The Investigative Committee in Russia and Alleged Georgian Crimes?

by Kenneth Anderson

Military analyst at AEI Fred Kagan has offered a list of provocative possibilities for where the Georgian-Russian war goes next (HT Rich Lowry at NRO, here; I have not been able to find an original link but will amend this when one is available.  Here it is – you can read Fred Kagan’s updates at the Institute for the Study of War website.).  I include Kagan’s (not to be confused with his brother Robert Kagan) full list of possibles at the bottom of this post.  What interests me most here are two of Kagan’s comments on possible Russian investigations into alleged Georgian crimes in South Ossetia, presumably in the course of the Georgian push into South Ossetia, but perhaps not limited to that:

The Investigative Committee convened by Dmitrii Medvedev on Putin’s “suggestion” has reported that it will investigate crimes committed by Georgian troops under the articles for mass murder in the Russian Federation law code.

If the Investigative Committee proceeds as seems likely, it will most probably indict Saakashvili and other members of the Georgian government for crimes committed under Russian law, and Russian can then presumably demand their extradition in exchange for opening the Tbilisi-Poti road.

The likeliest outcome at this stage is that Moscow insists on the departure of Saakashvili and other high members of the Georgian government from power and from the country, and then returns to its positions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia with significantly increased force presence.  In that scenario, Georgia will be helplessly under Russian domination.

I have no idea whether any of this is likely or not.  I have only a hazy understanding of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Procuracy, if that is in fact that organ to which Kagan refers; I recall this article from Radio Free Europe last year.  But again, I am not entirely sure this is the entity to which Kagan refers.  

However, I also recall that my colleague at American University, Ethan Burger, recently posted an article to SSRN (coauthored with NYU’s Mary Holland) titled Law as Politics: The Russian Procuracy and Its Investigative Committee.  It is the best scholarly source on the Investigative Committee that I have encountered, and I recommend it to you.  The abstract reads:

This article examines how the Russian Presidential Administration under President Putin has misused the Procuracy for political purposes in high profile cases. After examining background, the Procuracy’s history, constitutional structure and obligations to the Council of Europe, the article observes that the Procuracy has used its investigative and prosecutorial powers selectively; played a role in expropriating private property; and promoted illusory anti-corruption campaigns. It argues that the Russian Presidential Administration created the Procuracy’s important new Investigative Committee for corrupt political purposes. Using specific examples, it explores the Investigative Committee’s record during its five months’ of operation. It concludes that under President Putin, Russian law enforcement became increasingly politicized and degraded.

If indeed this is the Investigative Committee to which Kagan refers, and if indeed things move this direction – a Russian investigation into allegations of crimes, whether war crimes or others, as defined under the Russian criminal code – then many disturbing questions of international and long-arm reach of domestic criminal law are in play.  If anyone has some better idea than I about whether the Investigative Committee is being tasked in this way, and what its operations are, I would welcome them in the comments.  I will also forward this to Professor Burger and ask for his comments.

(Here is the full set of Kagan points via Lowry:)

Fred Kagan has been following it closely, and here are a few points from his latest take: 

  • Numerous reports suggest that Russian forces have moved beyond the boundaries of Abkhazia and South Ossetia into Georgia proper.  The Russians have de facto confirmed that they have occupied Zugdidi, a town on the Georgian side of the Abkhazian border.  They deny that they have occupied Gori, a key transportation node west of Tbilisi and south of Tskhinvali, but Georgian and press reportage suggests that they have.
  • It is known that Russian aircraft have bombed all of these and other areas, including the port of Poti, which some Russian sources claim has been destroyed.  The Russians also acknowledge that they issued an ultimatum to Georgian forces in Zugdidi to disarm.
  • Russia has also announced a significant reinforcement of its forces in Abkhazia, and it has announced plans to increase its forces in the region generally in response to the return of Georgian troops from Iraq.
  • The Investigative Committee convened by Dmitrii Medvedev on Putin’s “suggestion” has reported that it will investigate crimes committed by Georgian troops under the articles for mass murder in the Russian Federation law code.
  • If, as reports suggest, Russian forces have occupied Zugdidi, Senaki, and Gori, then they have not only invaded Georgia in violation of any possible international legal justification, but have also taken possession of Georgia’s only means of communication with the Western World.  If the Russians hold Gori, then Georgia’s only land-sea lines of communication run through Azerbaijan to the Caspian Sea or along secondary, mountain roads to Batumi and/or Turkey.
  • If the Investigative Committee proceeds as seems likely, it will most probably indict Saakashvili and other members of the Georgian government for crimes committed under Russian law, and Russian can then presumably demand their extradition in exchange for opening the Tbilisi-Poti road.
  • Alternatively, Russian forces are in an excellent position to take Georgia if they chose to do so.
  • The likeliest outcome at this stage is that Moscow insists on the departure of Saakashvili and other high members of the Georgian government from power and from the country, and then returns to its positions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia with significantly increased force presence.  In that scenario, Georgia will be helplessly under Russian domination.
http://opiniojuris.org/2008/08/11/the-investigative-committee-in-russia-and-alleged-georgian-crimes/

One Response

  1. Two quick points. Firstly, much has been made about the fact that Putin is very much involved with the strategy for dealing with this crisis. Many commentators have in fact looked at this as evidence of the Putin reaching from behind Medvedev’s throne. I think that that is too simplistic a view. The strength of the Russian response pretty much shows the opposite – i.e. a new incumbent seeking to show that he is at least as strong as the previous one. It is clear from the way that Putin/Medvedev axis is working that it is at present a “1-2 punch” but then this being the first international crisis, it was always expected that he would need more assistance from the more experienced member of the partnership. I do not believe it to be indicative of how all crises will be handled.

    Secondly, I think it is unlikely that the Investigative Committee will go as far as indicting Saakashvili. The strategic goal is to increase Georgia’s “Russian dependency” and put at risk its EU and NATO membership. If the conflict ended today – these goals have already been achieved. A political indictment of the nature suggested would be seen as “regime change” by other means and could precipitate a stronger response from the EU and NATO than has already occurred. That said, strategically, there could be value in indicting lower level generals and politicians in Georgia in an attempt to remove some of Saakashvili’s power base. But even this minor measure might not be necessary as reports are already indicating that the political blame game has already swung into action in Georgia and that after this phase of the conflict – Saakashvili will pay a heavy political price for what his opponents are already saying – i.e. prompting this Russian incursion. 

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. There are no trackbacks or pingbacks associated with this post at this time.