Friday marks the anniversary of Georgia’s assault on its rebel territory South Ossetia, and Russia’s crushing counter-strike. A year on, tensions appear to be rising again, with fears of fresh hostilities, and shelling has been reported on the Georgian side of the de-facto border.
A few hundred metres from the southern edge of the rebel capital Tskhinvali, the signs of the five day war are still clearly visible. With the withdrawal of military observers from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, local residents say they live in constant fear as little has been done to confront the danger of skirmishes boiling over. “This house was destroyed during the war, but shooting is continuing, tensions are running high. People are in panic. On the whole, the situation doesn’t change. People live in fear.” said Omar Mindiashvili, a resident of Zemo Nikozi. But Russian military leaders are dismissing fears about a possible new war, saying the Georgian armed forces are still in bad shape, although they are being quickly rearmed. “We don’t see a capability for any kind of aggression. And the political atmosphere has changed significantly – you must agree, the change is radical. Failure to recognise this and acting in accordance with the previous pattern amounts to political suicide.” said General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, Deputy Chief of General Staff for the Russian armed forces. Georgia’s president has been plagued by opposition protests since the conflict but even his fiercest critics agree that Russia is to blame for the crisis. “I do believe there were lots of mistakes made by the government before the conflict but in general the blame is on the Russian Federation because they truly were preparing for the war against Georgia and the fact is that our territories are occupied.” said opposition leader Irakly Alasania. Georgian opposition leaders say one of the mistakes made by the government was the failure to guarantee the return of displaced people. At the height of the conflict, tens of thousands of civilians on both sides were displaced. Thousands of South Ossetians remain homeless while some 25,000 Georgians have been unable to return to South Ossetia. The EU monitoring mission is the only international organisation present in the conflict zone. But with the ceasefire terms not respected and no external peacekeeping force on the ground, there is a security vacuum the observers must fill to maintain stability in the region. An EU-commissioned inquiry into the causes of the war is due to deliver its findings in September