Conflicts

Georgia v. Russia – who won for whom in Strasbourg?

28 January, 2021

On 21 January 2021, Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights announced its ruling on the case of Georgia v. Russia over the 2008 Russia-Georgia war and found Russia guilty on key points listed in the application lodged against Russia. According to the judgment of the Strasbourg Court, the Russian Federation exercised effective control over the territories of Abkhazia, so called South Ossetia and a “buffer zone” and it is responsible for the violations of the rights of Georgian citizens in that period. The Georgian side described the verdict of the Strasbourg Court as a “historic victory” that confirmed, on the international level, the occupation of Georgia’s two regions by Russia and ethnic cleansing carried out there after the 2008 conflict. The US Embassy issued a statement saying that the court ruled “clearly in favor of Georgia.” 

Comments about the court’s ruling were made by Russia as well as representatives of de facto government of so-called South Ossetia. Georgian media outlets and groups of pro-Kremlin and anti-liberal inclinations echoed the official narrative of the Russian side. Myth Detector provides an overview of main messages of these actors.

  • Statements of Russia and representatives of de facto government of so-called South Ossetia.

An official statement of the Russian Justice Ministry of 21 January placed emphasis on that part of Georgia’s application that was declared inadmissible by the ECHR. The court did not consider that part of the application which concerned the responsibility of Russia for human rights violations committed during the active phase of hostilities from 8 to 12 August 2008. Making references to that very part of the ECHR ruling in its statement, the Russian Justice Ministry said that it “disagrees” with the main part of the verdict in which the Russian Federation is found responsible for “administrative practice” of tolerance of human rights violations. This statement of the Russian Justice Ministry was published by a pro-Russian media outlet, Sakinfromi

The de-facto president of occupied South Ossetia, Anatoly Bibilov, also commented on the European Court’s verdict and described it as “unilateral” and “politicized.” Bibilov said that the document published on 21 January “has little to do with true events and facts.” Bibilov’s statement was published by pro-Kremlin news outlets sputnik-ossetia and News Front.

Reactions of pro-Russia media outlets and anti-liberal groups to the ECHR ruling

The narrative of pro-Kremlin media and anti-liberal groups about the ruling of the European Court promoted several main messages. The Kremlin’s propagandist media outlets: sputnik-georgia and sputnik-ossetia, as well as Georgian-language pro-Russian online editions: tvalsazrisi.ge, Georgia & World, and News Front, and members of the Eurasian Institute, engaged in circulating the official narrative of the Russian side and focused on those points of the court verdict that were favorable for Russia. Other messages of pro-Russian and antiliberal groups have promoted the idea that the court’s ruling cannot change anything for Georgia and will not play any role in de-occupation process, but may irritate Russia and create additional threats.

  1. The European Court rejected Georgia’s accusations against Russia. The responsibility for starting the war was laid on Georgia.

Sputnik-ossetia.ru 21 January

Tvalsazrisi.ge, rambler.ru 21 January

კარდჰუ 22 January

მურატ ჯიოევი, special representative of de facto president of so-called South Ossetia  22 January

“ECHR deemed Georgia’s accusations against Russia for South Ossetia unfounded”

“Russia did not invade South Ossetia on 7 August 2008. TASS reports that the ECHR arrived at this conclusion… The court also refused to hold Russia responsible, under the Convention for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, for incidents that occurred during 8-12 August 2008, when Russian military troops repelled the attack of Georgians on peacekeepers and civilians.”

“Although the Strasburg Court held Russia responsible for ethnic cleansing, but, unfortunately, the Georgian side has again turned out responsible for starting hostilities…. To cut a long story short, [the court said] you started the war, but then Russia carried out ethnic cleansing.”

“It seems the European Court arrived at a decision similar to that of the EU independent commission led by Heidi Tagliavini in 2010, which acknowledged that Georgia started the war against South Ossetia.”

  1. The ruling of Strasbourg Court is more beneficial for Russia. It reinforces the opinion that Russian troops defended villages of Shida Kartli.

It is worth noting that the message of pro-Kremlin News Front and the head of the Eurasian Institute was identical, though it was published in various media under various names.

Shota Apkhaidze, Editor of New Front, 22 January

Gulbaat Rtskhiladze, Eurasian Institute, 22 January

“The Strasbourg Court acknowledges that the Russian troops did not participate in raiding Georgians, burning their houses, taking them prisoners and torturing them. Quite the contrary, the Strasbourg Court supports the facts featured in a documentary, “Georgian people speaking,” filmed by the Eurasia Institute, which shows that the Russian army regiments defended villages of Shida Kartli against looters and robbers.”

“The Strasbourg Court acknowledges that the Russian troops did not participate in raiding Georgians, burning their houses, taking them prisoners and torturing them. Quite the contrary, the Strasbourg Court supports the facts featured in a documentary, “Georgian people speaking,” filmed by the Eurasia Institute, which shows that the Russian army regiments defended villages of Shida Kartli against looters and robbers.”

  1. The ruling of Strasbourg Court will irritate Russia and endanger us.

Asaval-Dasavali, Dito Chubinidze
25 - 31 January:

სტალინი, [Stalin], 24 January

“I am fraught with fear that with this fair ruling, the Strasbourg Court has put us under the threat of the scepter of Ivan the Terrible!... We are annoying and irritating Russia to such a degree that one cannot rule out that Georgia may once again be hit with the scepter of Ivan the Terrible!...”

“There will be no happiness and welfare of Georgia and the Georgian people until we sort out the relationship with Russia. Neither the Georgian Dream nor the United National Movement will do that. They say they won the case against Russia. Idiots! They are wrestling with Russia…”

  1. The ruling of the Strasbourg Court will change nothing, de-occupation depends on the dialogue with Russia.

Alt-TV, 21 January

Asaval-Dasavali, Dito Chubinidze, journalist, 25 - 31 January

Gulbaat Rtskhiladze, Eurasian Institute, 22 January

David Nemsadze, military blogger, 22 January

Giorgi Kardava, presenter: “The most unconfrontational statement adopted in the most harmless form, which does not place any obligation on Russia and even if it does, Russia does not give a damn about those obligations.”

 

Alt-TV, Shota Martinenko: “In reality, we face an utter catastrophe. The decision which we were informed about today, the way it was presented to us, is the demonstration of the fact that there is not prospect in the West any longer.”

 

“We must tolerate and endure the disaster that Russians caused to us and should pay a visit to the Russian Tsar in The Karakoram, because Abkhazia and Tskhinvali cannot be reclaimed through rulings of the Strasbourg Court!”

“This decision is not by any means conducive to the restoration of territorial integrity; quite the contrary, it may distance us further from prospects of solving problems through negotiations with Abkhaz and Ossetians and primarily, Russia which has a final say in conflicts.”

“The fate of Georgia is decided in Moscow, not Strasbourg! What is the meaning of a decision that cannot be enforced without a will of Russia?… One can hardly find a country in the world that will prevent it [Russia] from taking this action. There is no court that can deliver judgment on its action.”

  1. The ruling of Strasbourg Court is the failure of Georgia and prerequisite for the recognition of so-called South Ossetia.

sputnik-ossetia, 22 January

sputnik-ossetia, Stanislav Kazakov, expert in Caucasus issues, 22 January

“A prerequisite for the recognition of statehood: Russian expert about the ECHR decision on South Ossetia”

“The ECHR decision is a prerequisite for the recognition of statehood [of South Ossetia]… Georgians who fight for their ‘territorial integrity,’ have no chance. They lost both in the war and in diplomacy. This decision offers new opportunities for Sokhumi and Tskhinvali and they must take advantage of them.”

About the decision of the Strasburg Court on the case Georgia v. Russia

Georgia applied to the Strasbourg Court regarding the 2008 Russia-Georgia armed conflict on 11 August 2008, while a full application was filed on 6 February 2009. The application concerned a violation of eight Articles of the European Convention, including the right to life; prohibition of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; the right to liberty and security; protection of property; freedom of movement, etc. During a 12-year-long dispute, the court examined hundreds of evidence and heard testimony of 33 witnesses.

The court was guided by standards of “effective control” and extraterritorial jurisdiction, when holding Russia responsible for the violation of human rights. According to the ruling published on 21 January, the Russian Federation exercised the effective control over Abkhazia and so-called South Ossetia after 12 August and therefore it is fully responsible for the human rights violations. The court held that human rights violations after 12 August were “administrative practice” and “official tolerance” by the Russian military authorities. 

The main issue of manipulation by the Russian side was that part of the application which concerned 8-12 August. According to the court, in contrast to the period after 12 August, during the active phase of hostilities in 8-12 August none of the parties exercised “effective control” and the court declared that part inadmissible. This does not mean that the court denied human rights violations during that period; the European Court indicated that the active phase of hostilities is a matter of the international humanitarian law and individual disputes can be considered in the Hague court. 


Prepared by Medea Sulamanidze