Despair: A woman holding her baby cries at her damaged home in Gori
Daily Mail | Aug 10, 2008
The Russian Defence Ministry claims to have sunk a Georgian warship which was attacking its navy ships in the Black Sea, according to Russian new agencies.
If confirmed, the incident could mark a serious escalation of the fighting that has raged between Georgia and Russia in the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
The ITAR-Tass news agency quoted a ministry spokesman as saying that Georgian missile patrol boats twice tried to attack Russian ships, which fired back and sank one of the Georgian vessels.
Russian troops took Tskhinvali, capital of the breakaway region of South Ossetia this afternoon after a three-day battle.
As routed opposition forces fled the area, the Georgian government called for a ceasefire with Moscow and claimed its troops had stopped fighting.
But Russian bombers still appeared to be shelling a military airport at Tbilisi.
As the crisis continued to deepen, the scale of the tragedy for the civilian population of the separatist province of South Ossetia became woefully apparent.
Cataclysmic Russian bombing has laid waste to major towns, including Tskhinvali and Gori with around 2,000 believed dead.
At least 40,000 people have been driven from their homes.
Wounded South Ossetians stay in a hospital shelter in the South Ossetian capital of Tshinvali
This afternoon, America warned Russia its onslaught in South Ossetia was ‘dangerous and disproportionate’.
The White House demanded an end to the Kremlin’s push amid fears that its forces would fight on into Georgia itself.
A spokesman for President Bush warned that any further military escalation in Georgia could have a ‘significant, long-term impact,’ on relations.
In a note to the Russian ambassador in Tbilisi, the Georgian foreign ministry said President Mikheil Saakashvili had ordered Georgian forces to cease fire.
‘All Georgian troops have been withdrawn from the conflict zone,’ it said.
‘Georgia expresses its readiness to immediately start negotiations with the Russian Federation on ceasefire and termination of hostilities.’
Russia poured troops and tanks across its southern border into Georgia and bombed Georgian targets after Tbilisi attempted on Thursday evening to retake South Ossetia, a small pro-Russian province which broke away from Georgia in the 1990s.
Tbilisi has accused Russia of opening a second front in Georgia’s other breakaway region of Abkhazia, on the Black Sea.
Georgian officials said Abkhaz troops backed by Russian air strikes had launched an operation to drive Georgian police from the Georgian-controlled Kodori gorge, a strategic foothold for Tbilisi in the region. ered the conflict, deploying a flotilla off Georgia’s Black Sea coast.
The navy said the ships later put into a Russian Black Sea port, though some reports from Georgia accused them of attempting to blockade the country.
The conflict has now reached the province of Abkhazia, where separatist rebels and the Russian air force launched an all-out attack on Georgian forces.
The president of Abkhazia has since decreed a 10-day ‘state of war’ in some border areas.
At least 40,000 refugees have been forced to flee since the violence which has reportedly killed 2,000 people – two of whom are thought to be journalists covering the conflict.
Yesterday Georgian leaders claimed that the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which transports oil from the Caspian Sea to Turkey, had been attacked. But it is thought the bombs missed their target.
Their claims came after Russian jets struck deep into the territory of its tiny neighbour, killing civilians and ‘completely devastating’ the strategic Black Sea port of Poti, a staging post for oil and other energy supplies.
Reports last night also said that Russia had bombed the international airport in Tbilisi.
Georgian economic development minister Ekaterina Sharashidzne said: ‘This clearly shows that Russia has targeted not just Georgian economic outlets but international economic outlets as well.’
The pipeline is 30 per cent owned by BP and supplies 1 per cent of the world’s oil needs, pumping up to a million barrels of crude per day to Turkey.
It is crucial to the world’s volatile energy market and the only oil and gas route that bypasses Russia’s stranglehold on energy exports from the region.
As President Bush led the West in intensifying pressure on Russia to halt the bombing in Georgia last night, the two countries were edging closer to full-scale war over their conflicting claims for disputed territory.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday held what was described as ‘long and detailed’ talks with French president Nicolas Sarkozy, the current head of the European Union, regarding the conflict.
As the international community desperately tries to stave off a prolonged conflagration which could impact on energy supplies, foreign ministers were planning to hold an emergency meeting in Paris tomorrow.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner arrived at Tbilisi’s main civilian airport this evening to meet Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and mediate an end to the conflict.
He is expected to fly to Russia tomorrow.
Britons were urged against all but essential travel to Georgia as the Foreign Office upgraded its advice.
It is also advising against any travel at all in South Ossetia or Abkhazia.
Defence Secretary Des Browne insisted that efforts to secure a ceasefire had to take precedence over the the political blame game.
Mr Browne also signalled humanitarian assistance would be available, but warned continued fighting would hold that up.
Meanwhile Georgia have decided not to pull out of the Beijing Games despite the outbreak of war with Russia, the International Olympic Committee said today.
The Georgian Olympic committee confirmed today they would continue at the Games, even though their athletes will come face to face with Russian rivals in the beach volleyball on Wednesday.
The conflict is putting Russia’s relations with the West under fresh strain, with US president George Bush urging Moscow to halt its bombings in Georgia.
Georgia’s pro-West government also called for a ceasefire as two of its towns were hit by Russian air strikes.
But Russian President Dmitri Medvedev insisted Georgian troops must first withdraw from South Ossetia.
Russian peacekeepers drink beer at a checkpoint near the town of Tskhinvali, 62 miles from Tbilisi
The fighting erupted when Georgia launched a large-scale military operation to retake South Ossetia, a breakaway province which has had de facto independence since 1992.
Russia, which has moved troops into South Ossetia in response to Georgian military
action in the breakaway province, claims that 2,000 have already been killed.
Moscow insists it is merely trying to keep the peace in South Ossetia but Georgia has declared a state of war.
There has also been a build-up of troops around Abkhazia, another Georgian province which has been seeking international recognition of its independence since the early 1990s.
• Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said on Sunday that more than 2,000 people, mostly Russian citizens, had died in the conflict zone.
• On Saturday Russian Ambassador to Georgia Vyacheslav Kovalenko said at least 2,000 civilians had died in Tskhinvali alone as a result of fighting between Russian and Georgian forces, according to Interfax news agency. He said 13 Russian peacekeepers were killed and up to 70 injured in the fighting.
• Sergei Sobyanin, the Russian government chief of staff, said 30,000 South Ossetian refugees had fled to Russia since early on Friday.
• Kakha Lomaia, the National Security Council secretary, said on Sunday that 40 civilians killed and more than 200 wounded but gave no details.
• A source in the Georgian government told Reuters on Saturday 129 Georgian civilians and military were killed and 748 wounded.
• Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Russian aerial bombing had killed around 30 Georgian soldiers.
• South Ossetia’s President Eduard Kokoity on Friday said about 1,400 people had died in Tskinvali.