Georgia on Sept. 2 formally broke diplomatic relations with Russia following its occupation of a “security zone” in the north of the country and its Aug. 26 recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries. (AFP, Sept. 2) Russia responded by accusing Georgia of mobilizing commando units near its border with South Ossetia. “According to our information, Georgian security forces are trying to restore their [military] presence in Georgian populated villages in South Ossetia,” Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the deputy chief of Russia’s General Staff, said. “With this aim, Georgia is mobilizing its special forces from the interior and defense ministries near the administrative border with South Ossetia.” (RIA-Novosti, Sept. 2)
Tensions remain high around the fate of Georgian civilians displaced by the conflict. The UN says a camp in Gori has reached capacity, with some 4,200 people registered as internally displaced since fleeing South Ossetian militias last month. Some refugees said Russian troops had prevented them from returning home. (BBC, Sept. 2)
Eduard Kokoity, the separatist president of South Ossetia, says ethnic Georgians may return to their homes—but warns they will be checked for signs they fought on Georgia’s side in the last month’s fighting. “We will examine every family to see who took part and who did not take part in the Georgian aggression,” Kokoity said. (AP, Sept. 1)
A total of some 128,000 have been displaced by the conflict, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Tbilisi. This includes nearly 30,000 Ossetians who fled to Russian territory at the start of the conflict, although nearly all of them have now returned to their homes. (NYT, Sept. 2)
Two US military ships have docked in the Black Sea port of Batumi—just a few kilometers down the coast from Russian military ships anchored off the Georgian coast. The USS McFaul, a Navy destroyer, and the Coast Guard cutter Dallas brought some 100 tons of humanitarian aid . A third US ship is expected within a few days. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov assailed the US mission as an act of provocation. “Battleships do not normally deliver aid, and this is gunboat diplomacy—it does not make the situation more stable,” he told the official RIA-Novosti news agency. (EurasiaNet, Aug. 28)
The leaders of the European Union, meeting in an emergency summit in Brussels Sept. 1, moved to issue a warning to Moscow to abide by the cease-fire agreement brokered by France and withdraw all its troops to positions held before the Aug. 7 fighting broke out. If Russia did not comply, the European leaders said, a second round of talks with Moscow on a strategic partnership agreement with the EU, scheduled for mid-September, would be postponed. (NYT, Sept. 2)
The Russian Foreign Ministry responded in a statement: “All the troops sent to South Ossetia to repel Georgian aggression have returned to Russia, except for those now deployed in South Ossetia to maintain peace, there upon the request of its [the South Ossetian] leadership. The Russian peacekeeping forces, as envisaged in the second part of point five [of the ceasefire accord], are undertaking additional security measures. For that purpose, a security zone has been formed around South Ossetia and the regime there currently is maintained by the checkpoints of the Russian peacekeeping forces, 500 servicemen in total.” (Civil Georgia, Sept. 2)
See our last post on Georgia.