The long-simmering standoff between Georgia and its breakaway region of South Ossetia has escalated into a full-blown armed conflict, with Russia deploying troops, tanks, and jets to repel a Georgian offensive. RFE/RL's Russian and Georgian services asked opinion-makers in their countries to comment on the crisis.Aleksei Malashenko, Caucasus expert at the Carnegie Center think thank in Moscow:
"This is a war, and in spite of everything I don't think this is a war that was entirely predictable. I believe this war could have been prevented. Now all we can do is watch when and how it will end. Despite the poignancy of the situation, the person who shaped our foreign policy -- including in the South Caucasus -- is attending the Olympic Games. Why is he not coming back? Is this not important enough for him?"Ivan Sukhov, reporter covering Caucasus-related issues for the Russian daily "Vremya novostei":
"This will affect relations between Georgia's president and his Western patrons. He got out rather successfully of this winter's political crisis surrounding the early parliamentary and presidential elections. But this time he took an incomprehensible stance for the West, because Georgia had consistently positioned itself as a staunch opponent of military conflict. Even if Georgia's military offensive was indeed provoked by South Ossetians, this is nonetheless a serious political mistake."Sergei Mitrokhin, leader of Russia's Yabloko opposition party:
"We once condemned similar actions by the Russian leadership in Chechnya, and we now condemn the Georgian leadership's actions in South Ossetia. We believe that the war can be stopped. With this aim, we call on both sides of the conflict, particularly on Georgia, to immediately end armed hostilities. We suggest that Russia propose to deploy peacekeepers to the line separating the fighting parties. Russia must finally start playing an active role in regulating the conflict -- this means it must become an mediator and stop always being on one side."Aleksandr Goltz, Russian military commentator:
"From a military perspective, it's absolutely obvious that what is now a full-blown war was initiated by the Georgian leadership. Just when Saakashvili ended his television statements, the Georgian forces were meant to halt their strategic deployment. As far as I know, the offensive started two or three hours later. In that sense, there is no doubt. Even if a miracle happens and the fighting ends immediately, what happened means the conflict will drag on for years, if not decades."Petre Mamradze, former head of Georgian governmental administration, parliamentary deputy representing the United National Movement ruling party:
"[South Ossetian leader Eduard] Kokoity is a criminal who Russian political experts at the time wrote was a member of a St. Petersburg criminal group, and his ministers are retired chekists who came from Russia. He enjoys neither the support nor the respect of residents in the region that he allegedly symbolically controls. It is obvious that ethnic Ossetians who live in Tskhinvali and Ossetian villages have no desire to defend his regime."Irakli Alasania, Georgia's ambassador to the United Nations:
"It's very painful to note the international community's failure to respond swiftly and appropriately. However, I would like to remind you once again that the Russian Federation -- which represents one of the parties and is now in fact the aggressor -- is a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto power. This, of course, makes taking any concrete, tangible decisions within the council complicated."Aleksander Rondeli, president of the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies:
"It's obvious that Russia is doing unacceptable things in its neighborhood. I think no other country dares behave that way, and [the West] has so far been unable to tame it. Besides, 'taming' is not a good policy anyway -- it's like constantly feeding a crocodile that in the end devours you. Other measures should have been taken, a clear line should have been drawn. But when you have a lot of oil and gas, and you are cunning, you can achieve a lot."
Paata Zakareishvili, member of Georgia's opposition Republican Party:
"I don't think this is the right format to talk to our own people. The military operation might well prove a success, we might see calm in the region two or three weeks from now and be able to talk about peace. But what kind of peace will that be -- graveyard peace, or civil, dignified peace? We have to think about this, because our soldiers cannot stay there for a long. If another scenario unfolds and they do stay there for a long time, then we'll end up with an Israeli-like situation."
Destruction In Gori
Photos by RFE/RL's Georgian Service correspondent of a town under attack