Since the Russo-Georgian blitzkrieg from 7–12 August 2008, which ended in a Georgian defeat and the self-proclaimed independence of both of its breakaway provinces – South Ossetia and Abkhazia –, Russia and Georgia have been passing the buck back and forth. A fact-finding report on the origins of the conflict, commissioned by the EU with a view to smoothing the waters, has just been made public. The report comes to the conclusion that Georgia was to blame for triggering the war with Russia, which, for its part, was guilty of heightening the tension by provoking its southern neighbour. It condemns Russia for allowing the ethnic cleansing of Georgian villages and refutes every justification advanced by Moscow for invading Georgia.

Over €1.5 million. That is how much was spent on sleuthing out that it was Russia that inflamed the Caucasus region in August 2008, but Georgia that actually set off the war in Ossetia, writes Dziennik Gazeta Prawna. “The reason the EU report cost so much and comes so late is the EU did not want to explain anything, but rather to appease the two parties.” This summer, Der Spiegel published the conclusions of the EU-commissioned report condemning the Georgian government. It soon transpired, however, that some of the experts on the fact-finding commission were “in the pay” of the Russian mega-utility Gazprom, discloses the Warsaw daily. So new rapporteurs, including some Poles, were appointed to the commission. One of them confided to DGP that the new team was tasked with exonerating Georgia of whole and sole responsibility for the war. And that’s what they did. The Georgians did not commit genocide on the Ossetians, but Georgia’s military operation violated international laws, found the investigators. “Opportunism? No, geopolitics,” sums up DGP, underscoring that the EU verdict is a Solomonic judgment indeed. “Putting all the blame on Georgia would have increased the pressure on the country, while holding Russia solely accountable would have been lying,” the daily concludes.

The west needs Russia, not Georgia

The opinion of the experts under the aegis of Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini hardly comes as a surprise to Zbyněk Petráček, columnist for the Czech daily Lidové Noviny. “The specialists did not address the political side and the power issues involved (...); they did not try to figure out why party A fired on party B, but only who fired first.” According to Petráček, Brussels’ position does not take into account the fact that Russia provoked Georgia, particularly by starting to distribute Russian passports to the South Ossetian population.

“Georgia will pose a risk for NATO as long as its president, Mikheil Saakashvili, remains in power,” opines the Frankfurter Rundschau. “Any honest person would immediately take back the promise made (at the Bucharest summit in 2008) to admit Georgia into NATO.” Saakashvili should be put “on a par with Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, a partner accepted while waiting for a better one to take his place”. As the United States recently reminded us, Moscow is an unavoidable partner in international affairs. “That makes all the difference. The West needs Russia – but not Georgia,” writes the German daily.

All parties violated international laws

In rejecting Mikheïl Saakashvili’s fiercely-argued plea that his offensive was nothing but an act of legitimate self-defence, the EU report is a snub to the Georgian president. “The Caucasus is more complicated than that,” editorialises the Guardian. “The ability to jump in front of a CNN camera does not confer on the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, the gifts of a democrat. Nor is Russia the sole aggressor in a region of ancient disputes. This report should induce caution among those who come to premature judgments about Russia's relationship with its near-abroad.”

“What could have been avoided turned into a fierce blitzkrieg that changed the situation not only on the ground, but also in relations between the West and Russia,” sums up Heidi Tagliavini, head of the EU mission, on the opinion pages of El País. Regretting the lack of initiative on the part of the international community, which failed to react to a situation that was already alarming before 2008, she terms the conflict a “fatal spiral of clashes”. In her opinion, the main explanation for the war lies in the fact that all the parties rode roughshod over international and humanitarian law: “Even if it is true that Georgia started the hostilities (…), every side (…) violated international law,” she writes in an opinion piece entitled “Georgia, the lost chance”.

The EU divvied up the blame between the two parties – “and masked its own part” in the conflict, opines the Tagesspiegel, recalling the months of provocation and mounting tension in the region. “Europeans have to face the question of why they did not take action more promptly. Remember: France succeeded in negotiating a cease-fire in a matter of five days. Couldn’t the conflict have been averted by launching a courageous intervention before it broke out in the first place?” wonders the Berlin daily.