|Russia Accuses Georgia of Raising Tension After Report of Attack in South Ossetia|
|August 01, 2009|
By ELLEN BARRY
MOSCOW — Russia’s Defense Ministry released a statement on Saturday accusing Georgia of trying to stoke violence in South Ossetia, and vowed to “use all means and resources available to protect the citizens of the republic of South Ossetia and the Russian servicemen.”
The strongly worded statement, one week before the first anniversary of the war in South Ossetia, came after the South Ossetian government reported two rounds of mortar fire coming from Georgian-controlled territory on Saturday morning.
It says that analogous events a year ago “led to Georgia’s unleashing of military aggression on South Ossetia and an attack on the Russian peacekeeping contingent.”
The statement warns that Russia will use all military means to protect South Ossetia “in case of further provocative steps.”
Shota Utiashvili, a spokesman for Georgia’s Interior Ministry, said there was no firing from Georgia on Saturday and characterized the situation around the boundary as generally calm. He called the Russian statement a “significant, unprovoked escalation.”
“There has been completely no pretext for that,” he said.
Last year, the simmering conflict between the separatist government of South Ossetia and Georgian authorities erupted into full-scale war for five days. Georgia attacked Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, late on Aug. 7, saying it was responding to attacks on ethnic Georgian villages in the breakaway enclave. Russia responded by sending columns of armor into Georgia and taking control of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another separatist territory on the Black Sea coast.
After a French-brokered cease-fire, the situation hardened into its present-day form. Russia recognized the territories as sovereign nations and urged other governments to follow suit, though so far only Nicaragua has done so. Georgia, meanwhile, has sought international pressure to force Russia to withdraw its troops, as called for in the cease-fire agreement. Both sides hope to use the anniversary to plead their case.
After reports of shooting from both sides on Wednesday, the European Union Monitoring Mission, which patrols the conflict zone, hastily arranged a meeting between Georgian and South Ossetian officials, encouraging them to communicate directly through an existing hotline if violence is reported.
“It is vital that all sides show restraint and do nothing that could be considered provocative,” said Gen. Gilles Janvier, deputy chief of the mission, in a statement. “It is in no one’s interest to incite the situation at this time.”
Steve Bird, a spokesman for the mission, described the boundary area on Saturday as calm. He said that monitors had seen no evidence of firing from the Georgian side, but that they were unable to investigate the allegations because South Ossetian authorities did not allow them to work inside the territory.
“Our people have been out there, and the whole situation is very calm,” he said. “We would expect there would be tension ahead of the anniversary, but we haven’t been able to see or hear anything.”
The two sides have lobbed accusations back and forth for four days. On Thursday, South Ossetia’s Defense Ministry reported that two mortar rounds were fired from a Georgian-controlled village into Tskhinvali. Meanwhile, Georgia said a police checkpoint in the village of Zemo Nikozi, in Georgia proper, was attacked with small-arms fire and grenades.
Makvala Japaridze, 68, a village resident, said that she was awoken by the sound of gunfire just after 11 p.m. on Wednesday night and that shooting continued for about an hour.
“But you know what kind of mild-mannered people we are,” she said. “We are already used to shootings like that.”
Olesya Vartanyan contributed reporting from Tbilisi, Georgia.
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