Moscow, Aug 10: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has accused Georgia of committing 'complete genocide' of South Ossetians, delivering a strike on its own territorial integrity.
The accusation, the strongest so far from the Russian leadership since the armed hostility between the two former Soviet republics began on Friday, Aug 8 came during a brief visit by Mr Putin to the capital of North Ossetia, Vladikavkaz, on Saturday, Aug 9 near the breakaway region of South Ossetia. He also defended Moscow's military action to intervene directly. The former Russian President changed his travel plans to see for himself the efforts being made to help the war refugees from South Ossetia.
He flew to Vladikavkaz from Beijing Olympics to hold talks with evacuees and local officials, where the majority of refugees from South Ossetia are being taken to from the conflict zone. Mr Putin said the conflict had created at least 34,000 refugees. Immediately after his return to Moscow, he met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to discuss the crisis in South Ossetia. ''As regards South Ossetia, the housing in Tskhinvali and border residential areas, practically everything has been destroyed there, to put it softly. I believe that we should help people return to their homes, help them restore their houses and apartments,'' Mr Putin told Mr Medvedev.
The Russian President said those guilty of crimes against South Ossetians should bare responsibility and even face charges, Russia TV reported. ''Let us make all necessary decisions,'' he said. Georgia launched a large-scale offensive to seize control over its rebel province early on Friday using tanks, combat aircraft, heavy artillery and infantry. South Ossetia's capital, Tskhinvali, has been devastated in the onslaught, and Russia said at least 12 of its peacekeepers had lost their lives along with 2,000 South Ossetian civilians. Russia has sent humanitarian aid to the region, including transport planes containing medical specialists, a mobile field hospital and 16 tonnes of medical supplies as well as essential food stuff for South Ossetian refugees, Russian news agencies reported. The ongoing conflict is the most severe since South Ossetia fought its way to independence from Georgia in 1992. The majority of the local population have Russian citizenship.
The Russian government has warned that a humanitarian disaster is developing as South Ossetians, many of them injured, flee across the border into Russia. Meanwhile, Georgia claimed its forces have withdrawn from the separatist region to positions at or south of those held when hostilities began. An interior ministry spokesman told the BBC Sunday that Russian troops had not entered Georgia from South Ossetia, but added that fighting continued. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has called for an immediate ceasefire to stop what he described as an ''annihilation'' of his country's democracy. Also, in the absence of independent verification, there were conflicting figures about the casualties suffered on both sides but the numbers appeared to rise sharply yesterday.
Based on Russian and South Ossetian estimates, the death toll on the South Ossetian side was at least 1,400. According to Moscow, all but a few of the dead were civilians. Georgian casualty figures sustained during the three days of fighting ranged from 82 dead, including 37 civilians, to a figure of around 130 dead. As the armed hostilities between Russia and Georgia continues, a joint delegation of the US, EU and the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe was headed to Georgia in the hope of brokering a truce. It comes as a third emergency session of the UN Security Council ended without an agreement on the wording of a statement calling for a ceasefire.