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Was Putin in charge during Georgia war? Medvedev begs to differ.

On fourth anniversary of the Georgia war, Russia's President Putin said he was in close contact with then-President Medvedev. He also created a stir by saying Russia had a 'war plan' before the conflict.

By Correspondent / August 10, 2012

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visits a military base in Tskhinvali in Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia on Wednesday, Aug. 8. Medvedev defended his handling of the 2008 Russian-Georgian war, which erupted when he served as Russian president.

Yekaterina Shtukina/Government Press Service/RIA-Novosti/AP

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Moscow

In separate comments dedicated to the fourth anniversary of the 2008 Georgia war, Russia's President Vladimir Putin has possibly generated more than one nasty controversy, which the Kremlin leader can ill afford.

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One remark by Mr. Putin, which has the Georgian Foreign Ministry in full cry, was his unexpected insistence that Russia "had a plan" for war with Georgia even before Georgian forces struck the capital of breakaway South Ossetia on Aug. 8, 2008, triggering the conflict.

Another, which has set Russia's political commentariat astir, is Putin's claim Wednesday that he telephoned then-President Dmitry Medvedev twice in the early hours of the war to discuss what to do. That statement seems remarkable, since Mr. Medvedev has repeatedly insisted that he did not talk with Putin until the next day, when all the key decisions had already been made. Russian experts say this clash of reminiscences is not trivial, and might bespeak a deep rift in the Putin-Medvedev "tandem" that has ruled Russia for almost five years.

"This is a very strange moment," says Nikolai Petrov, an expert with the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "It's not really in Putin's best interests to quarrel with Medvedev over what happened. But it seems to be more important to him just now to show that it was he who won the war, who restored Russia's military glory, than it is to maintain the facade of unity with Medvedev."

The whole controversy was triggered by a 47-minute documentary film that features several retired Russian generals accusing Medvedev of "indecision" and "dithering" at the outset of the war, until he received "a kick in the pants" from Putin. The film, entitled "A Lost Day," has only been seen on the Internet, and Putin denies even having seen it.

In the film, General Yury Baluyevsky – who was fired by Medvedev as military chief of staff two months before the war – claimed that Medvedev and his advisers were "afraid to give the command" to intervene against Georgia's offensive in South Ossetia until Putin convinced them to move.

Despite Georgian claims that Russia started the war, the chronological record clearly shows that Georgian forces assaulted Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, during the night of Aug. 7, and the Russian 58th Army poured into the embattled region about 20 hours later.

 But the dispute over who made the key decisions on the Russian side may now herald a fresh power struggle at the summit of Kremlin power.

Speaking to journalists during a Moscow visit of Armenia's president on Wednesday, Putin was explicit both about not having seen the controversial documentary, and also that he had definitely called Medvedev at the beginning of the Georgian attack.

"As far as telephone calls are concerned, yes, I called Dmitry Medvedev twice, on August 7 and August 8 [2008], as well as the defense minister, and we talked about the problem," Putin said.

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