The International Crime Court (ICC) announced plans to open an inquiry into the 2008 Russia-Georgia War. The prosecutor wants to investigate alleged human rights abuses by Russia.
A Georgian investigation into their forces stalled, which forced prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to ask for the inquiry. She told a three-judge panel “a preliminary investigation had found evidence of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity” by the two countries, along with the pro-Russian South Ossetian forces.
“The Prosecutor estimates that the ethnic Georgian population in the conflict zone was reduced by at least 75 percent,” explained her office.
An investigation is currently ongoing in Russia, but Bensouda said her office “might not have full jurisdiction over crimes covered by those probes.” The prosecutors presented evidence that South Ossetian forces, a Georgian breakaway region not recognized by the international community, “killed up to 113 ethnic Georgian civilians, and both sides killed peacekeepers.” She thinks Russian soldiers “may have participated in the killing of civilians.”
She also added that the first investigation found “killings, forcible displacements and persecution of ethnic Georgian civilians, and destruction and pillaging of their property, by South Ossetian forces.” ICC officials believe the war uprooted 13,400 and 18,500 ethnic Georgians. The filing stated that 5,000 homes were destroyed while the “victims were typically intimidated and humiliated, and forced to watch their homes being razed to the ground.” Over 24 villages in South Ossetia were destroyed specifically to “expel ethnic Georgians.”
Georgia’s Western-backed President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is now governor of Odessa in Ukraine, attempted to “reclaim” South Ossetia, but Russian troops only moved deeper into Georgia. After Russia “won” the war, the Kremlin recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another Georgian breakaway region, and proceeded to bring both under Russian influence.
In January, Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed the Treaty of Alliance and Integration with South Ossetia. It gave Moscow control of its foreign policy, border, and security. Thomas de Waal, a journalist and expert on the Caucasus, described it as “Russia swallowing South Ossetia.”
“Effective annexation is the word,” he explained. “Is there any way back? Never say never–if the border with Georgia opens again, it makes much more sense for S Ossetia to be part of the economic space of Georgia.”
Putin and South Ossetian President Leonid Tibilov, a former KGB agent, signed the treaty on March 19, the one-year anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
“A joint defence and security zone will be created between our two countries, our customs agencies will be integrated and border crossings for our citizens will become open,” said Putin.
In July, the Georgian Foreign Ministry claimed Russian officials propped up banners into Georgian territory near villages of Tsitelubani and Orchosani. Moscow denies the accusations, but residents in the villages told reporters a different story.
“We’ve lost most of our fields,” explained a farmer who lives in the area. “The Russians said we are no longer allowed there.”
A British Petroleum (BP) oil pipeline is in the region. Out of all the international gas companies, BP has the largest presence in Russia with 20 percent invested in Russia’s Rosneft. The company said they will use this to try to ease tensions between Russia and the West.
“We will seek to pursue our business activities mindful that the mutual dependency between Russia as an energy supplier and Europe as an energy consumer has been an important source of security and engagement for both parties for many decades,” Chief Executive Bob Dudley said at the company’s annual shareholders meeting. “That has got to continue and I think we play an important role as a bridge.”