Since Russia invaded Georgia in August, Moscow has turned the tide of international opinion that initially put Russia squarely at fault in the conflict. For that, the Kremlin largely has to thank Ryan Grist, a 47-year-old former British army captain in charge of international monitors when war broke out. But his objectivity is now being questioned by Georgia and some Western diplomats in Tbilisi.
Georgia believes Mr. Grist is a spy. "I can't say Grist works for Russia. I don't know. But our secret service thinks so," says Temuri Yakobashvili, a top Georgian official. "What was he doing going somewhere without his boss knowing?" The government has distributed tapes of someone he stayed with discussing foreigners with South Ossetia's KGB chief, but neither the fact not the content of the conversations is conclusive.
Mr. Grist was furious… When he and Ms. Hakala met alone at 2 a.m. in Tbilisi the following Monday night, as Georgia's army fled the battle zone and rumors swirled that Russian tanks were headed for Tbilisi, they argued bitterly, they both say. Ms. Hakala ordered him to take an immediate vacation. "I thought then, that's probably it with the OSCE. So I went home and I thought, OK, I'll find out what's going on. So I did," says Mr. Grist.
At dawn on Tuesday, Aug. 12, he set out on the road to South Ossetia in an unarmored OSCE car. He rolled down the windows so he could hear any firing as he drove through emptying Georgian villages. A column of Russian tanks refueling on the road outside Tskhinvali let him through, he says.
In Tskhinvali, Mr. Grist says he went to the apartment of a friend, Lira Tskhovrebova, who worked for a nonprofit organization and was well connected with the local authorities. Friends hid his car and took him to see two top South Ossetian officials.
The OSCE in Tbilisi told him to return right away. On the road home, he says, he was stopped by one of the gangs of South Ossetian militia that had begun rampaging through Georgian villages, killing, looting and burning houses. "They pulled me out of the car and threw me down on the road, and then it got pretty heavy," says Mr. Grist. He says he shouted the names of the officials he had just been meeting "so they wouldn't shoot me."
On foot, Mr. Grist then had to take cover from crossfire under the rear of a Russian tank. Then he was caught by a second gang of South Ossetian militia, he says. Finally he decided to stay indoors until the Russian army could bring him out, which it did three days later, on Aug. 15. The OSCE asked the British consulate to remove him from the country, debriefed him and then forced him to resign.