Russia sends forces into Georgian rebel conflict
By Margarita Antidze
MEGVREKISI, Georgia (Reuters) - Russia sent forces into Georgia on Friday to repel a
Georgian assault on the breakaway South Ossetia region and Georgia's pro-Western president said the two countries were at war.
South Ossetia's rebel leader Eduard Kokoity said there were "hundreds of dead civilians" in the main town Tskhinvali, Russia's Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.
A senior Russian military commander said parts of Russia's 58th army were approaching the rebel capital, where fighting raged between Russian-backed separatists and Georgian forces sent in on Friday to seize it.
A senior Georgian security official said Russian jets had bombed the Vaziani military airbase outside the Georgian capital Tbilisi, and President Mikheil Saakashvili said 150 Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers and other vehicles had entered South Ossetia from neighboring Russia.
"Russia is fighting a war with us in our own territory," Saakashvili told CNN, calling on Washington to help.
He also said Georgian forces had downed two Russian jets. There was no immediate confirmation Russia had sent bombers.
Georgia says Russian tanks mean 'war' in South Ossetia
A Georgian armoured vehicle burns on the street in Tskhinvali
Russia sent troops and dozens of tanks into the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia today, throwing the two former Soviet neighbours into a sudden yet undeclared state of war.
In the most serious regional crisis since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, at least 50 tanks - and possibly many more - rumbled through the Roki tunnel, which cuts through the Caucasus mountains separating South Ossetia from the Russian province of North Ossetia.
"One hundred and fifty Russian tanks, armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles have entered South Ossetia," President Saakashvili of Georgia told reporters in Tbilisi. "This is a clear intrusion on another country's territory. We have Russian tanks on our territory, jets on our territory in broad daylight."
Mr Saakashvili added that Georgian forces had downed two Russian jet fighters over Georgian territory.
Georgia mobilised its reservists yesterday and launched a military offensive to regain control over South Ossetia, which broke away from Georgia after it gained independence.
Fighting raged today around the city of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, as Georgian troops backed by tanks and warplanes pounded separatist forces, who are mostly Russian citizens backed by Moscow. This afternoon as the Russian tanks rolled in, Georgian officials declared that they had secured the city.
"We cannot allow the deaths of our countrymen to go unpunished. The guilty parties will receive the punishment they deserve," President Medvedev of Russia told a meeting of his security council in the Kremlin. "I am obliged to protect the lives and dignity of Russian citizens, no matter where they are located."
Mr Medvedev's predecessor, Vladimir Putin, now Prime Minister, warned on a visit to Beijing, where he had been due to attend the Olympic opening ceremony, that the Georgian action would bring "retaliatory measures".