Press "Enter" to skip to content

Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia

Today the Russian President Medvedev signed decrees to the effect that the Russian Federation recognizes South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence (a Kremlin translation of Medvedev’s televised address can be found here).

With this the Russian President caused a further deterioration of the already strained relations with the West initially caused by the armed conflict in the two Georgian regions, Ossetia and Abkhazia. Without wanting to go into any details of the political consequences of today’s announcement of the Russian President, from a legal perspective the question arises what effect the recognition might have.

First of all it should be underlined that the recognition itself does not make two new States out of the breakaway regions of Georgia. In order to acquire statehood both Ossetia and Abkhazia would rather have to meet the requirements set up by the so-called doctrine of three elements (Dreielementenlehre), i.e. have a defined territory, a permanent population and an (effective) government (the doctrine was first formulated by Georg Jellinek in his book Allgemeine Staatslehre). These three criteria are also laid down in Art. 1 Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States and it seems to exist a consensus in international law regarding their necessity to acquire statehood.

Coming back to the recognition it is moreover widely accepted that a recognition of an entity which not already objectively meets the criteria for statehood mentioned above does not have constitutive effect (i.e. the recognition does not provide the entity with legal personality from the viewpoint of international law). The constitutive theory certainly has some support when looking at the history of international law and international relations. Anzilotti and Kelsen, for example, were two very prominent supporters of the idea that a State did not exist for the purpose of international law unless it had been recognized. To take an example from State practice, the recognition of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in 1973 had a constitutive effect at least with regard to the Western powers who previously had considered the establishment of a State in eastern Germany to be a breach by the Soviet Union of obligations under treaties concluded with the other allies over the administration of Germany after the Second World War. However, today it is the prevailing view that recognition follows the declaratory theory according to which the recognition has no legal effects and the existence of a State is merely a question of pure fact. This is e.g. supported by the above mentioned Montevideo Convention which in Art. 3 states:

“The political existence of the state is independent of recognition by the other states.”

In other words recognition might have evidential value regarding the fulfilment of the three criteria of statehood (see above); but it does not itself have the potential to create a State. This leads to the conclusion that recognition in reality is little more than “a unilateral act which is in fact left to the political discretion of States, mostly to the executive branches…” and that has little – if any – legal effect (see also Malanczuk, Modern Introduction to International Law, p. 85).

But could Russia’s recognition have any other legal effect (since it isn’t yet clear what agreements have been reached between Russia and Western States in the past days, any possible violations of these agreements will be omitted from the following assessment)? In the case of Ossetia and Abkhazia one could think of a premature recognition as violating the rights of the mother country, i.e. Georgia. A premature recognition could be said to violate the sovereignty of Georgia and the country’s right to have its own existence protected under international law. The sovereignty of States is still one of the most essential principles of international law today. It is inter alia clearly laid down in Art. 2(1) UN Charter. Is the recognition indeed premature, that is, is it not backed by the facts on the ground regarding ambitions to self-determination (see below) and regarding the criteria of statehood of the relevant entities, it could well be considered a delict under international law since it is an intervention in the “matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of” (Art. 2(7) UN Charter) the mother State (here Georgia).

In this context it becomes interesting to once more look at some details of today’s announcement. President Medvedev in his statement mentions as reasons for the recognition

“the freely expressed will of the Ossetian and Abkhaz peoples and being guided by the provisions of the UN Charter, the 1970 Declaration on the Principles of International Law Governing Friendly Relations Between States, the CSCE Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and other fundamental international instruments”.

Concentrating for a while on the first part of this sentence, it must be acknowledged that the principle of self-determination, which President Medvedev seems to be referring to, is indeed recognized by State practice as a basic principle of international law which even has been awarded the status of ius cogens. Just as President Medvedev indicates, the principle is laid down in the UN Charter (inter alia Arts 1(2), 55, 73), the Friendly Relations Declaration (“all peoples have the right freely to determine, without external interference, their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and every State has the duty to respect this right in accordance with the provisions of the Charter”), the two human rights Covenants from 1966 (see the common Art. 1), etc. From this one could draw the conclusion that Russia simply recognizes the people of Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s right to self-determination. However, it is highly doubtful if the principle of self-determination indeed does apply to the two breakaway regions of Georgia. The various legal instruments mentioned above are rather old and with regard to the right of self-determination apply – with certainty – only to non-self-governing territories, trust territories and mandated territories (see inter alia the ICJ judgment in the Namibia-Case, ICJ Rep. 1971, 16, 31). But do they apply to other territories, e.g. parts of an independent State, as well? It is uncertain how this question should be answered since it poses the threat to support secessionary movements in blank, which certainly is not desirable. 

A further point that should be mentioned is that secession is not usually regarded as creating a new State until a new permanent control has been established, i.e. until a new State has been created according to the doctrine of three elements mentioned above. This is not even changed by the acknowledged significance of the right to self-determination. The exercise of self-determination is unlikely to be able to replace a negative objective assessment of the fulfilment of the criteria of statehood.

In sum, what it comes down to is an assessment of the conditions on the ground. Has the right to self-determination been exercised, are there in fact attempts in Ossetia and/or Abkhazia to create independent States and are any of the conditions of statehood fulfilled?

Readers interested in some further legal assessments of what’s happening in Georgia, might want to check out an interview with Anne-Marie Slaughter here.


  1. Andrey Andrey 27 August 2008

    Truth about war in Ossetia that is overlooked by BBC and CNN
    At 7 p.m. on August 8, the day when Olympics started, worldwide community heard from CNN and BBC news that Russian tanks invaded Georgia and that Russia started war with Georgia.
    That the war had begun 16 hours earlier by Georgian president Sukashvili’s order these media preferred to pass over in silence.
    But you have the right to know truth. That’s how this really happened:
    According to old tradition of Olympic Games’ eve everyone was looking for peace and quiet. On August 7, Georgian and South Ossetian officials agreed to observe a ceasefire and hold debates in attempt to solve their long-term conflict peacefully.
    August 8, 00:06
    Just hours later, six minutes past midnight on August 8, inhabitants of Ossetian capital Tskhinvali, peacefully sleeping in their beds, heard dreadful whizz of incoming rockets. The hell followed soon… Without any declaration Georgian forces launched massive shelling of Tskhinvali with all available means, including heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems GRAD. In this massacre, in just several hours, the whole city was ruined: 2,000 human lives wasted and 85% of all buildings demolished. Georgian military expedition, called “Clean field”, yielded its first fruits…
    August 8, 03:00
    Georgian army occupied five Ossetian villages, burning them to ashes.
    August 8, 03:30
    Georgian tanks started attack on Tskhinvali. Ossetian militia stood up to the enemy but could not keep back 30-times outnumbering Georgian forces. Many basements where Ossetins tried to escape shelling were showered with grenades. At the very same time, Georgian “peacekeepers”, serving in South Ossetia, launched unexampled attack on their yesterday’s colleagues, Russian peacekeepers, managing to kill at least 10 of them.
    August 8, 04:33
    Russia called for UN Security Council meeting to put a stop to Georgian military aggression and seize fire. No decision was delivered at neither this nor several following meetings.
    August 8, 09:00
    Russian Prime Minister Putin informed President Bush that Georgia launched war against Ossetia. Mr. Bush answered that “nobody wanted this war”.
    Ossetia was praying for help. It was already obvious that “clean field” meant nothing else but ethnical cleansing. In these circumstances, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced that Russia would defend Russian citizens who constitute 90% of South Ossetia population.
    August 8, 16:00
    Russian forces overstepped mountain pass and made their way toward perishing Ossetins. That was exactly the moment when CNN and BBC finally “noticed” the war and broadcasted their «Russians invaded Georgia» scenes. Sukashvili announced that Russia invaded Georgia and held back that he started this horrible bloodshed himself.
    Before midnight, Russian and Ossetian forces kicked aggressors out of Ossetian capital. Survived citizens started to leave basements to escape the city. In the next couple days around 30,000 refugees fled to Russia.
    Failed Georgian assault turned to informational blackout and devilish propaganda. It’s time when so much depends on your personal position! We believe that there will be journalists who can give objective picture of these events. We believe in people of peace who will regard an attempt of massive extermination of small nation as genocide (3% of South Ossetins and 0.3% of all Ossetins worldwide were killed in just one night on August 8; fascists have never achieved that efficiency in exterminating Jewish people even when Auschwitz and Treblinka were working at full capacity). We believe in a world community that will view Sukashvili’s inhuman orders as war crime and an outrage on humanity. We believe in you, thinking person, able to confront with facts, person who will not follow barefaced propaganda of politicized and deeply corrupt media, person able to recognize truth!

  2. Marko Vujacic Marko Vujacic 27 August 2008

    In my opinion, Russia did nothing worse that The West (USA + some countries of the EU) did in the case of Kosovo. Namely, I think that the latest events both in the case of Kosovo, and the case of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, show the true inconsistency in approaches of two sides in both cases. Despite the statements from the both sides that the parallels between these situations are hardly existing, as Ms. Anne-Marie Slaughter pointed out, I do think that there are much more similarities than both sides are ready to admit, because only if both sides (I am referring to Russia and The West) claim there are no similarities they are able to justify their illegitimate actions. And I am specifically saying “illegitimate”, not illegal, because e.g. when the USA recognizes Kosovo, or Russia recognizes South Ossetia, international law is not violated, because the sole act of recognition falls under the discretion of a state, as the exercise of the state’s sovereign power, and cannot be illegal under international law. What can be illegal is the proclamation of independence, which was, in both cases illegal. Kosovo was a part of Serbia under SC UN Resolution 1244 (1999), until the determination of the future status of wide autonomy to be reached through negotiations process. Such a solution was not reached; therefore, the proclamation of independence was obviously not in accordance with the positive norms of the international law. Referring to the history of violence to declare it as a unique case is not a viable justification, because every situation is a unique case in many senses. But the sole act of recognition is not illegal, but rather illegitimate act, because it follows after the illegal act of proclamation. The similar is in Russian case of recognition. The two of Georgian regions have illegally declared independence during nineties, because several SC UN resolutions were confirming the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia over these regions, similar to Kosovo and its relation to Serbia. However, these regions in were de facto independent from Georgia for almost fifteen years, similar to de facto independence of Kosovo from Serbia for almost ten years. The recognition of Russia is also not illegal, but rather illegitimate act, similarly to the recognition of Kosovo by The West. Similar situation can be found in the case of Northern Cyprus and Turkey recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. If apply the “history of violence” justification, the Northern Cyprus could then also can be an independent state, bearing in mind the violent actions of Cypriot Greeks in the Northern Cyprus prior to the Turkish invasion.
    My point is that we can all be in the firm ground of international law only if we apply it similarly in the similar situations.
    Of course, the question of self-determination must also be taken into consideration. Let’s go then again back to the case of Kosovo. Following the end of failed negotiation process between the Government of Serbia and the representatives of Kosovo temporary institutions, based on the UN administered process of determination of Kosovo future status, prescribed by the Resolution 1244 (1999) of the SC UN, Kosovo assembly has unilaterally declared independence on 17 February 2008. The proclamation was declared illegal and invalidated by Serbian authorities. However, in the following months, more than 30 countries have recognized the independence of Kosovo, and established the diplomatic relations with it, including the USA and the most of the EU countries. Kosovo has based its unilateral declaration on the right to self-determination of peoples, while the Serbian government insisted on the respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity as a UN member-state, a position confirmed in the SC UN Resolution 1244 (1999), the Helsinki Final Act (1975), Dayton Peace Agreement, etc. Kosovo authorities and the countries that have recognized the independence insist that the Kosovo is unique case and should not and would not be regarded as precedent for other conflicts where parts of the existing countries aspire to secede, while those opposing it claim how whole international legal order was jeopardized by the unilateral declaration and the recognition of such independence. As shown in the recent events in the Caucasus, there cannot be guarantees that the Kosovo case will not be used as a model for future similar declarations that may create chaos, according to this argumentation.
    In order to reach an answer to the question if the unilateral declaration of Kosovo, as well as if the declarations of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, were the violation of international law, it seems necessary to rethink the dynamics between two general principles of international law, in order to reach the new balance between the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the right of peoples to self-determination. The questions again put on the agenda are when the right of self-determination means the right to secession, as well as what are the limitations and boundaries of exercising sovereignty. What is the meaning of these principles after more than 60 years? And are we witnessing the major shift from understanding these general principles of international law?

  3. Gocha Gocha 31 August 2008

    First of all, the information that Russian army invaded Georgia on August 7, 2008, upon the “surprise attack” by Georgia is refuted by the Russian president himself who awarded his “militaries” for their role in action on August 7 broadcasted live by the Russian TV. One might ask for what? Perhaps for leading non-stop shelling of 3 Georgian villages from the 120 mm mortars by so-called “South Ossetian” paramilitaries and leaving them in ashes and thus provoking the Georgia’s action….
    Secondly, the Russian operation was never even close to the meaning of peacekeeping even putting aside even their continuous participation in arms smuggling and contraband trade …. They served to protect the separatist regime that was by the way directly administered by officers from Moscow security and military services. Baranov, Lunev, Barankevitch, Morozov – this is almost the full list of the “south ossetian government”.
    What we are speaking about is even a portion of the region (most part of it before the August war was controlled by the Sanakoyev administration supported both oseetians and Georgians and with whom Tbilisi engaged in negotiations over substantial autonomy) with the population which illegally was turned into the Russian citizens. With this “creepy annexation” of the region economically, politically and militarily that continued since 1992 on, could we speak about impartial peacekeeping? Furthermore whose self-determination is claimed? Of the Russian security services and the Russian citizens? Why their voice as well as the position of the Sanakoyev administration expressing interests of wider spectrum of the population (both Georgians and ossetians)…. By the way about 100 thousand ossetians live in Georgia proper as opposed about 30 thousand currently in the region…
    This background is suffice just to show that this is and continues to be conflict between Russia and Georgia rather than ethnopolitical…
    Use of force domestically being a very difficult choice both in legal and political terms is must be subject to strict scrutiny under international law. However the latter has to do more with how the force was used whereas why it was used has to be examined in the context of the constitutional framework of the state, namely in pursuing the objective of defending territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia. To have this point of departure is even more important when the claims of Genocide are leveled in a desperate attempt to justify aggression and occupation of Georgia by reference to the “Kosovo precedent”. Even if there were, deeply regrettably though, violations of the rules of warfare they could not be qualified as a crime of Genocide. So far, the Russian prosecutor’s office confirmed 133 casualties which corroborates with the figures of the Russian section of Human Rights Watch… What is confirmed however by the non-Georgian sources (see bellow) is ethnic cleansing of the Georgian population of the region undertaken by the Russian army and its allied ossetian paramilitaries…. In any case it is better to have impartial, international body to investigate all atrocities in the region so far called by Georgia and vehemently opposed by Russia.
    I would dwell on these important aspects of the claim of self-determination that arguably led to recognition of independence of Tskhinvali region of Georgia. I would rather leave other aspects of the problem for later discussions while letting you to pass your own judgment on the fact-sheet of Russian-Georgian war that comes next to this expose…
    Document by the Government of Georgia
    25 August 2008
    The Government of Georgia invites the international community and journalists to verify the information laid out in the timeline below.
    Purpose of this document
    In seeking to justify its invasion of Georgia, Russia has claimed that its forces entered Georgian territory only after a purported “surprise Georgian assault” on Tskhinvali; however, Moscow continues to refuse to make public the time at which Russia launched its invasion into Georgia.
    As the following timeline makes clear, Georgian Government forces advanced into the Tskhinvali region only after days of intensive shelling that caused civilian deaths in villages under Georgian control —and after confirmation that a massive Russian land force had begun invading Georgia through the Roki Tunnel.
    This was the culmination of months of meticulous planning by Russia; 40,000 Russian troops were soon occupying Georgia, as part of a simultaneous land, air and sea assault, unfolding a premeditated strategy that had little to do with Russia’s stated claim of protecting its recently created “citizens” in the Tskhinvali region.
    This document is organized into the following three sections:
    I. RUSSIAN ESCALATION 2004-AUGUST 2008: Russian Policy Toward Georgia in the Months Before the Invasion
    II. Key points: The Days Before, During & After Russia’s Invasion of Georgia
    III. Detailed Chronology: the Days Before, During & After Russia’s Invasion of Georgia
    I. Russian ESCALATION 2004-July 2008: Key Developments in the Russian Military & Political Escalation Before the Invasion of Georgia
    • Georgian peace proposals repeatedly rejected by Russia (2004 onwards): Beginning in 2004, the Georgian Government has repeatedly proposed to launch a genuine peace process for South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Years of stalemate had left all ethnic populations in both conflict zones impoverished and without any effective protection of basic rights; Georgians in particular were targeted and persecuted on ethnic grounds. The Russian Federation and separatist leaders have rejected Georgia’s peace initiatives each and every time they have been proposed—even when the international community backed the initiatives. As a result, South Ossetia and Abkhazia have become hubs for acute criminal activity, including kidnapping, extortion, counterfeiting, smuggling of arms and drugs. At least one case of nuclear smuggling has been confirmed (Annex 1).
    • Russia gains stranglehold over separatist governments (2005 onwards): In recent years, Moscow has been exerting an increasingly strong hold over the separatist governments; since 2005, Russian military and civilian officials seconded from Moscow effectively have been governing South Ossetia (Annex 2).
    • Russia builds illegal base near Tskhinvali (2006): In spring 2006, Russian forces illegally build of a forward military base in the strategically located town of Java (north of Tskhinvali). The base has capacity for 2,500 soldiers, and includes substantial fuel-storage capabilities for tanks and other armored vehicles.
    • CIS arms/economic embargo lifted illegally by Moscow (March 2008): In March, the Russian Federation unilaterally—and illegally—withdraws from a CIS economic and arms embargo imposed in 1994 on the secessionist region of Abkhazia, Georgia.
    • International community condemns Russia’s legal recognition of S. Ossetia & Abkhazia (April 2008): On April 16, Moscow sharply escalates tensions by decreeing the establishment of legal links between Russia and the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; this is a form of de facto annexation of Georgian territory and draws sharp rebukes from the entire international community—including the EU, the US, the OSCE, and others, who call for the immediate reversal of this Russian decision.
    • United Nations confirms Russia downs Georgian aircraft over Georgian airspace (April 2006): On April 20, a Russian fighter jet downs an unarmed Georgian drone (MIA) over Georgian airspace (near Ganmukhuri), an act of aggression confirmed by formal UNOMIG and OSCE investigative reports. (Annex 3)
    • Russia increases troop strength & introduces paratroopers into Abkhazia (May/June 2008): In the following weeks, Russia continues to unilaterally increase its troop strength in Abkhazia, without fulfilling its legal obligation to seek the consent of Georgia; among other moves, it deploys paratrooper units, which are incompatible with the existing format for peacekeeping.
    • Russia moves illegal heavy weaponry & offensive forces into Abkhazia (May/June 2008): In direct contravention of all peacekeeping norms and agreements, Russia introduces additional offensive military troops and heavy weaponry in Abkhazia, verified by UNOMIG.
    • Russian railroad troops sent to Abkhazia to prepare rails for invasion (May 26, 2008): On May 26, Russia sends more than 400 hundreds of Ministry of Defense “railroad troops” into Abkhazia to reinforce the rail infrastructure needed for military action; these troops do not belong to any peacekeeping unit.
    • As peace plan advances, Russian provocations move to S. Ossetia (July 2008): In July, as the efforts by Georgia and the international community to advance peace proposals for Abkhazia are gathering pace, the focus of Russian provocations suddenly shifts to South Ossetia.
    • Separatists attempt to assassinate S. Ossetian unionist leader (July 3, 2008): On July 3, South Ossetian separatists attempt to assassinate Dimitry Sanakoyev, the Head of the Temporary Administration of South Ossetia ; three policemen are injured.
    • Russia defiantly acknowledges violating Georgian airspace (July 10, 2008): On July 9, Four Russian military aircraft violate Georgian airspace on the eve of US Secretary of State Rice’s visit to Georgia. Although Russia continually violates Georgian airspace, this is the first time Moscow acknowledges it has done so deliberately.
    • Russia undertakes large-scale military exercises near S. Ossetia: & Abkhazia (July 2008): Russia launches large-scale military exercises (July 15-August 2) in the immediate vicinity of Georgia’s northern border; they are named “Caucasus 2008.” The Russian Defense Ministry claims that the exercises, involving over 8,000 troops and 700 pieces of military hardware, are aimed at preparing for “special peace enforcement operations” in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. During the exercise, anti-Georgian leaflets are distributed entitled “Know Your Enemy”.
    • Russian troops fail to redeploy (August 2 2008): Russian troops participating in the exercise do not re-deploy from the region when the exercises are finished.
    • Separatists reject German-mediated peace plan (July 18, 2008): On July 18, Abkhaz separatists reject a German-mediated peace plan and refuse to attend peace talks scheduled in Berlin.
    • EU organizes peace talks, separatists fail to appear (July 22-24, 2008): On July 22-24, the EU tries to hold talks in Brussels between representatives of the Government of Georgia and the South Ossetian separatists, with the participation of the Russian Federation. The separatists refuse to participate, initially objecting to the title of Minister Yakobashvili—”Minister for Reintegration.” In response, the Georgian Government appoints Mr. Yakobashvili as a Special Envoy for Conflict Resolution. The separatists once again refuse to attend the talks on unspecified grounds.
    • OSCE proposes peace talks, separatists reject proposal (late July 2008): OSCE Chairman in Office, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, proposes talks in Helsinki in early August between South Ossetian separatists and the Georgian Government. The separatists reject the proposal.
    II. KEY POINTS: The Days Before, During & After Russia’s Invasion of Georgia
    • July 3: One month before Russia’s invasion into Georgia, separatists try to assassinate Dimitri Sanakoyev, Head of the Temporary Administration of South Ossetia. A remote control road bomb exploded while Mr Sanakoyev’s cortege was passing by. Five policemen accompanying Mr. Sanakoyev were wounded. Mr. Sanakoyev—a former separatist fighter and defense minister in the separatist government – laid down his arms in 2006 to promote the peaceful re-integration of the region with the rest of the country under a broad autonomy arrangement. Mr. Sanakoyev was elected in democratic elections and administered up to 50% of the territory of the region.
    • July 29: For the first time since last major hostilities, separatist militia begin intensively shelling ethnically mixed villages under Georgian control, including those of them where the Georgian peacekeepers held their check-points, with large-caliber artillery (greater than 82 mm) which is prohibited by existing agreements. This fact is formally acknowledged by the Head of “Peacekeeping Forces,” Russian General Marat Kulakhmetov on August 4 (he makes specific reference to the shelling on villages under Government control on August 1 and 2 with high caliber artillery). Shelling of this magnitude continues on a regular basis through August 7, in advance of the Russian land invasion into Georgia.
    • 1 August: A pickup truck carrying six police officers of MIA of Georgia is hit by two remote-control explosive devices (IED) on the Eredvi-Kheiti bypass road, close to the Government controlled enclave north of the city of Tskhinvali. Five policemen are severely wounded.
    • 3 August: Russian media outlets report the large-scale mobilization of volunteers across the Russian North Caucasus, including pledges by Cossacks to deploy mercenary troops into Georgia.
    • 4 August: The separatists announce the evacuation of the civilian population from Tskhinvali and from the separatist controlled villages of the region.
    • 5 & 7 August: At the request of President Saakashvili, Special Envoy Temur Yakobashvili twice attempts to negotiate with separatists, but his requests are rebuffed.
    • 7 August: The Special Envoy of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Yuri Popov, fails to mediate preliminary agreed talks on a ceasefire, citing refusal by the separatists, while shelling of Villages under Government control continues.
    • General Kulakhmetov, during the meeting in Tskhinvali with Special Envoy Yakobashvili, declares that he cannot contact the separatist leaders, and that Russian “peacekeepers” cannot stop the separatist attacks; General Kulakhmetov admits that the separatists were shooting from the vicinity of Russian “peacekeeping” posts.
    • In spite of casualties among Georgian peacekeepers and civilians killed by separatist fire, President Saakashvili orders an immediate ceasefire and calls for negotiations. He reaffirms the Government’s proposal to grant broad “European standard” autonomy to the region, and offers Russia to serve as a guarantor. President Saakashvili also announces an unconditional amnesty for separatists who agree to cease hostilities.
    • Despite the ceasefire declared by President Saakashvili, the separatists intensify their shelling of villages under Georgian control and Georgian peacekeeper posts.
    • Approximately 150 armored vehicles and military trucks of the Russian regular army stream into the Roki Tunnel and head towards Tskhinvali. In response to the entry of Russian armed forces into Georgian territory, the Georgian military enters the conflict zone in the region.
    • Russia claims that its forces entered Georgian territory only after a purported “surprise Georgian assault” on Tskhinvali; however Russia continues to refuse to make public the time at which it launched its invasion into Georgia.
    • 8 August: The Ministry of Defense of Russia and various senior officials claim that Georgian forces “have killed 2,000 civilians” in Tskhinvali.
    • 11 August: Human Rights Watch representative say that Russia purposely exaggerated casualty figures in Tskhinvali, leading to revenge killings against the ethnic Georgian population (Annex 4).
    • 21 August: The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office reports significantly lower civilian casualty figures in the South Ossetia region at 133. There is a strong likelihood that the majority of these casualties were separatist militiamen, as local officials frequently refer to non-Russian servicemen as civilians (Annexes 5 and 6).
    • 9–24 August: Following the retreat of Georgian armed forces towards Tbilisi, the Russian armed forces and paramilitary groupss conduct widespread atrocities, including the burning, looting, kidnapping, raping, and summary executions of Georgian civilians inside and outside the zone of conflict. Within the zone of conflict, entire villages of Eredvi, Avnevi, Nuli, Kurta, Achabeti, Tamarasheni, Kekhvi, Disevi, etc., are deliberately burned and destroyed, resulting in the ethnic cleansing of Georgians. Many of these events are confirmed in reports issued by international human rights organizations. (Annex 7).
    III. Detailed Chronology: The Days Before, During & After Russia’s Invasion of Georgia
    28 July: Separatist units open fire at joint peacekeeping forces and an OSCE observer group moving towards the village of Chorbauli (Znauri district), thus disrupting monitoring activity.
    29 July: Separatists open fire at villages under Government control to the north of Tskhinvali. They fire at a group of OSCE observers, working with the joint peacekeeping forces, who are on their way to the village of Andzisi. (Annex 8) 120 mm mortars and grenade launchers target a Georgian peacekeeping checkpoint near the village of Sarabuki.
    30 July: A Georgian police car, traveling between the villages of Kekhvi and Sveri, is fired upon from positions in the separatist-controlled village of Andzisi.
    31 July: The joint monitoring group of the JPKF and the OSCE mission observe large-scale fortification works undertaken by the separatists on two checkpoints between Tskhinvali and the village of Ergneti.
    1 August: A pickup truck carrying six Georgian police officers is hit by two remote-control explosive devices (IED) close to a Georgian enclave north of the city of Tskhinvali. Five policemen are severely wounded. Later that day,separatists open fire with machine guns and grenade launchers on the villages under Government control Kvemo Nikozi, Zemo Nikozi, Avnevi, Ergneti, and Eredvi. Attacks also are directed at Georgian police and peacekeepers checkpoints. In the village of Nuli, one person is wounded and several houses damaged. Georgian peacekeepers checkpoint in Sarabuki comes under attack. In the village of Ergneti, one person is wounded and two houses are damaged. Separatists reported, that six separatist militia are killed and 12 wounded after Georgian police open fire in response.
    2 August: Six civilians and one servicemen of MIA of Georgia are injured after separatists shell villages under Georgian control in the conflict zone overnight. The villages of Zemo Nikozi, Kvemo Nikozi, Nuli, Avnevi, Eredvi, and Ergneti come under intense large-caliber mortar fire the separatists. Georgian law enforcers initially shoot back in self-defense, but are soon ordered to cease fire in order not to escalate the situation.
    3 August: The separatist government starts an evacuation of the civilian population from the city of Tskhinvali and villages under separatist control of the region. The evacuation continues for the next two days.
    Russian media outlets start a massive propaganda campaign against Georgia, advocating for volunteers and militias to support separatists in South Ossetia. Representatives of major Russian television networks (i.e. NTV, RTR, ORT, Ren TV, TVC, etc.) are on-site in Tskhinvali.
    South Ossetia media sources report the mobilization of volunteers from across the North Caucasus of Russia.
    4 August: General Marat Kulakhmetov, Head of the “Peacekeeping Forces,” formally acknowledges the shelling of Georgian positions with illegal (large-caliber) artillery. (Annex 9). On the evening of August 4, the medical and communication units of Russia’s 58th Army enter South Ossetia, according to human intelligence received by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia.
    Eleven artillery gunships (2S1-“Gvozdika”) in the possession of separatists are relocated from Java to the villages of Andzisi, Dzari, and Tsru, close to Tskhinvali, according to intelligence provided to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia.
    5 August: 3 tanks and 2 military trucks with armed soldiers are reported moving towards the village of Avnevi. According to telephone intercepts, separatist internal affairs minister M. Mindzaev (formerly head of the General Staff of the Ministry of Interior of North Ossetia, Russia and former head of the Alfa Special Forces Group during Russia’s operation in Beslan) orders a massive attack on—and the elimination of—the village Dvani (SigInt)*.
    *Here and below signal interseptions are cited. They are available upon request.
    Special Envoy Temur Yakobashvili visits the conflict zone Tskhinvali, meets Russian General Marat Kulakhmetov, to agree the next meeting for 7 August to defuse the situation.
    A journalist of Le Figaro, Laure Mandeville later quotes a Russian soldier in Gori who says that Russian troops began moving from Shali in the Chechnya region of Russia towards Georgia on August 5.
    6 August: Approximately 150 volunteers from the North Caucasus arrive in Tskhinvali as reported by local television; militants from other North Caucasian republics join separatist units.
    Russian and local employees working on the military base in Tskhinvali are temporarily dismissed. Shops and other offices are closed, as reported on local television.
    In the late afternoon at approximately 16:00, separatists open mortar fire from the villages of Pranevi, Ubiati, and Khetagurovo at ethnically mixed and Georgian-controlled villages of Eredvi, Prisi, Avnevi, Dvani, and Nuli. Khetagurovo was the main artillery base of the separatists. This attack continues until approximately 19:00.
    A lull is then observed for one hour, with attacks resuming at 20:00 and lasting until late into the night. Georgian government forces fire back in order to defend their positions and the civilian population. As a result of intensive cross-fire during the night, two servicemen of the Georgian battalion of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces are injured. The separatist regime also claims several persons are injured on their side. Despite these provocative, targeted attacks on peaceful civilians and on Georgian police and peacekeeping forces, the Government of Georgia decides not to respond with heavy fire, in order not to escalate the conflict.
    7 August: In a morning interview with Russian TV (NTV) and news agencies, South Ossetian separatist leader Eduard Kokoity declares that if the Georgian government does not withdraw its forces from the region, he will start “to wipe them out.” The Georgian military forces to which he refers are peacekeepers legally present in the South Ossetia conflict zone.
    Georgian Special Envoy Temur Yakobashvili visits the conflict zone on August 7 to meet with representatives of the separatists. He meets General Marat Kulakhmetov, in Tskhinvali; Kulakhmetov states that he cannot contact the separatist leader Kokoity, and that Russian peacekeepers cannot stop the separatist attacks. Kulakhmetov admits that the separatists are shooting from the vicinity of Russian peacekeeping posts. During this meeting, at approximately 16:00, General Kulakhmetov suggests to Minister Yakobashvili that the Government of Georgia declare a unilateral ceasefire.
    The Special Envoy of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Yuri Popov fails to arrive to Tskinvali, as previously agreed together with Minister Yakobashvili, citing a flat tire and a flat spare tire. When he finally reaches Tskhinvali, Popov meets Kokoity, and afterwards concedes that he cannot convince the separatists to hold urgent talks with Minister Yakobashvili (Annex 10).
    Earlier, at approximately 00:15, separatists begin attacking the villages of Eredvi, Prisi, and Vanati, with artillery, including mortars and grenade launchers. Simultaneously, the separatists attack the Sarabuki Heights, where Georgian peacekeepers are stationed. Three Georgian peacekeepers are wounded during the Sarabuki attack. The fighting in this area continues until approximately 10:00.
    At approximately 11:00, separatists resume shelling the Georgian villages of Nuli, Avnevi, Vanati, from the village of Khetagurovo. Three Georgian servicemen are injured; a Georgian law enforcers return fire towards the village where the firing comes from, Khetagurovo, killing two separatists and wounding two others. At approximately 14:00, the Georgian peacekeeping checkpoint in Avnevi is shelled, including again from Khetagurovo, killing two Georgian peacekeepers and eight civilians. Phone conversation interception of separatist militia confirming the death of Georgian military servicemen and civilians is available (Sigint)*.
    After the killing of civilians and Georgian peacekeepers, at approximately 14:30, Georgian armed forces receive intelligence that Russian troops that had still not redeployed from July’s North Caucasian military exercises have been put on high alert and have received orders to prepare to march towards the Georgian border.
    At approximately 14:30, Georgian forces mobilize tanks, 122mm howitzers, and 203mm self-propelled artillery in the direction of the administrative border of South Ossetia, in an effort to deter further separatist attacks, and to be in a position to defend the Russian-Georgian border in the event that Russia invades.
    At approximately 17:00, Minister Yakobashvili calls General Kulakhmetov to inform him of the Government of Georgia’s decision to implement a unilateral ceasefire.
    At approximately 17:10, Georgian peacekeepers unilaterally cease fire to defuse tensions.
    At 18:40, Minister Yakobashvili holds a press conference to discuss the results of his visit to Tskhinvali, and announces the decision of the Government of Georgia to call for and implement a unilateral ceasefire.
    At 19:10, in a televised address, President Saakashvili declares a unilateral ceasefire and calls for the separatists to respect it and resume talks.
    At approximately 20:30, a Government controlled village of Avnevi comes under separatist mortar fire from Khetagurovo.
    The chairman of the separatist Security Council, Anatoly Barankevich (a long-standing Russian military officer, who served for four years as First Deputy of the Military Commissioner in Chechnya), tells the local TV that armed groups of Cossacks are headed towards South Ossetia to “fight against Georgian forces”.
    At 22:30, separatists fire at the Government -controlled village of Prisi and Tamarsheni, from Tskhinvali and the mountain of Tliakana, wounding civilians.
    At 23:30, separatists open heavy fire on all Georgian peacekeepers’ positions around Tskhinvali, including the villages of Tamarasheni and Kurta; the Kurta police station is destroyed.
    At 23:30, Georgian Government receive multiple human intelligence reports that about 150 armored vehicles and trucks with Russian soldiers are approaching the Roki Tunnel from Russia and moving towards Tskhinvali. Multiple signal intercepts of separatist security and military officials at around 3am and later confirm that columns are stretched from Roki to Java. (Sigint)*.
    At 23:50, for the first time, and in response to the entry of Russian armed forces into Georgian sovereign territory, Georgian armed forces enter military action—using armor, including tanks, 122mm howitzers, and 203mm self-propelled artillery system Dana.
    At approximately 00:45 on August 8, Georgian forces fire artillery rounds at the invading Russian forces on roads being used by a Russian column already moving south of the Roki Tunnel.
    After Russia’s Full-Scale Invasion: 8 August to present
    Outside Tskhinvali
    On August 8, after advancing into the conflict zone of South Ossetia, Georgian armed forces seized control of a significant number of villages around Tskhinvali during a five-hour period (Tsinagara, Orchosani, Didmukha, Muguti, Gromi, Dmenisi, and Artsevi, ). During the fighting, Georgian armed forces encountered substantial Russian forces and separatist militias on the Zara bypass road leading to the northeastern part of Tskhinvali and the village of Khetagurovo, which had been substantially re-enforced with advanced artillery systems, armored vehicles, and self-propelled artillery. In response, Georgian artillery shelled both positions. Georgian artillery and aviation conducted a targeted attacks on the Gupta bridge, where Russian armed columns where entering Tskhinvali.
    Outskirts of Tskhivali and Inside Tskhinvali
    Tskhinvali is a small regional town, located in a river valley, approximately 75 kilometers from Tbilisi. Immediately prior to the conflict, the population was approximately 7,000, based on local intelligence estimates and on-the-ground reports. Following the mass evacuation on August 3-5, the number of residents decreased substantially.
    Several Georgian positions were under attack from points on the outskirts of town, specifically from Verkhny Gorodok (the location of the Russian “peacekeepers” on the non-residential southwest portion of the city). This was the first position in the immediate vicinity of Tskhinvali that Georgian forces targeted using GRAD multiple-rocket launching systems, following repeated warnings to the Russian “peacekeeping” forces not to allow their positions to be used for attacks. Soon thereafter, Georgian artillery (again using GRADs) targeted stockpiles of munitions and fuel depots located on the western part of the city—outside civilian areas—and military barracks in the northwest part of Tskhinvali—also outside civilian areas,.
    At approximately 11:00, once Georgian forces had secured the heights around Tskhinvali, Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior forces entered the city of Tskhinvali. These forces came under fire from positions around the main government compound, located in the center of Tskhinvali. In response, Georgian forces employed precise artillery system Dana (not GRAD) against the ministries of defense, interior, intelligence (KGB), and the main government building of the separatists.
    Russian aviation bombed Georgian positions on a continuous basis inside and around Tskhinvali once Government forces began advancing on the town. Russian aviation continued bombing in and around Tskhinvali for the next two days (until late in the day on August 10).
    At approximately 14:00, Georgian forces took control of most of Tskhinvali. At 15:00, Georgian forces declared a 3-hour ceasefire to establish a humanitarian corridor.
    Georgian forces began a phased retreat from Tskhinvali during the evening of August 9. Forces re-positioned themselves south of the city.
    During the two days that Georgian forces were in control of separatist controlled villages (from August 8) there were no credible reports of looting or abuse of civilian populations, according to international human rights organizations. The ethnic Ossetian population in the conflict zone was not displaced, unlike the ethnic Georgian population under the Russian occupation. The only village that sustained severe damage was the village of Khetagurovo due to the location of substantial amounts of military equipment and forces around the village. After Government forces seized Khetagurovo, there was no cruel or degrading treatment of the civilian population, as documented by Human Rights Watch (Annex 11).
    Russian Attacks & Invasion Outside the Conflict Zone
    Ethnic Cleansing of Georgian Villages
    Beginning on August 8 at 09:45, Russian aviation bombed a series of civilian and military targets across Georgia, outside the zone of conflict in South Ossetia, damaging infrastructure and causing significant civilian casualties. (annex 12) These targets include but are not limited to:
    1. Gori and surrounding villages (including civilian infrastructure)
    2. Marneuli airfield, central Georgia
    3. Vaziani airfield, central Georgia
    4. Kopitnari airfield, western Georgia
    5. Oni (civilian areas), western Georgia
    6. Poti port, western Georgia
    7. Baku-Supsa oil pipeline, central Georgia
    8. Anaklia, western Georgia
    9. Zugdidi, western Georgia
    10. Upper Abkhazia/Kodori Gorge, Abkhazia region
    11. Tbilisi (aircraft factory and civilian radar facility in Tbilisi airport)
    12. Khelvachauri, Ajara region
    13. Shiraki, eastern Georgia
    14. Senaki airport and military base, western Georgia
    15. Kaspi, central Georgia
    16. Khashuri district villages, central Georgia
    17. Borjomi National Park, central Georgia.
    International human rights groups have documented seeming targeting of civilian objects by the Russian regular troops. (Annex 11a).
    The Russian Federation’s nationwide bombing campaign included the use of SS-26 “Iskander” short-range tactical missiles used against the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline. Russian forces also used short-range tactical missiles SS-21 “Tochka-U”on the cities of Poti and Gori. In the villages around the town of Gori, Russian forces used “Hurricane” missiles. Cluster bombs were used extensively in Gori and nearby villages, including Ruisi and Shindisi. (Annexes 12 and 13)
    On August 10, the Russian navy landed in the port city of Ochamchire and launched an unprovoked attack in Upper Abkhazia/Kodori Gorge using artillery and massive air bombing. Until this point, there had been no hostilities in Abkhazia, Georgia. This attack began only after Georgian armed forces, located at the Senaki military base, were re-deployed eastward (August 9).
    On August 12, Russian forces invaded the western Georgian town of Zugdidi and the strategic port of Poti.
    Over 100 Georgian civilians are still being kept as hostages in inhumane conditions in the prison of Tskhinvali (Annex 14).
    Following the retreat of Georgian armed forces towards Tbilisi, until today the Russian armed forces and paramilitary groups conduct widespread atrocities, including the burning, looting, kidnapping, raping, and summary executions of Georgian civilians inside and outside the zone of conflict. Within the zone of conflict, entire villages of Eredvi, Avnevi, Nuli, Kurta, Achabeti, Tamarasheni, Kekhvi, and Disevi, are deliberately burned and destroyed, resulting in the ethnic cleansing of Georgians. These atrocities have been committed after r all military clashes in the area were over. Many of these events are confirmed in reports issued by international human rights organizations (Annex 7).
    Currently the Russian troops continue to occupy significant parts of Georgia – Annex 15.
    Annex 1 Nuklear Smuggling
    Annex 2 Russian officials
    Annex 3 UNOMIG Conclusion
    Annex 4 Causalties by HRW
    Annex 5 Military by HRW
    Annex 6 Russian Info on Casualties
    Annex 7 Looting by HRW
    Annex 8 OSCE on Andzisi Firing
    Annex 9 Kulakhmetov Report
    Annex 10 OSCE on Popov
    Annex 11 HRW on Khetagurovo
    Annex 11 a Targeting Civilians HRW
    Annex 12 Bombing and Occupation
    Annex 13 Cluster Bombs HRW
    Annex 14
    Annex 14 a
    Annex 15 Current Positions

  4. daniel khabo daniel khabo 12 September 2008

    It is my submission tha the Russia ,South Ossetia and Akhazia matter has been a reality of unveiled plans by the Georgian Government. This is due to the fact that the media and any other institution do not really mention who REALLY startred the atrocity. They only mention,in passim so to speak,that Russia invaded Georgia or things similar. The magnacutter of the conflict being left behind a political simulation by the Georgian government. I should believe that what Russia did was unexpected by the West or even Georgia. They (Georgians) thought they will hind behind the umbrella of the UN whereas it is prima facie that what they INTENDED was barred by the reaction (swift) of Russia. I am of the opinion that the South Ossetians have a thourough knowledge of the facts other than any other person. my friend Andrey is right on this matter and i think i am of the same view as him.

  5. Cédric Van Assche Cédric Van Assche 17 September 2008

    My dear colleague:
    Let me first congratulate you with the creation of your Blog! I really enjoy it!
    I wholeheartedly agree with your findings.
    1. The people of Abkhazia and the people of South Ossetia do not have an international right of external self-determination, meaning a right to create a sovereign and independent State. Contemporary international law only grants such right to following three categories of peoples: (a) people under colonial occupation; (b) people under foreign military occupation; and (c) people under a racist minority regime. Other categories of people do not have a right of unilateral secession under international law (inexistence of a right of secession in international law).
    2. Although a right of secession does not exist in international law, it remains that secession is a fact under international law. Secession constitutes a mode of creation of new States. Many States were indeed created by secession (e.g. Belgium from the Netherlands in 1830, Bangladesh from Pakistan in 1971, etc.). You were right by reminding us the criteria of Statehood : (a) a population; (b) a territory; and (c) a government, holder of the political power, exercising effective and exclusive or sovereign authority over the population and territory.
    In this respect, the criterion of effectiveness reveals all its importance. According to different independent sources, Georgia did in fact not display any effective and exclusive State authority anymore over the territory of Abkhazia and of South Ossetia. Admittedly, various UN Security Council’s resolution stressed that the territorial integrity of Georgia had to be respected. One may question whether the principle of territorial integrity still applies to territories over which Georgia did not effectively exercised any effective and sovereign authority. Under present circumstances, it seems to me that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are achieving their succession and their statehood. Therefore, it seems to me that the Russian Federation did not breach any rule of general international law (not even the prohibition of premature recognition which is the logical corollary of the principle of non-intervention in the internal and external affairs of other State). However, only the future will allow us to make a final assessment of the situation.
    Kind regards,
    Cédric Van Assche
    Brussels, 17/09/2008

  6. Dominik Zimmermann Dominik Zimmermann 19 September 2008

    Dear Mr Van Assche,
    I certainly agree with your assessment. A right of secession cannot be claimed by either of the breakaway regions in the Caucasus. However, you’re right in pointing out that it might nevertheless become a reality the international community simply has to accept (in which case the question of statehood becomes once again relevant). In fact, a large part of the reasons for the conflict are unlikely to be solved using legal arguments. Instead the various political fractions involved, Russia, Georgia, the EU and the US, should try to solve the conflict politically. What, at the moment, can be dealt with within the framework of international law is the usage of force by both Russia and Georgia. Questions of the recourse to force, proportionality of attacks, and conduct of military personnel can and should be assessed using the mechanisms provided by international law.

  7. daniel khabo daniel khabo 1 October 2008

    It is my submission that as far as international law is concerned we have to understand one thing; that international law is dynamic and so it is clearly manifest that in as long as it does not prohibit breakaways, it depends upon the state from which secession occrred to restore the breakaway. To “neglect” such for a prolonged period is to allow such secession by implication. Therefore Georgia was not persistent in its dealings regading South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Therefore it was up to the recognising state to recognise such as independent and Moscow has done exactly that and the international community has to accept that. Regard being had to fact that some states have also supported the Russians for recognising those ‘breakaways’. This goes specifically to you Mr. van Assche.

  8. Cédric Van Assche Cédric Van Assche 28 January 2009

    I agree totally with your findings, Mr. Khabo.
    In this respect, I would like to stress the importance of following three principles with regard to the topic of State recognition.
    Firstly, in international law there exists no obligation to recognize an entity as a State: recognition is a free and discretionary unilateral act. Applicable to our case, this means that States have no obligation to recognise Abkhazia and South Ossetia as a State, as did Moscow.
    Secondly, I would like to stress the important principle of relativity of qualifications (recognition) in international law. The reason is that there is no central international organ invested with general power to qualify entities as State. The principle of relativity of recognitions means that while some States will consider an entity as a State, other States will not consider that same entity as a State (e.g. Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Palestine). Applicable to our case, this means that for the Russian Federation Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be considerd as States, while for others not. More exactly; I would say that in case of non-recognition, the existence of the non-recognized State will simply be non-opposable to the non-recognizing States. Non-recognition means non-opposability of the personality of an (existing) State.
    Thirdly, although there is no obligation to recognize an entity as a State, there exists however in international law an obligation not to recognize internationally illegal situations brought about by:
    – (a) the threat or use of force (see the Stimson doctrine) (e.g. obligation not to recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as a State);
    – (b) acts undertaken in contravention of the principle of non-intervention (e.g. premature State recognition); or
    – (c) acts undertaken in contravention of the principle of the right of (external) self-determination of peoples (e.g. obligation of non-recognition of the State of South Rhodesia (1965-79); obligation of non-recognition of the Bantustans (“black African homelands”) as (puppet) States).
    Applicable to our case, hypothesis (a) raises a whole array of difficult and complex questions, such as the identification of the first State resorting to the (illegal) armed force, the identification of the victime State responding with armed force, etc.
    As regards hypothesis (b), I concluded already that there was no premature recognition as Georgia did in fact not display any effective and exclusive State authority anymore over the territory of Abkhazia and of South Ossetia (see supra, my intervention).
    Best regards,
    Cédric Van Assche
    Free University of Brussels
    Centre for International Law

  9. Sanne Draijeer Sanne Draijeer 16 September 2009

    ”The International Legal Status of the Republic of Abkhazia In the Light of International Law’. Paper read at the conference “Independence of Abkhazia and Prospects for the Caucasus” organized by the Friends of Abkhazia Civil Initiative. Istanbul, Bilgi University, 30 May 2009.
    Dr. Viacheslav A. Chirikba
    Foreign Policy Adviser to the President of the Republic of Abkhazia: Dept. of Geopolitics, Centre for Strategic Studies, Sukhum, Republic of Abkhazia: Chief negotiator, the Abkhaz delegation to the EU, UN & OSCE sponsored “Geneva Discussions” (Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Georgia, Russia, US, EU, OSCE, UN). (2008)
    PhD in 1996, Leiden University, The Netherlands.
    HTML Version:
    PDF Version:

Leave a Reply