Russia, Georgia commemorate war

Tensions endure amid anniversary of conflict over breakaway region of South Ossetia.

The war over South Ossetia killed at least 390 civilians and at its height displaced up to 190,000 [AFP]
The war over South Ossetia killed at least 390 civilians and at its height displaced up to 190,000 [AFP]

Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s president, addressed the nation on Friday in a speech in Gori, a flashpoint in the war.

Saakashvili said: “Thanks to our Western friends, Russia faces a complete diplomatic defeat and practically every single country on earth has remained committed to Georgia’s territorial integrity.

“The way towards the EU and Nato is more open than ever.”

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, is expected to visit South Ossetia on Saturday in a show of support for the breakaway region.

Russian ‘monster’

Georgia has repeatedly denied Russian accusations that it has been “aggressively re-arming” since the war.

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Saakashvili told Al Jazeera: “We have an army of 12,000 people, Russians have more than 120,000 soldiers in the region and they have two hundred planes ready to bomb us … we don’t want to get into a conflict with this monster.

“We are winning the peace, we have economic boom right now, we have more respect from all sides … Georgia is a very strategic country and if the country falls central Asia will fall,” he said.

Sergei Strokan, a columnist for the Russian daily newspaper, Kommersant, told Al Jazeera: “One year after the August war in Georgia, the guns are silent but  … there is a growing war of words both in Russia and in Georgia.

“Russian opinion polls are showing that people are in full support of the Russian official position; that it was Georgia which launched the war.

‘Dangerous situation’

“In Georgia,  it seems that even opposition leaders still believe in the notion that it was Russia who proved itself as an aggressor.

In video

 Tensions high in South Ossetia on war anniversary

“As a result, there is a lack of understanding of what the plans  are for security  in the region …  this is the most dangerous situation.

“Russian leadership has made itself very clear that it will never deal with President Saakashvili. So , while he is in power ,  I can hardly imagine that there will be any rapprochement in Russian-Georgian relationship,” Strokan said.

The United States and European Union have raised concerns about the tensions and called on all sides to maintain order.

In a new report published a year after the start of the conflict, Amnesty International said it had found that 30,000 civilians from both sides were still unable to return to their homes.

“A total of nearly 200,000 were displaced by the fighting.

‘Sense of tension’

“Of the 38,500 people who fled South Ossetia for Russia, all but 4,000 were thought to have been returned,” the human rights group said.

Amnesty International says a large majority of ethnic Georgians remain displaced [Reuters]

“An omnipresent sense of tension and insecurity prevent many people from returning to their homes and carrying on with their lives.

“Many of the people who have returned are facing a new reality brought about by the conflict, a reality in which they struggle to rebuild their lives and livelihoods,” it added.

Amnesty said most were ethnic Georgians, who have remained displaced.

The war broke out late on August 7 last year when Georgian forces launched an assault on South Ossetia following days of escalating violence.

Russian forces responded with a counter-attack, driving Georgian forces out of the rebel region.

An EU-brokered ceasefire ended the conflict five days later, after several hundred people had been killed and thousands wounded.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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