In the prevailing opinion, Georgia has been held liable for initiating the ‘ve-day’ international armed conict against Russia
in August 2008. is is due to the argument that it allegedly commenced military activities in South Ossetia and thus
purportedly acted as an aggressor State under the ‘rst strike rule’. Yet, as Sir Gerald Fitzmaurice has noted: ‘When you get a
war involving a group of States, you get a chain of events in which it is very dicult to say which action comes rst, and vis-
à-vis whom.’1 is characterization describes ttingly the situation on 7/8 August in South Ossetia as well as the days leading
up to the escalation of the conict.
us, this analysis addresses the events leading up to the outbreak of the August 2008 armed conict in Georgia with focus
on the legality of the Russian intervention in the South Ossetia conict. is paper aims to deconstruct the controversial
legal narrative,2 in hope of contributing to the debate on whether the Russian Federation had the right under international
law to invade Georgia on 8 August 2008.3 In this light, this study is divided into four main chapters; the rst three chapters
address the state of aairs in South Ossetia prior to 8 August so as to provide the basis for examining the legality of the
Russian invasion on 8 August in the fourth chapter. Here, the analysis focuses on four main justications set forth by Russia:
intervention by invitation, humanitarian intervention, protection of citizens, and protection of peacekeepers.
e key materials used for the analysis are the extensive volumes of the report conducted by the Independent International
Fact-Finding Mission on the Conict in Georgia (‘Tagliavini Report’ and ‘Fact-Finding Mission’ used interchangeably).
e Fact-Finding Mission noted that its report marked ‘the rst time in its history that the European Union has decided to
intervene actively in a serious armed conict.’4 is intervention incorporated the input of twenty experts on military, legal,
humanitarian and historical issues, and this mission provided an invaluable material used in this study. Hence, this paper
draws heavily from and critically analyses the ndings of the Tagliavini Report. e following chapter provides an overview
of its principal conclusions.
II. Description of the main ndings of the Tagliavini Report
Hostilities between the Georgian paramilitary and police units and the Ossetian militia escalated in July 2008. e latter
had eective control over most part of the breakaway region.5 A report was issued at the beginning of August 2008 by the
observers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the representatives of Russian forces in
South Ossetia. ey claimed that there was evidence of attacks, involving heavy weapons prohibited under the 1992 Sochi
Agreement,6 against ethnic Georgian villages in the region.7
e Fact-Finding Mission established that the hostilities did not only aect the paramilitary units and militia of the warring
parties, but also had a signicant impact on the inhabitants of the villages under attack. Consequently, fatalities occurred
on both sides and the hostilities were characterized as ‘heavy ghting’ from 6 August 2008 onwards.8 e evacuation of the
Ossetian civilian population from South Ossetia to Russia had commenced in early August 2008 and explicitly indicated
the extent of the warfare in the region.9 e Tagliavini Report characterized the conict as a low-intensity war prior to the
Russian intervention on 8 August 2008.10
e Tagliavini Report concluded that the Georgian oensive on 7/8 August 2008 on the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali
1 Quoted in SM Schwebel, Justice in International Law (Cambridge University Press 1994) 568.
2 For an illustrative example of Georgia’s and Russia’s contrasting interpretations of relevant facts see Case Concerning Application of the International Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Georgia v Russian Federation)  ICJ Rep (1 April 2011).
3 For an analysis of the conict through the prism of international relations see eg PW Schulze, ‘Geopolitics at Work: the Georgian-Russian Conict’  1
GoJIL 332. For a study on the region’s history see eg SE Cornell, Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conict in the Caucasus (Curzon Press
4 H Tagliavini (ed), ‘Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conict in Georgia’ 1 (Report, e Council of the European Union 2009) 2.
5 C Welt, ‘e awing of a Frozen Conict: e Internal Security Dilemma and the 2004 Prelude to the Russo-Georgian War’  62 Eur Asia Stud 93-94.
See also A Bellal and S Casey-Maslen, ‘Enhancing Compliance with International Law by Armed Non-State Actors’  3 GoJIL 184.
6 Art 3 of the Agreement on Principles of Settlement of the Georgian – Ossetian Conict 1992 in T Diasamidze, Regional Conicts in Georgia – the Autonomous
Oblast of South Ossetia, the Autonomous SSR of Abkhazia (1989-2006) e Collection of Political-Legal Acts (e Regionalism Research Centre 2006) 98.
Subsequently references in relation to Georgia’s legal acts are made to the latter compilation, albeit the documents are available also at
accessed 4 May 2011.
7 M Malek, ‘Georgia & Russia: e “Unknown” Prelude to the “Five Day War”’  3 CRIA 229.
8 H Tagliavini (ed), ‘Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conict in Georgia’ 2 (Report, e Council of the European Union 2009) 245.
9 ibid 208.
10 ibid 209.
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