Hours after Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili declared the country was officially in a "state of war,” the international community is bracing for a solution to the conflict that pits Georgia against the Russian army for the control of the Georgian separatist region of South Ossetia.
The United States have urged Russia to withdraw its troops from Ossetia and to accept Georgia’s offer for a truce. "The response has been far disproportionate from whatever threat Russia was citing," a senior American official said Saturday.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who currently holds the European Union rotating presidency, has proposed a three-point plan to end the fighting in South Ossetia, including a withdrawal of all forces to their previous positions.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is to travel to the region on Sunday to put Sarkozy’s plan to the concerned parties. EU foreign ministers are expected to meet early next week to assess the situation
Violence spills over South Ossetian borders into Georgia
There is growing evidence that violence is spilling over the borders of South Ossetia. Tbilisi confirmed earlier in the day that a second front opened in Abkhazia, which, like South Ossetia, is a Russian-backed separatist region of Georgia.
“Today, the conflict isn’t anymore between Georgia and South Ossetia but between Georgia and Russia since most of the fighting has moved from South Ossetian territory to Georgian territory,” says Alexis Bautzman, the Tbilisi-based editor-in-chief of Diplomatie.
Fierce fighting between Russia and Georgia continued for a second day in the disputed region of South Ossetia.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin defended Russia's incursion into South Ossetia and urged Georgia to immediately stop "aggression" against the breakaway region.
"From a legal point of view, Russia's actions in South Ossetia are totally legitimate," Putin said from the southern Russian city of Vladikavkaz, in North Ossetia, where he flew directly after attending the Olympic Games in Beijing.
Russian warplanes bomb Georgian town
Two Russian warplanes carried out up to five bombing raids on Saturday around the eastern Georgian town of Gori, 50 km away from the breakaway region of South Ossetia, according to Reuters reporter. He saw at least one bomb hit an apartment block, killing five people.
Gori is located about 50 kilometers away from Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia and the stage of the most of the fighting between Georgian forces and Russian-backed separatists.
Georgian Television images showed mangled bodies strewn about the street, buildings on fire and injured elderly people. But Russia denied having targeted “civilian populations in Georgia.”
In South Ossetia, Georgian and rebel forces made rival claims to control the main city of Tskhinvali but Russia said it had "liberated" South Ossetia's main city after airlifting paratroopers.
Georgian Troops in Iraq redeployed back home
Tbilisi will withdraw its military contingent serving in Iraq within the next three days to help battle South Ossentian seperatist rebels. "The full brigade will go home from Iraq," Colonel Bondo Maisuradze said.
On Friday, Moscow sent troops into the province to defend Russians under fire from a Georgian offensive to regain control over the province that broke away from Tbilisi's control in the early 1990s.
South Ossetia broke from Georgia in the early 1990s. It has since been a constant source of friction between Georgia and Russia, which opposes Tbilisi's aspirations of joining NATO and has de facto supported the separatists although not recognised their independence.
South Ossetia has long sought unification with North Ossetia, which is inhabited by the same Ossetian ethnic group but ended up across the border in Russia after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.