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Posted on Aug 11, 2008 in War College

Georgia-South Ossetia-Russia Conflict: Update, August 10

By Jerry D. Morelock

Russia has given out Russian passports to South Ossetians (technically Georgian citizens) like it was passing out lollypops.

Armchair General magazine’s editor-in-chief, Jerry Morelock (former Chief of Russia Branch on the Joint Staff in the Pentagon) provides this update into the Republic of Georgia-South Ossetia- Russia conflict. To read his initial article on the subject, click here. Be sure to also read Ralph Peters’ Assault on Georgia! Exclusive Military Analysis of South Ossetia Conflict, an ArmchairGeneral.com exclusive.

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Since our first report on the fighting in the Republic of Georgia’s breakaway region, South Ossetia, was written (Aug. 8), thousands of Russian troops, supported by tanks, artillery, and aircraft, have invaded South Ossetia in a serious escalation of the fighting. Latest information cites about 2,500 Russian troops taking part in the invasion of internationally-recognized Georgian territory (although there are reportedly about 100,000 Russian troops stationed on Russian territory in the region immediately to the north of the Russia-Georgia border. Russian aircraft have also struck Georgian military and civilian targets outside of South Ossetia (Gori, Poti and the country’s capital, Tbilisi), inflicting casualties, including civilian deaths. Georgian officials claim that 10 Russian aircraft have been shot down – Russian military authorities admit to two Russian aircraft being lost. A crude oil pipeline that transits Georgia has also reportedly been bombed.

Several ships from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet based in Sebastopol, Ukraine in the Crimea, have been reported to have deployed to the coast of Abkhazia, another Georgian breakaway region. Ukraine has threatened to block these ships’ return to Sebastopol.

Abkhazian military forces, in support of South Ossetian separatists, have reportedly struck at Georgian units occupying one of Georgia’s only “toe holds” in the Abkhazian breakaway region. Abkhazian separatists, which have controlled that region with de facto independence for years, had previously conducted a version of “ethnic cleansing” to clear most of Abkhazia of ethnic Georgians, and Russia’s entry into the South Ossetian conflict likely presents the opportunity for them to completely sweep remaining ethnic Georgians from Abkhazian territory.

Russia, on the other hand, has made claims that Georgia is conducting “ethnic cleansing” within the areas of South Ossetia that Georgian forces occupied last week. Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin termed Georgia’s actions in South Ossetia “complete genocide.” Despite the reported killing of Georgian civilians, Russia continues to claim its military incursion is for “humanitarian” purposes, and has ratcheted up its official rhetoric demonizing Georgia, NATO and the United States (Russia blames all three for the conflict and continues to use the occasion to rail against Georgia’s desire to continue to cooperate with the West and to eventually join NATO). Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, has gone so far as to claim that Georgia had “got a permit to start a military operation” at the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, and warned NATO against continued support of Georgia and its president.

Georgian president, Mikeil Saakashvili, who called the Russian incursion an “unprovoked brutal Russian invasion,” has ordered a cease fire for his forces and claims to have ordered their withdrawal from South Ossetia, stating “We want immediate cease-fire, immediate cessation of hostilities, separation of Russia and Georgia and international mediation."

The reaction of the US and other Western nations continues to be limited to calls for a ceasefire and for the parties to settle the conflict peacefully. Jim Jeffrey, the US Deputy National Security Adviser, warned on August 10, "if the disproportionate and dangerous escalation on the Russian side continues, this will have a significant long-term impact on U.S.-Russian relations." The UN was scheduled to meet on August 10 to address the crisis.

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