(Reuters) - An unjustified Georgian assault on breakaway South Ossetia started last year’s five-day war with Russia, a report sponsored by the European Union said on Wednesday. It also criticised Russia, saying its response to the Georgian military strike went “beyond reasonable limits.”
Following are some key facts about the conflict:
— Pro-Russian South Ossetia and Abkhazia threw off Georgian rule in wars in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Georgia continued to control Georgian-populated villages dotted around the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali and the Akhalgori region, as well as the Kodori gorge in Abkhazia.
— The conflicts remained frozen during the rule of former Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze, but began to heat up under his successor Mikheil Saakashvili, who took power after the 2003 “Rose Revolution” and promised to take Georgia into NATO and restore control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
— Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi deteriorated. Georgia accused Russia of strengthening its hand in both regions. Russia granted passports to most Abkhazians and South Ossetians. Georgia stepped up support for Georgian villages in South Ossetia and spent more on defence.
— The West’s recognition of Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in February 2008, over Russian objections, fuelled tensions, and in April NATO promised future membership for Georgia and Ukraine, angering Moscow.
— In April 2008, Russia established semi-official ties with the separatist administrations, and shot down Georgian drones. It sent extra troops into Abkhazia and accused Georgia of planning to attack. In July, Russian jets briefly entered Georgian air space over South Ossetia.
— August saw fatal skirmishes between Georgian and South Ossetian forces. Russia concentrated forces over the border in the North Caucasus following annual exercises. South Ossetia began evacuating women and children.
— On August 7, after intense clashes, Saakashvili declared a cease-fire. Hours later, Georgia launched an air and land assault on South Ossetia’s capital Tskhinvali to “neutralise separatist positions” which it said were continuing to fire on Georgian villages.
— Russian forces moved into South Ossetia and quickly drove back the Georgian military. Russian-backed Abkhaz forces drove Georgian police out of Abkhazia’s Kodori gorge. Russian forces entered Georgia proper from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and advanced to within 40 km (25 miles) of Tbilisi.
— The EU brokered a cease-fire plan on Aug 12. A 240-strong EU monitoring mission deployed in October, but was denied access to either rebel region. The Kremlin recognised both regions as independent states on Aug 26.
— Russia and Georgia agreed to withdraw forces to pre-war positions. But Russia says it is maintaining 1,700 soldiers in each region plus FSB domestic security service personnel guarding their borders.
— Georgia has said 228 Georgian civilians died and 184 Georgian servicemen were dead or missing. Russia said 64 of its servicemen and 162 South Ossetian civilians died.
— Rights groups condemned the use of cluster bombs by both sides. They said Georgia’s shelling of Tskhinvali was indiscriminate, and that Russia bore responsibility for the ethnic cleansing of Georgians by South Ossetian and North Caucasus militias who followed the Russian advance.
— At the height of the conflict, thousands of civilians on both sides were displaced. Thousands of South Ossetian civilians remain homeless. Some 25,000 Georgians have been unable to return to South Ossetia.
— The Geneva-based International Independent Fact Finding Mission into the Conflict in Georgia (IIFFMCG) has investigated the conflict since early 2009.
— It published its findings on Wednesday and said the war was “the culminating point of a long period of increasing tensions (and) provocations.”
— But it added: “The shelling of Tskhinvali (in South Ossetia) by the Georgian armed forces during the night of 7 to 8 August 2008 marked the beginning of the large-scale armed conflict in Georgia.”