The uneasy peace established between Russia, Georgia, and the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the early 1990s held with only relatively minor infractions (notably in 2004) until 2008.1 A 2006 referendum on South Ossetian independence, Russian intrusions into Georgian airspace, and the collapse of talks under the auspices of the OSCE in October 2007 created a tense climate. This situation developed rapidly the following year when Georgia requested to join NATO and the Kosovan declaration of independence spurred a concerted South Ossetian effort for international recognition. In April 2008, Russia opened formal ties with both Abkhazia and South Ossetia and significantly increased the numbers of troops it had deployed in the area. Armed clashes took place near Tskhinvali in June, increasing in frequency and severity until 8 August, when the Georgian president declared a state of war.2 At this stage, far more Russian troops were in the contested republics than the peace arrangements negotiated 15 years previously allowed and the Russian Air Force was bombing targets across Georgia. In a matter of days, Georgian forces were forced out of contested parts of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by local militia backed by Russian troops. On 10 and 11 August, Russian forces pressed deep into Georgia, temporarily occupying the town of Gori while the Russian navy established a maritime blockade of the Georgian coast.3 Up to 850 people were killed in the fighting, and almost 200,000 were forced from their homes. With 2,000 hardened Georgian troops returning from Iraq and reserve forces were being mobilised, the stage was set for a much less restrained – and potentially devastating – interstate confrontation.
The EU had developed a growing interest in the Caucasus over the preceding decade, making it ideally placed to facilitate talks to end the conflict and prevent a much larger war. On 12 August, French President Nicholas Sarkozy (in his capacity of chair of the EU) flew to Moscow for talks with the Russian administration. After successfully negotiating an agreement on the cessation of hostilities, Sarkozy took the agreement to the Georgian government, which duly accepted the terms.4 The agreement also established an EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) to verify the withdrawal of Russian troops and monitor the new frontlines. Although the withdrawal of Russian forces took place slowly, the fighting was over. Just three days later, German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited both Georgia and Russia in support of the peace process.5