Satellite Imagery Revealing Russian-Georgian War Crimes
20 October, 2011
Satellite Imagery Revealing Russian-Georgian War Crimes


They are on duty as soon as big disasters happen, like tsunami in Japan, riots in Egypt, war in Georgia in 2008, etc. Their mission is to deliver integrated satellite-based solutions for human security, peace and socio-economic development. The team is named UNOSAT.


UNOSAT is the UNITAR Operational Satellite Applications Program, a technology-intensive program, active in all aspects of applied research relating to satellite solutions, delivering geographic information to organizations within and outside the UN system to make a difference in

the lives of communities exposed to poverty, hazards, and conflict, or affected by humanitarian and other crises.

Since 2003, UNOSAT humanitarian rapid mapping service has already been vitally helpful for thousands of people in major emergencies. By processing of satellite imagery, generating geographic information and then analytical reports, UNOSAT specialists are supporting sufferers. Dr. Thomas Schuler is one of the experts. He worked in close collaboration with the organization during the Georgian-Russian war in August, 2008.

“The future of intelligence is not in the classified information, because so much information is still unclassified. One has to find the right way to navigate in unclassified intelligence. This is what Dr. Schuler does. His way of thinking is totally independent from any political or other influences. He just knows which data he should pick up, how he should analyze it and then arrive at logical, reliable and useful conclusions. The resource of brilliant satellite imagery technology facilitates to navigate this unclassified information and within few hours after the disaster, find right ways to effectively act to improve the situation”, a foreign source, who preferred to remain anonymous, exclusively told Georgian Journal.

Dr. Thomas Schuler is a president of International Disaster Relief Task Force specialized in museums. When the war broke out in Georgia in August 2008, his main task was to get information if there were any museums within the hostilities area, where exactly the risk zones were situated and what the condition of these buildings was. Furthermore, they had to find this out regardless of which side was controlling the territory at the given moment - Georgia or Russia.

Soon after the first days of the war, Russian Heritage Committee arrived in South Ossetia. After having spent several days there, the Committee held a press-conference saying nothing precisely but just giving a promise to UNESCO to send them the official report, which UNESCO never received.

Despite severe difficulties and high risk, it was international TV crews that managed to enter the conflict zone and get the information about the local cultural heritage. But further information about the museums within the South Ossetian territory was needed.

UNOSAT collected satellite images day by day, from house to house, detecting which of the objects was destroyed or damaged. Afterwards they elaborated statistics from their data.

“By interpreting the results given by this tremendous satellite-based system, we can see that propaganda and exaggeration of damages can be easily and quickly checked by professional analysis of satellite imagery. For example, while the official data for damage in Tskhinvali was 70 %, the satellite images clearly present that the actual data was approximately 50 % of damage in Tskhinvali (Image #1). At the same time, there was heavy concentration of damages within clearly defined residential areas in Gori, which was downplayed in the speeches of South Ossetian officials. So this technology makes it possible to uncover the lies that appear in wartime”, Dr. Schuler told Georgian Journal.

Another exceptional detail that has been revealed concerned the genocide that took place during the Russian-Georgian war in 2008. Some maps illustrate satellite-detected active fire locations of the towns north and east of Tskhinvali, South Ossetia (Image #2).

After having counted cluster of new fires every day during August, 2008, Dr. Thomas Schuler declares: “There is one statement to make for sure: these damages did not happen when the Russian army entered South Ossetia. During the four fire nights the Russian troops were standing far south from the Upper Didi Liakhvi valley”. So there must have been some other reason why dozens and dozens of houses and, in some cases, the entire villages were burnt down. Mr. Schuler pointed out possible versions in his analysis: “There are tree hypotheses: a) Natural fires: not very likely, due to the type of the spread of the fire. On contrary, it looks like separate local starting points for fire - and this means arson. b) Arson by individual criminal activity, e.g. by neighbors. This is less likely, because most of the village population had fled, and one wouldn’t expect a concentration during four nights, whereas for the other nine nights they have stayed quiet.

c) So it points to the most likely reason that this was a group activity - maybe by spontaneous hooliganism or by planned action by South Ossetian Militia”, he concluded.

A political scientist and an expert in Caucasus matters, Mamuka Areshidze told Georgian Journal that he himself had had conversations with foreign journalists who were first brought to Tskhinvali by South Ossetians after the war. “All of them state that the Southern area nearby Tskhinvali was damaged by Georgian artillery, but the central and the Northern parts of the territory were destroyed by the air forces. During the hostilities it was extremely difficult to identify who damaged the buildings and burnt down the villages, but there is one notable fact. On August 12-13, 2008, the so called president of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity started saying that Georgians would not ever step on his land. Such statements became so frequent that soon Kokoity, inhibited by Russia, had to totally change his policy to Akhalgori - inhabited by Georgians, expressing tolerance towards them, thus trying to demonstrate that the obvious genocide which had happened was merely caused by war emotions, not by their resistance to Georgia”.

Dr. Thomas Schuler also states that satellite imagery technology can not prove who exactly did it, “But it does give a solid basis for thinking about more or less probable reasons”, he concludes. And as a result, these possible reasons, along with correct analysis lead to the conclusions, affecting human lives.


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