The probe’s findings came a day after objections from Moscow forced Europe’s OSCE security watchdog to wrap up its observer mission in Georgia, prompting a furious reaction from Tbilisi.
“We can say that we have witnessed the genocide of the Ossetian people,” the head of the Russian prosecutors’ investigative committee Alexander Bastrykin told reporters.
He said 162 South Ossetian civilians were killed in the conflict — a figure much lower than that of 500 given by South Ossetian rebel authorities and that of more than 1,500 given by Russian officials after the outbreak of hostilities.
“What is important is not the number. What is important is that we have established that there was a conscious and planned action to destroy the Ossetians as an ethnic group,” he said.
A senior Georgian official retorted that the accusation by Russian prosecutors was a “cynical lie”.
“Russia was telling lies to the whole world that there were thousands of civilians killed by the Georgian army in South Ossetia,” Alexander Lomaia, the former secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council, said.
“The Russian prosecutor’s statements are yet another cynical lie. This is nothing but a Kremlin propaganda campaign,” said Lomaia, who was recently named Georgia’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Georgia on Monday accused Russia of seeking to hide “war crimes” after the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe said it would pull its observers out of Georgia on January 1.
Russia forced the organisation to pull its mission after it insisted the observers should stay out of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two separatist regions of Georgia.
Despite a EU-brokered ceasefire that ended the war, observers fear that the disputed status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia still poses a threat to peace. Russia has recognised the two regions as independent but Georgia insists they are an inseparable part of its territory.