] Counter-insurgency action was the focal point of the joint exercise. The Georgian brigade was trained to serve in Iraq.[100] The Russian exercise was named Caucasus 2008 and units of the North Caucasus Military District (including the 58th Army) were participating. The exercise included training to aid peacekeepers stationed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.[101] During exercises, a leaflet entitled "Soldier! Know your probable enemy!" (that described the Georgian Armed Forces) was circulated among the Russian participants.[102] Russian troops remained near the Georgian border after the end of their exercise on 2 August, instead of returning to their bases.[82]

Early August

On 1 August, a Georgian police lorry was blown up at 08:00 by an IED on the road near Tskhinvali, injuring five Georgian policemen. During the evening, the South Ossetian border checkpoints were assaulted by angered Georgian snipers, killing four Ossetians and injuring seven.[103]

Ossetian separatists began intensely shelling Georgian villages on 1 August at the earliest, with a sporadic response from Georgian peacekeepers and other troops in the region.[104][105][106][34][56][107] During the night of 1/2 August, grenade-launcher and mortar fire was exchanged. The number of killed Ossetians became six, and the number of injured grew to fifteen (including several civilians); the Georgian casualties were six injured civilians and one injured policeman.[103] According to the OSCE mission, the incident was the worst outbreak of violence of the last four years.[108] On 2–3 and again on 3–4 August, firing recommenced during the night-time.[108] A 1992 ceasefire agreement was breached by the use of heavy weapons against the Georgian villages.[109]

An evacuation of Ossetian women and children to Russia began on 3 August.[82] According to researcher Andrey Illarionov, the South Ossetian separatists evacuated more than 20,000 civilians, which represented more than 90 percent of the civilian population of the future combat zone.[110] According to the former secretary of the Security Council of South Ossetia, Anatoly Barankevich, about 35,000 people were evacuated from South Ossetia.[111]

On 4 August, South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity said that about 300 volunteers had arrived from North Ossetia to help fight the Georgians, and thousands more were expected from the North Caucasus.[112] On 5 August, Georgian authorities had organised a tour for journalists and diplomats to demonstrate the separatist-caused damage. That day, Russian Ambassador-at-Large Yuri Popov declared that his country would intervene on the side of South Ossetia.[113] The destruction of the village Nuli was ordered by South Ossetian interior minister Mindzaev.[114] About 50 Russian journalists had arrived in Tskhnivali. They were waiting for "something to happen".[82] A pro-government Russian newspaper reported on 6 August: "Don Cossacks prepare to fight in South Ossetia".[115][116]

Mortar and artillery exchange between the South Ossetian and Georgian forces erupted in the afternoon of 6 August along almost the entire line of contact, which lasted until the dawn of 7 August. Fire exchange resumed following a brief morning recess.[108][114] At 14:00 on 7 August, two Georgian peacekeepers were killed in Avnevi as a result of Ossetian shelling.[117][118] At about 14:30, Georgian tanks, 122 mm howitzers and 203 mm self-propelled artillery began heading towards South Ossetia to dissuade separatists from additional attacks.[119] During the afternoon, OSCE monitors recorded the movement of the Georgian military and artillery on roads near Gori.[117] In the afternoon, Georgian personnel left the Joint Peacekeeping Force headquarters in Tskhinvali.[120]

At 16:00, Temur Iakobashvili (Georgian Minister for Reintegration) arrived in Tskhinvali for a previously-arranged meeting with South Ossetians and Russian diplomat Yuri Popov;[119] however, Russia's special envoy, who blamed a flat tire, did not appear;[104] and neither did the Ossetians.[120] One day earlier the South Ossetians refused to participate in bilateral talks, demanding a JCC session.[121] Tbilisi had withdrawn from the JCC in March, demanding that the new format include the European Union, the OSCE and the Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia.[82] Temur Iakobashvili met with General Marat Kulakhmetov (the Russian commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Force), who said that Russian peacekeepers could not stop Ossetian attacks and Georgia should implement a ceasefire.[119] "Nobody was in the streets – no cars, no people," Iakobashvili later told journalists.[117]

At around 19:00, President Saakashvili announced a unilateral ceasefire and no-response order.[122] The ceasefire reportedly held for about three hours.[123] Russia regarded the ceasefire as an attempt to buy time to deploy Georgian forces for an offensive.[117] The separatists shelled Tamarasheni and Prisi after Saakashvili's ceasefire. They destroyed Avnevi and a police station in Kurta (seat of the Provisional Administrative Entity of South Ossetia). The escalated attacks forced civilians to flee the Georgian villages.[124][125] Georgian senior official from the Ministry of Defence said that his country was going to "restore constitutional order" in response to the shelling.[126] According to Pavel Felgenhauer, the Ossetians intentionally provoked the Georgians, so Russia would use the Georgian response as a pretext for premeditated military invasion.[127]

According to Georgian intelligence,[128] and several Russian media reports, parts of the regular (non-peacekeeping) Russian Army already moved to South Ossetian territory through the Roki Tunnel before the Georgian military operation.[129] Even the state-controlled Russian TV showed Abkhazia's de facto president Sergei Bagapsh on 7 August as saying: "I have spoken to the president of South Ossetia. It has more or less stabilized now. A battalion from the North Caucasus District has entered the area."[130] Georgian president Saakashvili later told journalists that around 23:00 on 7 August, Russian tanks began moving into Georgia and then the Georgians had to open artillery fire.[131]

Large-scale conflict

Battle of Tskhinvali

Main article: Battle of Tskhinvali
File:South Ossetia war 58 army.jpg
Russian BMP-2 from the 58th Army in South Ossetia
File:Tskhinval Yana Amelina 10.jpg
Destroyed Georgian tank in Tskhinvali
File:Georgian soldiers leaving South Ossetia.jpg
Georgian servicemen leaving South Ossetia (August 2008)

On 7 August, smoke bombs were launched into South Ossetia by Georgian artillery units at 23:35. This was followed by a 15-minute intermission (which enabled the civilians to escape danger) before the Georgian barrage of fixed and moving enemy targets started.[123]

Georgia began a military operation early in the morning on 8 August. The Georgian 4th Brigade from Vaziani spearheaded campaign on the left flank of Tskhinvali; the 3rd Brigade undertook campaign on the right flank. The aim of the flank operations was to advance northward after capturing key positions. The Georgian troops would take the Gupta bridge and the road to the Roki Tunnel, barring the Russian troops from moving southward.[123]

Georgian forces started moving towards Tskhinvali following several hours of bombardment and engaged South Ossetian forces and militia near the town at 04:00, with Georgian tanks remotely shelling South Ossetian positions. An attempt to take the village of Kvaysa from the west of South Ossetia by the Georgian special forces was thwarted by a platoon of South Ossetian troops occupying fortified positions; the Georgian casualties were several wounded. The Georgian 3rd Brigade entered the Eredvi region (east of the town) at 06:00 and captured strategic positions; a company-sized South Ossetian unit positioned in the Prisi Heights soon fought against their advance.[132]

The entrance of the Georgian forces (among them special forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs) into Tskhinvali took place after the taking of the heights near the town.[123] According to Moscow Defence Brief, Ossetian forces and the Russian peacekeepers in the town were confronted with Georgian tanks and infantry by 08:00.[9] The centre of the town was reached by 1,500 men of the Georgian ground forces by 10:00.[117] The Russian aviation began bombing targets inside South Ossetia and Georgia proper after 10:00.[133] According to Russia, following an attempt by the Georgian troops to storm the northern peacekeeping base in Tskhinvali, the first casualties were suffered at around 12:00 by Russian peacekeepers: two servicemen killed and five wounded.[134] According to Georgia, it only targeted Russian peacekeepers in self-defence, after coming under fire from them.[135]

That day Russia officially decided to intervene,[9] and sent units of the 58th Army and airborne troops across the Georgian border into South Ossetia,[136] claiming to be defending both peacekeepers and South Ossetian civilians (who were Russian citizens).[56] Russia accused Georgia of "aggression against South Ossetia" and of committing "genocide".[137] Although Russian authorities claimed that civilian casualties solely in Tskhinvali might reach 2,000,[138] the figures were several months later revised down to a total of 162 in South Ossetia.[139] While Russia claimed that it had to conduct peacekeeping operation according to the international mandates, in reality such agreements had only arranged the ceasefire observer status and Russia had the right to evacuate its peacekeepers if attacked.[56]

Most of Tskhinvali and several villages had been captured by Georgian forces by the afternoon.[123] At about 14:00, the Georgian campaign in Tskhinvali changed the course.[133] The task of blocking the Gupta bridge and the main roads (linking Tshkinvali with the Roki Tunnel and the Russian military base in Java) was not achieved by Georgian flank operations.[140] The Russian Air Force mounted attacks on Georgian infantry and artillery on 8 August, but suspended sorties for two days after taking early losses from anti-aircraft fire.[141] The centre of the town was left by the Georgian troops in the evening.[140]

The Russian troops were brought into battle battalion by battalion and they traversed slowly through the narrow Roki Tunnel and along the mountain roads.[9] An intense battle was fought on 9 August in the area of Tskhinvali. Several counterattacks (including some with tanks) were initiated by the Georgians.[9] The attacks were repulsed with Georgian losses, and they withdrew.[140] That day a Russian advance column, led by Lieutenant-General Anatoly Khrulyov, was ambushed by Georgian special forces near Tskhinvali; Khrulyov was wounded in the leg.[142] The number of Russian forces deployed in South Ossetia grew and exceeded the Georgians on 9 August.[82]

According to Moscow Defence Brief, the Georgians took almost all of Tskhinvali by the morning of 10 August and pushed the enemy forces to the northern part of the town. The campaign took a turn by the evening of 10 August, when Russian and Ossetian troops (bolstered by Russian reinforcements from the Roki Tunnel) counterattacked. Georgian forces were finally expelled from South Ossetia by the end of 11 August.[9]

According to the Georgian Defence Minister, the Georgian military tried to push into Tskhinvali three times. During the last attempt they were met with a heavy counterattack, which Georgian officers described as "something like hell."[117] The duration of the military engagement was three days and nights in the Tskhinvali region.[143]

Russian forces advanced into Georgia. The Georgian forces regrouped at Gori after retreating from South Ossetia.[9]

Bombing and occupation of Gori

Main article: Occupation of Gori
File:Ruins of a burnt apartment building in Gori.jpg
Apartment building in Gori, damaged during the war

Gori is an important city in central Georgia,[144] located about Script error: No such module "convert". from Tskhinvali.[145] On 9 August, a Russian air attack targeted military garrisons in Gori, damaging the base, several apartment buildings and a school. An intentional attack on civilians was denied by Russia.[146] The Georgian government reported that the air raid had killed 60 civilians.[147] At least five Georgian cities had been bombed by 9 August.[148]

The percentage of residents having fled Gori as of 10 August was calculated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and World Food Programme as about 80 percent.[149] The Georgian forces withdrew from Gori on 11 August. A Georgian official said that the troops were ordered to secure Tbilisi.[150] By late 11 August, most remaining inhabitants and Georgian troops had abandoned Gori.[151]

File:A Russian missile lies largely intact in a home in Gori.jpg
Nearly-intact Russian missile booster in the bedroom of a Gori house

Dutch television journalist Stan Storimans was killed and another foreign correspondent injured when Russian planes bombed Gori on 12 August;[151] a total of seven people died and over thirty were wounded.[152] Georgian officials said that the Russians targeted the city's administrative buildings. The air raids set the post office and the Gori University on fire.[151] In spite of the fact that it was flying a Red Cross flag, the Gori Military Hospital was struck by a missile,[153] killing one doctor.[154]

Russian forces occupied Gori on 13 August.[155] Russian military spokesmen said that military hardware and ammunition was being confiscated from an abandoned arms depot near the city.[156] On 14 August, Major General Vyacheslav Borisov (Russian commander of the occupying troops) told Aleksandre Lomaia, secretary of Georgia's National Security Council, that the Russian presence did not upset the locals of Gori.[157] That day, Borisov claimed that the Georgian police and Russian troops were jointly in charge of Gori. He also said that Russian troops would begin leaving Gori in two days.[158] Joint patrol efforts by the Russian Army and Georgian police in Gori soon broke down.[155] The next day, Russian forces pushed to about Script error: No such module "convert". from Tbilisi and stopped in Igoeti at the same time as Condoleezza Rice was received by Georgian president Saakashvili.[159]

Russian forces turned back some humanitarian aid missions trying to help civilians and the United Nations (UN) only brought limited food provisions to the city. The situation in Gori was assessed as "desperate" by the UN.[160] Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that its researchers interviewed Georgians from Gori and the surrounding villages; those Georgians reported South Ossetian militias assaulting their automobiles and kidnapping civilians trying to escape attacks on their homes after the Russian advance. HRW was told by villagers in the region by telephone that they observed looting and arson by South Ossetian militias; however, after finding out about assaults on those who did escape, the Georgians did not dare to leave.[160]

The occupation lasted until 22 August, when Russian troops left and Georgian police re-entered the city.[161]

Abkhaz front

Russian guided-missile ship 12341 Mirazh (Mirage) in Sevastopol

On 10 August, a naval confrontation between the Russian warships and several Georgian ships took place.[162] According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, the Russian navy sank one Georgian vessel by firing after four Georgian missile boats had tried to assail the Russian Navy ships off Abkhazia.[163] It was probably Russian patrol ship Mirazh that opened fire.[164] Abkhaz officials said that on 9 August several Georgian warships tried to near the Abkhaz coast, but were deterred by Russian vessels.[165] The Georgian coast was blockaded by vessels of the Russian Black Sea Fleet on 10 August.[136][166]

A "second front" was opened in Abkhazia by Russian forces.[9] Russian paratroopers deployed in Abkhazia occupied the city of Zugdidi on 11 August and carried out raids against military bases in western Georgia.[9] Russian forces reached the town of Senaki that day, and captured a military base there.[144]

Abkhaz artillery and aircraft began a two-day bombardment against Georgian forces in the upper Kodori Gorge on 9 August.[167] Three days later, a military offensive against the Kodori Gorge was officially initiated by Abkhaz separatists.[166] Russian forces supported the Abkhaz operation.[9] Abkhaz foreign minister Sergei Shamba said that "Russian troops were not involved" in the operation.[168] That day, Georgia said it withdrew its troops from the Kodori Gorge as a "goodwill gesture".[169] Casualties were light on both sides; Abkhaz fighters accidentally killed one of their comrades,[23] and two Georgian soldiers were also killed.[170] About 2,000 people living in the Kodori Gorge fled.[2]

Occupation of Poti

Main article: Occupation of Poti

Russian aircraft bombed Poti on 8 August, and the port was closed for two days.[171] Russian ships were put into positions in the vicinity of Poti and other Georgian ports on 10 August 2008.[166] The next day, Georgian and Russian representatives said that Russian troops had entered Poti (although Russia claimed it had only sent a task force for surveying the area).[172] On 13 August, six Georgian naval vessels were wrecked by Russian troops in Poti.[173] Russian deputy chief of the General staff, Anatoliy Nogovitsyn, denied the Russian presence in the port the following day.[174] On 19 August, Russian forces took twenty-one Georgian soldiers prisoner and grabbed five US Humvees in Poti, taking them to a military base occupied by Russian troops in Senaki.[175] That day, The Wall Street Journal said that Russian actions in Poti was an additional attack on Georgian economy.[171]

Bombing of Tbilisi

During the fighting in South Ossetia, Tbilisi and its surrounding area underwent repeated attacks by the Russian Air Force.[176] On 8 August, the Georgian Interior Ministry reported that two bombs were dropped on Vaziani Military Base near the city.[177] A Georgian military airstrip in Marneuli was bombed. As a result, three people were killed.[178] Georgian officials said on 9 August that Russian air attacks targeted Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline but missed.[148] Correspondents for Reuters in Tbilisi reported hearing three loud bangs in the early-morning hours of 10 August, and a Georgian Interior Ministry senior representative said that three bombs were dropped on Tbilisi International Airport by Russian jets.[179] Russia bombed the Tbilisi Aircraft Manufacturing plant twice that day, and a civilian radar station near Tbilisi the following day.[180] Russian air attacks in Georgia did not stop on 12 August after an end to the hostilities was announced.[181]

Media and cyber war

During the war, a battle over information and the media was waged.[182] Russian military launched an information campaign against Georgia, and brought in Russian journalists to both demonise Georgia and to portray Russia as a saviour to Russian citizens in the conflict zone. They also aired television footage that had a strong effect on the local populations of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and vindicated Russia's actions. In a first for Russia, a Russian Armed Forces spokesman was provided to give television interviews about the war. Despite these tactics and domestic success, an international success was not achieved by Russian information campaign.[183] In response to the perceived information war, the Georgian government halted the broadcasting of Russian television channels in Georgia and blocked access to Russian websites.[184] These information skirmishes between Georgia and Russia continued after armed hostilities had ended.[182] According to political scientist Svante Cornell, a multi-million international information campaign was organised by the Kremlin in an effort to get Georgia blamed for the war; however there is abundant evidence, including some in Russian media, that the war indeed was started by Russia.[185]

Georgian government and news websites, along with Russian news websites, were attacked by hackers, disabling host servers.[186][187][188] According to some experts, it was the first time in history a notable cyberattack and an actual military engagement happened at the same time.[189]

Peace plan

Joint press conference by Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy after negotiations on the peace plan

On 12 August, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced that he had ordered to cease "peace enforcement" operation in Georgia. "The operation has achieved its goal, security for peacekeepers and civilians has been restored. The aggressor was punished, suffering huge losses."[190] Later that day he met French President Nicolas Sarkozy (the President-in-Office of the European Union), and approved a six-point peace plan;[191] an initial ceasefire agreement brought from Moscow by Sarkozy was signed by President Saakashvili.[9] The plan originally had four points, but Russia insisted on an additional two. Georgia requested that the additions be parenthesised; Russia objected, and Sarkozy prevailed upon Saakashvili to sign the agreement.[192] According to Sarkozy and Saakashvili, a sixth point in the Sarkozy plan was removed with Medvedev's consent.[193] On 14 August, South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity and Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh also signed the peace plan.[194] The following day Condoleezza Rice travelled to Tbilisi, where Saakashvili signed the plan in her presence.[195] On 16 August, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the peace plan.[196]

The peace plan embodied the following principles (rejected additions are parenthesised):[192]

  1. No recourse to the use of force
  2. Definitive cessation of hostilities
  3. Free access to humanitarian aid (and to allow the return of refugees)
  4. Georgian military forces must withdraw to their normal bases of encampment
  5. Russian military forces must withdraw to the lines prior to the start of hostilities. While awaiting an international mechanism, Russian peacekeeping forces will implement additional security measures (six months)
  6. Opening of international discussions on the modalities of lasting security in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (based on the decisions of the U.N. and the O.S.C.E.)

After the ceasefire was signed, hostilities did not immediately end. In Georgia proper, marauding aiming at seizing and destroying Georgian armament began, which was termed by Moscow Defence Brief as the "demilitarization of the Georgian Armed Forces".[9] Noting that civilians were fleeing before advancing Russian tanks, soldiers and irregulars, a reporter wrote for The Guardian on 13 August that "the idea there is a ceasefire is ridiculous".[197]

On 8 September, Sarkozy and Medvedev signed a new agreement on a Russian withdrawal from Georgia. After meeting with the French president, Medvedev said the withdrawal depended on guarantees that Georgia would not use force;[198] his troops would pull out "from the zones adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia to the line preceding the start of hostilities". However, withdrawal of troops from South Ossetia or Abkhazia was not announced.[199]


Russian withdrawal

File:Caucasus breakaway regions 2008.svg
Territories controlled by Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh after August 2008

On 17 August, Medvedev announced that Russian forces would begin pullout the following day;[200] Prisoners of war were exchanged by Russia and Georgia on 19 August. A Georgian official said that although his country exchanged five Russian servicemen for fifteen Georgians (including two civilians), Georgia suspected that Russia still held two more Georgians.[201] On 22 August, Russian forces withdrew from Igoeti and Georgian police proceeded towards Gori.[202] Russia claimed that its military withdrawal was completed; however, Russian checkpoints remained near Gori and two Russian lookout stations remained near Poti.[203] On 13 September, Russian troops began withdrawing from western Georgia. By 11:00 MSK, the posts near Poti were abandoned. Withdrawals from Senaki and Khobi also took place.[204] Russian forces withdrew from the buffer zones adjacent to Abkhazia and South Ossetia on 8 October and the authority over them was transferred to the EU monitoring mission in Georgia.[205]

A single checkpoint remained in the border village of Perevi. On 12 December, Russian forces withdrew; eight hours later the Russian troops re-occupied the village, and Georgian police withdrew after the Russians threatened to fire.[206] Russian forces then operated three checkpoints in the village. On 18 October 2010 all Russian troops in Perevi withdrew to South Ossetia, and a Georgian Army unit moved in.[207]

On 9 September 2008, Russia announced that its troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia would remain under bilateral agreements with their respective de facto governments. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that a military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia was essential to prevent Georgia from regaining control.[4] Georgia considers Abkhazia and South Ossetia Russian-occupied territories.[208] In November 2011, the European Parliament passed the resolution where Abkhazia and South Ossetia were recognised as occupied territories.[209]

Recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Russia

On 25 August 2008, the Russian parliament unanimously urged President Medvedev to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.[210] On 26 August, Medvedev signed decrees recognising the two states,[211] saying that recognising the independence of the two entities "represents the only possibility to save human lives."[3]

The unilateral recognition by Russia was condemned by the United States, France, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the OSCE chairman, NATO and the G7 because of its violation of Georgia's territorial integrity, United Nations Security Council resolutions and the ceasefire agreement.[212][213][214][215][216] Russia sought support for its recognition from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. However, because of concerns about separatist regions in SCO states (especially China), the organisation did not support recognition.[217]

In response to Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Georgian government severed diplomatic relations with Russia.[218]

International monitors

The mandate of the OSCE mission in Georgia expired on 1 January 2009, after Russia vetoed its extension. OSCE monitors had been denied access to South Ossetia since the war.[219] The mandate of the UNOMIG expired on 16 June 2009. Russia also vetoed its extension, arguing that the mandate did not properly reflect Russia's position (recognising Abkhazia as an independent state). According to UN mission head Johan Verbeke, about 60,000 ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia would be vulnerable after the mission's end.[220]

As of 5 January 2015, 259 European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) monitors operate in Georgia and 2 in Brussels.[221] EUMM monitors are not let into Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Russia.[222]

Geopolitical impact

The Russian military was used against an independent state for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union and Russia's willingness to wage full-scale military campaign for attaining its political objectives was demonstrated to the international community.[223] Failure of the Western security system to respond swiftly to Russia's attempt to revise the borders of an OSCE member country by force revealed its weaknesses. The division between Western European and Eastern European nations also became apparent over the relations with Russia. Ukraine and other post-Soviet states received a clear message from Putin-Medvedev tandem that the possible accession to NATO would cause a foreign invasion and the break-up of the country. Effective annexation of Abkhazia was also one of Russia's geopolitical goals.[224] The construction of the EU-sponsored Nabucco pipeline (connecting Central Asian reserves to Europe) in Transcaucasia would be averted.[225]

The war in Georgia showed Russia's assertiveness to revise international relations and undermine the hegemony of the United States. Shortly after the war, Russian president Medvedev unveiled five-point Russian foreign policy. The Medvedev Doctrine stated that "protecting the lives and dignity of our citizens, wherever they may be, is an unquestionable priority for our country". The Russian citizens in foreign countries would form a doctrinal foundation for invasion if needed. Medvedev's statement that there were areas in which Russia had "privileged interests", underlined Russia's particular interest in the former Soviet Union and the fact that Russia would feel endangered by subversion of local pro-Russian regimes.[226]

The war eliminated Georgia's prospects for joining NATO.[61][227] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev confessed in November 2011 that NATO would have admitted former Soviet republics if Russia had not invaded Georgia. "If you ... had faltered back in 2008, the geopolitical situation would be different now," Medvedev declared at a Vladikavkaz base.[228]

Humanitarian impact and war crimes

File:Kekhvi on fire.jpg
A burning house in the Georgian village of Kekhvi, on the road from Tskhinvali to Java.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) all parties seriously violated the law of war, resulting in many civilian casualties.[229] The South Ossetian parliament and several schools and nurseries were used as military positions or posts by South Ossetian troops and volunteer militias, and targeted by Georgian artillery fire. Georgia stated that its attacks only intended to "neutralize firing positions from where Georgian positions were being targeted". HRW documented witness accounts that civilian objects were used by South Ossetian fighters (making them permissible military aims), concluding that South Ossetian fighters put civilians at risk by setting up military positions in near (or in) civilian structures. Georgia was responsible for indiscriminate attacks, with little concern for minimising civilian risk.[230]

Fleeing civilians were deliberately attacked by the Russians in South Ossetia and the Gori district.[231] Russian warplanes bombed civilian population centres in Georgia proper and Georgian villages in South Ossetia.[231] Armed militias engaged in looting, arson attacks, and abductions. They forced the Georgian civilians to run away to escape.[231] HRW called the conflict a civilian disaster, calling for international organisations to send fact-finding missions to validate and report the facts, and authorities to be reminded on committed offences being accounted for.[231]

The use of M85S cluster bombs by the Georgians and RBK 250 cluster bombs by the Russians was reported. Civilian casualties were caused by such bombs. Georgia was reported to have used cluster munitions twice to hit civilians fleeing via the main escape road, and admitted using cluster bombs against Russian troops and near the Roki Tunnel.[232] Russia denied using cluster bombs.[233]

HRW reported that, during the war, most ethnic-Georgian villages in South Ossetia were burned and looted by South Ossetians (stopping 20,000 dislodged people from coming back).[234] According to Memorial, the villages of Kekhvi, Kurta, Achabeti, Tamarasheni, Eredvi, Vanati and Avnevi were "virtually fully burnt down".[235] South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoity said in an interview that Georgian villages had been demolished, and no Georgian refugees would be allowed to return.[236] Georgian civilians willing to live in South Ossetia were coerced to obtain a Russian passport.[237] The EU commission reported that "several elements suggest the conclusion" that during and after the war an ethnic cleansing of Georgians was committed in South Ossetia.[238]

Tserovani, one of the villages built by the Georgian government for IDPs from the conflict zone

Russian officials initially claimed that up to 2,000 Ossetian civilians were killed by Georgian forces; according to Russia, the reason for the military intervention in Georgia stemmed from these high casualty figures.[139] Public opinion among Ossetians was impacted by claims of high casualties; according to HRW, burning and looting of Georgian villages was approved by some interviewed Ossetian civilians, who alluded to "thousands of civilian casualties in South Ossetia" reported by Russian television.[139] Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, reported in September 2008 that he received 133 confirmed deaths from Russian authorities.[232]

Georgia and South Ossetia have filed complaints with international courts, including the International Criminal Court,[239] the International Court of Justice,[240] and the European Court of Human Rights.[241]

The war displaced 192,000 people (both Ossetians and Georgians),[242] and while many were able to return to their homes after the war, a year later around 30,000 ethnic Georgians remained displaced.[243] As of May 2014, 20,272 persons remained displaced whose return is denied by de facto authorities.[244]


International reaction

Georgian Coast Guard patrol boat P-24 Sokhumi passes the USS McFaul on its arrival at the port of Batumi

The actions of Russia during the war were heavily criticised by some western countries:

  • United Kingdom – British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on 9 August, "Russia has extended the fighting today well beyond South Ossetia, attacking the Georgian port of Poti, and the town of Gori, while Abkhaz forces have been shelling Georgian positions in the Upper Kodori valley. I deplore this."[245]
  • United States – US president George W. Bush said, "Russia has invaded a sovereign neighbouring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century."[246] The US Embassy in Georgia, describing a Matthew Bryza press conference, called the war an "incursion by one of the world's strongest powers to destroy the democratically-elected government of a smaller neighbor".[247] Bush later again criticised Russia, "Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century."[248] Although the Bush administration had considered a military response to defend Georgia, it was ruled out because of the conflict it would provoke with Russia. Instead, humanitarian aid was sent to Georgia on military aircraft by Bush.[249] US sanctions against Russia imposed by the Bush administration were revoked by the Obama administration in May 2010.[250]
  • Poland – The presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine and the prime minister of Latvia (Lech Kaczyński, Valdas Adamkus, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Viktor Yushchenko and Ivars Godmanis), who met with Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili at Kaczyński's initiative, appeared at a 12 August 2008 Tbilisi rally held in front of the parliament which was attended by nearly 150,000 people. The crowd responded enthusiastically to the Polish president's speech, chanting "Poland, Poland", "Friendship, Friendship" and "Georgia, Georgia".[251] Their joined hands were held upwards by Godmanis, Yushchenko, Kaczynski, Ilves and Adamkus to cheers from spectators in red and white (Georgian national colours), who were waving flags of the US, the European Union, France, Estonia, Lithuania and Ukraine.[252]
  • Hungary – Hungarian opposition leader Viktor Orbán drew parallels between the Russian intervention and the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.[253]
  • Ukraine – Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko said that he intended to increase the rent for the Russian naval base at Sevastopol in the Crimea.[254]

France and Germany took an intermediate position, abstaining from naming a guilty party:[255]

  • European Union – On 8 August, France (who held the rotating presidency of the European Union) announced that the EU and the US would send a joint delegation to negotiate a ceasefire.[256]
  • Germany – German chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her concern about the humanitarian situation in Georgia and called for immediate ceasefire.[257]

A few leaders supported Russia's position:

Georgia announced on 12 August 2008 that it would leave the Commonwealth of Independent States, which it blamed for failing to avert the conflict. Its departure became effective in August 2009.[259]

According to academic Martin Malek, western countries did not feel it was necessary to aggravate relations with Russia over "tiny and insignificant" Georgia. He wrote in the Caucasian Review of International Affairs that western policy makers did not want to isolate Russia because its support was necessary to solve "international problems".[115]

NATO reaction in the Black Sea

NATO increased its naval presence in the Black Sea significantly, with ships docking in Georgian ports,[260] and (according to the US Navy) delivering humanitarian aid.[261] NATO said that its presence in the Black Sea and the Georgian crisis were not related; its vessels were conducting typical visits and preplanned naval exercises with Romania and Bulgaria were being carried out.[262] Russian General Anatoliy Nogovitsyn reminded NATO of the limit on the number of vessels allowed in the Black Sea under the 1936 Montreux convention.[263] Russian President Dmitry Medvedev questioned the claim that ships going to Georgia were bringing only humanitarian assistance, alleging the delivery of military support.[264] According to political analyst Vladimir Socor, a continual presence in the Black Sea was kept by the United States. The ships were rotated from time to time in the Black Sea because of the constraints on ship's weight and length of visits set by Montreux Convention.[265]


Georgian order of battle

According to Moscow Defence Brief, an English-language defence magazine published by the Russian non-governmental organisation, Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, under the guise of assistance in skirmishes with the Ossetians, the Georgian troops and equipment were amassed on the South Ossetian border in early August. The Georgian forces included the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Infantry Brigades, the Artillery Brigade, part of the 1st Infantry Brigade and the separate Gori Tank Battalion. Additionally, special forces and Ministry of Internal Affairs troops were deployed. The total number of troops were as many as 16,000, according to the magazine.[9]

The Georgian army contained five infantry brigades. A tank battalion was stationed at Gori.[266] According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, ten light infantry battalions of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th infantry brigades, special forces and an artillery brigade had been concentrated by the start of the armed hostilites (totaling about 12,000 troops).[10] The primary task of capturing Tskhinvali was accomplished by the 4th Brigade, and the support was provided by the 2nd and 3rd Brigades.[10] The 1st Infantry Brigade, the only one trained to NATO standards, was serving in Iraq at the beginning of the war;[267] on 11 August, the United States Air Force airlifted it to Georgia.[268] According to the EU fact-finding mission, 10,000–11,000 soldiers took part in the war.[13]

Russo-South Ossetian-Abkhaz order of battle

A sizeable portion of the Russian 58th Army was included in the Russian order of battle.[269] One of the foremost military units in Russia is the 58th Army. It exceeds the Georgian Army in the number of troops, heavy hardware and planes.[269] The 58th Army fought in Second Chechen War.[270]

Military analysis


The U.S. officials said that "one of the few effective elements of the country's military" was air defence, with the analysts crediting the SA-11 Buk-1M with shooting down a Tupolev-22M bomber and contributing to the loss of some Su-25s;[275] this view was echoed by independent Russian analysis.[141] Colonel-General Anatoliy Nogovitsyn, Russian deputy chief of general staff, said the Soviet-made Tor and Buk anti-aircraft missile systems, bought by Georgia from Ukraine, were responsible for downing Russian aircraft during the war.[276] A Russian assessment, reported by Roger McDermott, said that Russian losses would have been significantly higher if the Georgians had not left behind a portion of their Buk-M1 systems near Senaki (in western Georgia) and several Osa missile launchers in South Ossetia.[277] According to some reports, a battery of the Israeli-made SPYDER-SR short-range self-propelled anti-aircraft system was possessed by Georgia.[278] The Georgian air-defence early-warning and command-control tactical system was connected via Turkey to a NATO Air Situation Data Exchange (ASDE), which was directly feeding Georgia with information.[278]

Georgia has said that its key vulnerabilities were ineffective communication during action and its weaker air strength.[279] Konstantin Makienko of CAST saw substandard training of pilots as the primary reason for the poor performance of Georgian air sorties.[141] According to Georgian first deputy defence minister Batu Kutelia, Georgia would need a complex, multi-layered air-defence system to protect its airspace.[279] However, Western military officers experienced with Georgian military forces suggested that Georgia's military shortcomings were too great to be eliminated by new equipment acquisitions.[279] According to a 2 September 2008 New York Times article, "Georgia's Army fled ahead of the Russian Army's advance, turning its back and leaving Georgian civilians in an enemy's path. Its planes did not fly after the first few hours of contact. Its navy was sunk in the harbor, and its patrol boats were hauled away by Russian trucks on trailers."[279]

According to a Western military officer, Georgian logistical preparations were mediocre, and there was interference between units during action.[279] Exercises simulating combat against a probable enemy (the 58th Army) had never been organised by the Georgian Army. During the war, communications broke down in the mountains and troops resorted to mobile phones. There was insufficient planning; according to Giorgi Tavdgiridze, nobody thought of how to seal the Roki Tunnel. There was a dismal organisation of the delivery of 10,000 Georgian reservists in Gori on 9 August; they had no specific targets, and went back to Tbilisi the following day. The conflict was called by journalists as the war "that was hidden from history" because there was very little video recording of military action.[15] According to their American trainers, Georgian soldiers were unprepared for combat despite having "warrior spirit".[267] There were few well-trained, educated officers in higher ranks,[280] and Saakashvili's government had no military experience.[281]


The Russian Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (C³I) performed poorly during the conflict.[277] The Russian communication systems were outdated, with a 58th Army commander allegedly making contact with his combat troops via a journalist-owned satellite phone.[277] Without the modern GLONASS, precision-guided munitions could not be used; the US-controlled GPS was unavailable, since the war zone was blacked out.[277] Because of the negligence of Russian defence minister, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles was not authorised;[277] an RIA Novosti editorial said that Russian forces lacked reliable aerial-reconnaissance systems and a Tupolev Tu-22M3 bomber was used for a reconnaissance mission.[282] However, Russian reconnaissance battalions and regiments were also deployed during the war.[283] General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the General staff, said that during the war, new weapons were not tried out.[284]

The RIA Novosti editorial also said that Russian Su-25 ground-attack jets did not have radar sights and ground-target coordinate computing. They also did not have long-range surface-to-air missiles that can be launched beyond air-defence zones of an adversary.[282] Opposition-affiliated Russian analyst Konstantin Makienko observed the poor performance of the Russian Air Force: "It is totally unbelievable that the Russian Air Force was unable to establish air superiority almost to the end of the five-day war, despite the fact that the enemy had no fighter aviation."[141]

According to Russian expert Anton Lavrov, on 8 August, Russian and South Ossetian troops deployed in South Ossetia were unaware that Russian aviation was involved in the war. Russian troops and South Ossetians often assessed Russian aircraft as hostile and fired at them before precise identification took place.[285] On 8 August, the air force performed 63 flights in support of Russian ground troops.[286] A total of six Russian aircraft were lost during the war: one Su-25SM, two Su-25BMs, two Su-24Ms and one Tu-22M3; friendly fire was the cause of the downing of three planes.[287] Lavrov denied that Tu-22M was used for reconnaissance.[288]

The interconnection between the North Caucasus Military District commander and the air force and their roles in commanding were unclear. Colonel-General Aleksandr Zelin, commander-in-chief of the Air Force did not set the foot in the command post, instead running Air-force operations on a mobile phone from his office without any help from his air-defence assistants. The air force was blamed of rendering no assistance to land campaign.[277]

Swedish analysts Carolina Vendil Pallin and Fredrik Westerlund said about the performance of the Russian Black Sea Fleet that although the fleet did not meet significant resistance, it proved effective at scheming and implementing elaborate manoeuvres.[289] Mechanised infantry opened a second front in Abkhazia, which contributed to the rapidity of the military victory of Russia.[277]

Heritage Foundation researchers praised the preparation of Russian general-staff, saying that the operations were planned and implemented effectively, with a strategic surprise being engineered by the Russians.[270] A Reuters analyst described Russia's army as "strong but flawed"; the war demonstrated that Russia's "armed forces have emerged from years of neglect as a formidable fighting force, but revealed important deficiencies." Russia did not acquire the status of a craved and self-designated world-class military power because of the flaws in air strength and missiles.[290] Unlike the Second Chechen War, Russia's force in Georgia was composed primarily of professional soldiers instead of conscripts.[291] Equipped and disciplined forces were witnessed by Reuters journalists in Georgia. CAST director Ruslan Pukhov said that "the victory over the Georgian army ... should become for Russia not a cause for euphoria and excessive joy, but serve to speed up military transformations in Russia."[290] Roger McDermott wrote that slight differences in criticism by civilian media or official sources after the conflict was "an orchestrated effort by the government to 'sell' reform to the military and garner support among the populace."[277]

However, the Russian Army's professionalism was not praised as a success. In September 2008, General Vladimir Boldyrev acknowledged that many of the professional soldiers did not have better training than the conscripts. Russian Airborne Troops and special forces conducted most of the land fighting. Due to the Russian Air Force's inability to penetrate Georgian air defence, airborne troops could not be airlifted behind Georgian lines. An ambush of a ground-troop commander, in which only five of thirty vehicles in his convoy made it, indicated intelligence and surveillance negligence. Ammunition was reportedly insufficiently supplied to many Russian land units.[280]

Equipment losses and cost

After the war, Reuters cited Stratfor, which believed that Russia "has largely destroyed Georgia's war-fighting capability".[292] According to Moscow Defence Brief, Georgia lost its air and naval forces and its air-defence systems. The Georgian army lost large quantities of equipment to the Russians during the conflict.[9] Russian Ground Forces official Igor Konashenkov said that during the war the Russians captured 65 Georgian tanks, over 20 of which were destroyed because they were beyond repair or too old.[293] Russia estimated that the Georgian Air Force lost three Su-25 attack aircraft and two L-29 jets.[294] A Russian air attack on Marneuli Air Force Base destroyed three AN-2 aircraft. Russian airborne forces set fire to two Mi-24 helicopters and one Mi-14 on 11 August.[295] Georgian Defence Minister Davit Kezerashvili said that Georgia lost materiel worth $250 million.[15] According to Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, his country saved 95 percent of its armed forces.[15] The 4th Brigade had the sizeable casualties of any Georgian military unit.[10]

In 2009, Russian Army Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov claimed that Georgia was rearming, although the armament was not directly provided by the United States. According to Makarov, the Georgian Armed Forces exceeded their pre-war strength in 2009.[296]

Russia admitted that three Su-25 strike aircraft and one Tu-22M3 long-range bomber were lost,[276] in addition to at least three tanks, 20 armoured and 20 non-armoured vehicles.[297] Moscow Defence Brief provided a higher estimate, saying that Russian Air Force total losses during the war were one Tu-22M3 long-range bomber, one Su-24M Fencer fighter-bomber, one Su-24MR Fencer E reconnaissance plane and four Su-25 attack planes.[9] Anton Lavrov listed one Su-25SM, two Su-25BM, two Su-24M and one Tu-22M3 lost.[287] According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the five-day war cost Russia an estimated 12.5 billion rubles, a daily cost of 2.5 billion rubles.[298]

See also


  1. South Ossetia's status is disputed. It considers itself to be an independent state, but this is recognised by only a few other countries. The Georgian government and most of the world's other states consider South Ossetia de jure a part of Georgia's territory.
  2. Abkhazia's status is disputed. It considers itself to be an independent state, but this is recognised by only a few other countries. The Georgian government and most of the world's other states consider Abkhazia de jure a part of Georgia's territory. In Georgia's official subdivision it is an autonomous republic, whose government sits in exile in Tbilisi.
  3. The war is known by a variety of other names, including Five-Day War, August War and Russian invasion of Georgia.


  1. Hider, James (27 August 2008). "Russian-backed paramilitaries 'ethnically cleansing villages'". The Times. Archived from the original on 27 August 2008. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Irma Choladze (22 January 2009). "Kodori Gorge Refugees in Limbo". Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Archived from the original on 11 October 2014. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Statement by President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev". The Kremlin. 26 August 2008. Archived from the original on 2 September 2008. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Harding, Luke; Percival, Jenny (9 September 2008). "Russian troops to stay in Abkhazia and South Ossetia". The Guardian. 
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