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Russia's involvement in the Five-day war as an act of humanitarian intervention, by Inal Sanakoev

Inal Sanakoev | Special to Abkhaz World

One of the most relevant aspects of the involvement of  Russia in the Five Day war in South Ossetia - this is a humanitarian. By humanitarian intervention one should first understand  the entry of troops into the territory of another country in order to stop a humanitarian disaster or human rights violations.  It should be emphasized that participation of  Russia in the Five -day war in South Ossetia, in terms of international law, of course, bore the character of humanitarian intervention, which had to stop the genocide of the Ossetian people.

From the standpoint of international law, the exact definition of a humanitarian catastrophe is absent, so experts usually pay attention to the two components of this problem: migrative and psychological one.

In terms of migration the fighting in South Ossetia for several days led to mass migration. According to official figures for less than two days more than 30 thousand refugees left South Ossetia. According to the Federal Migration Service of Russia "the situation with the reception of refugees is controlled, people are given all necessary assistance, although many of them actually arrive without documents, documents are lost, burnt down." According to the deputy prime minister, chief of staff of the Government of the Russian Federation Sergey Sobyanin, for the period from August 2-3, to the Migration Service of Russia appealed for more than 20 thousand people from South Ossetia. During this time the border has been crossed by more than 30 thousand people. Sobyanin also noted that "in reality we have a situation of a humanitarian catastrophe."

In this situation, the Russian government was forced to begin humanitarian assistance to refugees. President of the Russian Federation requested the government and, in particular, the Emergencies Ministry, Health Ministry and the Federal Migration Service to take all necessary operational measures to provide humanitarian assistance to civilians in South Ossetia and Russian peacekeepers. To solve these problems were created two structures - the central headquarters in Moscow and the headquarters in Vladikavkaz, which included representatives from all concerned ministries, regional authorities.

In psychological terms the specialists treat a humanitarian disaster as a humanitarian catastrophe which occurs in the soul of every man and is a certain totality of small individual humanitarian disasters, when the most human things disappear at the individual level". According to the Russian journalist Maxim Makarychev, who was in South Ossetia during the war, "the direct speech of those who live in this hell, is shocking.  Why this cruel hunting of men has happened in the territory of South Ossetia on the holy day of the Olympics? I have no answer to this question as tens of people with whom I had to communicate also have not. Such is beyond the human understanding  and explanation.

The humanitarian catastrophe in South Ossetia was accompanied by another important humanitarian issue - the human rights violations, which became widespread. Independent observers and journalists recorded the numerous victims and destruction of residential buildings in Tskhinval, and also cases of abuse and harassment of the Ossetian population in the villages around Tskhinval.

Even the Western media and human rights organizations who are sympathetic to the Georgian side in their reports have repeatedly noted numerous civilian casualties that had occurred there. BBC introduced to the world community the film, based on eyewitnesses. The BBC correspondent Tim Whewell went to Tskhinval, saw the devastated neighborhood, talked to locals and made a documentary film.  The film is about "the bloody atrocities of the Georgian aggression in South Ossetia, about using their weapons against the civilian population". The report issued by the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch “The Violations of humanitarian law and civilian casualties in the conflict in South Ossetia” stated in detail the excessive use of force. The organization found that in some cases, the Georgian troops allowed disproportionate use of force, and sometimes excessive force was used during the offensive: «The point is that the accompanying civilian losses in such cases were disproportionate to the anticipated military advantage».

According to the report of another human rights organization Amnesty International in South Ossetia, "The Georgian army entered the territory of South Ossetia on August 7 about 23:00.  Before the Georgian ground troops entered Tskhinval, in a few hours the city was subjected to artillery and rocket fire and also bombarded by the Georgian aviation. The eyewitnesses testify that Georgian forces had conducted cruel attacks, which resulted in death and injury of civilians and the significant damage caused to civilian objects."

It should be borne in mind that Russia's participation in war in South Ossetia was also dictated by the specific political commitments of Russia, which do not contradict the generally accepted norms of international law. It concerns the protection of residents of South Ossetia as Russian citizens and also Russian peacekeepers, who were also subjected to armed attack by Georgia. It is known that the population of South Ossetia by 90 per cent are citizens of the Russian Federation.   Moreover, the results of  the last November 12, 2006 referendum showed that more than 90% of the population of South Ossetia voted for independence and the subsequent unification with Russia. Therefore, the actions of the Georgian army against civilians were classified   as a violation of the rights of Russian citizens. The Russian federal government stressed that the majority of the South Ossetian people are Russian citizens, and that no country in the world would have remained indifferent to the murder of its citizens.

On the other hand, it should also be emphasized that the military actions in South Ossetia created a real threat to the security of the southern borders of Russia. According to the National Security Concept and Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation, the list of actual and potential threats to Russian national security is sufficiently large. Among them - the existing and potential sources of local wars and armed conflicts near the state border of Russia. The large-scale fighting in South Ossetia was capable to destabilize the North Caucasian national regions of the Russian Federation, where the situation could really get out of control.

Thus the participation of Russia in the war in South Ossetia once again underscores the limited and primarily the peacekeeping nature of its objectives. Without any doubts Russia solved the peacekeeping tasks in full accordance with the international precedents and in particular - the task of peace enforcement. Therefore Russia's involvement in the Five-day war should undoubtedly be regarded as an important humanitarian and peacekeeping mission, aimed at stabilizing the situation and maintaining peace in the region.

Inal B. Sanakoev
Ph.D. of Political Sciences,
Senior Researcher of The North-Ossetian Institute for humanitarian studies (in Vladikavkaz)

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