The fight for control of South Ossetia escalated on Thursday night. It appears the separatist region was preparing for another war with Georgia. It evacuated women and children from its capital last weekend. The last all-out battle for independence lasted almost three years. Now, more than 15 years on, the fighting has re-ignited.
Georgia claims Russian jets killed three soldiers when they bombed an airbase outside Tbilisi. In return it says it downed two Russian planes.
Things had appeared to be going well. Russia approved of Georgia’s plan to give South Ossetia autonomy. But then Georgia moved to re-establish a temporary administration there, and Russia fired a missile at Georgia, according to Tbilisi. That was last year.
Then, a couple of months ago, Georgian troops roughed-up Russian peacekeepers found to be transporting anti-tank missiles near the other separatist region in Georgia, Abkhazia. The television images caused outrage in Russia, even though the men were quickly released.
South Ossetia has repeatedly asked the world to recognise its independence from Georgia. A referendum among the people of South Ossetia in 2006 overwhelmingly endorsed the move.
But Georgia has always made it clear it will not relinquish the breakaway region, and recent sporadic skirmishes now appear to have been a prelude to this confrontation.