Georgia, ten years after Russian aggression

 

Ilia Giorgadze

Ambassador of Georgia to Spain

 

Today we mark one of the most tragic dates of Georgia’s recent history, 10 years since Russia’s military aggression and occupations of Georgian territories.

 

In August 2008, my country was invaded by the Russian Federation in obvious violation of fundamental norms and principles of international law, that resulted in illegal occupation of indispensable and historic Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia.

 

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union the Russian Federation permanently conducted provocations and abuse of international law in these regions. Russian security services vividly supported so called separatist regimes financially, militarily and politically throughout decades.

 

However ten years ago the provocations have drastically soared. In the first days of August 2008 it escalated with massive attacks on Georgian controlled villages by Russian-backed Ossetian “volunteers” who used machine guns and grenade launchers against the local civilian population.

 

The escalation of armed conflict was directly preceded by the units of Russia’s 58th Army crossing the international border of Georgia through the Roki Tunnel on 7 August 2008. At the same time Russian forces crossed the state border of Georgia into Abkhazia region. With an artificial pretext of protecting the Russian citizens on Georgian soil (i.e. the residents of Georgia who became victims of Russia’s illegal passportization), Moscow initiated a large-scale attack against the sovereign country on land, at sea, by air, and via cyberspace.

 

As a consequence of Russia’s open aggression hundreds of people, including civilians were killed and wounded, 53 Georgian villages were cleansed, houses of 35 000 people were burnt and destroyed. Russia additionally occupied 125 Georgian controlled villages. The war was accompanied by yet another ethnic cleansing of Georgians, creating a wave of 130 thousand IDPs fleeing their villages under shelling and aviation fire. If not firm stance of International community, it is obvious that Russia’s unrestrained forces would have gone further.

 

After five days of bloody war, On 12 August 2008, the EU Presidency successfully mediated a ceasefire between Georgia and Russia. The Ceasefire Agreement laid a foundation for stopping Russia’s large-scale military aggression against Georgia. Nevertheless, Moscow continued bombing and attacking of Georgian villages and cities even after the conclusion of the Ceasefire Agreement.

 

The EU mediated 12 August 2008 Ceasefire Agreement stipulates that Russia and Georgia should withdraw their forces to the positions that they had held before the war. However, despite the continuous calls from the international community, Russia, up to this point, continues violating the Agreement. While Georgia has implemented all provisions of the ceasefire, Moscow has further reinforced its illegal military presence in both Georgian regions destabilizing the security environment in entire Region.

 

Following the military invasion the Russian Federation recognized the so-called independence of Georgia’s occupied regions again in gross violation of the fundamental norms and principles of international law, such as inviolability of internationally recognized borders and territorial integrity of sovereign states.

 

In 2008 Moscow created a dangerous precedent that was practiced in Ukraine later on. These events clearly demonstrate that the August 2008 war was not an isolated case.

 

Situation after 10 years of Russia-Georgia war

Unfortunately, 10 years since the military aggression Russia still continues illegal occupation of 20% of the Georgian territory. For the past 10 years the security and human rights situation in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia as well as in adjacent territories to the occupation line has further aggravated. The Russian Federation has been strengthening its illegal military presence on Georgian soil. In violation of the Ceasefire Agreement it holds considerable number of military personnel in both regions. Besides, Russia has been provoking Georgia by continuous fortification of the occupation line through installation of barbed wire fences and other artificial barriers dividing families and depriving the local population of access to their property and agricultural lands, healthcare and emergency services, as well as religious sites and cemeteries. Ethnic Georgians who remained in the occupied territories are now the subject of intensified discrimination. Russia and its occupation regimes are making the lives of ethnic Georgians living in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia unbearable and there are no international mechanisms operating on the ground to effectively address these challenges. One of the sensitive issues that Russia and the occupation regimes in Sokhumi and Tskhinvali reject to address concerns the grave violations of right to education in native language. They have been gradually closing all Georgian schools or changing the language of instruction into Russian.

 

Against this background, hundreds of thousands of IDPs and refugees expelled as a result of ethnic cleansing still continue to be deprived of the right to safe and dignified return to their homes. Moreover, both occupation regimes have been actively attempting to remove Georgian trace from Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia by tearing down homes of ethnic Georgians, changing the names of towns, villages and streets.

 

The most tragic recent incidents were connected to the deprivation of the right to life, more specifically, to the murder of three Georgian IDPs, by representatives of the occupation regimes in Sokhumi and Tskhinvali.

 

Georgia’s peace policy

In response to all these concerning developments, the Government of Georgia firmly pursues the peaceful conflict resolution policy that is directed towards the de-occupation of Georgian regions, on the one hand, and reconciliation and confidence building between the communities divided by occupation lines, on the other.

 

Georgia has several times unilaterally reaffirmed the non-use of force commitment and been implementing this principle, still awaiting the reciprocity from the Russian side.

 

Georgia spares no effort to facilitate substantial negotiations in the Geneva International Discussions that is a unique and inclusive format with co-chairmanship of the EU, UN, OSCE and participation of the US established to dully address the security and humanitarian challenges stemming from the unresolved conflict between Georgia and Russia in full respect for the 12 August 2008 Ceasefire Agreement.

 

Besides, the Government of Georgia firmly pursues its cooperation with the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM), which is the only international mechanism on the ground providing the international society with the accurate information about the situation on the ground and violations of Ceasefire Agreement by Russia. Although the EUMM is deprived of the possibility to enter the occupied regions and fully implement its mandate.

 

In this light, just recently the Government of Georgia has introduced the new peace initiative “A Step to a Better Future” with the aim to improve humanitarian and socio-economic conditions of people living in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia and foster people-to-people contacts, interaction and confidence building between the divided societies.

 

Sustainable development despite ongoing occupation

These 10 years after the war have been the years of permanent struggle. However, Georgia still managed to achieve significant progress in democratic transition and good governance, and laid a solid ground for sustainable economic development.

 

Georgia is actively participating in the development of strategic transport corridors connecting Asia with Europe. Development of these projects will reinforce Georgia’s transit potential, accelerate and increase cargo flow, ensure better access to the logistic, industrial and touristic facilities. The economic policy of Georgia is directed at ensuring attractive business and investment climate. The reforms implemented during the recent years and Government’s vision for upcoming years is fully in line with Georgia’s aspirations to become a heaven for business and investment activities. Low taxes, streamlined regulations, minimum bureaucracy, low level of corruption are among factors that create Georgia’s favorable business environment.

 

At the same time, Georgia has succeeded in the process of European and Euro-Atlantic integration, showing unwavering commitment of Georgian people towards the shared values and democratic future of their country. This is eloquently attested to in the recently adopted 2018-2020 Freedom, Rapid Development and Prosperity Government Program. The program builds on the remarkable progress Georgia has achieved over the past several years and aims at further acceleration of the reforms that have been transforming Georgia into a fully-fledged European democracy.

 

Georgia remains consistent on the path of full integration into the European Union and will use all the existing mechanisms of cooperation to ensure more comprehensive, and transparent integration process with the EU.

 

For the last 10 years, Georgia has been enhancing its cooperation with the NATO and taking substantial steps towards the integration in the Alliance that is a potent guarantor of country’s lasting security and stable development. Hence, full-fledged integration into NATO is an important task of Georgia’s foreign and security policy.

 

Ways to sustaianble peace and security in Georgia

The progress that Georgia has achieved this far would have been impossible without the enormous support of the international community. These efforts have been essential for Georgia to deal with implications of the August 2008 war and succeed on the path of its democratic choice towards European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Georgia highly values this strong international support towards the peaceful conflict resolution and democratic transition in the country. The severity of the situation in Georgia’s occupied regions, however, makes it crystal clear that more needs to be done to ensure sustainable peace and security on the ground.

 

07/08/2018. © All rights reserved

 

 

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