Russia 'invades' South Ossetia as conflict with Georgia escalates

Posted on 6:58 AM by Sameer Shah

Russian aircraft attacked a military base near the capital Tbilisi, a spokesman for the Georgian Interior Ministry said.

The military operation marks the first time Russian troops have taken action on foreign soil since the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989.

Russian Channel 1 television showed a convoy of Russian tanks which it said entered South Ossetia. It said it was expected to reach the provincial capital, Tskhinvali, in a few hours.

There was no immediate comment from Georgian officials. Georgian troops had earlier launched a massive attack to regain control of breakaway South Ossetia, where officials said at least 15 people were killed and an unspecified number of people wounded.

The move by Russian troops followed a series of statements by Russian leaders pledging to protect Russian citizens in the region in the face of a massive Georgian military attack on South Ossetia.

Mr Putin, on a trip to Beijing to attend the Olympics opening, sharply criticised the Georgian attack and warned it will draw retaliatory actions. He spoke after meeting briefly with US President George W Bush in Beijing.

Mr Putin did not specify what kind of retaliatory action may follow, but Russia's Defence Ministry pledged to protect Russian citizens in the region. Most of the region's residents have Russian passports.

Russia vs Georgia: By numbers

4.6 million
140 million
Fighter jets

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev later chaired a session of his security council in the Kremlin, vowing that Moscow will protect Russian citizens.

"In accordance with the constitution and the federal law, I, as president of Russia, am obliged to protect the lives and dignity of Russian citizens wherever they are located," Mr Medvedev said in televised remarks. "We won't allow the death of our compatriots to go unpunished."

Russia's Defense Ministry denounced the Georgian attack as a "dirty adventure."

"Blood shed in South Ossetia will weigh on their conscience," the ministry said in a statement posted on its official website.

"We will protect our peacekeepers and Russian citizens," it said without elaboration.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili accused Russia of aggression, saying that Russian jets bombed several Georgian villages, wounding seven civilians. A Russian diplomat denied that Russian aircraft had bombed Georgian territory.

Georgian officials said a three-hour cease-fire to allow civilians to leave South Ossetia's capital of Tskhinvali has begun.

Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili says the cease-fire went into effect at 3pm (1100 GMT).

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