Press-releases of the Embassy

August 10, 2008; 20.00

On the situation in South Ossetia (press review)

1. RUSSIAN PRESIDENT DMITRI MEDVEDEV INSTRUCTS TO INVESTIGATE CRIMES OF GEORGIAN MILITARY

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has instructed the General Prosecutor’s office to conduct a through investigation into crimes committed by Georgian military against the residents of South Ossetia. He made the move after his meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir Putin arrived in Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia on Saturday late in the evening. Refugees arrive in North Ossetia from South Ossetia. Exodus started after the Georgian forces intruded into Georgia’s breakaway region Friday night. Georgian forces have completely destroyed the capital Tskhinvali. Over 34 thousand people have already fled from South Ossetia, and reportedly 2 thousand people were killed during the aggression. Thousands of people are still hiding in cellars in Tskhinvali, and these people cannot leave the city since the Georgian forces firing at them. Over ten Russian peacekeepers, who have been in South Ossetia under international agreements, were killed and over 150 Russian soldiers were injured.

All this has prompted Vladimir Putin to describe the action of the Georgian military as a crime against civilians, a larger number of which are citizens of Russia. Vladimir Putin suggested gathering documental evidences of the crimes committed.

Dmitri Medvedev says that he will issue a relevant decree because the Prosecutor General’s office should investigate each incident. The prosecutors must gather documental evidences and analyse them thoroughly to bring the culprits to justice said Dmitri Medvedev.

Meanwhile, Russia’s human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin suggested setting up an international tribunal to punish those who ordered to destroy Tskhinvali and kill civilians:

"I call on human rights organizations, the Council of Europe and other organizations to handle the issue"

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on his part said that Russia as a peacekeeper bears responsibility for the development in South Ossetia. He urged the US, the European Union, France, Germany and other countries to join peacekeeping efforts in South Ossetia.

2. Georgia is guilty of genocide - Medvedev

President Dmitry Medvedev has described Georgia's actions in the conflict zone as genocide. He has ordered Russian prosecutors to collect evidence of the crimes committed there.

”Georgia has exposed South Ossetia to a very crude and cynical aggression. People have died. Russian citizens have died, including local residents and peacekeepers. The actions of the Georgian side cannot be described as anything else but genocide.

“The information we have received suggests that horrible crimes were committed there. People were killed, burnt, run down by tanks, had their throats were cut,” Medvedev said.

The President went on to say that “the operation to restore peace will continue and those guilty will be punished”.

Earlier, after visiting a refugee camp in North Ossetia, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin also accused Georgia of genocide and said those responsible for war crimes should be prosecuted. 

3. Georgian aggression puts it in breach of major agreements within OSCE

Russia believes the Georgian aggression put Georgia in breach of major agreements within Europe’s OSCE security organization.

The trampled treaties include The Closing Act in Helsinki, The Code of Conduct, the European Security Charter and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.

According to Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, this country is raising the matter on governing bodies of the OSCE group. It insists Georgia must pull back troops and sign up to non-violence in dealing with breakaway territories.

4. Russia proposes international tribunal for war crimes in South Ossetia

The known fatalities in the Georgian aggression are at over two thousand.

According to Deputy Prime Minister Grigori Karasin, most are Russian passport holders.

The exodus from the South Ossetian capital city Tskhinvali is estimated at upwards of 30 thousand. 

Russia proposes an international tribunal for war crimes in South Ossetia. The conflict is in fact a Russian operation to enforce peace rather than war on Georgia.

The military says it will continue to build up forces until this mission is back to its internationally-approved scale and format.

Deputy Chief of Staff General Nagovitsin tells the press the Russian army has no plans to overstep its mandated bounds on South Ossetian territory.

5. Human rights organizations condemn Georgian authorities

Several human rights organizations have severely condemned the Georgian authorities for triggering conflict between Georgia and its breakaway region of South Ossetia.

“Human and Law” organization described the Georgian authorities’ action as a gross violation of international law, especially the Hague and Geneva conventions and Dagomyss agreement on the status of peace keepers.

Military action against injured, civilians, women and children and also peacekeepers could be qualified only as a war crime, says the human rights organization in its statement.

Slavic Human Rights Centre also issued a similar statement.

The Moscow Bureau of Human Rights has sharply criticized western countries that assumed a wait and see position despite the fact that situation has deteriorated in South Ossetia.

6. Georgia announces ceasefire

The Russian embassy in Tbilisi has reportedly received a note from the Georgian president saying his country is stopping military action in South Ossetia. Russia’s Interfax news agency reports that Mikhail Saakashvili ordered his army to stop firing on Sunday. However, the Russian Foreign Ministry says Georgia has yet to end hostilities.

Russia's Defence Ministry has confirmed that Georgian troops have withdrawn from South Ossetia after failing to retake the breakaway republic through military force. Spokesman Anatoly Nogovitsyn said peacekeeping soldiers are once again in control of most of the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali.

The announcement goes some way towards clarifying conflicting messages coming out of Tbilisi earlier on Sunday.

Initially Reuters news agency quoted Georgia’s Internal Affairs Ministry spokesman, Shota Utiashvili, as saying: ‘Georgian troops have fully left South Ossetia.’

But the Secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council, Aleksandr Lomaya, claimed Georgian troops had merely relocated to new positions within South Ossetia.

“Following the airstrikes, Tskhuinvali is virtually obliterated. In these conditions our forces have relocated and assumed new positions,” Lomaya said.

Russia's Defence ministry spokespokesman has denied Georgian reports that Russian air planes attacked civilian targets.

Trapped

More than 150 people remain trapped under the rubble of the city hospital. It was destroyed on the first day of the Georgian hostilities. That's according to local officials.

Georgia’s death toll

According to reports from Tbilisi, 45 Georgian soldiers and 40 civilians were killed in two days of violence in South Ossetia. Those figures contrast wildly with those released by South Ossetia and Russia, who say an estimated 2,000 people have been killed.

Georgia's media is also reporting strikes by Russian war planes outside the conflict zone.

Media reports say an apartment block in the Georgian town of Gori was hit by a Russian bomb.

7. Russia's Defence Ministry says its planes have not bombed any civilian targets

A Russian journalist based in Georgia reported on his Internet blog that an ammunition warehouse in Gori was targeted and destroyed - which caused civilian casualties.

8. Russian journalists beaten up in Georgia

A crew from Russia’s First TV Channel has been beaten up in the Georgian capital Tbilisi while filming a protest rally at the country's parliament building.

Reporter Maksim Bobrov said the men, wearing camouflage uniforms, “most likely represented some kind of a law enforcement body”. 

”We were filming in the city centre at the parliament building where refugees from South Ossetia held their meeting”, he explained.

“We were cut short by some people who took away our camera and materials. The cameraman and the sound engineer were beaten up. We managed to get our camera back but not what we had filmed,” Bobrov said.

The journalist said: “President Saakashvili gave assurances that restrictions would not be imposed either on Georgian or foreign journalists”.
 
It’s also reported that in the conflict zone itself, another Russian TV-crew, belonging to the NTV channel, came under fire.

On Saturday, three journalists from the state owned Rossiya channel were wounded in shooting in South Ossetia along with a correspondent from Russia’s Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. 

9. US partly to blame – ex Georgian FM

Many experts say the military conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia is not in Russia’s interests. The Former Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili says the United States could be partly responsible for the violence in South Ossetia.

In an interview with the France-Presse news agency she commented on the possible reasons behind the military conflict.

"There are many Americans in Georgia training the military forces of the country and monitoring the situation. As I understand, they also supervise the strategic corridor – the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.

The main purpose behind the conflict is the further strategic orientation of Georgia and an opportunity for the West, I mean the USA and the EU, to count on Georgia and the Caucasus in ensuring the strategic provision of oil". 

Professor Gerhard Mangott, from the Department of political science at the University of Innsbruck, shared his opinion on who stands to gain from the military escalation in the conflict zone.

"The military assault in South Ossetia was launched deliberately, and the question is by whom? Definitely, not by Russia, as it’s not in the country’s interests,” he said.

Security expert Andrey Demurenko said it will be years before South Ossetians can trust Georgia again:

“Saakashvili should kneel in front of cameras and beg for forgiveness from the mothers of killed sons, the economy should be re-stored, houses and streets rebuilt, families returned".

He added that it was inevitable that both South Ossetia and Abkhazia would move further away from Georgia and insist on greater autonomy.

“Georgian aggression towards them has just speeded up the process,” Demurenko said.

10. Russian war ships sail for Georgia

The Russian Navy has confirmed that a section of its Black Sea Fleet is en route to the Georgian coastline. The task force includes a missile cruiser. Military officials insist the operation is to help refugees and is not part of an operation to blockade Georgia.

According to a source in the Russia’s defense ministry, three assault ships were earlier sent to the same destination.

‘This is not a sea-blockade, as a blockade would mean a state of war with Georgia, while we are not in a state of war’, the source said.

Georgia’s National Security Council Secretary, Aleksandr Lomaya, earlier said that Russian ships have reached the Abkhazian port of Ochamchir.

11. Shelled city is living hell

Thousands of South Ossetians are trapped in the ruins of a city almost destroyed by Georgian missiles. The remaining residents of Tskhinvali are huddled in cellars beneath bombed-out buildings. They are struggling to survive - without water, food or electricity.

The death toll in Georgia’s breakaway republic has reached at least 2,000, according to Russian and South Ossetian sources. Georgian officials deny the figure is that high.

Twelve Russian peacekeepers have also been killed in the fighting with up to 150 others wounded.

A Russian army general was injured when his unit came under fire. There is no information on his condition yet.

In two days of intense fighting, South Ossetia claims a Georgian bomber was shot down and 12 Georgian tanks destroyed in and around Tskhinvali.

The capital is said to be almost completely ruined and without water and electricity.

If you are about to watch the video be warned that some people may find the images disturbing.

The chief of Russia's ground forces says Georgian shelling has destroyed all the hospitals in the South Ossetian captial, Tskhinvali.

It's also reported that more than ten border villages have  been burnt to the ground.

The Russian President, Dimitry Medvedev, said Georgia is denying the whole of South Ossetia the right to life by its actions. He said that: "Russian peacekeepers and military units are carrying out an operation to enforce Georgia to a peace deal. They are also responsible for defending of the civillian population".

Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says the government is planning to allocate around $US 400 million for the reconstruction of South Ossetia.

“The actions of the Georgian leadership in South Ossetia are crime against their own people. A deliberate blow was delivered to the integrity of Georgia and that means a massive damage to its identity. It is hard to imagine after all that happened and all that is still happening they will be able to convince South Ossetia to belong to Georgia,” said Vladimir Putin.

The Russian Ambassador to Georgia, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, says 12 Russian peacekeepers have been killed and 70 wounded during the Georgian attacks.

People take shelter in bunkers

More than 30,000 refugees have arrived in Russia's southern regions as people try to flee the conflict zone. Meanwhile, thousands of people still remain in the demolished city of Tskhinvali. Amid continuing shelling, people are sheltering in bunkers, but are said to be running out of food, and there is no water or electricity.

Russia's Emergency's Ministry has delivered the first consignment of medication to the South Ossetian capital. Humanitarian aid and power generators are also expected to be delivered soon.

Russian military officials say the 76th Airborne Brigade of the Russian Army has arrived in the conflict region. One section of the brigade has already flown to the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali. Other troops will move to the region by ground transport, military sources said.

The main goal of the reinforcements, military officials insist, is to restore peace and protect Russian citizens.

12. Investigations due

Russia could appeal to international legal bodies for an investigation into the number of deaths in South Ossetia. That's according to a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Meanwhile, Russia's Human Rights Commissioner, Vladimir Lukin, says an ad hoc tribunal could be set up to look into mass killings in the region.

“Who burned down Tskhinvali and made it unfit to live in within just one night? Who killed people, including children, in their hundreds or maybe even thousands? Who forced tens of thousands of people out of their homes? These questions remain unanswered and need to be looked into," he said.

“It is absolutely necessary, on the international level, to investigate this problem, to find those responsible and to bring them to international trial. Maybe an ad hoc tribunal could be set up, just the way it used to be done for other cases of mass genocide,” Lukin said.

President Medvedev said all crimes in the South Ossetian republic must be documented. Those accused onf involvement will face criminal charges.

The statement followed a meeting with the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, in which the two men discussed the situation in the conflict area.

“We are talking about the lives of our citizens now, for which we are responsible,” Medvedev said.

13. Did mercenaries help Georgia?

The president of South Ossetia claims mercenaries took part in Georgia’s offensive against the breakaway republic, according to Russia’s RIA news agency. Eduard Kokoity says Ukrainians, people from the Baltics as well as nationals from other countries were involved.

Kokoity says that: “After the fighting in the city we found several bodies of citizens of the Baltic states and Ukraine. Later on I was informed that the bodies of several black men were found at the scene of a battle near school number 12. Kokoity said.

He also said some corpses had the narrow eyes typical of people from Asia. 

South Ossetian officials say more than 2,000 of their civilians were killed in the attack. Georgia disputes this figure.

The Russian envoy in South Ossetia, Dmitry Medoyev, says the scene in Tskhinvali is horrific.

“The town looks like Stalingrad during WW2, with fallen trees, power lines, burnt Georgian tanks all over the streets. The dead bodies of Georgian soldiers are lying everywhere,” Medoyev said.

He also confirmed the South Ossetian President’s claim that foreign mercenaries took part in the onslaught.

“In yesterday’s attack, the advancing tanks were supposedly crewed by Ukrainians. Two unidentified bodies found today are said to have black skin. Possibly they are Americans but we can’t say for sure yet. We will be able to publish the official conclusions after carrying out special tests,” Medoyev said.

According to: Voice of Russia, Russia Today