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1,500 Reported Killed in Georgia Battle PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 10 August 2008

The conflict between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia moved toward all-out war on Saturday as Russia prepared to land ground troops on Georgia’s coast and broadened its bombing campaign both within Georgia and in the disputed territory of Abkhazia, reports The NY Times.

The fighting that began when Georgian forces tried to retake the capital of the South Ossetia, a pro-Russian region that won de facto autonomy from Georgia in the early 1990s, appeared to be developing into the worst clashes between Russia and a foreign military since the 1980s war in Afghanistan.

Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, declared that Georgia was in a state of war, ordering government offices to work around the clock, and said that Russia was planning a full-scale invasion of his country.

Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia arrived Saturday evening in Vladikavkaz, a city in southern Russia just over the border that is a military staging area, Russian news agencies reported.

The fighting had wide international implications, as both Russian and Georgian officials placed it squarely in the context of renewed cold war-style tensions and an East-West struggle for influence on Russia’s borders.

Georgian officials said their only way out of the conflict was for the United States to step in, but with American military intervention unlikely, they were hoping for the West to exert diplomatic pressure to stop the Russian attacks.

President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia said Russia was acting to restore peace in the Caucasus and protect its citizens and peacekeepers who had come under Georgian attack in South Ossetia.

Attending the Olympic Games in Beijing, President Bush directly called on Russia on Saturday to stop bombing Georgian territory, expressing strong support for Georgia in a direct challenge to Russia’s leaders.

“Georgia is a sovereign nation, and its territorial integrity must be respected,” Mr. Bush said in a hastily arranged appearance at his hotel in Beijing. “We have urged an immediate halt to the violence and a stand-down by all troops. We call for the end of the Russian bombings.”

He said the United States was working with European allies to seek an international mediation in the simmering conflict between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. He noted that administration officials had been in contact with officials in both countries “at all levels of government,” though neither side has so far showed a willingness to compromise.

Mr. Bush referred particularly to attacks spreading beyond South Ossetia, a reference to the Russian airstrikes in parts of Georgia itself. “The attacks are occurring in regions of Georgia far from the zone of conflict in South Ossetia,” he said. “They mark a dangerous escalation in the crisis. The violence is endangering regional peace, civilian lives are being lost, and others are in danger.”

He discussed the fighting with Mr. Putin during a social lunch at the Great Hall of the People on Friday and again at the opening ceremonies. The White House would did not disclose the details of what they said.

Pentagon officials said late Friday that the Georgian government had officially requested assistance in airlifting home the approximately 2,000 Georgian troops now in Iraq. The request was under review, and standard procedures would indicate that the United States Government would honor the request, officials said.

Alexander Lomaya, secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council, said the conflict arose because Russia sought to “thwart its neighbors’ movement toward Western society and Western values.”

“Russia has clearly decided to redraw the borders of the Eastern Europe map of the post-cold war situation,” Mr. Lomaya said. “If the world is not able to stop Russia here, then Russian tanks and Russian paratroopers can appear in every European capital.”

He said only Western intervention could prevent all-out war.

“We still believe that a unified and consolidated Western pressure and Western opinion can bring some fruit,” he said.
In the early 1990s, he said, Russia began cultivating separatist movements along the outer limits of its territory — in Moldova, Georgia and the Baltic states — in an attempt to consolidate its sphere of influence.

In a news conference, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia said Georgian attacks on Russian citizens “amounted to ethnic cleansing,” and reserved some of his harshest language for Georgia’s allies, referring at one point to “Mr. Saakashvili and his Western friends.”

“Those who have been supplying arms to Georgia, they should feel part of the blame for the loss of life,” he said. Foreign leaders “who have been appeasing Mr. Saakashvili’s intentions, and helped create the feeling of impunity inside the Georgian, should think twice about whether this is right.”

But he said Moscow had been working intensively with foreign governments, in particular the United States. “We have been appreciative of the American efforts to pacify the hawks in Tbilisi. Apparently these efforts have not succeeded,” he said. “Quite a number of officials in Washington were really shocked when all this happened.”

Georgian officials said that Russian warplanes had attacked the major Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline that carries oil to the West from Asia, but that the pipeline had not been struck.

Russian warplanes struck two apartment buildings in the city of Gori and clogged roads out of the area with fleeing refugees. Refugees also flowed out of the pro-Russian enclave of South Ossetia into Russia, where officials said 30,000 people had taken shelter.

Russia acknowledged that Georgian forces had shot down two Russian warplanes, while a senior Georgian official said the Georgians had destroyed 10 Russian jets.

Russian armored vehicles continued to stream into South Ossetia, and Russian officials said that 1,500 civilians had been killed in South Ossetia and that 12 Russian troops had died.

A Georgian government spokesman said that 60 civilians had been killed in Gori in the two apartment buildings, which were located near a tank base. Each side’s figures were impossible to confirm independently.

The Russian Defense Ministry said 100 planeloads of airborne troops would be brought to southern Russia and marched into the “zone of hostilities.” Georgian officials said at least 2,500 Russian troops were already in South Ossetia.

A column more than 60 miles long, with 650 armored vehicles, entered South Ossetia overnight, Russian television reported.

On Saturday, Russia notified Western governments that it was moving elements of its Black Sea fleet to Ochamchire, a small port in the disputed enclave, a senior Western official said.

A senior Georgian security official said that Russian ships were moving toward Georgia’s Black Sea Cost in order to land ground troops, and that 12 Russian jets were bombing the Kodori Gorge in Abkhazia, another breakaway region that hugs the Black Sea.

In a news conference, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia said Georgian attacks on Russian citizens “amounted to ethnic cleansing,” and reserved some of his harshest language for Georgia’s allies, referring at one point to “Mr. Saakashvili and his Western friends.”

“Those who have been supplying arms to Georgia, they should feel part of the blame for the loss of life,” he said. Foreign leaders “who have been appeasing Mr. Saakashvili’s intentions, and helped create the feeling of impunity inside the Georgian, should think twice about whether this is right.”

But he said Moscow had been working intensively with foreign governments, in particular the United States. “We have been appreciative of the American efforts to pacify the hawks in Tbilisi. Apparently these efforts have not succeeded,” he said. “Quite a number of officials in Washington were really shocked when all this happened.”

Georgian officials said that Russian warplanes had attacked the major Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline that carries oil to the West from Asia, but that the pipeline had not been struck.

Russian warplanes struck two apartment buildings in the city of Gori and clogged roads out of the area with fleeing refugees. Refugees also flowed out of the pro-Russian enclave of South Ossetia into Russia, where officials said 30,000 people had taken shelter.

Russia acknowledged that Georgian forces had shot down two Russian warplanes, while a senior Georgian official said the Georgians had destroyed 10 Russian jets.

Russian armored vehicles continued to stream into South Ossetia, and Russian officials said that 1,500 civilians had been killed in South Ossetia and that 12 Russian troops had died.

A Georgian government spokesman said that 60 civilians had been killed in Gori in the two apartment buildings, which were located near a tank base. Each side’s figures were impossible to confirm independently.

The Russian Defense Ministry said 100 planeloads of airborne troops would be brought to southern Russia and marched into the “zone of hostilities.” Georgian officials said at least 2,500 Russian troops were already in South Ossetia.

A column more than 60 miles long, with 650 armored vehicles, entered South Ossetia overnight, Russian television reported.

On Saturday, Russia notified Western governments that it was moving elements of its Black Sea fleet to Ochamchire, a small port in the disputed enclave, a senior Western official said.

A senior Georgian security official said that Russian ships were moving toward Georgia’s Black Sea Cost in order to land ground troops, and that 12 Russian jets were bombing the Kodori Gorge in Abkhazia, another breakaway region that hugs the Black Sea.

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