Friday, August 29, 2008

Wounded Georgian Soldiers Confirm Heavy US-Israel Involvement In South Ossetia Attacks

Russia Boasts It Can "Annihilate" NATO/US Fleet In Black In "20 Minutes"

From RIA Novosti :
Russia's Black Sea Fleet is capable of destroying NATO's naval strike group currently deployed in the sea within 20 minutes, a former fleet commander said on Friday.

Russia's General Staff said on Tuesday there were 10 NATO ships in the Black Sea - three U.S. warships, the Polish frigate General Pulaski, the German frigate FGS Lubeck, and the Spanish guided missile frigate Admiral Juan de Borbon, as well as four Turkish vessels. Eight more warships are expected to join the group.

"Despite the apparent strength, the NATO naval group in the Black Sea is not battle-worthy," Admiral Eduard Baltin said. "If necessary, a single missile salvo from the Moskva missile cruiser and two or three missile boats would be enough to annihilate the entire group."

"Within 20 minutes the waters would be clear," he said, stressing that despite major reductions, still has a formidable missile arsenal.

However, Baltin said the chances of a military confrontation between NATO and Russia in the Black Sea are negligible.

"We will not strike first, and they do not look like people with suicidal tendencies," he said.

In addition to its flagship, the Moskva guided missile cruiser, Russia's Black Sea Fleet includes at least three destroyers, two guided missile frigates, four guided missile corvettes and six missile boats.

NATO announced its decision to deliver humanitarian aid to Georgia after the conclusion of hostilities between Tbilisi and Moscow over breakaway South Ossetia on August 12. Moscow recognized on Tuesday both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway Georgia republic, despite being urged by Western leaders not to do so.

Russia's General Staff later said the alliance's naval deployment in the Black Sea "cannot fail to provoke concern", with unidentified sources in the Russian military saying a surface strike group was being gathered there.

According to Russian military intelligence sources, the NATO warships that have entered the Black Sea are between them carrying over 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles and Harpoon anti-ship missiles

From the London Times :

Major Malkhaz Dumbatze was in a celebratory mood. His 14 Georgian tanks had just taken control of the rebel South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, and he was already looking forward to a trip to Israel to study new battle command systems. The jets flying over the city, where his men were mopping up Ossetian snipers, he took to be Georgian fighters.

Major Dumbatze is still going to Israel, but now it is to have reconstruction surgery on his legs. The aircraft he had spotted were in fact Russian, and one of them dropped two bombs on his armoured unit.

Speaking with difficulty because half his teeth had been blown out by shrapnel that exited through his throat, the battalion commander was undaunted about the future of his crushed army.

“I'm 100 per cent sure we'll recover from this,” he said, his wounded comrades on either side of his bed in a Tbilisi hospital.

Georgia's soldiers, trained by US and Israeli advisers, are gung-ho about returning to the fray, though some unanswered questions still hang in the air - such as the advisability of taking on their giant neighbour without adequate anti-air defences.

Major Dumbatze, 33, denied any knowledge of atrocities committed in Georgia's initial assault on Tskhinvali. His men were hunting down remaining militiamen and had left their armour in the open only because they thought they had won, bringing 17 years of secession to an end. “It was a dream for all Georgian soldiers,” he said. “I didn't expect the Russians. I thought it was politically sealed, the Russian and Georgian Governments made some kind of agreement.”

There was no deal, as he discovered to his cost. As a loyal officer he avoided criticising his Government during the crisis, but admitted that “if you thought the Russians would attack, you'd have to be mad” to launch such an operation. “But we never expected them to attack - if you see the bear coming, you either get under a rock or out of the way.”

Corporal Tristani Chinditze, 20, never even made it as far as the battlefield. His unit was on its way to the front line in lorries and Jeeps when they were ambushed by a much larger Russian force of tanks and infantry.

“Maybe without their planes we could have won. That's why I went - I thought we could win,” he said, just before doctors wheeled him out for an operation to save his legs. Both limbs were shredded by shrapnel from a tank shell. “There were three brigades, plenty of them were wounded. We were in trucks and we had no chance to open fire.”

He lay wounded on the battlefield for two days, surrounded by the dead bodies of his comrades. “Other injured soldiers could crawl and help themselves, but I couldn't move. I'm surprised I survived.” Eventually Georgian civilians came and took him to hospital, where he remains.

Sergeant Paata Veshaguri, 24, a stocky man who was admitted to hospital for concussion before returning to the front, was also upbeat about his army's performance against the numerically superior Russians. “We were smaller but better trained,” he said, praising his US and Israeli military teachers. “We not only held our lines but advanced. But the Government was thinking of how the Russians had threatened to bomb Tbilisi.” It ordered his men to pull back.

He said that he had not expected any Western countries to give Georgia military support, but suspected that the Government may have been counting on such aid. “Probably on a high level they expected this, because of all the training and equipment and foreign investment,” he said.

All the soldiers said they were ready to fight again once they had recovered and their forces had been re-equipped. “I will go everywhere for my country, any time and anywhere,” said Major Dumbatze. “If I can walk, I'll do my best for my country.”

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Russia Vs Europe Now?

US : Russia Is 'Weak'

China Backs Russia In Standoff With The West

The US is now spending more than $500 billion (official and black funding) a year on its military profit machine. Worldwide, arms spending reaches into the trillions each year. None of those involved want to give up such record-breaking revenue. So the wars of the world must continue.

China Backs Russia
Russia today won support from China and Central Asian states in its standoff with the West over the Georgia conflict as the European Union said it was weighing sanctions against Moscow.

The West has strongly condemned Russia's military offensive in Georgia this month and Medvedev's decision to recognise the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.

China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan voiced support for Russia's "active role'' in resolving the conflict in Georgia...

Yesterday, the Group of Seven industrialised powers strongly condemned Russia's recognition of the two rebel regions.

"We deplore Russia's excessive use of military force in Georgia and its continued occupation of parts of Georgia,'' said the statement from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

Former Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze warned meanwhile that Russia's recognition of the regions would boomerang on Moscow.

"They will live to regret it,'' Shevardnadze said in an interview in Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper, adding that the move would "encourage separatist movements within ethnically diverse Russia.''

Russia has lashed out at the West for ratcheting up tensions in the Black Sea and warned that attempts to isolate Moscow could lead to an economic backlash.

Officials said they were monitoring a growing NATO naval presence in the Black Sea...

The NeoCon propaganda flows from the usual outlets :

Russia's conflict with Georgia is the sign of a "weak" Russian nation, not a newly assertive one, and Moscow now has put its place in the world order at risk, the top U.S. diplomat for relations with the country said in an interview yesterday.

"There is a Russia narrative that 'we were weak in the '90s, but now we are back and we are not going to take it anymore.' But being angry and seeking revanchist victory is not the sign of a strong nation. It is the sign of a weak one," said Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.

"Russia is going to have to come to terms with the reality it can either integrate with the world or it can be a self-isolated bully. But it can't be both. And that's a choice Russia has to have," Fried said.

... in a speech yesterday in Kiev, Ukraine, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said: "Today Russia is more isolated, less trusted and less respected than two weeks ago. It has made military gains in the short term. But over time, it will feel economic and political losses."

Miliband noted that Russia's foreign exchange reserves have fallen by $16 billion and risk premiums for investing in Russia have soared since the crisis began. By contrast, when the Soviet Union attacked Czechoslovakia in 1968, "no one asked what impact its actions had on the Russian stock market. There was no Russian stock market."

Vice President Cheney, speaking to an American Legion convention in Phoenix yesterday, condemned Russia's "unjustifiable assault" on Georgia. "The Georgian people won their freedom after years of tyranny, and they can count on the friendship of the United States," he said.

Britain Vs Russia :

Britain yesterday raised the stakes in the scramble to contain Russia, pledging support for Moscow's regional rival, Ukraine, and calling on the international community to stand up to Russia's campaign to redraw the map of Europe and make it pay a higher price for its actions in Georgia.

David Miliband, the foreign secretary tipped as a future Labour party leader and potential prime minister, went to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, to deliver a speech aimed at flying the flag of western democracy on Russia's doorstep, while seeking to avert a new crisis boiling over on the Crimean peninsula, home to an ethnic Russian population and Moscow's Black Sea fleet.

The speech represented the strongest criticism of the Kremlin from a leading European government official in years, delivered in a country that is Russia's neighbour and which Russians view as the cradle of their civilisation.

Miliband declared a turning point had been reached in Europe's relations with Russia, ending a nearly two decade period of relative tranquility. He said Tuesday's decision by the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, to recognise Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia represented a radical break and a moment of truth for the rest of Europe.

"[Medvedev's] unilateral attempt to redraw the map marks a moment of real significance," the foreign secretary said. "It is not just the end of the post cold war period of growing geopolitical calm in and around Europe. It is also the moment when countries are required to set out where they stand on the significant issues of nationhood and international law."

"The Georgia crisis has provided a rude awakening," the foreign secretary said. He responded to Medvedev's boast that he was not scared of a new cold war, saying: "We don't want a new cold war. He has a big responsibility not to start one."

"Europe needs to act as one when dealing with third parties like Russia," he said. To do that, the EU should invest in gas storage facilities, build up an internal market and negotiate as a single entity, rather than cutting separate deals.

Russia, Miliband said, "must not learn the wrong lessons from the Georgia crisis: there can be no going back on fundamental principles of territorial integrity, democratic governance and international law."

Medvedev explains why he had to recognise Russia's rebel regions :
"On Tuesday Russia recognised the independence of the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It was not a step taken lightly, or without full consideration of the consequences. But all possible outcomes had to be weighed against a sober understanding of the situation - the histories of the Abkhaz and Ossetian peoples, their freely expressed desire for independence, the tragic events of the past weeks and inter­national precedents for such a move.

"Not all of the world’s nations have their own statehood. Many exist happily within boundaries shared with other nations. The Russian Federation is an example of largely harmonious coexistence by many dozens of nations and nationalities. But some nations find it impossible to live under the tutelage of another.

"Relations between nations living “under one roof” need to be handled with the utmost sensitivity.
After the collapse of communism, Russia reconciled itself to the “loss” of 14 former Soviet republics, which became states in their own right, even though some 25m Russians were left stranded in countries no longer their own. Some of those nations were un­able to treat their own minorities with the respect they deserved. Georgia immediately stripped its “autonomous regions” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia of their autonomy.

"In international relations, you cannot have one rule for some and another rule for others.
Seeing the warning signs, we persistently tried to persuade the Georgians to sign an agreement on the non-use of force with the Ossetians and Abkhazians. Mr Saakashvili refused. On the night of August 7-8 we found out why.

"Only a madman could have taken such a gamble. Did he believe Russia would stand idly by as he launched an all-out assault on the sleeping city of Tskhinvali, murdering hundreds of peaceful civilians, most of them Russian citizens?

"Did he believe Russia would stand by as his “peacekeeping” troops fired on Russian comrades with whom they were supposed to be preventing trouble in South Ossetia?

"Russia had no option but to crush the attack to save lives. This was not a war of our choice. We have no designs on Georgian territory. Our troops entered Georgia to destroy bases from which the attack was launched and then left.

"The presidents of the two republics appealed to Russia to recognise their independence.
A heavy decision weighed on my shoulders. Taking into account the freely expressed views of the Ossetian and Abkhazian peoples, and based on the principles of the United Nations charter and other documents of international law, I signed a decree on the Russian Federation’s recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia."
The Great Game continues...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The World's First Cyber War

It's already happened, and most of us didn't even notice. According to this story, the Russia Vs United States, Via Georgia war was, in fact, the world's first cyberwar :

Websites on both sides, especially the Georgian one, were knocked out by co-ordinated online attacks. Among them were the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs websites, the online English language dailies 'The Messenger', and 'Civil', and the personal website of the Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili.

Skirmishes have been conducted on websites before, notably as part of disputes that Russia had with Estonia in 2007 and Lithuania in July, but South Ossetia marked the first time they have been launched at the same time as ground troops and air strikes. They were even part of the softening-up process, with official Georgian sites coming under attack as far back as 21 July.

Dr David Betz, senior lecturer at the Department of War Studies of King's College, London, said: "We're still in the wooden biplane era of cyber-war. It will get more sophisticated, probably quite quickly. The US has already created units for cyber-defence, so too has China, no doubt Russia, and probably many others."

"A malicious hack can be conducted by an individual or small group," said Dr Betz. "It also provides a sneaky mechanism to states to attack and cause harm while avoiding retaliation because the identity of the attacker is obscured. For instance, if the Republican of Whatsistan launches a missile at you, you know with a certainty where it came from. Not so with cyber," he added.

Cyber-attacks are inexpensive, easy to mount and will be a significant feature of modern warfare that leaves no fingerprints.

Bill Woodcock, the research director of an American organisation that tracks internet traffic, told the New York Times: "It costs about 4 cents (2p) per machine. You could fund an entire cyber-warfare campaign for the cost of replacing a tank tread."

Monday, August 18, 2008

US Vs Russia, Via Georgia : It's A Video War

How the war began. Broadcast two days before Georgia attack the capital of South Ossetia, killing hundreds, if not thousands of civilians.

It's hard to have confidence in a president who picks a fight with Russia, and then eats his tie on the BBC :

Censorship is rarely this blatant, and clumsy. Or creepy :

"There are grey areas in war."

It's even creepier the second time around.

Now Russia can rightly accuse the US, and Murdoch, of faking a news reality for this war. They did it just as well with video as Pravda ever did with newspapers.

We in the West mostly got the Fox News version of how this new war began from the mainstream media.

And this 'accident' of using footage of a city laid to waste by Georgia with missiles fired into civilian populations and trying to pass it off as a Georgian city smashed by Russia was all over Australian TV news, and news channels, as well. It was everywhere, around the world.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The $100 Billion Privatised War On Iraq

Incredible. The numbers are in and reveal that BushCo. has spent an extraordinary $100 billion since the 2003 invasion of Iraq on corporate soldiers, mercenaries and military contractors. The private American armies of Iraq now outnumber US Army numbers on the ground. Without the privitisation of the Iraq War, BushCo. would have had to unleash a draft on the American people.
More here :

The report, by the Congressional Budget Office, according to people with knowledge of its contents, will say that one out of every five dollars spent on the war in Iraq has gone to contractors for the United States military and other government agencies, in a war zone where employees of private contractors now outnumber American troops.

The Pentagon’s reliance on outside contractors in Iraq is proportionately far larger than in any previous conflict, and it has fueled charges that this outsourcing has led to overbilling, fraud and shoddy and unsafe work that has endangered and even killed American troops. The role of armed security contractors has also raised new legal and political questions about whether the United States has become too dependent on private armed forces on the 21st-century battlefield.

The budget office’s report found that from 2003 to 2007, the government awarded contracts in Iraq worth about $85 billion, and that the administration was now awarding contracts at a rate of $15 billion to $20 billion a year. At that pace, contracting costs will surge past the $100 billion mark before the end of the year. Through 2007, spending on outside contractors accounted for 20 percent of the total costs of the war, the budget office found, according to the people with knowledge of the report.

Several outside experts on contracting said the report’s numbers seemed to provide the first official price tag on contracting in Iraq and raised troubling questions about the degree to which the war had been privatized.

Contractors in Iraq now employ at least 180,000 people in the country, forming what amounts to a second, private, army, larger than the United States military force, and one whose roles and missions and even casualties among its work force have largely been hidden from public view. The widespread use of these employees as bodyguards, translators, drivers, construction workers and cooks and bottle washers has allowed the administration to hold down the number of military personnel sent to Iraq, helping to avoid a draft.

Dina L. Rasor, an author and independent expert on contracting fraud, said she believed that the $100 billion cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office might be low, since there were virtually no reliable audits of or controls on spending during the first years of the war. “It is a shocking number, but I still don’t think it is the full cost,” Ms. Rasor said. “I don’t think there have been any credible cost numbers for the Iraq war. There was so much money spent at the beginning of the war, and nobody knows where it went.”

Iraq Government Demands "Very Clear Timeline" For When US Troops Will Go Home

Iraq Improves Regional Ties

US Accused Of Using Cash As A Weapon Of War In Iraq

Monday In Iraq : 16 Iraqis Killed, More Than 30 Wounded

Another Female Suicide Bomber Strikes In Iraq, Killing Four

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Truth About Georgia Vs Russia

Historian Mark Almond supplies one of the clearest and most precise essays on how this new war in the Caucasus began, and what it means :

For many people the sight of Russian tanks streaming across a border in August has uncanny echoes of Prague 1968. That cold war reflex is natural enough, but after two decades of Russian retreat from those bastions it is misleading. Not every development in the former Soviet Union is a replay of Soviet history.

The clash between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia....has more in common with the Falklands war of 1982 than it does with a cold war crisis. When the Argentine junta was basking in public approval for its bloodless recovery of Las Malvinas, Henry Kissinger anticipated Britain's widely unexpected military response with the comment: "No great power retreats for ever." Maybe today Russia has stopped the long retreat to Moscow which started under Gorbachev.

Back in the late 1980s, as the USSR waned, the red army withdrew from countries in eastern Europe which plainly resented its presence as the guarantor of unpopular communist regimes. That theme continued throughout the new republics of the deceased Soviet Union, and on into the premiership of Putin, under whom Russian forces were evacuated even from the country's bases in Georgia.

To many Russians this vast geopolitical retreat from places which were part of Russia long before the dawn of communist rule brought no bonus in relations with the west. The more Russia drew in its horns, the more Washington and its allies denounced the Kremlin for its imperial ambitions.

Unlike in eastern Europe, for instance, today in breakaway states such as South Ossetia or Abkhazia, Russian troops are popular. Vladimir Putin's picture is more widely displayed than that of the South Ossetian president, the former Soviet wrestling champion Eduard Kokoity. The Russians are seen as protectors against a repeat of ethnic cleansing by Georgians.

In 1992, the west backed Eduard Shevardnadze's attempts to reassert Georgia's control over these regions. The then Georgian president's war was a disaster for his nation. It left 300,000 or more refugees "cleansed" by the rebel regions, but for Ossetians and Abkhazians the brutal plundering of the Georgian troops is the most indelible memory.

Georgians have nursed their humiliation ever since. Although Mikheil Saakashvili has done little for the refugees since he came to power early in 2004 - apart from move them out of their hostels in central Tbilisi to make way for property development - he has spent 70% of the Georgian budget on his military. At the start of the week he decided to flex his muscles.

Devoted to achieving Nato entry for Georgia, Saakashvili has sent troops to Iraq and Afghanistan - and so clearly felt he had American backing. The streets of the Georgian capital are plastered with posters of George W Bush alongside his Georgian protege. George W Bush avenue leads to Tbilisi airport. But he has ignored Kissinger's dictum: "Great powers don't commit suicide for their allies." Perhaps his neoconservative allies in Washington have forgotten it, too. Let's hope not.

Like Galtieri in 1982, Saakashvili faces a domestic economic crisis and public disillusionment. In the years since the so-called Rose revolution, the cronyism and poverty that characterised the Shevardnadze era have not gone away. Allegations of corruption and favouritism towards his mother's clan, together with claims of election fraud, led to mass demonstrations against Saakashvili last November. His ruthless security forces - trained, equipped and subsidised by the west - thrashed the protesters. Lashing out at the Georgians' common enemy in South Ossetia would certainly rally them around the president, at least in the short term.

Last September, President Saakashvili suddenly turned on his closest ally in the Rose revolution, defence minister Irakli Okruashvili. Each man accused his former blood brother of mafia links and profiting from contraband. Whatever the truth, the fact that the men seen by the west as the heroes of a post-Shevardnadze clean-up accused each other of vile crimes should warn us against picking a local hero in Caucasian politics.

Western geopolitical commentators stick to cold war simplicities about Russia bullying plucky little Georgia. However, anyone familiar with the Caucasus knows that the state bleating about its victim status at the hands of a bigger neighbour can be just as nasty to its smaller subjects. Small nationalisms are rarely sweet-natured.

Worse still, western backing for "equip and train" programmes in Russia's backyard don't contribute to peace and stability if bombastic local leaders such as Saakashvili see them as a guarantee of support even in a crisis provoked by his own actions. He seems to have thought that the valuable oil pipeline passing through his territory, together with the Nato advisers intermingled with his troops, would prevent Russia reacting militarily to an incursion into South Ossetia. That calculation has proved disastrously wrong.

The question now is whether the conflict can be contained, or whether the west will be drawn in, raising the stakes to desperate levels. To date the west has operated radically different approaches to secession in the Balkans, where pro-western microstates get embassies, and the Caucasus, where the Caucasian boundaries drawn up by Stalin, are deemed sacrosanct.

In the Balkans, the west promoted the disintegration of multiethnic Yugoslavia, climaxing with their recognition of Kosovo's independence in February. If a mafia-dominated microstate like Montenegro can get western recognition, why shouldn't flawed, pro-Russian, unrecognised states aspire to independence, too?

Given its extraordinary ethnic complexity, Georgia is a post-Soviet Union in miniature. If westerners readily conceded non-Russian republics' right to secede from the USSR in 1991, what is the logic of insisting that non-Georgians must remain inside a microempire which happens to be pro-western?

Other people's nationalisms are like other people's love affairs, or, indeed, like dog fights. These are things wise people don't get involved in. A war in the Caucasus is never a straightforward moral crusade - but then, how many wars are?

Friday, August 08, 2008

Georgia Slaughters 1600 Civilians With Missile Barrage On Russia's Border

Proxy War Between US/Israel And Russia Breaks Out Over South Ossetia

Reports Claim Georgian, Russian Jets Shot Down, Pilots Captured, Georgian Tanks Burning In SO Capital, Israel & American Advisors Guide Georgia Military, Another Caspian Pipeline War Begins

UPDATE : A quick summary of news from the Interfax news agency, 8pm Sydney time :

* 1600 are now believed to have been killed in the South Ossetia capital under a missile barrage by Georgia, purposely targeting civilians.

* 50 Georgian soldiers have been killed in South Ossetia, more than 400 wounded.

* Georgian soldiers are now surrendering in the SO capital Tskhinvali

* Martial law is expected to be enacted in Georgia.

* Russia claims it is not waging war on Georgia, but a "peacekeeping mission."

* South Ossetia forces claim to have shot down two Georgian jet fighters.

* Georgia claims it has shot down 10 Russian jets, and is interrogating a captured pilot.

* 15 Russian peacekeeping troops are believed to have been killed in the Georgian attack on Tskhinvali.

Georgia is pulling more than 2000 troops out of Iraq, and Russian is mobilising thousands of Cossacks as full-blown war looks set to erupt between Russia and the Georgian dictatorship over the breakaway territory of South Ossetia.

Georgian military, backed by Israeli and American trainers and advisors, reportedly killed more than 1400 people in devastating attacks on the capital city of South Ossetia. Russia is now said to be blowing Georgian planes out of the sky and massing on its border.

Georgia has been intensely stockpiling weapons, tanks, helicopters from the Ukraine and the West for the past two years. American and Israel advisors have been training Georgian troops for months, while Russia warned Georgia, and the US, to leave the breakaway territory of South Ossetia alone. Georgia still regards South Ossetia as territory of Georgia, if only because it aims to increase control over the gas pipelines running through the region. Israel and the United States are deeply involved in the conflict, and are fully backing the brutal Georgian dictatorship.

On August 6, the worst fighting in more than four years erupted between Georgia and South Ossetia. The leaders agreed to talks, which quickly broke down.

On August 7, Georgian military (still aided by US and Israel trainers and advisors) began shelling villages across the border in South Ossetia. South Ossetia claimed to have killed at least two dozen Georgian military, though the Georgian dictatorship refused to confirm or deny the numbers.

On August 8, Georgian jet fighters began bombing villages in South Ossetia. The SO president, Eduard Kokoity claimed more than 1400 people were killed in the attacks :
Tensions over Georgia's rebel territory of South Ossetia exploded on Friday when Georgia tried to assert control over the region with tanks and rockets, and Russia sent forces to repel the assault.

On Friday, the United States called on Russia to halt aircraft and missile attacks in South Ossetia.

"The United States calls for an immediate ceasefire to the armed conflict in Georgia's region of South Ossetia," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement. "We call on Russia to cease attacks on Georgia by aircraft and missiles, respect Georgia's territorial integrity, and withdraw its ground combat forces from Georgian soil."

Fight between Georgian forces and Russian-backed separatists raged in and around Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, after Tbilisi sent troops to take back the territory, which broke away in the 1990s.

A senior Georgian security official said Russian jets had bombed the Vaziani military airbase outside the Georgian capital Tbilisi, and President Mikheil Saakashvili said 150 Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers and other vehicles had entered South Ossetia from neighboring Russia. He also said Georgian forces had downed two Russian jets.

From DEBKA :

Georgian tanks and infantry, aided by Israeli military advisers, captured the capital of breakaway South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, early Friday, Aug. 8, bringing the Georgian-Russian conflict over the province to a military climax.

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin threatened a “military response.”

Former Soviet Georgia called up its military reserves after Russian warplanes bombed its new positions in the renegade province.

In Moscow’s first response to the fall of Tskhinvali, president Dimitry Medvedev ordered the Russian army to prepare for a national emergency after calling the UN Security Council into emergency session early Friday.

Reinforcements were rushed to the Russian “peacekeeping force” present in the region to support the separatists.

Georgian tanks entered the capital after heavy overnight heavy aerial strikes, in which dozens of people were killed.

...the Russians are backing the separatists of S. Ossetia and neighboring Abkhazia as payback for the strengthening of American influence in tiny Georgia and its 4.5 million inhabitants. However, more immediately, the conflict has been sparked by the race for control over the pipelines carrying oil and gas out of the Caspian region.

The Russians may just bear with the pro-US Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili’s ambition to bring his country into NATO. But they draw a heavy line against his plans and those of Western oil companies, including Israeli firms, to route the oil routes from Azerbaijan and the gas lines from Turkmenistan, which transit Georgia, through Turkey instead of hooking them up to Russian pipelines.

Jerusalem owns a strong interest in Caspian oil and gas pipelines reach the Turkish terminal port of Ceyhan, rather than the Russian network. Intense negotiations are afoot between Israel Turkey, Georgia, Turkmenistan and Azarbaijan for pipelines to reach Turkey and thence to Israel’s oil terminal at Ashkelon and on to its Red Sea port of Eilat. From there, supertankers can carry the gas and oil to the Far East through the Indian Ocean.

Last year, the Georgian president commissioned from private Israeli security firms several hundred military advisers, estimated at up to 1,000, to train the Georgian armed forces in commando, air, sea, armored and artillery combat tactics. They also offer instruction on military intelligence and security for the central regime. Tbilisi also purchased weapons, intelligence and electronic warfare systems from Israel.

These advisers were undoubtedly deeply involved in the Georgian army’s preparations to conquer the South Ossetian capital Friday.

In recent weeks, Moscow has repeatedly demanded that Jerusalem halt its military assistance to Georgia, finally threatening a crisis in bilateral relations. Israel responded by saying that the only assistance rendered Tbilisi was “defensive.”

Back and forth accusations of ethnic cleansing by Georgia and Russia dominated heated talks at the United Nations Security Council emergency meetings :

Russia and Georgia accused each other of "ethnic cleansing" as the UN Security Council met in two tense emergency sessions Friday to head off all-out war between Russia, Georgia and the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia.

The last-ditch negotiations came just 12 hours apart in response to Georgian troops launching a major military offensive to regain control of separatist South Ossetia. The first meeting lasted three hours, ending at 2 a.m. Friday in New York, and the second session broke off in a stalemate Friday night.

Just hours after Russia called that first meeting and failed to win backing for its proposed council statement that Georgia and South Ossetia should "renounce the use of force," Russian tanks rumbled into Georgia in a furious response.

..."there are reports about ethnic cleansing in villages of South Ossetia. The population is panicking, and the number of refugees is increasing... a humanitarian catastrophe is in the offing. And here Tbilisi is using the tactic of scorched earth."

Russia dispatched an armored column into South Ossetia on Friday after Georgia, a staunch US ally, launched a surprise offensive to crush separatists. Witnesses said hundreds of civilians were killed.

The fighting, which devastated the capital of Tskhinvali, threatened to ignite a wider war between Georgia and Russia, and escalate tensions between Moscow and Washington. Georgia said it was forced to launch the assault because of rebel attacks; the separatists alleged Georgia violated a cease-fire.

The fighting broke out as much of the world's attention was focused on the start of the Olympic Games and many leaders, including Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and US President George W. Bush, were in Beijing.

The timing suggested Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili may have been counting on surprise to fulfill his longtime pledge to wrest back control of South Ossetia - a key to his hold on power. The rebels seek to unite with North Ossetia, which is part of Russia.

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. Georgia has angered Russia by seeking NATO membership - a bid Moscow regards as part of a Western effort to weaken its influence in the region.

A timeline from the UK Telegraph :

November 1989 - South Ossetia declares its autonomy from the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, triggering three months of fighting.

December 1990 - Georgia and South Ossetia begin a new armed conflict which lasts until 1992.

June 1992 - Russian, Georgian and South Ossetian leaders meet in Sochi, sign an armistice and agree the creation of a tripartite peacekeeping force of 500 soldiers from each entity.

November 1993 - South Ossetia drafts its own constitution.

November 1996 - South Ossetia elects its first president.

December 2000 - Russia and Georgia sign an intergovernment agreement to re-establish the economy in the conflict zone.

December 2001 - South Ossetia elects Eduard Kokoity as president, in 2002 he asks Moscow to recognise the republic's independence and absorb it into Russia.

January 2005 - Russia gives guarded approval to Georgia's plan to grant broad autonomy to South Ossetia in exchange for dropping its bid for independence.

November 2006 - South Ossetia overwhelmingly endorses its split with Tbilisi in a referendum. Georgia's prime minister says this is part of a Russian campaign to stoke a war.

April 2007 - Georgia's parliament approves a law to create a temporary administration in South Ossetia, raising tension with Russia.

June 2007 - South Ossetian separatists say Georgia attacked Tskhinvali with mortar and sniper fire. Tbilisi denies this.

October 2007 - Talks hosted by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe between Georgia and South Ossetia break down.

March 2008 - South Ossetia asks the world to recognise its independence from Georgia, following the West's support for Kosovo's secession from Serbia.

March 2008 - Georgia's bid to join NATO, though unsuccessful, prompts Russia's parliament to urge the Kremlin to recognise the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

April 2008 - South Ossetia rejects a Georgian power-sharing deal, insists on full independence.

August 2008 - Fighting breaks out between Georgian and separatist South Ossetian forces. Georgia says its forces have "freed" the greater part of the Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali.

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