The situation in the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict zone rapidly deteriorated after Tskhinval and a number of other residential districts and villages in South Ossetia were attacked in the evening of August 1. Combat with the use of small arms, grenade launchers and mortars ensued in the conflict zone for several hours. It resulted in the first human losses and substantial destruction. South Ossetia began evacuating its citizens to North Ossetia. In the first two days after the shelling, 2,500 residents left their homes.
On August 2, South Ossetia was visited by the Georgian Minister for Reintegration Temur Yakobashvili. After meeting with representatives of the OSCE mission of observers, Commander of Georgia’s Defense Ministry Joint Headquarters of Peacekeeping Operations Mamuka Kurashvili and Commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Force (JPF) General Marat Kulakhmetov, he said that the Georgian authorities did not see an alternative to direct negotiations between Tbilisi and Tskhinval, and expressed readiness for holding talks without any preconditions. Yakobashvili said that Tbilisi will do all it can for reaching political settlement.
On August 3, Georgia continued to concentrate its troops along the border with South Ossetia. An artillery column consisting of one division of D-30 artillery units and two mortar batteries, which are part of the fourth mechanized infantry brigade of the Georgian Defense Ministry, came forward in the direction of Tskhinval from its military base in Gori.
The Russian Foreign Ministry announced that the threat of large-scale hostilities between Georgia and South Ossetia was becoming increasingly real.
According to the JPF Assistant Commander Vladimir Ivanov, the peacekeeping contingent had been put on high alert, surveillance at the peacekeeping forces’ check points had been intensified, and more observation posts had been set up.
In the early hours of August 6, eight jet aircraft flew over the conflict zone from the south (the town of Gori) to the north (the settlement of Dzhava). Georgia continued secretly concentrating artillery systems and Grad multiple rocket launchers in the direct vicinity of the South Ossetian borders. Army trucks with soldiers, APCs [armored personnel carriers], multiple launch rocket systems, and artillery weapons started moving from Kutaisi in the direction of Gori.
As a result, by the beginning of a large-scale military operation against Tskhinval, Georgia had concentrated an invading force consisting of up to 12,000 men. In total, Georgia had up to three infantry brigades, an artillery brigade, a separate tank battalion, and special purpose units of its defense and interior ministries.
Russian Foreign Ministry Special Envoy Yury Popov flew to the region. He prepared the ground for a meeting in Tskhinval between Yakobashvili and South Ossetian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Chochiyev. However, this meeting did not take place because of the resumed shelling of Tskhinval and other cities and villages on August 7.
At their meeting on August 7, Popov and Yakobashvili again discussed the prospect of a trilateral meeting. Later on, they separately went to South Ossetia. After meeting with the residents of Georgian villages, Yakobashvili returned to Tbilisi, while Popov remained at the Joint Headquarters of Peacekeepers.
In the meantime, Georgia deployed 27 Grad multiple-launch rocket systems near Gori. A column of military equipment passed in the direction of South Ossetia. Twenty trucks with soldiers, 20 Toyota jeeps with vans armed with mounted machine guns, three APCs, three multiple launchers, and three artillery weapons, moved from Kutaisi to Gori.
In the latter half of the day, Tskhinval and its suburbs were shelled by large caliber artillery weapons from the Georgian villages of Nikozi and Ergneti.
At 3.45 p.m., Georgian military observers left the Joint Headquarters of Peacekeepers and observation posts.
In the evening on the same day, Yakobshvili announced Georgia’s decision to unilaterally suspend fire in the conflict zone. He said that Georgia wanted to show to the Tskhival authorities the “lack of any point in the military confrontation.” He declared his intention to go to the conflict zone together with Russia’s Foreign Ministry Special Envoy Popov, and to try and sit at the negotiating table.
At 7.40 p.m. President Mikheil Saakashvili addressed his compatriots. He said that in the evening on Thursday he ordered all Georgian armed formations in the region not to return fire in the conflict region in Tskhinval. “I would like to address those who are now firing at Georgian policemen. I would like to say with full responsibility that several hours ago I made a very difficult decision – not to return the fire,” he emphasized.
At 10.35 p.m., that is, three hours after this statement, Georgia launched an offensive operation against South Ossetia.
Clashes and shelling by grenade launchers and mortars started at 11.15 p.m., and salvo mortar fire began half an hour later.
Cannon artillery joined at 0.20 a.m. on August 8. Starting at 1.20 a.m., Georgian troops started moving to the eastern part of Tskhinval against the background of artillery cannonade.
On the night of August 8, Commander of Georgia’s Defense Ministry Joint Headquarters of Peacekeeping Operations Mamuka Kurashvili told television company Rustavi-2, that Georgia decided to restore the constitutional order in the conflict zone.
In the morning, Georgian aviation bombed South Ossetia. Five Su-25 assault aircraft bombed the Tkverneti region. A column with humanitarian relief from North Ossetia was also bombed.
Also in the morning, Yakobashvili declared: “Tskhinval has almost been encircled by Georgian units but we do not want destruction and human losses, and thus again invite the separatist leaders to start direct talks on ceasefire and relaxation of tensions in the conflict zone.”
Georgian shelling at night damaged a number of buildings on the territory of the headquarters of the Russian peacekeepers in Tskhinval. The building of South Ossetian parliament was burned down, a complex of government buildings was destroyed, and multi-storey apartment and other buildings were burning downtown.
A column of Georgian tanks and infantry moved in the direction of Tskhinval. Despite resistance of South Ossetian troops, by the middle of the day the Georgian forces established control over Tskhinval and eight villages in South Ossetia.
The persisting direct threat to the lives of Russian citizens in South Ossetia compelled Russia to resort to its right to self-defense, and send additional forces for supporting Russian peacekeepers, as well as protecting civilians in the afternoon of August 8.
At 3 p.m. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made a statement on the situation in South Ossetia on Russian television. He emphasized, in part, that in line with the Constitution and federal legislation he is obliged as Russia’s president to defend the lives and dignity of Russian citizens regardless of their place of residence. Under the circumstances, Russia had to launch an operation to enforce Georgia to peace, and protect its citizens in South Ossetia.
On August 9, additional units of the 58th army and airborne troops were brought into the conflict zone. Georgia reported about the bombing of its positions by Russian aircraft. Russian troops went into action in the direction of the village of Zara to unblock the road leading to Tskhinval from the north.
At 4 p.m. Moscow time, at the decision of the Supreme Commander of the Russian Armed Forces and in line with Russia’s Constitution, ships of the Russian Navy began patrolling the sea off Abkhazia’s coast.
Commander of the Ground Troops Army General Vladimir Boldyrev told journalists that battalions and tactical groups had completely liberated Tskhinval from Georgian troops, and started squeezing out Georgian units outside the zone of responsibility of peacekeepers.
The Georgian president convened an emergency meeting of the Security Council to declare that he had signed a decree on introducing martial law in the country. He said: “Georgia has been subject to Russia’s aggression.”
On August 10, Georgia’s Foreign Ministry forwarded a note to the Russian embassy whereby the Georgian president announced his order to cease hostilities and fire starting 5 a.m. on August 10, and his decision to withdraw Georgian troops from the conflict zone.
In an interview with CNN, Saakashvili declared that Georgian troops had been fully withdrawn from the conflict zone.
Russian warships patrolling the coast of unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia were attacked by four Georgian guided missile boats. They responded with precautionary shooting, and later on followed with artillery barrage. As a result of quick naval combat, one boat was sunk, and three others retreated towards Poti.
Humanitarian corridors for the withdrawal of refugees from South Ossetia were opened. By agreement of the sides, two corridors are in service: the northern one (for Ossetian refugees and wounded) and southern (for Georgians).
On August 11, President Dmitry Medvedev said during his meeting with Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov that Russia had largely completed its peace enforcement operation regarding Georgia in South Ossetia.
Russian peacekeepers and military conducted preventive measures in the area of the Georgian town of Senaki, where a military base is located, in order to prevent another aggression against South Ossetia.
The Novosti-Gruziya news agency reported that Russia and Georgia decided not to use aviation forces in the conflict zone. Commander of Russian Peacekeepers noted that this agreement did not extend to the Tskhinval region.
France presented a plan for the settlement of the conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia. Its main provisions were immediate ceasefire, medical aid to the wounded, and withdrawal of Georgian and Russian troops from the conflict zone.
On August 12, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev issued an order on completing the peace enforcement operation, which had achieved its goal.
Russia and France came to terms on six principles of settlement of the conflict in Georgia (the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan), including non-use of force, final cessation of all hostilities, and free access to humanitarian aid. Georgia was obliged to bring its troops to the site of their permanent deployment, while Russia was to return its troops to the line they occupied before the hostilities. Under the plan, Russian peacekeepers were to take additional security measures before the formation of relevant international mechanisms. The sixth principle dealt with the start of the international discussion of the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and ways of ensuring their security.
The Georgian authorities agreed to sign the document, but deleted the mention of the status from the sixth principle, having offered to discuss security issues alone.
On August 14, the leaders of the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia signed the principles of settlement.
On August 15, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili signed the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan.
On August 16, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the plan.
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, 18 Russian servicemen, including one officer, 17 sergeants and soldiers were killed in action during the conflict. Deputy Chief of Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Col.-Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn announced that 52 servicemen were wounded, including one general, two officers, and 49 sergeants and soldiers. Fourteen servicemen were reported missing.
According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, about 1,600 residents were killed as a result of hostilities in South Ossetia, and more than 30,000 refugees fled the republic.