Border with Ossetia on high alert ahead of war's first anniversary

Georgia has dismissed Russian claims that it is rearming, a year after its assault on the breakaway territory of South Ossetia. But tensions along its border with South Ossetia remain high, reported FRANCE 24's correspondent in Georgia on Thursday.


REUTERS - Georgia on Wednesday dismissed as a “myth” Russian accusations that it was aggressively rearming and said it was in contact with ally Washington to defuse tensions over rebel South Ossetia.


Russia crushed a Georgian assault on the breakaway territory in August last year, and tensions have grown ahead of Friday’s first war anniversary, with accusations from both sides of gun and mortar fire on South Ossetia’s border.


Moscow on Wednesday again expressed concern that Georgia was rearming with Western help, but said it did not believe the former Soviet republic was capable of launching another offensive against South Ossetia.


“As a military man, I will be forthright: if there is an (act of) aggression, there will be an adequate response,” Anatoly Nogovitsyn, Russia’s deputy chief of general staff, told a news conference after the army on Tuesday stepped up the combat readiness of troops in the rebel region.


“Today we do not see any ability (of Georgia) to launch such aggression. And the political situation has radically changed. Not to understand this and continue acting according to the old schemes is just suicidal (for Georgia’s leadership).”


Russia controls the borders of South Ossetia and Georgia’s other rebel Black Sea region of Abkhazia—which Moscow recognised as independent states after last year’s war—and has kept more than 7,000 troops in both since the conflict.


The five-day war, when Russia repelled the Georgian assault and sent tanks into Georgia proper, shook Western confidence in oil and gas routes running through the South Caucasus.


Russia’s assault last year worsened relations with Washington. But those tensions have since eased with meetings between President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, as well as attempts to make progress on a new nuclear arms treaty.


Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told a news conference in Moscow that U.S. attitudes were changing and urged Tbilisi to show caution.


“Even U.S. Vice President Joe Biden ... categorically ruled out the use of force to resolve the problems in the Caucasus,” he said, referring to Biden’s Tbilisi visit last month.




Washington says it has focused on improving the education and professional standards of Georgia’s military, not on resupplying it with equipment lost in the 2008 war.


Biden discussed the situation with Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili on Tuesday, after Presidents Obama and Medvedev spoke by phone. Georgian National Security Council secretary Eka Tkeshelashvili said Biden told him of Washington’s “preventive diplomacy so the situation does not deteriorate”.


Tkeshelashvili told a news briefing Moscow was trying to create “a myth of Georgia’s aggression and aggressive rearmament”.


Georgia is focused on rebuilding its “defensive capacities” in line with NATO standards, she said, and any Georgian military movements are monitored by 240 European Union observers.


“Any military base, any police station, any movement of our military or even police forces at any time without prior notification can be monitored and can be observed and assessed by the (EU monitoring) mission,” Tkeshelashvili said.


South Ossetia’s rebel leader Eduard Kokoity accused the EU observers on Wednesday of giving “tacit approval” to Georgia’s military build-up along the tiny enclave’s de facto borders with Georgia, Interfax quoted him as saying.


Karasin called on Tbilisi to sign an agreement not to use force to resolve its conflicts in South Ossetia and another Georgian breakaway region Abkhazia on the Black Sea.


Nogovitsyn said Georgia was trying to escalate tensions to win support from the West. “This is being done to present Russia as an enemy, and as long as there is an enemy, they ask for help and rearm. Here is the gist of the problem,” he said.

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