17th Apr 2021

EU drafts broad mandate for Georgia war probe

  • A lake in the Alps: Ms Tagliavini's Swiss nationality is to underline the committee's neutrality (Photo: Wikipedia)

The EU is getting ready to adopt a wide-ranging mandate for a "truth mission" to investigate who started the war in Georgia, as allegations fly over Georgia's shelling of Tskhinvali, the capital of the rebel-held South Ossetia region.

"The mission's objective will be to enquire into the origins and evolution of the conflict that started on 7 August 2008, with reference to international law and human rights law. The geographic and temporal scope of the enquiry must be sufficiently large to determine all the possible causes," the EU's draft decision on the enquiry says, a diplomatic contact familiar with the text told EUobserver.

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The proposed EU mandate asks the mission to present a final report to the EU, the UN, the OSCE, Russia and Georgia on 30 November 2009.

The international committee is to be chaired by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini and will be funded out of the EU's €249 million Common Foreign and Security Policy budget for 2009.

Ms Tagliavini is to appoint her own panel of military experts, lawyers and historians, with the mission to fix "wholly independently, its procedures and working methods."

The Swiss committee head is expected to visit Brussels next week to brief senior EU diplomats about how many experts and secretarial staff she wants to hire and what kind of traveling the mission will do in Russia and Georgia.

The EU will then decide how much money to give the project and formally adopt the mandate in late November or early December.

The choice of a non-EU national to chair the committee shows the EU's desire to give it an air of objectivity, even though the mission is already being called an "EU enquiry" in Tbilisi.

"We want to make sure it is seen as an independent enquiry, even though it is financed by the EU," a diplomat from one of the Nordic EU states said.

Russia and Georgia have both welcomed the initiative, which was launched by German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Avignon, France in September.

"We have been speaking about that [the enquiry] from the very beginning," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said at a think-tank meeting in Washington last weekend. "The understanding of the fact that the war has been waged by [Georgian President] Saakashvili is emerging in the US only now."

"We hope the committee will look at Russian behaviour as peacekeepers, all its actions and policy decisions prior to 7 August," Georgia's EU ambassador, Salome Samadashvili, told this website. "Unless someone is on Moscow's payroll, no professional expert can possibly say the conflict broke out on 7 August because of Georgia's decision to retake Tskhinvali."

'Truth mission' carries risks

The US has downplayed the need for an investigation, saying the international community should not divert attention from getting Russia to pull troops out of Georgia, however.

Some diplomats in Brussels worry that if an EU-mandated Tagliavini report criticises Tbilisi, Russia will use it to legitimise the recognition of South Ossetia and fellow Russian-backed rebel region Abkhazia as independent states on the analogy of the UN-mandated Martti Ahtisaari report on Kosovo.

Analysts at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) also say the late 2009 deadline could entrench EU divisions on the war. "It means that for a year, individual EU member states will have different interpretations on events and different policies toward Russia," the ECFR's Nicu Popescu said.

The French EU presidency underlined that the Tagliavini committee will be just one of many channels used to probe the conflict and will not trigger direct action.

"The idea is to have a truth mission. But that is not the end of it," French EU presidency spokeswoman Marine de Carne said. "The report will shed some light on the situation and then we will have to see how we can follow up."

Geneva talks resume

Meanwhile, delegates from Russia, Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia met at the UN building in Geneva on Wednesday (19 November) for informal talks about improving security in the region. The group agreed to meet again in December, amid a media debate about who started shooting first.

The New York Times on 7 November quoted OSCE monitors as saying Georgian troops bombarded civilians in Tskhinvali at 23:35 local time on 7 August, despite the fact South Ossetia had not fired earlier that night.

But Russian human rights NGO Memorial reports that Russian peacekeepers armed South Ossetian rebels and encouraged them to fire on Georgian targets from 1 August onward.

Amnesty International criticised both sides in a study out on Tuesday. Georgia's attack on Tskhinvali caused "scores of civilian deaths," while Russia "failed to prevent reprisals" by Ossetian militia against ethnic Georgian civilians, it said.

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