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Controversy, Confusion on 4-Year Anniversary of Ossetia War

RIA Novosti

18:54 08/08/2012 MOSCOW, August 8 (Dan Peleschuk, RIA Novosti) - Exactly four years on, a new documentary has revived the debate over the five-day war in 2008 between Russia and Georgia, sowing confusion about who was in charge and who knew what – and when.

Former top-ranking generals in the Russian Army have alleged in a 47-minute documentary entitled “The Lost Day” that then-President Dmitry Medvedev’s indecision during the 2008 war with Georgia resulted in the unnecessary loss of life.

The film focuses on the events between August 7, when Russian forces reportedly became aware of Georgia’s plan to attack South Ossetia, and August 8, when Georgia attacked and Russia actually sent its forces into South Ossetia and Georgia. The former officials say Medvedev’s reluctance to issue the order a day earlier cost the lives of both Russian peacekeepers and local civilians.

“In my opinion, it was necessary for Supreme Commander President Medvedev to say: ‘Act in accordance to the plan I have approved,’” then-Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Army Yury Baluyevsky said in the film. “The most important thing is the initial command. But that initial command was given, unfortunately, far too late.”

A seven-minute preview of the film is posted on YouTube, with the headline “Medvedev’s Cowardice Killed 1,000 People.” The film features several other high-ranking generals, including a Major-General and a Lieutenant-General, but it remains unclear who produced the film.

Since news of the documentary broke, both Medvedev and current President Vladimir Putin have commented on the events of 2008, and the film has reawakened the persisting – if now outdated – debate over who was really in charge while Medvedev was president.

Speaking with reporters on Tuesday after a meeting in the Leningrad Region, Putin downplayed the allegations and defended the government's decision-making, saying the option was on the table days before the invasion.

“The decision to use armed forces is a very important decision, because it is the beginning of military activity…people are killed,” he said. “Before making such decisions, one needs to think about it ten times.”

He refused to comment on whether he was the one to initiate the use of force.

A day later, however, Putin told reporters that military operations in fact started on August 6 – before the Georgians even invaded.

Medvedev, for his part, stood his ground on August 8 during a visit to Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, saying that he made the decision to deploy troops “quickly enough.”

“I was forced to make a difficult decision which restored the balance and brought peace,” he said.

Some experts say the film was a coordinated information campaign aimed at dampening the public discontent with the military that flourished in the midst of the war – and to shift it to the leadership at that time.

“They’re attempting to compensate for a part of this negative sentiment that was heaped onto them by civil society, which criticized them for everything from their equipment to troop movements – and to the death of Russian peacekeepers,” said Alexei Mukhin, head of the Center for Political Information, declining to speculate who may have produced the video.

Mukhin added that part of the film’s strategy may be to reawaken the age-old debate over who was really in charge during the Medvedev presidency.

“It certainly has the potential to restart that discussion again,” he said.

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