August 8th, 2008 14:56 EST
Georgia on the Brink of War
Georgian forces are reported to have attacked the rebelled province of South Ossetia on Friday. The military solution, says the government, is necessary to restore the rule of law in the province and secure the country`s integrity.
As the entire world was preparing itself for the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing, an unknown number of Georgian troops crossed the border between the mainland and the breakaway republic of South Ossetia. Some news agencies suggest that significant parts of Tskhinvali, the province`s main city, were controlled by the Georgian army.
It is still unconfirmed whether Russian fighters bombed the neighborhoods of Georgia`s capital, Tbilisi. A Polish news channel claimed that Georgia`s largest air force base - located some 15 miles from the capital - had been destroyed.
Russian authorities confirmed, however, that 150 tanks and armored vehicles had been sent to Tskhinvali and were expected to reach the capital in the evening. In addition, the Associated Press reported that the Russians had concentrated strong forces along the border with South Ossetia.
In a meeting with US President George W. Bush in Beijing, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned that he might not be able to prevent "Russian volunteers" from going to South Ossetia and fighting with the Georgian army. In response, a Georgian official said that the presence of Russian soldiers in South Ossetia would mean war. Earlier, President Mikhail Saakashvili accused Moscow of "waging military activities against Georgia."
Saakashvili also announced that the fights would be halted for three hours to give civilians time to evacuate from unsafe areas. The Associated Press said that at least 15 people had been killed in the first hours of the conflict.
South Ossetia is a small province squeezed between Georgia and Russia. Although never a sovereign state, it has enjoyed wide independence since the 1990s, when the central government in Tbilisi was too weak to prevent the breakaway.
The majority of people who inhibit South Ossetia are Russians. Unrecognized by any foreign government, the authorities in Tskhinvali have been supported and encouraged by Moscow, which considers Georgia and the entire region of Caucasus its sphere of influence.
Some experts suggest that Georgia`s attack on South Ossetia on the first day of the Olympics is not a coincidence. Russia`s president and foreign minister are on vacation, far from Moscow, whereas Prime Minister Putin is attending the opening ceremony in Beijing.
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