Russia-Georgia War Intensifies

President Bush took a break from his visit to the Olympics to call for an immediate halt to the violence and a stand down of Russian troops in Georgia. Video by AP
By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, August 10, 2008

GORI, Georgia, Aug. 9 -- Russian strategic bombers and jet fighter planes pounded targets in many parts of Georgia on Saturday, hitting apartment buildings and economic installations, as well as military targets in an escalating war that is killing more and more civilians and confounding international efforts to secure a cease-fire.

Russia continued to pour troops and tanks into South Ossetia, the breakaway region of Georgia that triggered the conflict, to confront Georgian forces that are attempting to reclaim the region. Both sides claimed control of Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, where sporadic gunfire and shelling continued Saturday.

"Nobody really controls anything," said a senior U.S. official, noting the continuing fighting.

Civilians on both sides of the conflict fled homes, sometimes leaving behind devastation and bodies buried in rubble. Russia said that 2,000 people had been killed in South Ossetia and that more than 30,000 refugees had crossed into Russia.

Georgian officials said 130 people were killed on its side of the unofficial border with South Ossetia, including at least 30 civilians who died Saturday when bombs from Russian planes struck two apartment buildings in this city.

None of the casualty figures could be independently confirmed.

Rhetoric on both sides escalated Saturday, with each side saying it wants peace and a cease-fire but with neither showing signs of backing down. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused Georgia of "genocide." Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, speaking to a small group of foreign reporters, vowed that Georgia will "resist until the end."

The Russians "want to get rid of us," he said. "They want to make regime change. And they want to get rid of any democratic movement in this part of their neighborhood. That's it, period."

President Bush and other Western leaders repeated calls for a cease-fire, their comments increasingly leavened with criticism of Russia's intensifying operation. Georgian hopes of pledges of help were disappointed.

"The attacks are occurring in regions of Georgia far from the zone of conflict in South Ossetia," said Bush, who was in Beijing for the opening of the Olympics but spoke to Saakashvili by phone Saturday afternoon. "They mark a dangerous escalation in the crisis."

Alexander Stubb, the Finnish foreign minister and chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, noted that Russia, which has had peacekeeping forces in South Ossetia for years, could no longer be considered a mediator. "Russia is at the moment a party in this conflict," Stubb said. Speaking in Helsinki on Saturday, he expressed little hope for a quick solution. Asked about the chances of a cease-fire and negotiations, he said: "On a scale of 1 to 10, we are at about 2."

The French government, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, urged Russia to accept Georgia's call for a cease-fire. The French presidency "underlines that the pursuit of military action would affect its relationship with Russia," a statement said. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is due to visit the region Sunday.

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