Moscow’s version of events in the recent Ossetia war has not varied. It says that Georgia attacked on the night of 7 August and that Russian troops did not arrive until the next day. It is clear, furthermore, that they did not appear in South Ossetia in strength until at least 24 hours after the first Georgian shots were fired.
Saakashvili’s story, on the other hand, has changed several times. On the 7th, a few hours before his forces opened fire, he made a speech on TV in which he said he had ordered a ceasefire adding “And I am offering the Russian Federation to be a guarantor of the South Ossetian autonomy within Georgia… I offer a very important role to Russia in resolving this conflict… Georgia is a natural ally for Russia… We need a real mediator.” The next day, when he believed victory was at hand, he made another speech. A Georgian source reported him saying that Georgian forces now controlled “most of South Ossetia” and that “A large part of Tskhinvali is now liberated and fighting is ongoing in the centre of Tskhinvali”. In this he made two assertions to justify the attack: first that “South Ossetian militias responded to his peace initiative on August 7 by shelling Georgian villages” and second that “Georgia had come under aerial attack from Russian warplanes”. No mention of Russian troops entering South Ossetia then.
Of course, his victory announcement was premature and a few days later, he needed a bigger justification for the catastrophe. It was then that he started claiming that the Russians moved first. “‘I am sickened by the speculation that Georgia started anything,’ Mr Saakashvili told a conference call with journalists days later on August 13. ‘We clearly responded to the Russians . . . The point here is that around 11 o’clock, Russian tanks started to move into Georgian territory, 150 at first. And that was a clear-cut invasion. That was the moment when we started to open fire with artillery, because otherwise they would have crossed the bridge and moved into Tskhinvali.’”
Then the story changed again: on 23 September in a piece he wrote in the Washington Post, he claimed that “Russia then started its land invasion in the early hours of Aug. 7, after days of heavy shelling that killed civilians and Georgian peacekeepers.” He expected his readership to believe that the Russians had had an 18-hour head start on a 60-kilometre race and that Georgia had invaded anyway. Too preposterous and it seems to have been quietly forgotten.
Saakashvili’s stories are collapsing one after the other: the first story about a response to heavy Ossetian shelling is directly contradicted by two former British officers who were part of the OSCE team in the area: they report “Georgian rockets and artillery were hitting civilian areas in the breakaway region of South Ossetia every 15 or 20 seconds” and deny that there was the shelling of Georgia villages that Saakashvili claimed on the 8th.
The second story of the Russians entering South Ossetia just before – “supported” with the laughable claim of an intercepted telephone call which was mysteriously “lost” for several weeks – collapses in the BBC program of a couple of weeks ago (Part 1, Part 2). Americans were finally introduced to the accurate version in the New York Times nearly three months after the war began.