The lightning Russia-Georgia war

Paris (AFP) –


Ten years ago, in August 2008, Russia and Georgia went to war over South Ossetia, a small separatist Georgian region which Moscow would later controversially recognise as independent, in the face of international criticism.

Here is a recap of the five-day war in South Ossetia, a territory of 50,000 people which remains one of several sticking points in Russia's ties with the West.

- Build up to war -

In April 2008 Russia angers Georgia by announcing it is bolstering ties with its rebel provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are on the Russian border.

Tensions rise as Georgia accuses Russia of seeking to annex the provinces, which account for around one-fifth of its territory.

Moscow is meanwhile annoyed by Tbilisi's ambitions to join NATO and the European Union.

There are clashes in South Ossetia on an almost daily basis; Tbilisi and South Ossetian separatist forces are blamed but both deny responsibility.

- Russian troops enter Georgia -

Overnight on August 7-8 the Georgian army launches an offensive to retake control of South Ossetia, bombarding the regional capital, Tskhinvali.

Russia immediately riposts.

On the morning of August 8, Russian tanks, light armoured vehicles and personnel carriers sweep into South Ossetia en masse.

The aim is, according to Russia, to "defend its citizens", the great majority of Ossetians holding a Russian passport.

The Russians bombard Georgian positions around Tskhinvali and also the town of Gori in Georgia.

By August 10 Tskhinvali is under Russian army control. Georgia announces a withdrawal of its forces from South Ossetia and a ceasefire.

A day later, Russia bombards Gori, the Black Sea port of Poti and the suburbs of Tbilisi. Georgia says most of its territory is "occupied".

Images of triumphant Russian troops in the gun-turrets of their tanks or waving flags on Georgian soil are beamed around the world.

The lightning conflict claimed 800 lives, according to official tolls from the various sides, with more than 120,000 fleeing their homes.

Human Rights Watch says in 2009 that South Ossetian forces "deliberately and systematically destroyed ethnic Georgian villages".

A 2009 report by an EU fact-finding mission alleges ethnic cleansing against Georgians.

- Europeans weigh in -

European nations, unanimous in wanting to extinguish the flames in the Caucasus region, condemn the Russian intervention while keeping their distance from Tbilisi's own offensive.

On August 12 the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, negotiates a ceasefire on behalf of the European Union.

It involves the return of Georgian troops to their barracks and Russian troops to positions they held before the conflict.

The Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, signs on August 15 and Russia's Dmitry Medvedev a day later.

- Disputed recognition -

On August 26 Russia recognises the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the first among only a handful of countries to do so.

Saakashvili slams the "first attempt since World War II to change the borders of Europe by force".

The United States and other Western countries also condemn Russia.

On August 29 Tbilisi severs its diplomatic ties with Moscow.

In October Russian troops wind up their pullout from Georgia but remain in the separatist regions, maintaining thousands of soldiers and lending financial support.

The EU sends a civilian ceasefire monitoring mission.

- War crimes probe -

In mid-2015 NATO opens a training centre outside the Georgian capital, at Krtsanisi, a move Russia slams as "provocative".

And in early 2016 the International Criminal Court (ICC) opens an ongoing investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by all sides during the conflict.