Georgia Blamed As Russian TV Reports on Georgia-Ossetia Flare-Up

Russian TV channels on 2 August led with news of evacuations in South Ossetia, following overnight shooting which left six people in South Ossetia dead and up to 15 injured.

While Rossiya TV said that it was the "heaviest attack from the Georgian side in a long time", Channel One TV concurred that it was "the most serious escalation" of the conflict in the past few years but said that it was "unclear whom to blame".


Evacuations in South Ossetia, following overnight shooting blamed on Georgia, were in the headlines of Gazprom-owned NTV's "Segodnya" main evening news.

Children, women and the elderly were said to be evacuated from danger areas in South Ossetia, after overnight shooting and shelling "from Georgian positions" which left at least six locals dead.

The breakaway region was also said to be ready for general mobilization and to "recruit volunteers not only in the republic [South Ossetia] but also all over the North Caucasus", we were told.

A report from South Ossetia at night, by Ruslan Gusarov, followed, accompanied by the sound of gunfire and explosions.

It said that the town of Tskhinvali had been shelled from mortars. At the same time, it added, unidentified attackers used firearms and grenade launchers against checkpoints manned by South Ossetian peacekeepers and the police on the outskirts of Ossetian villages and near the positions of Georgian peacekeepers.

In the report, there was video of a gaping hole in the side of a car, and of casualties being brought to a hospital, those brought from the checkpoints with head and chest bullet wounds, according to the report. "Experts have established that fire was opened by snipers, what is more equipped with modern surveillance instruments, including night-vision devices," it noted.

"Within minutes, the South Ossetian side opened fire against the positions of Georgian forces," the report added.

"Six dead, up to 15 wounded, wrecked cars and damaged houses and sites, including Tskhinvali's ambulance service, where six mortar shells exploded one after another, were the result of overnight firing on Ossetian checkpoints, villages and the South Ossetian capital," the report summed up.

The Georgian authorities have acknowledged exchanges of fire, but have denied the use of snipers or shelling, the report added. It went on to speculate on the possible use of mortars from over the hills that surround Tskhinvali, areas there not under Ossetian control.

Indeed, evacuations have begun, the report confirms, from near the border with Georgia. A South Ossetian soldier, stood by a truck with boys on board, says they will be taken to a camp "till things calm down".

The South Ossetian forces are on high alert, we are also told in the report.

Meanwhile, the peacekeeper command has tried to settle the situation through talks with Georgia, the report remarks. In the report, Marat Kulakhmetov, commander, blames the absence of dialogue and compromise between the sides.

"The fact that there is no dialogue between the sides is to blame for it all. The sides are unwilling to compromise in any way. And without a compromise and without meeting each other half way, it is useless to talk about anything," as Kulakhmetov puts it.

In conclusion, the newsreader, Olga Belova, adds that "as usual", Georgia is denying everything, and making counter-claims, "to the effect that it is South Ossetia that is trying to involve Georgia in a large-scale war".

Georgian Minister of State for Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili talks about a "provocation". Russia's Foreign Ministry has urged mutual restraint, Belova said, while the Russian Defence Ministry has denied its peacekeepers in South Ossetia could possibly have been involved in the firing on Georgian villages.

Rossiya TV

Georgia "escalates" the South Ossetia conflict, with South Ossetian villages targeted by heavy shelling, was state-owned Rossiya TV's headline in its news.

It also began with news of evacuations in South Ossetia after the "heaviest attack from the Georgian side in a long time". The TV's newsreader Mikhail Antonov said that general mobilization and martial law were "once again" under consideration by South Ossetia. A report from there followed.

The situation was said in the report to be tense, with concentrations of Georgian forces reported. "South Ossetia's fear is that heavy shelling of Tskhinvali could resume tonight," the report notes, hence the decision - by an emergency meeting of the region's authorities - to evacuate children from some areas. A South Ossetian official gives details of evacuations ordered. Another says "enough policy of containment" in respect of Georgia.

Once again, there was video of casualties in hospital. "Doctors say that never before have so many casualties been admitted to this hospital in one night," the report notes. There were people killed or injured in almost every district of the region, a surgeon observes.

"Virtually the whole of Tskhinvali was under massed fire overnight. The roofs and walls of residential houses were holed; dozens of cars were wrecked; and the ambulance service was targeted by around 20 mortar shells," the report comments. There was video of damage to confirm that.

South Ossetia's forces are still on high alert, we are told. "Note also that South Ossetia's security forces did not return fire till the very last moment. It was only after the town's residential quarters came under fire that the military had to take appropriate action," the report notes.

In the report, the separatist interior minister, Mikhail Mindzayev, says that "children, women and old people were brazenly fired on". "Enough being patient, and enough playing at some kind of containment policy," he says. "There will be an appropriate response to everything that has been done," he adds.

As to the Russian peacekeepers, "the Georgian side has once again tried to discredit the Russian military", the report goes on to say. "Today, the Georgian media has reported that the Russian peacekeepers were, it was said, involved in the firing on Georgian population centres. This is a blatant lie, its aim to discredit the Russian peacekeepers," Vladimir Ivanov, the spokesman for the peacekeepers, says in the report.

With the situation unpredictable, but with the South Ossetian authorities working flat out to avoid further bloodshed, "all that remains for the people of South Ossetia to do is to hope for the best and hide away in their cellars, fearful they will come under fire again", the report sums up.

The TV's South Ossetia reporting was continued with an interview with South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoyty, next in the TV's running order (see separate report: Kokoyty reports Georgian troops on the move; vows retaliation; slams US efforts; asked about general mobilization, says will aim to resume talks but people are in a resolute mood; thanks Russia for its initiatives; and attacks Georgia's "provocation".)

Channel One TV

South Ossetia also the top story on state-controlled Channel One TV, the situation was described as "the most serious escalation" of the conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia "in the past few years", "very close to Russia's borders": "Moscow is calling on both Georgia and South Ossetia to prevent a new round of armed confrontation." A report followed.

"Again overnight, and again it is unclear whom to blame," as the report begins: Mutual accusations have been traded by both sides to the conflict. In the report, Mindzayev calls the loss of life horrendous, while a Georgian woman villager says she has never seen anything like it in the 15 years of near-war.

Iakobashvili "predictably" blamed South Ossetia, we were told in the report, while Mindzayev laid the blame on Georgia's "so-called peacekeepers".

"The Russian peacekeepers, in the meantime, have not rushed with conclusions as to who is responsible for the events of last night. The only aspect in which they agree with the opinion of the sides to the conflict is that no clashes on this scale have taken place here for quite some time," the report says. There were more comments from peacekeeper chief Kulakhmetov.

"The only reason there is, is that there are no points of contact, there is no dialogue, so people are dying. Look: This year, there have been 13 subversive or terrorist acts, where people have died. Thirteen! There was nothing like it either last year or the year before that," he said.

In the same report, there were comments from Kokoyty, who flew in to Vladikavkaz, Russia's North Ossetia (see separate report: Kokoyty condemns Georgia's military for the attacks, and vows that an end will be put to that).

Russia, meanwhile, is urging calm, and has offered help to Tskhinvali. Tonight, the report says, buses were sent to South Ossetia to collect the wounded and take them to hospital in Vladikavkaz.

[Sources: BBC Monitoring, NTV Mir, Moscow, in Russian 1500 gmt 2 Aug 08; Rossiya TV, Moscow, in Russian 1600 gmt 2 Aug 08; and Channel One TV, Moscow, in Russian 1700 gmt 2 Aug 08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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