The conflict between Georgian and Russian forces has broadened as Russia launched air attacks against Georgia:
GORI, Georgia – Fighting raged in South Ossetia for a second day Saturday as Russia sent hundreds of tanks and troops into the separatist province and dropped bombs on Georgia that left scores of civilians dead or wounded.
Georgia, a staunch U.S. ally, launched a major offensive Friday to retake control of breakaway South Ossetia. Russia, which has close ties to the province and posts peacekeepers there, responded by sending in armed convoys and military combat aircraft.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Moscow that some 1,500 people have been killed, with the death toll rising Saturday.
The figure could not be independently confirmed, but witnesses who fled the fighting said hundreds of civilians had probably died. They said most of the provincial capital, Tskhinvali, was in ruins, with bodies lying everywhere.
Russian military aircraft also raided the Georgian town of Gori on Saturday. An Associated Press reporter who visited Gori shortly after the bombing saw several apartment buildings in ruins, some still on fire, and scores of dead bodies and bloodied civilians. The elderly, women and children were among the victims.
There’s little doubt that the conflict between Russia and Georgia amounts to a full-scale war. The Russians certainly see it that way. Gazeta.ru today has a section, The War in South Ossetia. Lenta.ru has a nearly minute by minute chronology of the war in South Ossetia.
Neither the Russians nor the Georgian appear to be particularly hampered by niceties like military targets. All accounts suggest that the city of Tskhinvali has been virtually leveled with hundreds or, according to Russian accounts, more than a thousand civilians killed, a remarkable number in a territory of probably 100,000 people.
The Russian position on South Ossetia is that most of its residents want to be part of the Russian Federation and, indeed, they’ve extended Russian citizenship to them. The blandishments of the West and most especially discussions of NATO membership for Georgia are provocations, affronts to Russian sovereignty and nationalism. They’ve sent forces into the territory to protect and re-inforce their peacekeepers already there who have been subject to Georgian attacks.
The Georgian position on South Ossetia is that it’s part of Georgia (as is recognized by every country in the world including Russia), that the Russian peacekeepers in the territory have been supporting and arming the separatists who in turn are attacking Georgians in nearby areas, that they’re merely re-asserting control over an outlaw area, and that the Russian tanks have been sent into South Ossetia for the same reason they were sent to Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968: to subdue a wayward colony.
Like Kosovo and Bosnia this is a European problem and IMO U. S. efforts should be limited to rhetorical ones and bringing the matter up before the United Nations Security Council which won’t be able to do anything about the situation over permanent member Russia’s veto.
Europe has a decision to make. They’re scarcely able to mount a military response to Russia and it should be remembered that Russia still has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. Is Europe willing or able to place sanctions on Russia? Russia provides about half of the EU’s imports of natural gas and sanctions against Russia bid fair to injure the EU more than they would Russia. Failure to take meaningful action creates the precedent or, at least, acknowledges the reality that Russia is able to do pretty much what it wants in its near abroad.
He who sups with the devil needs use a long spoon.
Sen. Barack Obama’s statement on the situation in South Ossetia:
I strongly condemn the outbreak of violence in Georgia, and urge an immediate end to armed conflict. Now is the time for Georgia and Russia to show restraint, and to avoid an escalation to full scale war. Georgia’s territorial integrity must be respected. All sides should enter into direct talks on behalf of stability in Georgia, and the United States, the United Nations Security Council, and the international community should fully support a peaceful resolution to this crisis.
Today news reports indicate that Russian military forces crossed an internationally-recognized border into the sovereign territory of Georgia. Russia should immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory. What is most critical now is to avoid further confrontation between Russian and Georgian military forces. The consequences for Euro-Atlantic stability and security are grave.
The government of Georgia has called for a cease-fire and for a resumption of direct talks on South Ossetia with international mediators. The U.S. should immediately convene an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council to call on Russia to reverse course. The US should immediately work with the EU and the OSCE to put diplomatic pressure on Russia to reverse this perilous course it has chosen. We should immediately call a meeting of the North Atlantic Council to assess Georgia’s security and review measures NATO can take to contribute to stabilizing this very dangerous situation. Finally, the international community needs to establish a truly independent and neutral peacekeeping force in South Ossetia.
Their views are contrasted at Politico.
My previous posts on the subject