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Friday, August 08, 2008

Georgia on My Mind

No, not that one. The country. The one, it seems, is currently and suddenly at war with Russia:

In this image, made from television screen, what Russian First Channel claims - are burning Georgian armored vehicles are seen in Tskhinvali in the South Ossetian breakaway region of Georgia on Friday, Aug. 8, 2008. Georgia launched a massive attack Friday to regain control over South Ossetia, using heavy artillery, aircraft and armor. South Ossetian officials said at least 15 people were killed Friday and an unspecified number were wounded. (AP Photo/ First Channel)

SKHINVALI, Georgia — Georgian troops launched a major military offensive Friday to regain control over the breakaway province of South Ossetia, prompting a furious response from Russia _ which vowed retaliation and sent a column of tanks into the region.

The fighting was the worst outbreak of hostilities since the province won de-facto independence in a war that ended in 1992 _ raising fears that war could once again erupt.

Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said a convoy of Russian tanks had crossed into South Ossetia from the neighboring Russian province of North Ossetia and was moving toward the regional capital of Tskhinvali.

Russia's Channel 1 television earlier showed Russian tanks that it said had entered South Ossetia. The report said the convoy was expected to reach the provincial capital within a few hours.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has warned that the Georgian attack will draw retaliation and the Defense Ministry pledged to protect South Ossetians, most of whom have Russian citizenship.

Georgian forces also shot down two Russian combat planes, according to Georgia's Interior Ministry spokesman, Shota Utiashvili. He said the planes were downed while they were raiding Georgian territory, but wouldn't give their type or any further details.

Russia's Defense Ministry denied an earlier Georgian report about one Russian plane downed. It had no immediate comment on the latest claim.

An Associated Press reporter saw tanks and other heavy weapons concentrating on the Russian side of the border with South Ossetia. Some villagers were fleeing into Russia.

"I saw them (the Georgians) shelling my village," said Maria, who gave only her first name. She said she and other villagers spent the night in a field and then fled toward the Russian border as the fighting escalated.

Separatist officials in South Ossetia said 15 civilians had been killed in fighting overnight. Georgian officials said seven civilians were wounded in bombing raids by Russia.

Putin, in Beijing to attend the Olympic opening ceremony, also said an unspecified number of the peacekeepers have been wounded.

Georgia declared a three-hour cease-fire to allow civilians to leave Tskhinvali. Georgia's Interior Ministry spokesman said troops were observing the cease-fire, which began at 3 p.m. local time (7 a.m. EDT).

A spokesman for President Bush said Russia and Georgia should cease hostilities and hold talks to end the conflict. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he is seriously concerned about the fighting and that the alliance is closely following the situation.

Georgia, which borders the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia, was ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the breakup of the Soviet Union. The country has angered Russia by seeking NATO membership _ a bid Moscow regards as part of a Western effort to weaken its influence in the region.....
Well this sucks. Most definitely a situation which deserves our attention. Haven't seen a statement from either presidential campaign yet, but will be looking. Honestly, I'm most interested to see NATO's response. That could be what you'd call a sticky wicket.

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