Sergey Lavrov

August 8 marks the one-year anniversary of the tragic events in South Ossetia. On that night the regime of Mikhail Saakashvili made an ignoble and inhuman attack on its peaceful inhabitants and also on the Russian peacekeepers that had for many years defended the peace and security of the peoples living in the fragile Transcaucasian region.

During the Georgian aggression inhumane types of weapons were massively used – including cluster munitions, volley-fire systems, and 500-kilogram bombs. As a result hundreds of peaceful inhabitants of Tskhinval and neighboring settlements and dozens of Russian military men, including peacekeepers died, and the number of wounded and injured is immeasurably greater. To identify many of the dead does not appear possible to this day. The scale of destruction was truly appalling.

The enormous number of human casualties and the appearance of thousands of refugees attest to the fact that this was neither a mistake nor a fortuity but pre-planned criminal actions. The trophy documents of the Georgian army, including the notorious Clean Field plan, unequivocally corroborate this.

Russian citizens experience anger and pain, recalling the August events of last year. We mourn together with the South Ossetian people, give a tribute to the memory of the dead, and promise to continue helping all those who suffered during the conflict.

The tragic events in South Ossetia have again demonstrated to the whole international community that there is no alternative to peaceful negotiation methods of resolving disputes and conflicts – unfortunately, at the cost of innocent lives. There is no forgiveness for that, nor can there be. The war criminals must suffer an appropriate punishment. The modern history of Europe knows of quite a few examples on that score.

Georgia’s barbaric aggression against the former part of its own state has vividly highlighted the profound cracks in the then-existing system of European security. It proved unable to prevent sudden and wide-scale attacks on the territories that were in the sphere of close attention of major international institutions.

The Russian Federation had been a consistent supporter of the political principles for a peaceful settlement in Transcaucasia, acting as an impartial and honest mediator in the UN and OSCE brokered talks. For 17 years we had performed the crucial peacekeeping functions and were ready – in case of a settlement – to assume the role of a guarantor in the agreements of the conflicting sides. But the Georgian authorities chose to shoot up the territorial integrity of their state from Grad missile systems, thus giving up for lost the restoration of an interethnic community with the neighboring nationalities. Moreover, in the first days after Tskhinval bloodshed the Saakashvili regime further aggravated the situation as it tried to accuse Russia of unleashing the conflict and continued to threaten its neighbors.

In the circumstances we had no way to ensure the peace and security of the peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia other than recognizing their independence and offering them a free democratic choice of their own state and national development. Russia was the first to find the courage to grasp the objective reality. That was the most effective decision, of benefit to everybody, even those who does not want to acknowledge this.

The presence of our troops and border guards under the bilateral agreements that have been ratified by the parliaments is absolutely legitimate. It provides reliable security for the republics and creates conditions for their independent development. Russia will continue rendering extensive socioeconomic assistance to the brother peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, primarily in questions of housing and civil infrastructure reconstruction and assistance in the defense of their states and the protection of their borders.

A year after the Georgian aggression the peoples of Transcaucasia, nevertheless, still experience quite a few challenges and problems. The chief one of them remains the policy of revanche and the prospect of a relapse of actions of force by Georgia. Despite the failure of the August adventure, the authorities in Tbilisi apparently do not intend to give up plans for a forcible restoration of the “integrity of Georgia.” Therefore we insist on assuming legal obligations not to use force and such obligations must be unconditionally assumed by Georgia not toward Russia, but toward the neighbor republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Only in this way can Tbilisi restore at least a minimum of trust toward itself on the part of the neighboring countries and the international community. The agreements on the nonuse of force must contain clear-cut guarantees of security for the peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This will prevent a repetition of the tragedy. All democratic states and peoples must be interested in averting new outbreaks of violence in the region.

It is also hard to overestimate the need for all countries to refrain during a lengthy period from supplies to Georgia of offensive, and ideally – all types of weapons and military equipment. The massive arms supplies from abroad in recent years created in the Georgian leadership an illusion of impunity and all-permissiveness, and engendered the temptation to solve its problems by military means. The perilous consequences of this are now obvious. The international community must demonstrate a responsible approach in this matter and recognize the new geopolitical changes that took place in Transcaucasia after the August events.

Attempts to carry on as if nothing had happened and to ignore the fully sovereign existence of independent South Ossetia and Abkhazia eventually led to the closure in these countries and Georgia of the international presences that had generally provided useful assistance to the peoples of the region. That was not our choice. Nor does the responsibility lie on Russia for the withdrawal of the international missions, however hard some people may try to present this.

Nevertheless, we believe that given the proper drawing by all concerned parties of the lessons and conclusions from the August tragedy of last year the international community can foster and establish constructive cooperation in Transcaucasia. The main ways for that are laid down by the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan, the provisions of which Russia has been completely and rigorously fulfilling and will continue to fulfill in the future as well. Only by joint efforts can we preserve peace on our European continent.

The August 2008 events will remain the focus of attention among politicians and political scientists for a long time yet. It is important that the process of their comprehension should not be a hostage to ideologized or bloc approaches but contribute to the search for adequate ways and means of ensuring stability and security in Transcaucasia.