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Georgia-Russia War Commemorated

A woman looks through 1.2-meter-high coils of razor wire that divide the Russian-backed breakaway territory of South Ossetia from Georgian-controlled land in village of Khurvaleti.
A woman looks through 1.2-meter-high coils of razor wire that divide the Russian-backed breakaway territory of South Ossetia from Georgian-controlled land in village of Khurvaleti.
Georgia has been marking the anniversary of the 2008 war with Russia over its separatist South Ossetia region.

A series of events to commemorate the victims of the war and a military parade in the Georgian town of Gori were held on August 8.

On the same day, South Ossetia's de facto Foreign Ministry issued a statement urging Georgia to sign an agreement on the nonuse of force "to ease tensions in the border territories and create prerequisites for building trust between the two countries."

In South Ossetia's capital, Tskhinvali, a cornerstone was laid on August 8 on the site where a war memorial will be erected.

South Ossetian leader Leonid Tibilov, government members and guests, including officials from Russia's North Ossetia, took part in the ceremony.

The five-day war in 2008 resulted in Russian forces pushing Georgian troops out of South Ossetia and Moscow recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Georgia's other separatist region, Abkhazia.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who was Russia's president at the time of the conflict, told members of the ruling United Russia party in Sochi on August 8 that Moscow had to come to the rescue of a small territory, South Ossetia, where Russian citizens live.

"I think our armed forces and our whole country did a noble deed," he said. "[We] showed firmness defending the lives of our people, essentially saving a people from annihilation, and creating conditions for ensuring a peaceful path for the development of South Ossetia and Abkhazia."

'No Illusions'

Speaking to RFE/RL on August 7, Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, who was Georgia's ambassador to the UN at the time, said that although the conflict in 2008 could have been avoided, it would have been very difficult to do so.

"It's been five years since the conflict, but the wounds are still very sore for all of us -- for Georgians but I think for Ossetians too," he said. "In fact, it was certainly possible to avoid that conflict, which had been brewing for several years. However, considering the deployment of Russian troops in the North Caucasus in the months prior [to the armed conflict] and the processes that had taken place in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region [South Ossetia], I think it was already too late to influence those processes."

ALSO READ: Saakashvili Says Georgia Tried To Avert Conflict

In October, the United National Movement party of outgoing President Mikheil Saakashvili lost to a coalition headed by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili in parliamentary elections -- prompting hopes for an improvement in ties between Moscow and Tbilisi.

Ivanishvili, now prime minister, has made normalizing relations with Russia his foreign-policy priority.

However, Alasania has claimed that Russia's position regarding Georgia has not changed since the war.

"We have no illusions that [a normalization of relations with Russia] will happen quickly," he said. "We see no change in [Russia's] diplomacy with regard to our territorial integrity or Georgia's aspiration to become a member of NATO. We sense no change in Russia's position so far."

Meanwhile, in an interview with Georgian television on August 7, Saakashvili said Moscow was still trying to strong-arm Georgia into dropping its ambitions to join NATO and the European Union, adding that fence-mending with Moscow is impossible with Russia's current leadership.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service, AFP, Interfax, and ITAR-TASS
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