Editor: Did you notice – those of you who still get the Union-Tribune – its anti-Russian bias this morning in the headline “Russian military strikes Georgia”(8/09/08)? Georgia actually began this current round of fighting with its own invasion of South Ossettia. The front page article in the U-T did not even mention that fact on the front page. Watch out for that holdover attitude from the Cold War in all US media when reporting on this conflict.
by Mark Franchetti, Moscow / From The Sunday Times / August 10, 2008
The war over South Ossetia, the breakaway region of Georgia, appeared to be widening last night. Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, flew into the area from the Beijing Olympics as his forces seemed to be gaining the upper hand.
After another day of fighting in the rebellious province – and Russian air force attacks that killed civilians in Georgia itself – there were reports of fighting in Abkhazia, Georgia’s other separatist region.
Abkhazian leaders said they had launched air and artillery strikes on government forces with Russian air support.
In South Ossetia itself, separatist leaders claimed 1,500 had been killed, including many civilians, in the initial Georgian assault on Friday. They said tens of thousands had been displaced. Moscow claimed to have pushed Georgian troops from Tskhinvali, the region’s heavily damaged capital.
Russia admitted that two of its aircraft had been shot down; Georgia claimed 10. There were bodies in the streets of Gori, the Georgian town 25 miles from South Ossetia where Josef Stalin was born, after an attack by Russian warplanes. Putin flew directly from Beijing to North Ossetia, on the Russian side of the border. There he made it plain that Moscow’s armed confrontation with Georgia is not simply about South Ossetia but also about its switch of allegiance to America.
“Georgia’s aspiration to join Nato . . . is driven by its attempt to drag other nations and peoples into its bloody adventures,” Putin said during a meeting in Vladikavkaz, the North Ossetian capital.
Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia’s pro-American president, accused Russia of launching a full-scale invasion.
In Gori, Russian air force jets bombed military installations but also hit civilian buildings. Western journalists saw apartment blocks in ruins, some still on fire. One reported scores of bodies and bloodied civilians. Elderly people, women and children were among the victims.
“I can’t understand their logic. Why are they bombing civilians?” said Nick Kipshidze, a local doctor. A Red Cross official told Reuters news agency that he had counted 17 bodies at a local morgue.
President George Bush urged Russia to stop bombing, and last night Britain joined a diplomatic mission of European Union, US and Nato staff that was travelling to Georgia to try to broker a ceasefire. Officials, however, said options were limited.