Russia Rubbishes War Claims

Sky News
August 12, 2008

Russis has attacked claims that its forces are continuing to attack Georgia after announcing an end to the five-day war in the region as “provocations”.

Georgia’s acting ambassador to Britain has told Sky News Russian jets were bombing civilian targets in Georgia despite Moscow’s announcement that it was calling off its troops.

Georgei Badridze said that Russian bombers had hit targets including a hospital in the town of Gori, villages away from the combat zone and a minibus carrying civilians.

He said the strikes had been carried out after the announcement by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that the military offensive to protect South Ossetia had been called off.

“We’re talking about strikes from helicopter gunships which could not have mistaken these places for anything else,” he said.

“If their plan to totally destroy Georgian statehood fails at this stage, they (want to) make us bleed economically.”

Witnesses also reported seeing 135 Russian military vehicles driving through Georgia toward Khodori Gorge, part of the breakaway region of Abkhazia controlled by Georgia.

Russia’s defence ministry slammed the claims of continuing military action as “provocations”, and Russian reports said Georgian forces were shooting at them.

However, when Sky News contacted the minstry direct, it refused to comment.

The five-day conflict was started when Georgia tried to take control of the pro-Russian province of South Ossetia.

Casualty figures given by each side vary widely, with Russia claiming thousands of deaths and Georgia hundreds.

Moscow accused Georgia of “war crimes” in the area, saying thousands of civilians had been killed before it stepped in and comparing the situation to the war in Kosovo in the 1990s, when European forces stepped in to protect a persecuted minority.

Mr Badridze, however, told Sky News the charges were simply a smokescreen, and said the situation mirrored Hitler’s staged invasion of Germany by Poland before the Second World War.

He said that the only way to prevent continuing Russian aggression and safeguard Georgian democracy was for the West to allow Georgia to join Nato.

“The international community has to make the Russians leave Georgia,” he added.

Sky News’ Andrew Wilson, speaking from the Georgian town of Poti, said that it was possible that orders were taking a long time to pass down the chain of command.

He said that although the Russian fighting machine was formidable, the forces under Moscow’s command also included militiamen who may not see their first loyalty as being to the Kremlin.
“There’s an element of disorganisation in the military that may become a factor as the EU tries to put a blanket of calm over the situation,” he said.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told a large rally outside Georgia’s parliament he would pull his country out of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) grouping of ex-Soviet countries.

“We are leaving the CIS for good and propose that other countries leave this body run by Russia,” the Russian Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.