Today, 15:59 | Reuters
TBILISI, Aug 1 (Reuters) – South Ossetia accused Georgian forces of firing mortars at the rebel territory on Saturday and Russia warned Tbilisi it reserved the right to use force to defend civilians a year after their five-day war.
Georgia denied any shooting took place and, amid rising tension ahead of the Aug 7 anniversary of the war, said the Russian statement suggested “aggressive intent”. Analysts warn of the risk of skirmishes boiling over into renewed hostilities.
South Ossetia said two mortar rounds were fired at a military observation post from the village of Ditsi on the Georgian side of the de facto border, which runs a few hundred metres from the southern edge of the rebel capital Tskhinvali.
South Ossetia made a similar accusation on Thursday, and a Reuters reporter heard two loud blasts from the rebel capital Tskhinvali but could not identify the cause.
“In the event of further acts of provocation threatening the population of the republic and the Russian military contingent based in the territory of South Ossetia, the Russian Defence Ministry reserves the right to use all available force and means to defend the citizens of the republic of South Ossetia and Russian servicemen,” the ministry said in a statement, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.
Russia crushed a Georgian assault on South Ossetia last August after months of escalating tension, sending tanks deep into Georgia proper and shaking Western confidence in oil and gas routes running through the volatile South Caucasus.
The Georgian Interior Ministry said there had been no shooting from either side of the boundary. The Russian statement “clearly shows very aggressive intent,” said ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili. He urged the West to pay attention.
“The international community should not allow Russia to fool itself,” he told Reuters.
Like the rebel Black Sea region of Abkhazia, South Ossetia threw off Georgian rule in wars in the early 1990s during the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In an interview with Reuters, South Ossetia’s self-styled president Eduard Kokoity said he wanted Russia to send in more troops and “more serious weaponry”, and that his goal was to unite his people with Russia.
The West accused Russia of a “disproportionate” response during last year’s war, and the European Union brokered a ceasefire and sent in monitors.
Russia recognised the rebel territories as independent states, backed by thousands of Russian troops, although the ceasefire called for a withdrawal to pre-war positions.
The EU monitors are denied access to either rebel region.