Foreign Traces in the Strange War
// Russia will try to prove that Tbilisi used mercenaries in South Ossetia
Yesterday head of the investigation committee of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office Alexander Bastrykin made a sensational statement: Russia has information that the Georgian party hired mercenaries from the Czech Republic, Turkey, Ukraine, the U.S. and Chechnya to conduct hostilities in South Ossetia. If this information is proved to be true, an international scandal will break out. However, Kommersant found out that it is practically impossible to find evidence that there were mercenaries in South Ossetia.
Head of the investigation committee of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office Alexander Bastrykin made his statement during an international conference in St Petersburg. Noting that 17,000 Georgian military men, 100 tanks, 70 armored vehicles, 110 pieces of artillery and 30 multiple rocket launchers participated in the South Ossetian war, he said that the Georgian Air Force used cluster bombs against South Ossetia. Mr Bastrykin stated, “We witnessed a grave international crime – genocide of the South Ossetian people.” According to Mr Bastrykin, the Georgian party hired U.S., Czech, Turkish, Chechen, and Ukrainian mercenaries. This statement may develop into an international scandal. “It is well-known that, according to international law, hiring mercenaries is a grave crime; if Russia proves it, it will bode ill for Georgia,” an expert from the Russian Foreign Office told Kommersant.
Answering a question of Kommersant, which evidence the investigation committee has, its spokesperson Vladimir Markin said, “I don’t have complete data. Next week we are holding a meeting with our South Ossetian colleagues, and I will be able to report about proof after it.”
Representatives of the South Ossetian government were eager to share more information. For example, South Ossetian Information and Press Minister Irina Gagloyeva told Kommersant that evidence can be found in documents that remained in the Georgian army’s temporary headquarters after it withdrew from Tskhinvali. “Georgians occupied the town’s residential areas and set up coordination headquarters there. When they fled, they left a lot of documents, including the lists of those who participated in hostilities,” Ms Gagloyeva said. “Unfortunately, those lists were taken away by Russian investigators, but as far as I know there were several unordinary surnames on the lists – either Czech or Slovak.” Ms Gagloyeva added that witnesses can testify that non-Georgians took part in military operations. “Ukrainians stormed into basements with Georgian soldiers,” the Minister said. “People remembered them by accent. They even saw a few Afro Americans. As far as I know, a corpse of an Afro American was found among the corpses of Georgian military men.”
South Ossetian Prosecutor General Teimuraz Khugayev partly confirmed to Kommersant that mercenaries fought against South Ossetia. “As far as mercenaries from the Czech Republic, the U.S., Turkey and other countries are concerned, I have nothing to tell you,” Mr Hugayev said. “Perhaps our colleagues from Moscow have more information regarding the matter: they worked here independently. But I hope that in the near future we will share data; we have requested relevant information from the investigation committee. But I can say for sure that a unit of mercenaries from the Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian National Self Defence nationalist organization fought on the Georgian side.” According to the South Ossetian Prosecutor General, the documents from the Georgian Interior Ministry’s archives, which were confiscated in the village of Tamarasheni after the South Ossetian government took control of the enclave, provide evidence that Ukrainians participated in the war on Georgia’s side. “There was the Georgian Interior Ministry’s counter-terrorist center and Sanakoyev’s executive office (the pro-Georgian government of South Ossetia - Kommersant) in Tamarasheni. We found the counter-terrorist center’s lists and orders signed by head of the so called alternative Interior Ministry of South Ossetia Mr Karkusov regarding those mercenaries. They contain these people’s service records. We also found personal belongings, including photos, where they are depicted with local residents.” Analyzing documents and real evidence, investigators with the South Ossetian Prosecutor General’s Office came to a conclusion that there were a few tens of foreigners with the Georgian troops in Tamarasheni.
“In the photos they wear NATO uniform,” the Prosecutor General says. “There were a few Afro Americans among them. But I cannot ascertain that they all are mercenaries, because strong reasons are required to do so. But I can say for sure that five Ukrainians, who were here, can be referred to as mercenaries. According to the documents, they had a military UAZ. But the Georgian army had no UAZes – only Land Rovers and Toyotas. That UAZ was shot down on August 8 during a fight near the western entrance to Tskhinvali. There were a lot of corpses on the site, but we found no corpses of these people. Perhaps they were injured and managed to escape.”
Answering a question of Kommersant about foreign mercenaries in the Georgian army, Georgia’s Interior Ministry spokesperson Shota Utiashvili said ironically, “Have Russian investigators found foreign passports again? You remember, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office announced finding a passport of an American mercenary Zemo-Nikozy? And later that person, a teacher of English, who works in China, said that he lost his passport in Sheremetyevo airport in 2005. I guess this time Russians have similar evidence.” Mr Utiashvili flatly denied foreign mercenaries’ presence in the conflict zone. “Only Georgian military men participated in the operation,” Shota Utiashvili told Kommersant. “If anyone saw Russians or Ukrainians, I can say that various nationals work with our Interior Ministry, but they all are Georgians and speak Georgian. Tbilisi could also accuse Moscow of using Chechens or Kazaks as mercenaries, but everyone knows that those were not mercenaries – they were members of the Russian army. It is pointless to use this factor,” Mr Utiashvili added.
Nevertheless, experts believe that even assuming that foreigners participated in hostilities on Georgia’s side, they cannot be called mercenaries. According to international law provisions, military men, who are sent to a country at war for a mission, as well as volunteers cannot be considered to be mercenaries. “In theory, those Ukrainians could be called mercenaries if there was evidence that they were paid for participating in hostilities and their payments were higher than those Georgian military men got,” an expert with the Russian Foreign Ministry argues. “If it is not proved, militants can be considered volunteers, which is no violation of international legal norms.”
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