In a July 14 statement, Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed that the Russian peacekeeping operation in South Ossetia “is considered to be one of the most successful peacekeeping missions in the world,” adding that “the successful experience of the peacekeeping operation […] was subsequently used in settling other conflicts.”
The ministry issued the statement to mark the 25th anniversary of Russian military becoming a part of a joint peacekeeping operation in South Ossetia, Georgia.
Polygraph.info finds that the Russian Defense Ministry’s statement misrepresents the mission of the South Ossetian peacekeeping operation. It also omits the fact that Russia recognized South Ossetia as an independent county after invading Georgia in August 2008.
The joint peacekeeping operation in South Ossetia was “absolutely unsuccessful,” Batu Kutelia, vice president of the Atlantic Council of Georgia and former Georgian Ambassador to the United States, said in a written statement to Polygraph.info. “The primary reason for this [failure] was an incorrectly designed mandate – a party of the conflict (Russia) was designated to be a mediator.”
Due Moscow’s dual role, Kutelia said, that the peacekeeping operation turned into a “tool of political manipulation by Russia.”
The Joint Peacekeeping Force (JPKF) created by the June 24, 1992 agreement, known as the Sochi agreement, defined a zone of conflict and a security corridor along the border of the South Ossetian region. The agreement also created the Joint Control Commission (JCC) and Joint Peacekeeping Force (JPKF).
The tripartite JPKF was under Russian command and comprised of 1,320 troops from the Russian Federation (500), Georgia (320), and the Russian region of North Ossetia (500). Since the separatist South Ossetian authorities were not recognized by the mediators as a side in the conflict at the time, South Ossetian peacekeeper units served in the North Ossetian contingent.
The Russian Defense Ministry’s assertion that the operation in South Ossetia stands as “one of the most successful peacekeeping operations in the world,” is false, experts told Polygraph.
“The success of any peacekeeping operation is determined by how well it is able to ensure the environment necessary for the peaceful and political resolution of a conflict,” Georgian Brigadier General Amiran Salukvadze said in an email to Polygraph.info. “This peacekeeping was not a failure until Russia became a side in the conflict. It stopped being a peacekeeping operation in 1993, when they [the Russians] fostered suitable conditions for the Ossetian authorities to declare so-called independence.”
The JPKF failed in accomplishing its primary goal, which was to contribute to a peaceful resolution of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict by monitoring for any ceasefire violations and facilitating diplomatic negotiations.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which at various times until 2008 had up to eight monitors stationed in the conflict zone, co-chaired the Geneva international discussions between the Georgians and South Ossetians. Russia also took part in these talks.
In an email response to Polygraph.info, Ina Parvanova, head of the OSCE’s Communication and Media Relations Section, said that “no two conflicts are the same,” which makes it “difficult to compare peacekeeping operations one to another.”
Parvanova said that the overall purpose of a peacekeeping operation is keeping the peace. While there were regular exchanges of fire within the conflict zone, “the peacekeeping operation [in South Ossetia] was successful for many years in avoiding a major outbreak of hostilities,” she wrote. “At the end of the day, notwithstanding its presence, another conflict broke out in 2008, which led to the end of the peacekeeping operation.”
The OSCE monitoring mission in Georgia ended in June 2009, after Russia vetoed a plan for keeping a 56-nation OSCE monitoring mission in South Ossetia.
According to Salukvadze, there were ongoing hostilities in the enclave. “For years, even before the August 2008 invasion, Russia trained and armed the Ossetian army," he said. "Sometimes for months the Georgian population [in the Tskhinvali region] was fired upon. At a minimum, Russia could have ensured [the] ceasefire. They had all the necessary tools and a mandate for that.”
While Russia considers the South Ossetian conflict was resolved after it invaded Georgia in August 2008, and it unilaterally recognized South Ossetia's (and Abkhazia’s) independence later that month, the international community – with the exception of Russia itself, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Nauru - still considers South Ossetia and Abkhazia as parts of Georgia. This means the conflict remain unresolved.
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed in its statement that the South Ossetian peacekeeping operation model “was subsequently used in settling other conflicts.” Russia was – and, in some case, still is – involved in peacekeeping operations in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Moldova’s Transnistria, Tajikistan, Angola, Chad, Sierra Leone, the Middle East, Western Sahara, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Syria.
It is unclear which of these conflicts the ministry regards as having been “settled.” In addition to peacekeeping functions in these countries and territories, the Russian military is directly involved in fighting in Syria, has annexed Crimea and is continuing to support secessionist regions in eastern Ukraine. The Russian Federation is also one of the mediators in Azerbaijan’s 25-year-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“Since invading Georgia in 2008, Russia is trying to legitimatize its illegal actions and occupation of Georgian sovereign territory by creating propaganda narratives,” Kutelia told Polygraph.info. “One can only speculate, but the abuse of the word ‘peace’ brings back memories of Soviet propaganda, when in the name of ‘peace’ the Soviet Union conducted extremely brutal actions against civilian populations in other independent countries or its own territory.”
Brigadier General Salukvadze believes the Russian Defense Ministry’s claim has no credibility and only serves to justify Russia’s actions. “Today Russia is using NATO aspirations against us [Georgia],” he said. “But from 1994-2009, Georgia was a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States. And where did it get us? Any conflict can be ’successfully’ resolved with a conventional army intervening on behalf of one side.”