Timeline of Georgia-Russia Conflict

Reuters just published a “TIMELINE - Georgia and Russia's worsening relations” (August 8, 2008; http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSN08472548). As the poor and tiny Georgia, under the guidance of its fearless US-educated leader, is desperately trying to start a war with Russia, I find it is important to amend the Reuters' accurate but incomplete timeline with some of the omitted key facts. So here we go: Reuters' timeline with my comments and additions in bold.

Georgian artillery shelling TskhinvaliApril 3, 2008 - NATO members states at a summit in the Romanian capital Bucharest agree that Georgia and Ukraine can one day join the alliance, though they stop short of giving them a firm timetable for accession.

The opening salvo in this conflict, as you can see, was fired by NATO. Russia's position on NATO expansion is well known.

April 16 - Russian President Vladimir Putin orders his officials to establish semi-official ties with separatist administrations in Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia says the order is a violation of international law.

This step by Kremlin is widely seen as Russia's response to the recognition of Kosovo's independence by the US and many EU member-states. For years now Russia has been warning the West that Kosovo independence is likely to lead to Abkhazia and South Ossetia announcing independence from Georgia. This is exactly what happened.

April 20 - Georgia says a Russian Mig-29 fighter jet has shot down a Georgian drone flying over Abkhazia. Russia denies involvement, though a United Nations report will later back the Georgian version of events.

Since MiG-29s are operated by both Russia and Georgia, the UN investigators could rely only on incomplete records from air traffic control radars and air defense in the area. The plane was most likely Russian, but an elaborate provocation on Georgia's part cannot be completely ruled out. Saakashvili has a well-known affinity for elaborate provocations, like the case of a Russian "missile" exactly a year ago. Later analysis of the photos by independent experts confirmed that the "missile" was in fact an old Soviet-made guided bomb. Georgia owned several such weapons and planted the rusty remains of one of them to implicate Russia. Unforitunately for the Georgian officials, the propaganda photos they published revelaed that the bomb's remains and the "crater" were inconsistent with the basic laws of physics.

April 21 - Georgia accuses Russia of shooting down the drone in an "act of international aggression", but Moscow hits back, saying Georgia was deliberately fanning tensions.

In the heat of the propaganda battle against Kremlin, Georgia forgets to consider that flying UAVs over the UN-controlled South-Ossetia is a violation of the UN resolution. Russia immediately picks up on this glaring omission and bring up the issue at the UN Security Council. A few days later Georgia announces that it stopped UAV flights over the breakaway province (see below).

April 29 - Russia dispatches extra troops to Abkhazia to counter what it says are Georgian plans for an attack. The next day NATO accuses Moscow of stoking tensions with Georgia.

Just to clarify one minor but important point: the extra “troops” Russia sent to Georgia were 400 unarmed railroad workers. While under the Ministry of Defense's command, these guys are just construction workers in uniform sent to repair vital transport infrastructure destroyed in artillery attacks by the Georgian regular army. The railroad destroyed by Georgian artillery was used to supply the civilian population of South Ossetia with food and other essentials.

May 4 - Separatists in Abkhazia say they shot down two Georgian spy drones over the territory they control, but Georgia denies any such flights.

And three weeks later Georgian government is caught in a lie, when the country's Foreign Ministry announced suspension of UAV flights over Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

May 6 - Georgia says Russia's deployment of extra troops in Abkhazia has brought the prospect of war "very close".

May 30 - Georgia says it stopped flights by unpiloted spy planes over Abkhazia but reserves the right to resume them.

So Georgia suspended flights that, according to the country's leadership, never took place.

May 31 - Putin, now prime minister, says he backs a Georgian proposal for Abkhazia's autonomy but not full independence.

The EU peace negotiators - Germany in particular -  viewed this announcement by Putin as a major step toward peace in the region. Essentially, Putin agreed to the peace proposal presented by Georgia to the West. What can possibly go wrong now that Putin is on board?

July 5 - New Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urges Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to refrain from "stoking tensions" in Georgia's breakaway regions.

Ahead of the highly-anticipated by Georgian officials visit of Condoleezza Rice to Tbilisi, the country's leadership made some noisy statements directed against Russia, prompting the response from Medvedev. Apparently, Saakashvili and Co. misinterpret Rice's arrival as a sign of full-scale US military support for Georgian nationalists.

July 8 - Russian fighter jets fly into Georgian airspace over South Ossetia. Moscow says the mission was intended to "cool hot heads in Tbilisi." Two days later Georgia recalls its ambassador from Moscow in protest.

So what exactly causes Russia to shift its position from accepting Georgia's peace proposal just a week earlier to openly threatening Georgia with warplanes? Rice's visit to Tbilisi, of course. A day earlier Rice signed an ABM accord with the Czech Republic and in Tbilisi Rice promised Georgia NATO membership. Both steps were directed against Russia and emboldened Georgian leadership. Some EU peace negotiators accused the US of hindering the peace process in Georgia.

August 4 - Russia accuses Georgia of using excessive force in South Ossetia after the Russian-backed rebels said Georgian artillery had killed at least six people.

A few days later Georgia acknowledged artillery attacks.

August 7 - The head of Russian peacekeepers in the region is quoted as saying that Georgia and South Ossetian separatists agreed on a truce until they hold Russian-mediated talks.

Russia later says that Georgia's military operation in South Ossetia shows Tbilisi cannot be trusted and NATO should reconsider its plans to admit Georgia.

Talks between Tbilisi and the separatists fall through in part due to the continuing military operation by Georgia in violation of the truce. Georgia moves its Czech-made SPGH M77 "Dana" 152-mm heavy self-propelled howitzers to the border of South Ossetia, as seen on CNN. BBC and CNN also show Georgian army BM-21 "Grad" rocket-propelled artillery vehicles shelling Tskhinvali - the capital of South Ossetia. Ten Russian peacekeepers, stationed in the province under a UN mandate, are killed in the artillery attack and two more die from injuries by the end of Friday, August 8.

August 8 - Georgia says its forces have "freed" the greater part of the Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali and accuses Russia of conducting a "large-scale" operation against Georgia.

In addition to the killed peacekeepers, Georgia's assault results in as many as 1,400 casualties among Russian citizens in South Ossetia by Friday afternoon (August 8). Russia responds by sending some 150 tanks and other armored vehicles of the 58th Tank Army to South Ossetia and attacking Georgia's military installations across the country using aircraft. CNN footage shows Su-25 ground attack jets. However, it is impossible to tell whether they are Russian or Georgian, since both countries manufacture and use this aircraft type.