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Cablegate: Tfggo1: Russia-South Ossetia Sitrep 2 August 9


DE RUEHMO #2319/01 2220856
O 090856Z AUG 08

C O N F I D E N T I A L MOSCOW 002319


E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/09/2018

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Eric S. Rubin. Reasons 1.4(b) and (d)

1. (C) Summary. U.S. demarche will be delivered to the
Russian MFA at 1400 Moscow time (0600 EDT). The Russian
government continues to characterize its actions as "peace
enforcement," with Russian media claiming that troops have
reached Tskhinvali's outskirts. Officials emphasize they
have a responsibility to protect the local populace and
stress that they will take all necessary actions to deal with
the humanitarian situation. Local press has been covering
the conflict extensively, showing convoys of Russian tanks,
and interviews with persons who have fled their homes in
South Ossetia for North Ossetia. Russia's political parties
and populace have acclaimed Russia's actions, with the
Communists and nationalist Zhirinovskiy pressing for a harder
line. The lackluster performance of Medvedev has raised
questions, but the fact Putin has not returned from Beijing
and is shown talking to Olympic athletes indicate he is
content to let Medvedev handle the situation (for public
consumption, at least). Some commentators are questioning
whether the U.S. gave Georgia the go-ahead, and say the GOR
is awaiting the U.S. reaction. End summary.

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DFM Karasin Not Available

2. (C) MFA informed Embassy Moscow that DFM Karasin was not
available to meet with Charge today. The French Embassy got
the same message this morning when it requested an
appointment to deliver an EU demarche paralleling ours.
Acting DCM will deliver our demarche to MFA at the
directorate level at 14:00 Moscow time.

Medvedev Steps Forward, Hesitantly

3. (SBU) A pale and hesitant Medvedev, with none of the
bravado of Putin, was pushed forward into the limelight on
Saturday morning, with televised coverage of his opening
remarks following a meeting with Defense Minister Serdyukov
and the Chief of the General Staff Makarov. Medvedev
reiterated to the military leadership that the Russian
peacekeepers and additional units were entrusted with
bringing the Georgian side to peace, with the responsibility
for protecting the local population. Medvedev then met with
officials from the Ministry for Emergency Services, as well
as Health and Social Services, to underscore that Russia
would take all steps necessary to deal with the difficult
humanitarian situation that had been brought out by Georgian
military actions. Reiterating that it was Russia's
obligation to resolve the crisis situation and assist the
civilians, Medvedev entrusted the Russian officials with
overseeing the complex of issues associated with the
"humanitarian response." Press reports note the pro
vision of a mobile hospital facilities among the assistance,
with a hot-line established for families to find out
information about friends and relatives in the conflict area.

4. (C) Medvedev's performance has been lackluster, with
potential implications for his longevity in office. That
said, we do not see divisions in the leadership, with
prominent foreign policy experts reinforcing to us the
consensus that undergirds Russia's policy towards Georgia.
The fact that Putin has not come rushing home from Beijing to
help manage the crisis in Moscow reflects his confidence that
the policy course is not in doubt. Medvedev's efforts to
frame Russian actions in legal terms, as an obligation to
assist Russian peacekeepers, who are present in the conflict
zone under international agreement, reflects his lawyerly
bent and perhaps his inclination to keep this conflict
focused on the restoration of status quo ante.

5. (C) xxxxx said the key question the GOR was
trying to determine was whether the U.S. had given
Saakashvili the go-ahead. The GOR had expected the U.S. to
again convince Georgia to pull back and when that didn't
happen, it raised the question whether the U.S. had allowed
Georgia to go ahead. The GOR was questioning whether this
was a first step in the U.S.'s attempt to isolate or contain
Russia, and were waiting for America's reaction and

Russia's Conception of "Status Quo Ante?"
6. (SBU) In a phone call with German President Merkel,
President Medvedev insisted that returning to the status quo
ante would entail Georgian troops returning to their "initial
positions." This likely supports Foreign Minister Lavrov's
emphasis on a Georgian withdrawal from the current zone of
conflict, a point he made in numerous calls with foreign
counterparts. What remains unclear is whether a return to
"initial positions" refers to the positioning of Georgian
forces immediately before the outbreak of violence on
Thursday, or an adherence to the terms of the 1994 Cease-fire
Agreement. Although Russian officials have yet to cite the
1994 Agreement as a condition for status quo ante, Medvedev
has announced the need for a legally binding, "non-use of
force" agreement. Russia has repeatedly called on Georgia
to sign such an agreement.

7. (C) The status quo ante could become a moot point if
Russia throws its support behind South Ossetian independence.
While the Kremlin and the Government have largely stayed
silent on recognizing South Ossetia's independence,
Federation Council Speaker Mironov said the FC would examine
this issue in the near future. We believe Mironov's comments
are parliamentary bluster.

President Medvedev Orders Aid to Fleeing South Ossetians
--------------------------------------------- -----------

8. (U) Russians remain fixated with the scope of
Georgian-inflicted casualties. Hourly news bulletins on all
channels are showing tearful refugees telling tales of terror
and flight. On August 8, head of the South Ossetia
information department in the Joint Control Commission (JCC)
told Interfax that the Georgians shot at residential areas
and a hospital. He said, "All business and organizations are
on fire: schools, the university, the Culture Ministry, the
parliament. The peacekeeper's city has been destroyed."
South Ossetia leader Eduard Kokoity estimated the number of
dead at 1,400. Vice Premier Sergey Sobyanin announced that
Russia has accepted more than 30,000 refugees from South
Ossetia. South Ossetia's entire population is estimated at
70,000 people. UNHCR tells us it continues to closely follow
the situation in South Ossetia. The Federal Migration
Service had told their office to expect thousands of refugees
and IDPs, but she questioned the 30,000 figure reported in
the Russian media.

9. (U) On August 9, President Medvedev ordered the Emergency
Situations Ministry, the Health and Social Development
Ministry, and the Federal Migration Service to address the
"very complicated humanitarian problems have arisen, which we
need to address in line with our mandate and simply in line
with the duty that our state has." Medvedev stressed that, "
the people responsible for this humanitarian disaster need to
be held liable for what they have done, considering, among
other, the international legal aspect of this problem."
Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Irina Andrianova
said that 19 provisional centers for the refugees are
operating in North Ossetia and a Ministry airmobile hospital
has been deployed to the region. News reports also said that
most South Ossetians are staying with relatives in North
Ossetia, and that Russia's Rostov region is preparing to
accommodate thousands of South Ossetians.

Criminal Case Opened to Investigation Peacekeeper Losses
--------------------------------------------- -----------

10. (U) By August 9 midday, Russian news agencies reported 15
Russian peacekeepers had been killed and over 50 were
injured. The spokesman of Russia's Office of the Chief
Military Prosecutor announced the launch of a criminal
investigation into the peacekeeper's deaths, comprised of 30
investigators and headed by a deputy chief military

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