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August 09, 2008

Ossetia War Update: Georgia Makes Unilateral Cease-Fire, Russia Keeps Up Attack

The war between Russia and Georgia continues and intensifies.

Russian tanks and an APC travel through North Ossetia-Alania on their way to Georgia.

There are reports of Russian bombing of civilian targets near Georgia's capital, Tblisi, in addition to military targets throughout Georgia. For the moment, it seems as if Georgia has lost Tskhinvali, the provincial capital of South Ossetia. Retaking Tskhinvali from South Ossetian separatists was the original goal of the Georgian offensive on August 8th.

Russian Gen. Vladimir Boldyrev claimed in televised comments Saturday that Russian troops had driven Georgian forces out of the provincial capital. Witnesses confirmed that there was no sign of Georgian soldiers in the streets.

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili proposed a cease-fire Saturday. As part of his proposal, Georgian troops were pulled out of Tskhinvali and had been ordered to stop responding to Russian shelling, said Alexander Lomaia, secretary of his Security Council.

Russia did not immediately respond to Saakashvili's proposal. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had said earlier that Moscow sent troops into South Ossetia to force Georgia into a cease-fire.

It's not clear whether Georgia proposed to quit contesting Tskhinvali after they had already been driven out. What is clear is that Russia isn't satisfied yet. In addition to the apartment buildings destroyed in Gori, Russian jets have targeted Poti, Georgia's major port on the Black Sea and its only petroleum shipping terminal. Russia also came close to damaging the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline which runs from Azerbaijan through Georgia and Turkey. The pipeline, which is currently shut down, is one of the recent projects which has tied the Caucasus more closely to the West.

Meanwhile, the separatists in Abkhazia, Georgia's other fractious region, have started their own attacks on Georgian forces. Russia also stations "peacekeepers" in Abkhazia, and there are reports that Russian air raids are being coordinated with separatist attacks in the region.

President Saakashvili is in full panic mode. He has asked for U.S. and NATO help, and is making appearances on U.S. and international media to describe the situation. It was a little embarrassing to watch him on CNN a few minutes ago. He was passionately describing the results of the Russian aggression in Georgia to which the CNN anchor could only work up a noncommittal "Oh, really?" Both sides have accused each other of ethnic cleansing.

A team of U.S., E.U., and NATO officials is assembling in Tblisi to broker a cease-fire. Prime Minister Putin is in North Ossetia supervising the conflict.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 01:03 PM

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