International Herald Tribune, Published: November 11, 2008
It is important to know which side initiated the war in August between Russia and Georgia. If primary blame falls on Russia, as Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili claims, a new Obama administration will have limited latitude in rebuilding relations with Moscow. If it turns out that Georgia is mostly to blame, the new President Obama will have to make sure Saakashvili understands that a reliable ally does not recklessly implicate America in an unnecessary confrontation with Russia.
Which is why Obama should take note of emerging accounts about the beginning of the war from seasoned monitors sponsored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Those monitors, who were on the ground in the breakaway region of South Ossetia when hostilities commenced the night of Aug. 7, reported seeing Georgian artillery and rocket launchers assembling just outside South Ossetia at 3 p.m. that day, well before any Russian convoy had crossed into the enclave.
They also observed unprovoked shelling of South Ossetia's capital, Tskhinvali, that night. The shells were falling on civilians' huddled in their homes. And The monitors heard nothing that would confirm Saakashvili's claim that Georgian artillery attacks on Tskhinvali were in response to the shelling of ethnic Georgian villages.
There is no reason to doubt the OSCE monitors. The inescapable conclusion is that Saakashvili started the war and lied about it. The Kremlin may have done its part to provoke Georgia - and its reaction to the Georgian attacks was deliberately harsh - but that is no excuse for Saakashvili allowing himself to be provoked.