We now have the final report by Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia.
The group was established by a decision of the Council of the European Union in December 2008. As the report points out, this is the first time in its history that the European Union has decided to intervene actively in a serious armed conflict.
The report is a very careful study of a military conflict and has made in this way an important contribution to further scientific research of this episode. However, the media and the public want to know “who started it first”.
The report is equivocal in answering this question. It points out to the fact that there was provision by the Russian side of training and military equipment to South Ossetian and Abkhaz forces prior to the August 2008 conflict. There seems to have been an influx of volunteers or mercenaries from the territory of the Russian Federation to South Ossetia through the Roki tunnel and over the Caucasus range in early August, as well as the presence of some Russian forces in South Ossetia, other than the Russian JPKF battalion.
It was Georgia, however, that started a large-scale Georgian military operation against the town of Tskhinvali and the surrounding areas, launched in the night of 7 to 8 August 2008. The report says that this use of force was not justified under relevant international law.
The report also says that immediate reaction by Russia in order to defend Russian peacekeepers was totally justified. However, it says that much of the Russian military action went far beyond the reasonable limits of defense.
This is a very short summary of the report findings. I recommend reading at least the first part of the report, because it contains many interesting observations.