Georgia pulls forces out of rebel region
Georgian forces pulled out of the breakaway South Ossetia region yesterday after three days of fighting, with Russia saying its troops controlled most of the separatist capital Tskhinvali.
A Georgian convoy of troops and artillery left South Ossetia through Ergneti, a village just inside Georgian held territory south of Tskhinvali.
“They have been withdrawn, completely,” Georgian interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said.
In Moscow, the Russian General Staff’s Colonel General Anatoly Nagovitsyn confirmed the withdrawal was underway.
He also told an official news briefing that Russian soldiers now controlled most of Tskhinvali.
Russia, the South Ossetian separatists’ main backer, had poured troops into the enclave and launched air strikes inside Georgia in response to a Georgian push to take control of it.
Russian officials said the death toll in fighting that began on Thursday stood at 2,000. Georgia said on Friday that it had killed up to 300 people – mainly civilians.
The conflict in the heart of the Caucasus has raised alarm in the West, which is vying for influence with Russia over crucial oil and gas supply routes in the region.
Russia is rankled by Georgia’s pro Western policies and its drive for NATO membership.
Utiashvili yesterday said that Russia had brought 6,000 troops across the border into Georgia and a further 4,000 troops by sea.
Russia bombed a military airfield outside the Georgian capital early yesterday and Tbilisi said the Russians were also massing troops in Abkhazia on the Black Sea, another rebel region that broke with Tbilisi in the early 1990s after a war.
Russian warships had arrived at Georgia’s Black Sea coast, according to local media reports.
One news agency said the naval force would stop weapons landing by sea while other reports said Russia had no plans to mount a blockade.
Nagovitsyn denied Russian forces had hit any civilian targets.