TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia will re-investigate its disastrous five-day 2008 war with Russia to see whether President Mikheil Saakashvili was partly to blame, Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili said on Wednesday.
Ivanishvili, a billionaire who became prime minister after his opposition coalition defeated Saakashvili’s former ruling party last October, has been trying to assert his supremacy over the president, creating an awkward power struggle.
In his strongest criticism yet of his rival, Ivanishvili accused the president of mishandling the run-up to the war.
“I also think that our government led by the president acted in an inadequate way in that situation,” Ivanishvili told a news conference.
“I consider it absolutely unjustified that military units were put on alert and military actions started before Russia crossed our borders.”
An independent report commissioned by the European Union in 2009 blamed Georgia for starting war with Russia, but said Moscow’s military response went beyond reasonable limits and violated international law.
The report said both sides had broken international humanitarian laws and found evidence of ethnic cleansing against ethnic Georgians during Russia’s intervention in the rebel province of South Ossetia.
Ivanishvili dismissed concerns questioning Saakshvili as part of the investigation was aimed at damaging his rivals reputation and could harm Georgia’s image, calling it a “normal European practice.”
Saakashvili has said Georgia was responding to an invasion by Russian forces when it attacked breakaway South Ossetia.
Russian forces pushed deep into Georgia, taking control of the main east-west highway, the Black Sea port of Poti and the strategic garrison town Gori.
Russian jets bombed army bases and the military airport as well as other buildings, and more than 100,000 civilians on both sides were displaced at the height of the conflict. Some have been unable to return.
Since the conflict, Moscow has recognised South Ossetia and the other rebel province, Abkhazia, as independent states.
The EU report said Russia’s counter-strike was initially legal, but its military response violated international law when Russian forces pushed into Georgia proper.
Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Michael Roddy