An Ossetian soldier stands near a burned tank in Tskhinvali, capital of the Georgian breakaway enclave of South Ossetia, during the August 2008 war. ((Mikhail Metzel/Associated Press))

Georgia's opening attack on the breakaway South Ossetia region was unjustified and "marked the beginning" of last year's war with Russia, according to an EU-commissioned report.

The anticipated report, released Wednesday, said Georgian, Russian and South Ossetian forces all violated international humanitarian law, and suggested ethnic cleansing was practised against Georgians in South Ossetia during the five-day war.

The report said the war began on Aug. 7, 2008, with Georgia's assault on the South Ossetian capital of Tshkinvali, following "long periods of increasing tensions, provocations and incidents" and said the risk of new confrontation "remains serious."

Georgia had said it launched its offensive to repel Russian forces that invaded separatist regions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia had said it sent troops only after Georgia had attacked.

But the report, written by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, said Georgia's attack was unjustified under international law.


South Ossetia in Georgia is one of many ethnic areas in the Caucasus and Central Asian regions where tensions flare frequently over land and sovereignty issues. ((CBC))

Russia's military repelled Georgian forces in the brief war, taking battles deep into Georgian territory. Russia's occupation of Georgian territory and its subsequent recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia has drawn strong condemnation from the West.

Russia went too far in retalitation: report

The EU report said Russia went too far in its response to Georgia's attack.

"All this cannot be regarded as even remotely commensurate with the threat to Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia," the report said.

Russia's retaliation went "far beyond the reasonable limits of defence," it said, criticizing the devastating Russian assault on its smaller neighbour.

Georgia's EU ambassador, Salome Samadashvili, said the question of who fired first was irrelevant in the context of two decades of friction.

Russia's EU envoy, Vladimir Chizhov, said the report was not pro-Russian but provided "an unequivocal answer to the main question of who started the war."

The report also looked at claims of ethnic cleansing of Georgians in South Ossetia, but did not pinpoint who it believed was responsible.

With files from The Associated Press