News & Current Affairs

September 19, 2008

Rice criticises ‘isolated’ Russia

Rice criticises ‘isolated’ Russia

Russia is becoming increasingly authoritarian at home and aggressive abroad, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said.

In a strongly-worded speech, Ms Rice said Moscow was on a “one-way path to isolation and irrelevance”.

Diplomatic relations between the US and Russia have been strained by the recent conflict in Georgia.

Earlier, Russia’s president said the two nations should not risk established ties over “trivial matters.”

Dmitry Medvedev said it would be “politically short-sighted” if Washington and Moscow were to endanger their political and economic ties.

However, Ms Rice suggested in her speech that following the conflict in Georgia, Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organization had been put in doubt.

Russia’s leaders violated Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and launched a full-scale invasion
Condoleezza Rice

The US has already shelved a civilian nuclear deal with Russia, but despite tensions the two countries are maintaining diplomatic links.

Ms Rice held a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov just hours before delivering her speech, and Russia is also due to join an international meeting on Iran’s nuclear program on Friday.

Our correspondent says Moscow is also telling the US that its co-operation is needed over issues like Iran and North Korea, with many in Washington feeling the Russians have a point.

Several hours after Ms Rice spoke, it emerged that a Russian submarine test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

An official from Russia’s defence ministry is quoted as saying that the test – carried out in Russia’s far-eastern Kamchatka peninsula – went according to plan.

‘Deeply disconcerting’

Speaking at an event organized by the German Marshall Fund in Washington, Ms Rice acknowledged that Georgia had fired the first shots in the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Russian troops in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali

Ms Rice said Russia had tried to dismember Georgia

“The Georgian government launched a major military operation into Tskhinvali [the capital of South Ossetia] and other areas of that separatist region,” she said.

“Regrettably, several Russian peacekeepers were killed in the fighting,” she added.

But Ms Rice said that Russia had escalated the conflict.

“Russia’s leaders violated Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and launched a full-scale invasion across an internationally recognized border,” she said, adding that Russia had also violated the terms of a ceasefire negotiated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Ms Rice said it had been “deeply disconcerting” that Russia had tried to “dismember” Georgia by recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and argued that Russia’s actions were part of what she described as a “worsening pattern of behavior”.

“I refer… to Russia’s intimidation of its sovereign neighbours, its use of oil and gas as a political weapon… its threat to target peaceful neighbours with nuclear weapons… and its persecution – or worse – of Russian journalists and dissidents,” she added.

Pledging help to rebuild Georgia, Ms Rice said the US and Europe would not let Russia benefit from aggression.

‘Taking the bait’

Ms Rice admitted that Georgia could have responded better to the events last month in South Ossetia.

We will not allow Russia to wield a veto over the future of our Euro-Atlantic community
Condoleezza Rice

“We warned our Georgian friends that Russia was baiting them, and that taking this bait would only play into Moscow’s hands,” she said.

However Ms Rice, an expert on the Soviet Union, also said that Russia could not blame its behavior on the enlargement of Nato.

“Since the end of the Cold War, we and our allies have worked to transform Nato… into a means for nurturing the growth of a Europe whole, free and at peace.”

The promise of Nato membership had been a positive incentive for states to build democratic institutions and reform their economies, she added.

And she insisted that Russia would not be allowed to dictate who joined the Nato alliance.

“We will not allow Russia to wield a veto over the future of our Euro-Atlantic community – neither what states we offer membership, nor the choice of those states to accept it,” she said

“We have made this particularly clear to our friends in Ukraine.”

The secretary of state was also critical of the domestic situation inside Russia.

“What has become clear is that the legitimate goal of rebuilding Russia has taken a dark turn – with the rollback of personal freedoms, the arbitrary enforcement of the law [and] the pervasive corruption at various levels of Russian society,” she said.

Russia’s leaders were risking the future progress of the Russian people, she said, declaring that Russia’s leaders “are putting Russia on a one-way path to self-imposed isolation and international irrelevance”.

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August 26, 2008

Russia recognises Georgian rebels

Russia recognises Georgian rebels

South Ossetian residents celebrate the Russian parliament's decision (25 Aug 08)

Many South Ossetians feel closer to Russia than Georgia

President Dmitry Medvedev has declared that Russia formally recognizes the independence of the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The move follows a vote in both houses of parliament on Monday, which called on Moscow to recognize the regions.

Mr Medvedev defied a specific plea from US President George W Bush not to go ahead with the move.

Russia and Georgia fought a brief war this month over the provinces, which already had de facto independence.

Analysts say the move is likely to further escalate tensions between Russia and the West.

Rift with Nato

“I have signed decrees on the recognition by the Russian Federation of the independence of South Ossetia and the independence of Abkhazia,” Mr Medvedev said in the announcement.

BBC map

“That was no easy choice to make, but it is the sole chance of saving people’s lives,” Mr Medvedev added.

He blamed Georgia for failing to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the problem and called on other states to follow Russia’s example.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking from the West Bank city of Ramallah, said Russia’s decision was “regrettable”.

The US state department had warned that recognition of the two provinces’ independence would be “a violation of Georgian territorial integrity” and “inconsistent with international law”.

In a statement, Mr Bush called on Russia’s leadership to “meet its commitments and not recognize these separatist regions”.

In the two breakaway regions, however, Moscow’s move was warmly welcomed.

Residents in Abkhazia took to the streets to celebrate the news, firing into the air, Reuters reports, and in the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali there were scenes of jubilation.

‘New understanding’

Earlier on Tuesday, Russia cancelled a visit by Nato’s secretary general, one of a series of measures to suspend co-operation with the military alliance.

Russia’s ambassador to Nato said the trip would be delayed until relations between the two were clarified.

Dmitry Rogozin said a “new understanding” needed to be reached between Russia and Nato.

The recognition is bound to dramatically heighten tensions in Russia’s already fragile relationship with the West.

He says this and a series of other announcements indicate that Russia is preparing itself for a showdown.

Although most of Russia’s forces pulled out of the rest of Georgia last Friday, it is maintaining a presence both within the two rebel regions and in buffer zones imposed round their boundaries.

Port control

Some Russian troops also continue to operate near the Black Sea port of Poti, south of Abkhazia, where Russia says it will carry out regular inspections of cargo.

The US said on Tuesday that its warships would deliver aid to Georgia’s port of Poti, which is under Russian control. The move could mean US and Russian forces coming face-to-face.

HAVE YOUR SAY

Russia is right to recognise South Ossetia and guarantee its security

Branco, Bulgaria

Earlier, the head of European security organisation, the OSCE, Alexander Stubb, accused Russia of trying to empty South Ossetia of Georgians.

Speaking to the BBC’s Europe Today program, he said: “They are clearly trying to empty southern Ossetia from Georgians, which I don’t think goes by any of the books that we deal with in international relations”.

A South Ossetian commander said many Georgian civilians had already left of their own accord, because they were scared of the guns.

August 25, 2008

Russian MPs back Georgia’s rebels

Russian MPs back Georgia’s rebels

An Abkhaz separatist tank crewman relaxes in the Kodori Gorge on 14 August

Abkhazia used the Ossetia conflict to drive out remaining Georgian troops

Both houses of Russia’s parliament have urged the president to recognise the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The unanimous votes in the Federation Council and State Duma are not binding on President Dmitry Medvedev.

But they could provide Mr Medvedev with bargaining chips in talks with the West, analysts say.

Russia fought a brief war with Georgia this month after Tbilisi tried to retake South Ossetia by military force.

Most of Russian ground forces pulled out of Georgia last Friday, following a French-brokered ceasefire agreement between Moscow and Tbilisi.

It’s a historic day for Abkhazia… and South Ossetia
Sergei Bagapsh, Abkhazian leader

But some Russian troops continue to operate near the Black Sea port of Poti, south of Abkhazia, and have established checkpoints around South Ossetia.

On Monday, a senior Russian commander said Russian troops would be carrying out regular inspections of cargo in Poti.

Moscow has defended plans to keep its forces near the port, saying it does not break the terms of the truce.

Russia has also said it will not allow aerial reconnaissance in the buffer zones it had set up.

The US, France and UK say Russia has already failed to comply with the ceasefire terms by creating buffer zones around South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Both regions have had de facto independence since breaking away in the early 1990s.

While they have enjoyed Russian economic and diplomatic support, and military protection, no foreign state has recognised them as independent states.

Since the fighting over South Ossetia ended nearly two weeks ago with the ejection of Georgian forces from both provinces, the Russian military has established controversial buffer zones along their administrative borders with Georgia proper.

‘Hitler’ comparison

The upper house, Federation Council, voted 130-0 to call on President Medvedev to support the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The lower house, the State Duma, approved the same resolution in a 447-0 vote shortly afterwards.

South Ossetians demonstrate for independence in Tskhinvali on 21 August

South Ossetians rallied for independence last week

The Federation Council speaker, Sergei Mironov, said both Abkhazia and South Ossetia had all the necessary attributes of independent states.

During the debate in the two chambers, several speakers compared Georgia’s military action in South Ossetia with Hitler’s Second World War invasion of the Soviet Union.

Both Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh and his South Ossetian counterpart, Eduard Kokoity, addressed the Russian lawmakers before the votes, urging them to recognise the independence of the two regions.

“It’s a historic day for Abkhazia… and South Ossetia,” UK said, adding that Abkhazia would never again be part of Georgia.

Mr Kokoity thanked Russia for supporting South Ossetia during the conflict with Georgia, describing President Medvedev’s move to deploy troops as “a courageous, timely and correct” decision.

He said that South Ossetia and Abkhazia had more rights to become recognised nations than Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia earlier this year with support from the US and much of the European Union.

Both houses of the Russian parliament are dominated by allies of President Medvedev and his Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin.

The lawmakers interrupted their summer holidays for extraordinary sittings, formally called at the request of separatist leaders in the two Georgian provinces.

Thousands of people attended pro-independence rallies in the Abkhaz capital Sukhumi and war-ravaged South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali on Thursday.

Kosovo or Northern Cyprus?

While both provinces have been pushing for formal independence since the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Russia’s official line at least until now has been similar to that of the West, the BBC’s Humphrey Hawksley reports from Moscow.

BBC map

But in March the State Duma passed a resolution supporting independence should Georgia invade or rush to join Nato.

After Monday’s votes, the bill will be sent to the Kremlin for approval.

Analysts say the Kremlin might delay its decision while it carries out wider negotiations with the West on the crisis, says our correspondent.

If it backs the move, the two regions could apply to the United Nations for recognition, which would almost certainly be vetoed in the Security Council.

They could also ask for support from Russia’s allies from as far afield as Venezuela and Cuba, our correspondent notes.

Analysts say the two new aspirant nations could end up like Kosovo and be accepted by a substantial number of governments.

Alternatively, they could become largely isolated and recognised only by Russia, in the same way that Northern Cyprus is recognised only by Turkey.

Much of it would depend on the measure of Russia’s international influence, our correspondent adds.


Should Abkhazia and South Ossetia be independent? Can normal life ever be resumed in Georgia?

Send in your comments

August 22, 2008

Russia to keep posts in Georgia

Filed under: Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:59 pm

Russia to keep posts in Georgia

A senior Russian general says Moscow intends to maintain a military presence of more than 2,000 troops in Georgia.

Gen Anatoly Nogovitsyn said Russian forces would be stationed around the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the focus of recent conflict.

Correspondents on the ground say they have seen what appears to be a significant troop movement from Georgian positions to South Ossetia.

Georgia has said it will not accept any “annexation” of its land by Russia.

Russia’s land forces commander earlier said that all Russian combat troops would be moved back from Georgia proper to South Ossetia by the weekend and that most of the soldiers sent to the region as reinforcements would return to Russia within 10 days.

Correspondent says he has witnessed hundreds of Russian armored vehicles, including tanks and armored personnel carriers, withdrawing from the town of Igoeti, about 35km (21 miles) from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

Our correspondent says buses of Georgian police are arriving to take control after Russian troops removed their road block and pulled out.

There are also reports of a pull-back from the Georgian flashpoint town of Gori to South Ossetia.

‘Snail’s pace’

At a briefing in Moscow, the deputy chief of the Russian military general staff, Gen Nogovitsyn, said the withdrawal of all combat troops was going according to plan.

“The troop pull-back has been started at a rate to make sure that the Russian troops be within the zone of responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping contingent by the end of 22 August,” he said.

“We are not going to correct this plan or increase the speed of withdrawal.”

Gen Nogovitsyn said Russian troops were setting up checkpoints on the borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia with Georgia.

The so-called zone of responsibility also includes Georgia’s main airbase at Senaki, and cuts across Georgia’s main east-west highway, which stretches from Tbilisi to the Black Sea.

Russian officials say the zone was established in principle in an agreement between Russia and Georgia which pre-dates this month’s conflict, but was never put into force.

Georgian State Minister for Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili told Reuters that such a zone was “a violation of any agreement”.

PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops to return to pre-conflict positions
International talks about security in South Ossetia and Abkhazia

Russia’s four-day war with Georgia began after Tbilisi tried to retake the Moscow-backed breakaway province of South Ossetia on 7 August, following days of clashes with separatists.

The fighting ended with an EU-brokered ceasefire deal, and a promise by Moscow to pull back its forces by 22 August.

But the commander of US forces in Europe, Gen John Craddock, said Russia was taking too long to pull back, saying “if they are moving, it is at a snail’s pace”.

The first of the Russian Black Sea Fleet warships, which have been deployed off the west coast of Georgia’s province of Abkhazia, has returned to its base at Sevastopol in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko criticised Russia’s use of ships from the base leased to Moscow, saying there was a danger of his country being passively drawn into an international conflict against its will. Protesters reportedly greeted the ship’s return on Friday.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, has arrived in the capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, to assess the humanitarian situation there.

Thousands of civilians are reported to be in urgent need of relief supplies.

The UN estimates that nearly 160,000 people have been displaced across the whole of Georgia since the conflict began.

The Georgian government is seeking $1-2bn (£0.5-1bn) in aid to repair and develop infrastructure following the conflict with Russia, the head of the US government aid agency, USAid, said. The World Bank has also announced that it is sending a team of experts to the country to assess its reconstruction needs.

‘War with Nato’

Diplomatic efforts at the UN have reached deadlock over rival resolutions on the crisis from France and Russia.

A woman walks down a destroyed main street in Tskhinvali, South Ossetia

Thousands of civilians are reported to be in urgent need of relief supplies

Russia has reiterated its opposition to a rival French text, which reaffirms Georgia’s territorial integrity.

Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili told the BBC he would never accept what he called Russia’s “annexation of its territory”.

He warned that Russia’s involvement in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Georgia were intended to send a strong message to the West.

“If Nato fails now to come up with a united response, nobody’s safe, even if they are in Nato already,” he said.

“It’s all about reconsidering the role of Nato, the role of international law and borders in this part of the world. This is no longer about Georgia anymore.

“Russia decided to win war with Nato without firing a single shot at it.”

A Nato spokeswoman says Russia’s defence ministry has decided to halt all military co-operation with the bloc to protest at what Moscow calls the alliance’s biased, pro-Georgian view of the conflict.

The move by Moscow followed a Nato statement that there would be no “business as usual” with Moscow unless its troops pulled out of Georgia.

Georgia map

August 21, 2008

Rebels push to sever Georgia ties

Rebels push to sever Georgia ties

Pro-independence rally in Sukhumi, Abkhazia, 21 Aug 08

Russian TV showed a huge crowd at the rally in Abkhazia

The separatist leaders of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have urged Russia to recognize their independence, at mass rallies.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow’s response to their pleas would depend on the conduct of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Russia says it will keep troops in a security zone around South Ossetia.

The zone will stretch several km into Georgia proper. Russia also plans to reinforce its South Ossetia force.

“Tomorrow, eight checkpoints will be established in the security zone in which 500 peacekeepers will be deployed, no more than that,” said Mr Lavrov, quoted by Reuters news agency.

It is still not clear to what extent Russian military forces have withdrawn from Georgia, despite Moscow’s promise to pull out most of its troops by the end of Friday.

Russian troops on Abkhazia/Georgia border

Russian troops moved far into Georgia from the breakaway regions

Russian news agencies say an armored column, consisting of more than 40 vehicles, has passed through South Ossetia, on its way to the Russian border.

A correspondent in the Georgian village of Igoeti, just 35km (21 miles) from the capital Tbilisi, said he saw the Russian military pulling back towards South Ossetia early on Thursday afternoon. Russian forces were also reported still to be dug in around Georgia’s main Black Sea port of Poti.

Russia poured troops into Georgia after Georgian forces tried to retake South Ossetia on 7 August. Russian-led peacekeeping troops had been deployed there since a war in the early 1990s.

Thousands of people attended pro-independence rallies in the Abkhaz capital Sukhumi and war-ravaged South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali on Thursday.

The world-renowned conductor Valery Gergiyev – himself an Ossetian – plans to give a concert in South Ossetia with his St Petersburg orchestra on Thursday.

Chill in NATO-Russia ties

Meanwhile, Russia says it is reviewing its co-operation with NATO, which has insisted that Moscow pull its troops out of Georgia, in line with a French-brokered ceasefire agreement.

PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops to return to pre-conflict positions
International talks about security in South Ossetia and Abkhazia

Nato said on Tuesday there could be no “business as usual” with Moscow.

At an emergency meeting, NATO suspended formal contacts with Russia because of the Russian military presence in Georgia.

“Relations with NATO will be reviewed,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency on Thursday.

“This will apply to the military co-operation programme,” he said.

Nato has accused Russia of failing to respect the truce, which requires both Russian and Georgian forces to pull back to the positions they held before heavy fighting erupted in South Ossetia.

On Wednesday, Norway’s defence ministry said Russia had informed Norwegian diplomats that it was planning to freeze co-operation with Nato.

Norway’s Aftenposten newspaper said Oslo was trying to establish exactly what impact the Russian decision would have on existing co-operation, such as joint rescue operations and border controls. Norway shares a border with Russia in the Arctic.

A statement from the Norwegian defence ministry said: “Norway notes that Russia has decided that for now it is ‘freezing’ all military co-operation with Nato and allied countries.

“We expect that this will not affect planned activities in the areas of coastguard operations, search and rescue and resource management, because on the Russian side these are handled by civilian authorities.”

Russia has not yet given Norway formal written notification about its suspension of co-operation, a ministry spokesperson said.

Russia’s permanent envoy at Nato headquarters in Brussels, Dmitry Rogozin, has been recalled to Moscow for consultations, Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency reports.

He said that in light of Nato’s position on the Georgia conflict, relations with Nato “really cannot remain as before”, but he added that “there will not be a cold war”.

A state secretary in Norway’s defence ministry, Espen Barth Eide, said “there’s no doubt that our relationship to Russia has now chilled”.

Georgia map

August 12, 2008

Russia ‘ends Georgia operation’

Russia ‘ends Georgia operation’

Courtesy BBC

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

Mr Medvedev made his announcement before meeting the French president

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered an end to military operations against Georgia, the Kremlin says.

He told officials he had taken the decision to end the campaign after restoring security for civilians and peacekeepers in South Ossetia.

However, Russia has been highly critical of Georgia’s leadership, and there were no signs of imminent talks.

Before the announcement, there were fresh reports of Russian warplanes bombing the Georgian town of Gori.

Witnesses told  that several people were killed when a bomb hit a hospital in the town, which is 10 miles (15km) from the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali.

A reporter for Reuters news agency said several bombs exploded in front of his vehicle, while a Reuters photographer spoke of seeing dead and injured people lying in the streets.

Officials in the Netherlands, meanwhile, confirmed that a Dutch TV cameraman was among those killed in Gori and a journalist was wounded.

And in Georgia’s other breakaway region, Abkhazia, separatist rebels continued an offensive against Georgian troops in the Kodori Gorge region – the only area of Abkhazia still under Georgian military control.

‘Safety restored’

News of Mr Medvedev’s decision emerged as French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in Moscow expecting to press Russia on the need for a ceasefire.

According to a statement, Mr Medvedev told his defence minister and chief of staff that “the goal has been attained”.

Should centres of resistance or other aggressive attempts arise, you must take the decision to destroy them
Dmitry Medvedev
Russian president

I’ve decided to finish the operation to force the Georgian authorities to peace. The safety of our peacekeeping forces and civilian population has been restored.

“The aggressor has been punished, having sustained considerable losses. Its armed forces have been disorganised,” he added.

There is no sign yet that Russia is willing to engage in talks with the government in Tbilisi.

Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has insisted that Georgia must sign a legally binding document on the non-use of force.

And Mr Medvedev warned that Russia would not tolerate any further Georgian military activity in South Ossetia, saying: “Should centres of resistance or other aggressive attempts arise, you must take the decision to destroy them.”

The BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse, near Gori, reported seeing sporadic artillery fire around the town right up until shortly before the Russian announcement.

Our correspondent said there was no sign of Russian troops south of Gori, but said there were a number of Georgian military vehicles abandoned or burnt on the road outside the town.

Map of region


Are you in the region? Are you or your relatives in any of the affected areas? What are your experiences? Send us your comments

August 10, 2008

Georgia ‘pulls out of S Ossetia’

Georgia ‘pulls out of S Ossetia’

Courtesy BBC

A man carries a boy, who was injured in South Ossetian regional capital Tskhinvali (9 August)

Russia accused Georgia of genocide against the South Ossetian people

Georgia has said its troops have pulled out of the breakaway region of South Ossetia and that Russian forces are in control of its capital, Tskhinvali.

But Russia said that while heavy artillery had been seen leaving the territory, Georgian troops were still present in other areas of the region.

Georgian officials later accused Russia of escalating the conflict in Abkhazia, another breakaway region in the west.

The US has described Russia’s actions as “dangerous and disproportionate”.

US Deputy National Security Adviser James Jeffrey said that if the Russian escalation continued, it would have a “significant” long-term impact on relations between the Moscow and Washington.

“We’re alarmed by this situation,” he told reporters in Beijing.

Russian PM Vladimir Putin earlier suggested it was unlikely that South Ossetia would re-integrate with the rest of Georgia, saying the country’s territorial integrity had “suffered a fatal blow”.

Meanwhile, Russian warships have deployed near ports along the Georgian Black Sea coast, including Poti, where Georgia wheat and fuel shipments are being blocked. Russia insists there are no plans to stop oil exports, but says it reserves the right to search any ships.

In response, Ukraine has threatened to block the return of Russian warships to their Black Sea base at Sevastopol saying it does not want to be “drawn into a military conflict”.

Georgia says an additional 10,000 Russian soldiers have crossed into South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The separatist authorities in Abkhazia have announced full military mobilisation.

The BBC’s Richard Galpin, who is on Georgia’s crossing point into South Ossetia, says he has heard artillery fire between Georgian and Russian troops in the area.

A photo showing what Georgian authorities say is the debris of a Russian bomber that they allege was shot down near the village of Dzevera on Saturday (10 August 2008)

Georgia published photos of what it said were the remains of a Russian jet

Local residents fleeing the area told him there was continued fighting on the outskirts of the Tskhinvali, although the city itself was said to be relatively quiet with Russian forces in full control.

Earlier, Georgian officials said Russian jets had bombed a military airfield close to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

Three bombs had been dropped on the airfield, where there is a factory producing Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jets, they said.

There was no independent confirmation of the attack, although the BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse, who was in the city at the time, said he heard a loud explosion.

The current fighting began four days ago when Georgian forces launched a surprise attack to regain control of South Ossetia, which has had de facto independence since the end of a civil war in 1992.

The move followed days of exchanges of heavy fire with the Russian-backed separatists. In response to the Georgian crackdown, Moscow sent armoured units across the border frontier.

Georgia’s aspiration to join Nato… is driven by its attempt to drag other nations and peoples into its bloody adventures
Vladimir Putin
Russian Prime Minister

On Saturday, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili called for an immediate ceasefire after Russian planes carried out air strikes on the Georgian town of Gori, not far from South Ossetia. Scores of civilians were reported to have been killed.

The Georgian parliament has approved a presidential decree declaring a “state of war” for 15 days.

There are conflicting figures about the casualties suffered on both sides, and independent verification has not been possible, but the numbers appeared to rise sharply on Saturday.

Russian and South Ossetian estimates put the death toll on the South Ossetian side at more than 1,500, mostly civilians. Georgian casualty figures ranged from 82 dead, including 37 civilians, to a figure of about 130 dead.

Thousands of people are known to have fled into the neighbouring Russian region of North Ossetia and other parts of Georgia.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, called for civilians trapped in conflict areas to be granted safe passage out.

Abkhazia concerns

Speaking to the BBC, Georgian interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said Georgian troops had pulled back to positions at or south of those held before 6 August, when the hostilities began.

From there, he said, they were engaged in fighting Russian forces.

ARMED FORCES COMPARED
Russian tanks (8 August 2008)
GEORGIA
Total personnel: 26,900
Main battle tanks (T-72): 82
Armoured personnel carriers: 139
Combat aircraft (Su-25): Seven
Heavy artillery pieces (including Grad rocket launchers): 95
RUSSIA
Total personnel: 641,000
Main battle tanks (various): 6,717
Armoured personnel carriers: 6,388
Combat aircraft (various): 1,206
Heavy artillery pieces (various): 7,550
Source: Jane’s Sentinel Country Risk Assessments

Mr Utiashvili told the BBC that the withdrawal was necessary because of the mass civilian and military casualties both within South Ossetia and elsewhere in Georgia.

He said that Georgia was now facing a “humanitarian catastrophe”, adding that 100 soldiers Georgian soldiers had been killed, and many more wounded.

A spokesman for the Russian military said Georgia had not withdrawn and insisted Georgia had to do that before any kind of ceasefire could come into effect.

A Russian commander in the conflict zone, Maj-Gen Marat Kulakhmetov, said the situation remained tense, and suggested both sides were preparing for further military action.

Earlier, Georgia said Russia had brought an additional 10,000 troops across Georgia’s frontiers – 6,000 by land into South Ossetia and 4,000 by sea into Abkhazia.

The head of the pro-Russian separatist authorities in Abkhazia also said he had sent 1,000 troops to the Tbilisi-controlled Kodori gorge and announced the “full mobilisation” of reservists.

“We are ready to act independently,” Sergei Bagapsh said. “We are ready to enforce order and go further if there is resistance from the Georgian side.”

A Georgian interior ministry official later told the BBC that Russia had launched what he called “all-out military aggression” against Georgia, including attacking areas outside the conflict zone in South Ossetia.

He said Russian planes were now bombing the western town of Zugdidi and the Georgian-controlled enclave within Abkhazia. The claims could not be independently verified.

Georgian refugees from villages near Tskhinvali block a road outside the Georgian parliament in Tbilisi (10 August 2008)

Georgia’s parliament has approved a decree declaring a state of war

The UN’s Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Edmond Mulet, said on Saturday that he feared the Abkhaz separatists were preparing to launch an offensive.

“At this point we are particularly concerned that the conflict appears to be spreading beyond South Ossetia into Abkhazia,” he said.

Speaking on Saturday in the nearby city of Vladikavkaz, Mr Putin accused Georgia of seeking “bloody adventures” and trying to drag other countries into the conflict.

In an outspoken attack, he referred directly to Georgia’s aspirations to join Nato, a move which Moscow strongly opposes.

Mr Putin described the actions of Georgian soldiers as genocide against the South Ossetian people and defended Moscow’s military action to intervene directly.

Redrawing the map

Meanwhile, a joint delegation of the US, EU and the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe is heading to Georgia in the hope of brokering a truce.

It comes as a third emergency session of the UN Security Council ended without an agreement on the wording of a statement calling for a ceasefire.

But emissaries from the US and Europe who are Nato members may not be seen as honest brokers by the Kremlin when it comes to Georgia, the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall says.

The danger now is that Russia will not only use this crisis to demonstrate its military power in the region, but argue it is time to redraw the map, she adds.

BBC map


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August 9, 2008

Russian jets attack Georgian town

Russian jets attack Georgian town

Russian jets have carried out strikes on military targets in the central Georgian town of Gori, close to the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Most of the targets seem to have been military bases, but Georgian officials said a number of civilians had been killed in residential buildings.

Russia said it had “liberated” the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali.

Earlier, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said his country was seeking “to force the Georgian side to peace”.

BBC map

The comments came after Russian commanders announced they were sending more troops into South Ossetia to support peacekeeping operations.

The Russian defence ministry confirmed two of its jets had been shot down over Georgia, although it did not say where.

In a live televised address, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said he would ask parliament to approve the introduction of martial law.

After days of exchanging heavy fire with the Russian-backed separatists, Georgian forces launched a surprise attack on Thursday night to regain control of the region, which has had de facto independence since a war in 1992.

In response, Moscow sent armoured units across the border. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said about 1,500 people had been killed so far, including 15 of his country’s soldiers.

President Saakashvili said 30 Georgians had been killed in two days and that Russia was at war with his country.

‘Military invasion’

Fighting raged around the breakaway region’s capital, Tskhinvali, overnight and into Saturday morning, although not at the same intensity as on Friday, Russian media reported.

Video still from Russia's NTV channel shows South Ossetian separatists walking near a burning Georgian tanks in Tskhinvali  (9 August 2008)

Russian said Tskhinvali had been liberated from the Georgian military

Later, the Russian Army’s Ground Forces commander, Gen Vladimir Boldyrev, told Russian media that his troops had retaken the city from Georgian forces.

“Tactical groups have fully liberated Tskhinvali from the Georgian military and have started pushing Georgian units beyond the zone of peacekeepers’ responsibility,” he said, after paratroopers were airlifted into the city.

Georgia said Russia had also launched air strikes on targets inside its territory, in what it described as “a full-scale military invasion”.

Later, Russian aircraft bombed mostly military targets in Gori, where Georgian troops have been massing at three bases to support their forces engaged in South Ossetia.

Our peacekeepers and the units attached to them are currently carrying out an operation to force the Georgian side to [agree to] peace
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

The c’s Richard Galpin in Gori heard loud explosions and saw large plumes of smoke rising into the sky; soldiers and civilians were seen running through the streets.

One missile hit a military base, from which most of the soldiers appeared to have managed to escape beforehand, he says.

The Georgian military said residential buildings had also been struck, leaving a number of civilians dead. Our correspondent says injured civilians were being pulled from the buildings, which were on fire.

The Georgian foreign ministry said the Black Sea port of Poti, which is the site of a major oil shipment facility, had also been “devastated” by a Russian aerial bombardment.

Hospitals ‘overflowing’

President Medvedev said Russia’s military aim was to force the Georgians to stop fighting. He was speaking at a meeting on Saturday morning in the Kremlin with Defence Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov and the head of the Russian Armed Forces.

“Our peacekeepers and the units attached to them are currently carrying out an operation to force the Georgian side to [agree to] peace,” he said.

“They also bear the responsibility for protecting the population.”

SOUTH OSSETIA TIMELINE
1991-92 S Ossetia fights war to break away from newly independent Georgia; Russia enforces truce
2004 Mikhail Saakashvili elected Georgian president, promising to recover lost territories
2006 S Ossetians vote for independence in unofficial referendum
April 2008 Russia steps up ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia
July 2008 Russia admits flying jets over S Ossetia; Russia and Georgia accuse each other of military build-up
7 August 2008 After escalating Georgian-Ossetian clashes, sides agree to ceasefire
8 August 2008 Heavy fighting erupts overnight, Georgian forces close in on Tskhinvali

At the same time, a spokesman for Russian ground forces said reinforcements, including elite paratroopers, were being deployed.

On Friday, the Russian government said it had to act to defend South Ossetia’s civilians, most of whom have been given Russian citizenship.

It also voiced anger over the reported fatalities of Russian servicemen in the breakaway province, vowing not to allow their deaths to go unpunished.

Tskhinvali, where inhabitants are said to be sheltering in basements without electricity or phone lines, is reported to be devastated.

International Red Cross (ICRC) spokeswoman Anna Nelson said the ICRC had received reports that hospitals in the city were “overflowing” with casualties.

The BBC’s James Rodgers in Moscow says diplomatic initiatives to end the fighting have so far proved fruitless.

On Friday evening, the UN Security Council failed to agree on the wording of a statement calling for a ceasefire.

Russia holds a permanent place on the Council, and has the power of veto over any official statements that it regards as unfair or inaccurate.

Permanent members Britain, the US and France, are pinpointing what they say is Russia’s aggression as the key factor in the slide towards war, while Moscow insists Georgia is to blame.

In other developments:

  • US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on Russia to pull its troops out of Georgia and respect its territorial integrity
  • Georgia’s president said his country was withdrawing its contingent of 2,000 troops from Iraq to help deal with the crisis
  • The European security organisation, the OSCE, warned that the fighting in South Ossetia could escalate into a full-scale war
  • The US and the EU were reported to be sending a joint delegation to the region to seek a ceasefire and Nato said it was seriously concerned.

Russian forces battle Georgians

Russian forces battle Georgians

Video still from Russia's Channel One shows a Georgian tank burning in Tskhinvali (08/08/2008)

Russian forces are locked in fierce clashes with Georgia     inside its breakaway South Ossetia region, reports say, amid fears of all-out war.

Moscow sent armoured units across the border after Georgia moved against Russian-backed separatists.

Russia says 12 of its soldiers are dead, and separatists estimate that 1,400 civilians have died.

Georgia accuses Russia of waging war, and says it has suffered heavy losses in bombing raids, which Russia denies.

Russian tanks have reportedly reached the northern suburbs of the regional capital, Tskhinvali, and there were conflicting claims about who was in control of the city.

“Now our peacekeepers are waging a fierce battle with regular forces from the Georgian army in the southern region of Tskhinvali,” a Russian military official was quoted as saying by Moscow-based news agency, Interfax.

After days of exchanging heavy fire with the separatists, Georgian forces moved on Thursday night to regain control of the region, which has had de facto independence since a war against Georgia that ended in 1992.

 Georgia and its breakaway regions
I saw bodies lying on the streets, around ruined buildings, in cars. It’s impossible to count them now
Lyudmila Ostayeva
Tskhinvali resident

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said Russia was at war with his country.

He told the BBC: “Our troops are attacked by thousands of troops coming in from Russia.”

Mr Saakashvili said Georgia had shot down several Russian planes and accused Moscow of bombing Georgian air bases and towns, resulting in the death of 30 military personnel and civilians.

Late on Friday, the Georgian national security council said Mr Saakashvili was poised to declare a state of emergency.

Despite denials from Moscow, the Russian air force has been carrying out air raids in South Ossetia and Georgia itself, says the BBC’s Richard Galpin, in Gori, eastern Georgia.

‘Ethnic cleansing’

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he had to act to defend South Ossetia’s civilians, most of whom have been given Russian citizenship.

He also voiced anger over the reported fatalities of Russian servicemen in the breakaway province.

“We will not allow their deaths to go unpunished,” he said. “Those responsible will receive a deserved punishment.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow had received reports that villages in South Ossetia were being ethnically cleansed.

The BBC’s Matthew Collin in Tbilisi says battles continue around Tskhinvali with the sound of explosions, rocket fire and military planes flying overhead.

The regional capital, where inhabitants are said to be sheltering in basements without electricity or phone lines, is reported to be devastated.

SOUTH OSSETIA TIMELINE
1991-92 S Ossetia fights war to break away from newly independent Georgia; Russia enforces truce
2004 Mikhail Saakashvili elected Georgian president, promising to recover lost territories
2006 S Ossetians vote for independence in unofficial referendum
April 2008 Russia steps up ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia
July 2008 Russia admits flying jets over S Ossetia; Russia and Georgia accuse each other of military build-up
7 August 2008 After escalating Georgian-Ossetian clashes, sides agree to ceasefire
8 August 2008 Heavy fighting erupts overnight, Georgian forces close on Tskhinvali

Fleeing resident Lyudmila Ostayeva, 50, told AP news agency: “I saw bodies lying on the streets, around ruined buildings, in cars. It’s impossible to count them now. There is hardly a single building left undamaged.”

International Red Cross spokeswoman Anna Nelson said it had received reports that hospitals in Tskhinvali were “overflowing” with casualties.

In other developments:

  • The UN Security Council fails to agree a statement on the crisis, despite holding a second session of talks on Friday evening
  • US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on Russia to pull its troops out of Georgia and respect its territorial integrity
  • Georgia’s president said his country was withdrawing half its contingent of 2,000 troops from Iraq to help deal with the crisis
  • Russia said it would cut all air links with Georgia from midnight on Friday
  • The European security organisation, the OSCE, warned that the fighting in South Ossetia could escalate into a full-scale war
  • The US and the EU were reported to be sending a joint delegation to the region to seek a ceasefire and Nato said it was seriously concerned

August 8, 2008

Russian tanks enter South Ossetia

Russian tanks enter South Ossetia

Courtesy BBC

Footage reportedly shows Russian tanks entering South Ossetia

Russian tanks have entered Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia, says Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Georgia has been fighting separatists with ties to Russia in order to regain control of the province, which has had de facto independence since the 1990s.

Georgia is reported to have said any involvement of Russian forces in the conflict will result in a state of war.

Amid international calls for restraint, Russia’s president promised to defend Russian citizens in South Ossetia.

Moscow’s defence ministry said more than 10 of its peacekeeping troops in South Ossetia had been killed and 30 wounded in the Georgian offensive. At least 15 civilians are also reported dead.

‘Clear intrusion’

Georgia’s president said 150 Russian tanks and other vehicles had entered South Ossetia.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili says he is willing to agree an immediate ceasefire

He told CNN: “Russia is fighting a war with us in our own territory.”

Mr Saakashvili, who has called on reservists to sign up for duty, said: “This is a clear intrusion on another country’s territory.

“We have Russian tanks on our territory, jets on our territory in broad daylight,” Reuters new agency quoted him as saying.

Later, Moscow’s foreign ministry told media that Russian tanks had reached the northern outskirts of the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali.

The Georgian interior ministry said Russian jets had killed three Georgian soldiers at an airbase outside the capital, Tbilisi, during a bombing raid on Friday, Reuters news agency reported.

I must protect the life and dignity of Russian citizens wherever they are. We will not allow their deaths to go unpunished
Dmitry Medvedev
Russian President

Russia denied any of its fighters had entered its neighbour’s airspace.

Moscow’s defence ministry said reinforcements for Russian peacekeepers had been sent to South Ossetia “to help end bloodshed”.

Amid reports of Russian deaths, President Dmitry Medvedev said: “I must protect the life and dignity of Russian citizens wherever they are,” Interfax news agency reported.

“We will not allow their deaths to go unpunished. Those responsible will receive a deserved punishment.”

‘Ethnic cleansing’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was receiving reports that villages in South Ossetia were being ethnically cleansed.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Mr Lavrov added in televised remarks: “The number of refugees is growing. A humanitarian crisis is looming.”

Russia said it would cut all air links with Georgia from midnight on Friday.

Meanwhile Interfax quoted South Ossetian rebel leader Eduard Kokoity as saying there were “hundreds of dead civilians” in Tskhinvali.

Witnesses said the regional capital was devastated.

Lyudmila Ostayeva, 50, told AP news agency: “I saw bodies lying on the streets, around ruined buildings, in cars. It’s impossible to count them now. There is hardly a single building left undamaged.”

SOUTH OSSETIA TIMELINE
 Georgia and its breakaway regions
1991-92 S Ossetia fights war to break away from newly independent Georgia; Russia enforces truce
2004 Mikhail Saakashvili elected Georgian president, promising to recover lost territories
2006 S Ossetians vote for independence in unofficial referendum
April 2008 Russia steps up ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia
July 2008 Russia admits flying jets over S Ossetia; Russia and Georgia accuse each other of military build-up
7 August 2008 After escalating Georgian-Ossetian clashes, sides agree to ceasefire
8 August 2008 Heavy fighting erupts overnight, Georgian forces close on Tskhinvali

US President George W Bush spoke with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin about the crisis while they attended the Beijing Olympics.

Later, the US voiced support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and its state department said it would send an envoy to the region.

Nato said it was seriously concerned about the situation, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on all sides to show restraint.

The European security organisation, the OSCE, warned that the fighting risked escalating into a full-scale war.

Georgian Foreign Minister Ekaterine Tkeshelashvili told the BBC it wanted to ensure that any civilians who wanted to leave the conflict zone could do so safely.

International Red Cross spokeswoman Anna Nelson said it had received reports that hospitals in Tskhinvali were having trouble coping with the influx of casualties and ambulances were having trouble reaching the injured.

Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said Georgia had simply run out of patience with attacks by separatist militias in recent days and had had to move in to restore peace in South Ossetia.

Truce plea

Georgia accuses Russia of arming the separatists. Moscow denies the claim.

Russia earlier called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to respond to the crisis, but members failed to agree on a Russian statement calling on both sides to renounce the use of force.

The BBC’s James Rodgers in Moscow says Russia has always said it supports the territorial integrity of Georgia but also that it would defend its citizens. Many South Ossetians hold Russian passports.

Hundreds of fighters from Russia and Georgia’s other breakaway region of Abkhazia were reportedly heading to aid the separatist troops.

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