OSLO (Reuters) – The United States warned Georgia against trying to retake rebel South Ossetia by force, including on the very eve of the August 7 attack that drew a crushing response from Russia, the U.S. envoy to NATO said on Thursday.
Ambassador Kurt Volker said Russia was looking for an excuse to flex its military might and send troops into Georgia, as it duly did when Georgian soldiers ventured into pro-Russian South Ossetia.
Asked if Washington was notified of Georgia’s intention to strike its rebel province, Volker said: “The United States has consistently counseled Georgia, over a long period of time, that there is no military solution (in South Ossetia).
“Including the day before Georgian troops went into South Ossetia, we said ‘don’t do it, don’t be drawn into a military conflict, it’s not in your interest’,” Volker told Norway’s Institute of International Affairs.
“But the pressure on (Georgia) was too great and they felt they had to act…and that gave Russia the excuse they were looking for to launch a massive military operation with over 20,000 troops,” he added.
Relations between Russia and the West have sunk to a new low over the Georgia conflict, with NATO accusing Moscow of dragging its feet on a promised withdrawal from Georgian territory. Russia said it had to intervene to protect its citizens in South Ossetia.
Volker said Moscow had long exerted pressure on Georgia by placing restrictions on trade and visas and through smaller-scale military incidents, while it built up Russian forces stationed in South Ossetia as peacekeepers.
“It’s easy to see the careful preparation and the deliberate pressure put on Georgia, to which they responded unwisely,” Volker said.
He said that international peacekeepers were needed in Georgia because Russia was no longer credible in the role of sole keeper of peace in the Black Sea state.
He said a force could be provided by the United Nations, the European Union or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a forum of which Russia, the United States and Georgia are members.
“We need some kind of internationalization of peacekeeping to have credibility when it comes to maintaining Georgia’s territory, integrity and sovereignty,” Volker said.