The leader of the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia said on Friday that hundreds of civilians had died in fighting in the capital Tskhinvali, which has been the focus of a day-long battle between separatist forces and the Georgian military.
“In Tskhinvali there are hundreds of dead civilians,” said the president of the unrecognised republic, Eduard Kokoity. It is believed that over a thousand are dead.
Tensions exploded when Georgia tried to take back control of the rebel region of South Ossetia with tanks and rockets, and Russia sent forces to repel the assault.
Conflicts between Georgia and South Ossetia and another breakaway republic, Abkhazia, began when the Soviet Union broke up almost two decades ago.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said the world will be “in trouble” if Russia gets away with its attacks in his country. “It’s like the attack into Afghanistan, in 1979. It’s like Czechoslovakia when Soviet and Russian tanks moved in,” he told CNN television.
“If they get away with this in Georgia, the world will be in trouble.”
Analyst Svante Cornell, co-director of the Stockholm-based Institute for Security and Development Policy and an expert on Georgia, said: “It boils down to Kosovo independence, NATO’s Bucharest summit and possibly also Russian internal politics and the transfer of power,” Cornell said.
Cornell said Russia has seized upon a moment to assert itself in South Ossetia when Europe is unwilling to anger at Moscow and the US is distracted by domestic elections.
“The Russian Federation will cut air links with Georgia from midnight on August 9,” said a Russian a transport ministry official.
The announcement was made as Georgia claimed its air force had downed five Russian aircraft in South Ossetia and as Russian tanks, military trucks and troops were seen rolling towards the breakaway Georgian region.
UN Security Council will resume emergency talks later Friday on the escalating fighting in Georgia’s South Ossetia enclave at Tbilisi’s request, a Belgian diplomat said.
Bush, Putin discuss Georgia clash
US President George W Bush and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin discussed the fighting in Georgia, the former Soviet republic that is pushing to join NATO, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.