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22nd Jan 2022

Georgia war report was a mistake, EU minister says

  • A statue of the early Georgian king, Vakhtang I, in Tbilisi. Mr Usackas' trip is designed to show "solidarity" (Photo: Rita Willaert)

Lithuanian foreign minister Vyguadas Usackas has said the EU made a mistake in setting up the enquiry into the Georgia war, amid Russian claims that the investigation has proved it right.

"If I had been in the [EU] Council at the time, I would not have supported this idea," Mr Usackas said in a phone interview with EUobserver on Wednesday (30 September).

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"The wounds are too sensitive to open. I don't think it's useful from a pragmatic point of view, just one year after the conflict, to engage in a not very helpful debate about who should be blamed."

The minister made the remarks on the eve of a trip to Tbilisi for meetings with President Mikheil Saakashvili and opposition figures, designed "to show solidarity with the Georgian people."

"If the international community had stepped in earlier and provided integration prospects for Georgia the war could have been avoided," he added, on the EU and Nato's refusal to extend membership perspectives.

"We should have been a good uncle to this country."

EU diplomats at a lunchtime discussion in Brussels earlier on Wednesday also said the union should have done more in the run-up to the conflict. But nobody criticised the investigation itself, a source present at the meeting told this website.

The EU drew up plans for the enquiry on the request of German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in September last year shortly after the fighting ended.

The findings, published this week, said Georgia triggered the war by an illegal attack on pro-Russian separatists. They also blamed Russia for provoking Georgia and reacting with disproportionate force.

Georgian diplomats went on the defensive on Wednesday, saying the report was wrong in judging that Russian military aid to South Ossetian rebels prior to 7 August did not constitute "military build-up."

"I wonder how Spain would feel if a neighbouring country started sending arms to Basque separatists, then mercenaries and then building military infrastructure in support of the mercenaries," Georgia's EU ambassador, Salome Samadashvili, said.

Political ammunition

Russian leaders did not immediately comment. But Russia's envoys to the EU and Nato and some Russian MPs interpreted the enquiry's findings as a vindication of its actions.

"[Western politicians] will have to make their apologies to Russia for heaping so much dirt on it," Russia's ambassador to Nato, Dmitry Rogozin, told reporters in Brussels.

"It cuts the ground from under the feet of those who want to portray the conflict as Moscow's plot against democratic Georgia," Russian MP Konstantin Zatulin said in Moscow.

Georgian separatist chiefs in South Ossetia and Abkhazia voiced similar sentiments.

"I hope the EU report will open the eyes, ears and minds of freedom-loving people everywhere to the truth: President Saakashvili is responsible for the August war," Abkhaz head Sergei Bagapsh said.

The Russian reaction is likely to cause disquiet in Ukraine, Moldova, Estonia and Latvia, which host large communities of disgruntled ethnic Russians or Russian soldiers, in parallels with Russia's casus belli in Georgia last year.

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