How a flat tyre took Russia, Georgia to war

August 17th, 2008 - 3:38 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Aug 17 (IANS) Though the simmering ethnic tensions and East-West brinkmanship in the Caucasus have been blamed for the war between Russia and Georgia, a deflated tyre of a Russian diplomat’s car is believed to have proved the final straw, the Sunday Telegraph reported. According to the leading British newspaper, a flattened tyre of a Russian diplomatic car forced the cancellation of key peace talks between the sides before fighting erupted 10 days ago.

Though trouble had been brewing in the disputed South Ossetian region for weeks as Moscow-backed militias skirmished with Georgian troops, Russian-brokered negotiations between the Georgian government and the separatists continued.

But on Aug 7, the first substantial face-to-face talks failed following a farcical chain of events with a top Russian diplomat claiming that he could not attend the meeting in South Ossetia because his car tyre had run flat, the newspaper said.

However, Georgian delegation to the peace talks could not take the diplomat’s excuse at face value and assumed that they were being lured into a trap.

The incident provoked Georgia to launch a military offensive in the region, inviting the Russian invasion, the British daily said, quoting Georgia’s chief negotiator Timur Yakobashvili.

In an interview with the paper, Yakobashvili said that he had travelled to South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali hoping a ground-breaking meeting, but neither Russian diplomat Yuri Popov, who was supposed to chair the talks, nor any South Ossetian officials turned up for the talks.

“It was disturbing atmosphere,” recalled Yakobashvili. “Two days before, the South Ossetians had started using Russian positions to shoot at our troops. But we decided to make the trip anyway because a direct meeting would have been a breakthrough.”

“I called and spoke to Popov and he said he could not get to the office because his car had a flat tyre,” Yakobashvili said. “This was preposterous. I said the delegation must have more cars. He said there is another car but its tyre is flat too. At this point I knew it was a trap and I was very angry.”

Asked about the whereabouts of the rest of the delegation, General Kulakhmetov, the only Russian present at the meeting hall, said the South Ossetian delegate had turned his mobile off.

Gen Kulakhmetov further told Yakobashvili that unless Georgia declared a unilateral ceasefire Russia could not control the South Ossetians.

“He said he could not control the South Ossetians while there was Georgian military on the boundary. He said we must declare a unilateral ceasefire before the Russians could push them back,” the Georgian diplomat said.

He told Daily Telegraph that when he returned home, he was handed a folder containing US-provided satellite photos of a column of Russian armoured division advancing towards the Roki tunnel, the passageway that links South Ossetia with Russia.

Following the incidents, the Georgian government concluded “Russia had devised a premeditated exercise to humiliate its (Georgia’s) envoy during his trip to Tskhinvali, and in the heat of the moment, the flat tyre was interpreted as a contemptuous first move for a well-planned invasion,” he said.

The Georgians then decided to stop the Russian column - at the Kurta bridge, which straddles a high ravine south of the tunnel, the diplomat said, describing how the military conflict actually began in the region from a trivial beginning.

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