GEORGIA UPDATE….So how’s that Russian pullout from Georgia going? Jonathan Finer of the Washington Post reports:
GORI, Georgia, Aug. 17 — Russia pledged Sunday to begin removing its troops from Georgia on Monday, but the streets of this occupied city reflected a broadening, not a waning, of Russia’s military incursion…..During a reporter’s 24-hour stay in the city this weekend, Russian soldiers roamed the streets in armored personnel carriers and waved Kalashnikov rifles to prevent entry to a captured Georgian military base that is now the Russian headquarters. Russian soldiers dug fortified positions for tanks along highways east and west of Gori and trucked in television and radio equipment to begin broadcasting in their own language.
Italics mine. Note the dateline. Gori is in Georgia proper, not South Ossetia. And the Guardian’s Luke Harding offers a similar take on Russian plans: “The Russians, with an estimated 10,000 troops and 150 tanks in Georgia, show no intention of withdrawing the entire invasion force, and plan to leave troops in Georgia proper, beyond the two pro-Russian breakaway provinces.” That’s some withdrawal. But in the meantime, what’s happening in South Ossetia itself? Michael Gordon of the New York Times reports:
Even as Russia pledged to begin withdrawing its forces from neighboring Georgia on Monday, American officials said the Russian military had been moving launchers for short-range ballistic missiles into South Ossetia, a step that appeared intended to tighten its hold on the breakaway territory.
The Russian military deployed several SS-21 missile launchers and supply vehicles to South Ossetia on Friday, according to American officials familiar with intelligence reports. From the new launching positions north of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, the missiles can reach much of Georgia, including Tbilisi, the capital.
Ah. More of those “extra security measures” we were promised. And speaking of security, did the Georgian army really go on a mass killing spree in South Ossetia that demanded a Russian response? Tom Lasseter of McClatchy reports:
Russian politicians and their partners in Tskhinvali, the capital of the breakaway region South Ossetia, said that when Georgian forces tried to seize control of the city and the surrounding area, the physical damage was comparable to Stalingrad and the killings similar to the Holocaust.
But a trip to the city on Sunday, without official escorts, revealed a very different picture. While it was clear there had been heavy fighting — missiles knocked holes in walls, and bombs tore away rooftops — almost all of the buildings seen in an afternoon driving around Tskhinvali were still standing.
Russian-backed leaders in South Ossetia have said that 2,100 people died in fighting in Tskhinvali and nearby villages. But a doctor at the city’s main hospital, the only one open during the battles that began late on Aug. 7, said the facility recorded just 40 deaths.
On the other hand, Megan Stack of the LA Times talked to the same doctor at Tskhinvali Regional Hospital, and it was pretty clear who she blamed for the violence: “[Tina] Zakharova, the doctor, spent the days of heavy fighting in the rancid basement of the hospital, where staff set up metal cots and thin mattresses and treated patients under the glow of bare lightbulbs….Recalling the arrival of Russian troops, her blue eyes flooded with tears. ‘They were our saviors,’ she said.” This seems to be a nearly unanimous sentiment in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which means that regardless of whose side you take in this conflict, Georgia had better get used to losing both of its breakaway provinces. Neither one wants the Georgians back, and the Russians now have the tanks in place to make their wishes stick.