Just as the world's attention was focussed on China's Beijing Olympics, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, on 7 August, invaded the tiny breakaway province of South Ossetia. The initial attack on the South Ossetian capital, Tskninvali, soon extended to an all out war, which eventually invited Russia's wrath, and the death of thousands of innocent civilians on both sides.
Prior to Saakashvili's war, little was known about the political specifics of that area and the brewing decades-long territorial disputes which date back to the early 20th century, highlighted during an intense civil war that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union and its satellite states. Georgia's successful secession from the Soviet grip, understandably, inspired independence fervour in ethnic regions within Georgia. The small region of South Ossetia -- majority ethnic Russians and minority Georgians -- sought to join the North Ossetian province, which remained part of Russia. Another region was Abkhazia, whose protracted fight with the central Georgian government has also provoked much violence.
The fact that South Ossetia belongs to Georgia was hardly contested. Even Russia has long recognised Georgian sovereignty in that region. Russia, nonetheless, remained largely involved in South Ossetia -- mostly as a "peacekeeping force", rationalising such involvement as essential for the national security of the country and the safety of its citizens. Most South Ossentians -- like Abkhazians -- hold Russian citizenship.