Tony Halpin in Gori & Jenny Booth – Times Online August 11, 2008
Russia is reported to be building up more tanks, troops and rocket launchers in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia this morning amid fears that it is planning a ground invasion of Georgia.
Thousands of Russian troops, dozens of T72 tanks and Hurricane multiple rocket launchers were seen streaming south along the winding mountain roads from Russia, a reporter for the news agency Reuters said.
There were also indications that Russia may be planning to open a new front against Georgia from another of its breakaway provinces, the region of Abkhazia to the southwest.
Georgia claims that its troops around the borders of Abkhazia were given an ultimatum this morning to lay down their weapons or face Russian troops moving into Georgian-controlled territory.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister, and Dimitry Medvedev, the President, met top generals at the Kremlin today for a council of war over the progress of their military action in Georgia.
If Russia does launch a ground invasion through Abkhazia, it would be a major escalation in the conflict, and one that Georgia would be hard-pressed to counter with most of its troops concentrated to the north around South Ossetia.
Georgia claims to be observing a ceasefire, after its ill-fated decision to send troops into its rebel province last week provoked an overwhelming reaction from its much larger neighbour. Today it was rapidly moving battle-hardened troops up to the frontline near South Ossetia.
The first of the Georgian forces withdrawn from Iraq over the weekend have already arrived in Gori, 15 miles from the South Ossetian border, The Times
can confirm, and appear to be in no mood for peace.
"We will drink Russian blood," said Badri, one of the contingent newly arrived from Iraq.
Most of the 50,000-strong population of Gori fled the city in panic last night amid reports of an aerial bombardment and rumours that the Russians were coming.
This morning there was calm on the streets, and even a little traffic. A few of those who ran with what possessions they could snatch up had returned to their homes, but United Nations refugee experts estimate that about 80 per cent have abandoned the city.
Shops remained shuttered and the mood was tense, with regular explosions echoing through the streets. Whether the firing was coming from Russian or Georgian lines was not immediately clear.
There was no obvious sign, however, that the city had been devastated by a massive air attack, or that Georgian forces had repulsed the Russians there last night - two of the claims that Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili has made this morning.
Russian military jets have, however, been carrying out new raids on Georgian territory, hitting targets around the Georgian capital Tbilisi and the Black Sea port of Poti.
Russian actions were today condemned as heavy-handed and disproportionate by the US, Nato, Britain and the EU.
"This has gone far too far,” said Jim Murphy, Britain's Europe Minister.
"There are disputes about some issues - territorial issues and authority issues in South Ossetia and separately in Abkhazia. But there is no excuse for Russia bombing targets outside of those areas, in and around Tbilisi, and also mobilising the Black Sea fleet to go off to the coast of Georgia.
“Russia have extended this in an entirely unacceptable way.”
He went on: “Russia seems to believe they can have a military victory, but in truth there cannot be a military solution to this.” Britain has advised its nationals to leave Georgia immediately.
Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, is due to visit Gori today before flying on for talks in Moscow.
Georgia: warnings ring out as attacks continue
AP and Reuters – August 11, 2008
The US Vice President Dick Cheney says Russia's military actions in Georgia "must not go unanswered".
His comments came after a conversation with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Mr Cheney's press secretary, Lee Ann McBride, said: "The Vice President expressed the United States' solidarity with the Georgian people and their democratically elected government in the face of this threat to Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity."
He had told Mr Saakashvili: "Russian aggression must not go unanswered, and that its continuation would have serious consequences for its relations with the United States, as well as the broader international community."
Report continues here...
Last updated 12/08/2008