War à la carte
|Click to view caption|
| A South Ossetian woman cries in her temporary habitation in the refugee camp near the village of Alagir. With its military charge into a rebel pocket of Georgia, Russia has staked out a strategic red line and it will not allow its perceived interests there to be thwarted without a fight |
Last week, Georgia launched a major military offensive against the rebel province South Ossetia, just hours after President Mikhail Saakashvili had announced a unilateral ceasefire. Close to 1,500 have been killed, Russian officials say. Thirty thousand refugees, mostly women and children, streamed across the border into the North Ossetian capital Vladikavkaz in Russia.
The timing -- and subterfuge -- suggest the unscrupulous Saakashvili was counting on surprise. "Most decision-makers have gone for the holidays," he said in an interview with CNN. "Brilliant moment to attack a small country." Apparently he was referring to Russia invading Georgia, despite the fact that it was Georgia which had just launched a full-scale invasion of the "small country" South Ossetia, while Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was in Beijing for the Olympics. Twenty-seven Russian peacekeepers and troops have been killed and 150 wounded so far, many when their barracks were shelled by Georgian forces at the start of the invasion. Georgian State Minister for Reintegration Temur Yakobashvili rushed to announce that their mini-blitzkreig had destroyed 10 Russian combat planes (Russia says two) and that Georgian troops were in full control of the capital Tskhinvali.
Russia's Defence Ministry denounced the Georgian attack as a "dirty adventure". From Beijing, Putin said, "it is regrettable that on the day before the opening of the Olympic Games, the Georgian authorities have undertaken aggressive actions in South Ossetia." He later added, "war has started." Russian President Dmitri Medvedev vowed that Moscow will protect Russian citizens -- most South Ossetians hold Russian passports. The offensive prompted Moscow to send in 150 tanks, to launch air strikes on nearby Gori and military sites, and to order warships to Georgia's Black Sea coast.--MORE--