Thursday, August 14, 2008

U.S.-Pakistan Relations

Crisis Looms in U.S.-Pakistan Relations
by Patrick Seale

A sharp divergence in national aims is driving the United States and Pakistan apart. Relations between the two allies are severely strained and seem on the verge of a major crisis.

America’s “war on terror” lies at the heart of the problem. The United States is pressing Pakistan to flush out the Taliban from their tribal sanctuaries on the Pakistan-Afghan border -- and is threatening to do the job itself, if Pakistan fails to act as vigorously as Washington would like. The United States has already launched missiles into Pakistan against suspected jihadist targets, with scant respect for the international border or for Pakistani susceptibilities.

Both U.S. Presidential contenders, Barack Obama and John McCain, have pledged to send more combat troops to Afghanistan. Obama has even threatened to take the war to Pakistan’s tribal agencies, whether Islamabad likes it or not.

But the U.S. “war on terror” has brought Pakistan nothing but trouble. It is deeply unpopular with the public and is inflaming anti-American sentiment; it has drawn the Pakistan army into costly skirmishes with armed Pashtun militants in the unruly tribal areas; and it has prompted the Taliban to strike back at Pakistan, as in the attack this past week on a bus in Peshawar, which took the life of ten policemen.

Above all, the U.S. war on the Taliban is at variance with Pakistan’s key national priority, which is to contain India -- and especially to keep Afghanistan, which Pakistan considers its ‘strategic depth’, out of India’s orbit.

So, in addition to the tension in U.S.-Pakistan relations, Indo-Pakistan relations have also taken a turn for the worse in recent days, with lethal exchanges of fire in Kashmir -- the most serious violation of a 5-year truce. At the same time, India and the United States have accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the ISI, of involvement in the suicide bombing last July 7, outside the Indian embassy in Kabul, which killed 58, including an Indian defense attaché.

Pakistan has angrily denied the charge, but few observers believe the Taliban -- both the Afghan and Pakistan branches of the movement -- could recruit hundreds of young fighters and train them at military camps in the tribal areas, not speak of logistics depots and Koranic schools, without ISI tolerance, if not complicity.

From their rear base in Pakistan, Taliban hit-and-run attacks continue to take their toll of U.S. and NATO forces in the south and east of Afghanistan, in much the same way as the mujahedeen harassed Soviets forces in the 1980s, and eventually drove them out.

Mullah Muhammad Omar, the elusive Taliban leader, is believed to have established his headquarters in Quetta, capital of Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, from where his lieutenants direct the fighting across the border. And Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani -- who benefitted from millions of CIA dollars and ISI backing when he fought the Soviets -- is now said to provide a haven for the militants in his base in North Waziristan, and to be a link between the ISI, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, and al-Qaeda.

General David McKieren, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, has admitted that the security situation is deteriorating, while the Taliban seem to be getting stronger, cowing the population into submission by beatings and beheadings and other ruthless behaviour. Some journalists in Afghanistan speak of a noose tightening around the capital, Kabul.

One predictable result is that Kabul is flooded with desperate refugees. Trapped between cruel Taliban exactions and even more lethal U.S. air strikes, villagers are fleeing from the south in the hope of finding food and shelter in the capital.

The United States faces formidable dilemmas in Pakistan, which directly affect the difficult military operations in Afghanistan. Is the ISI under central government control, or is it in the hands of ultra-nationalist Pakistan officers who, in both Kashmir and Afghanistan, use Islamic militants against India?

Should the United States continue its aid to the Pakistan military, or withhold it until the situation is clearer? Or, on the contrary, should the U.S. triple its non-military aid to Pakistan to $1.5bn a year -- as some U.S. politicians recommend -- in the hope of stabilizing the country and winning “hearts and minds”? Should the U.S. take the risk of extending the war by intervening militarily in the tribal areas?

In a secret -- but since much publicized -- visit to Islamabad on 12 July, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Stephen Kappes, deputy director of the CIA, held crisis talks with top Pakistani military and civilian leaders. They conferred with President Musharraf, Prime Minister Yussaf Raza Gilani, the new army commander General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, and the ISI director Lt-General Nadeem Taj.

According to press reports, Mullen and Kappes pressed the Pakistanis to sever ISI ties with the Taliban militants and to give the CIA freedom to operate in the tribal agencies of the North-West Frontier Province. It is unlikely that any Pakistani government -- even a weak one -- could accede to either demand.

Meanwhile, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, America’s main ally in the country, is threatened with impeachment by his political enemies. If proceedings against him go ahead, they could plunge the already fragile country into political chaos.

In 1999, Musharraf overthrew the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup and ruled for the next nine years. Sharif was sentenced to life imprisonment, but was then expelled in 2000, when he took refuge in Saudi Arabia. Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League -- Nawaz (PML-N), is now in a shaky coalition with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) headed by Asif Ali Zardari, husband of the late Benazir Bhutto. Zardari spent eight years in prison on corruption charges.

Both Sharif and Zardari now want to punish Musharraf for what he did to them, and drive him from office. He is accused of rigging last October’s presidential elections, of sacking some 60 judges last November, and of generally mismanaging the economy.

But impeachment of a president -- which has never happened in Pakistan -- would require a vote by two-thirds of the combined members of the Senate and the National Assembly -- 295 votes out of a total of 440. So far the PPP and the PML-N can only muster 230 members -- leaving a shortfall of 65 votes.

Musharraf seems determined to fight back. Will the military back him? Might it intervene and impose martial law as it has done so often before in Pakistani politics? And what would Musharraf’s downfall mean for America’s “war on terror”?

The conflict in the Caucasus has temporarily overshadowed the crisis in Pakistan and the war in Afghanistan. But some tough decisions will need to be taken if the United States and its allies are to extricate themselves with honour from that deeply xenophobic Muslim country without further loss of treasure and men.

Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.

Copyright © 2008 Patrick Seale – distributed by Agence Global

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Deception on Deadly Tricastin Spill

French Government's Deception on Deadly Tricastin Spill

by Bob Nichols, Project Censored Award Winner

San Francisco) July 28, 2008 - The French Government today admitted a series of dangerous radioactive spills near French nuclear giant AREVA plants at Tricastin, in a wine growing region of southeastern France.

Paolo Scampa, a physicist and President of the International Association for Protection Against Ionizing Radiation, condemned the deceptive French response in the strongest possible terms. AIPRI was established in 1964. Workers at the Tricastin plant were evacuated after contamination July 27.

The chain reaction of events is a public relations and radiological disaster for AREVA, owner of the plant. AREVA is partially owned by the French government.

The international reaction was swift. The British are questioning the upcoming sale of the British nuclear industry to France's AREVA and the Americans are uneasy about construction of a huge double new nuclear reactor at Calvert Cliffs near Washington, DC.

Nuclear reactors make nuclear bomb grade plutonium, about 500 lbs a year, and they heat water to make steam.

AIPRI President Scampa's Letter of Congratulations

July 19, 2008

The Association Internationale pour la Protection contre les Rayons Ionisants, AIPRI, congratulates the French authorities for their excellent campaign to conceal the truth about the deadly leak of insoluble uranium into the Drome River in southeastern France on July 7.

"Radioactive leaks without environmental impact." With mere words they have rescued a region recently listed as contaminated, from its radioactive fate. There is now more deadly uranium in the Drome and Rhone River basin than ever polluted the waters surrounding Chernobyl!

"There is no imminent danger." Another stunning denial of reality that the media helped craft, to conceal everlasting devastation. The AIPRI can only salute your valiant efforts to keep the world ignorant of the incontrovertible scientific fact that radioactivity persists for billions of years.

It is commendable to deceive the public into believing that radioactivity is somehow diminished when it is diluted in water to infinitesimal, insoluble particles. In fact, dilution exponentially multiplies the opportunities for internal contamination of all life forms, and spreads cancer in its wake.

It is essential that the public ignore tens of millions of people, starting with children, now at risk for hundreds of millennia. You do well to lie. What must ordinary people do protect themselves when faced with a superpower so supremely bent on self-interest that it voluntarily contaminates itself ?

Be sure to ready a scientific propaganda "A" team briefed to say that the soon to appear "Drôme syndrome" is "totally unrelated to the Gulf syndrome." It will be easy to make the case, because the effects will be so much more drastic here, both in terms of cancer and mutations, that it will appear to bear no relationship to the Gulf Syndrome.

Ladies and gentlemen, you who by your actions have just inaugurated the Radioactive Mediterranean Union, we salute you. Your national contribution to world de-population is worthy of commendation.

President Scampo may be reached by Email at and the "History of AIPRI" by President Scampo is available at:

Mr Nichols is a San Francisco based, Project Censored Award Winning writer and correspondent. Nichols covers war, peace and the two nuclear weapons labs in San Francisco for the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. Nichols is available by email at and at 415-992-6397.

Bob Nichols is a Project Censored Award winner. He is a newspaper correspondent and a frequent contributor to various online publications. Nichols is completing a book based on 15 years of nuclear radiation war in Central Asia. He is a former employee at a Army Ammunition Plant and Bomb Maker. Nichols can be reached by email, and readers are encouraged to write to him at:

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Irresponsible Risk-Takers in Command

Irresponsible Risk-Takers in Command
by Rodrigue Tremblay

“War prosperity is like the prosperity that an earthquake or a plague brings.”

“ harmful, not only to the conquered but to the conqueror.”

“To defeat the aggressors is not enough to make peace durable. The main thing is to discard the ideology that generates war.”

“The root of the evil is not the construction of new, more dreadful weapons. It is the spirit of conquest.”

Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973)

There are people in charge who think that provocation and aggression can be acceptable government policy. The sudden conflict between the former Soviet province of Georgia and Russia in the Caucasus in Eurasia is a good case in point.

What's behind this conflict that erupted last Friday at the outset of the Beijing Olympic Games? First and foremost, let us keep in mind that the real and first aggressors in this conflict is the belligerent government of Georgia, led by an impulsive politician named Mikhail Saakashvili, who is openly supported by the governments of the U.S. and of Israel. Early Friday, August 8, Georgian tanks and infantry, assisted by American and Israeli military advisers, launched an early morning massive artillery and rocket barrage on the capital of breakaway South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, thus directly provoking Russia, which had soldiers in that province.

At first blush, most people could easily arrive at the conclusion that Saakashvili is completely out of his mind for having declared war against its neighbor Russia, a country more than 50 times larger, with the goal of reoccupying the Russian-speaking province of South Ossetia, de facto independent since 1992. The only logical explanation would seem to be that the Georgia President believed, or had some form of assurance, that the Bush-Cheney administration would side militarily with him. Did he really believe that the Bush-Cheney administration, already deeply involved in two military conflicts in Iraq and in Afghanistan, would risk a world war to salvage an oil pipeline and a newly acquired colony in that far away part of the world? This would seem to be another insane idea.

It is a little known fact that the U.S. and Israel have been training and arming the Georgian military since 2002. This situation is tantamount to risking a restart of the Cold War with Russia. It has also sown the seeds of a much larger conflict in that part of the world by encouraging Georgia to embark on military manoeuvres. Little Georgia (4.5 m. inhabitants) even has 2,000 troops in Iraq, soldiers that the U.S. is now quickly flying back to Georgia. This goes a long way towards explaining how involved the Bush-Cheney administration and its Israeli surrogates have been in sticking it in the eyes of Russia. And now, the Russian bear is reacting. This is brinkmanship at a high level.

In the summer of 1914, a similar miscalculation resulted in igniting World War I.

This was a conflict that started with a single death (the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914) but which resulted, in the end, in 40 million deaths. The catastrophe was the result of a chain reaction of war declarations by various countries involved in the affairs of other countries. This remains an example of how relatively minor regional conflicts can escalate into conflagrations when hotheads are in command.

The Georgia-Russia spat represents a good opportunity for the U.N. Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, to show leadership and not to let things degenerate. Indeed, there is always the possibility that one politician after another will try not to lose face by escalating things. For example, the U.N Secretary-General should obtain from the Security Council the mandate to visit immediately the two capitals directly involved, and he should attempt to broker an immediate face-saving end to the hostilities. He should persuade the Russian leaders not to overreact to the Georgian President's provocations. As for the latter, he has demonstrated that he is not worthy of occupying his functions.

Time is of the essence in such circumstances, because there are always some interests that stand to profit from a worsening situation.

For one, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who never met a war he didn't like, has already tried to stoke the fire of conflict by calling for the 26-country NATO to get involved in what is essentially a local ethnic conflict. On the campaign trail, John McCain said: "We should immediately call a meeting of the North Atlantic Council to assess Georgia's security and review measures NATO can take to contribute to stabilizing this very dangerous situation."

Incredibly, the republican candidate is attempting to profit politically from this faraway crisis by advancing the frightening prospect of turning a small regional conflict into a world war. This could have something to do with the fact that Mr. McCain's main foreign policy adviser is a former lobbyist for the government of Georgia and is a former neocon lobbyist for the U.S. military invasion of Iraq. This would seem to be a direct conflict of interests and reason enough for Mr. McCain to refrain from throwing oil on the fire.

I have said it before, and this incident confirms it; this man would seem to be unfit to be in charge of a heavily armed country.

Rodrigue Tremblay is professor emeritus of economics at the University of Montreal and can be reached at

He is the author of the book 'The New American Empire'

Visit his blog site at:

Author's Website:

Check Dr. Tremblay's coming book "The Code for Global Ethics" at:

Posted, Wednesday, August 13, 2008, at 5:30 am

Email to a friend:

Send contact, comments or commercial reproduction requests (in English or in French) to:

N.B.: Messages may be published in our weblog, unless you request otherwise.

Please register to receive free emails on new postings of articles.

Send an email with the word "subscribe" to:

To "unsubscribe", write the word "unsubscribe" and send it to:

Disclaimer: All quotes enclosed in this article are believed to be accurately attributed, but no guarantee is made, even after a thorough check, that some error cannot be found.

Back to the BLOG


A Path to Peace in the Caucasus

By Mikhail Gorbachev

12/08/08 "Washington Post -- - MOSCOW -- The past week's events in South Ossetia are bound to shock and pain anyone. Already, thousands of people have died, tens of thousands have been turned into refugees, and towns and villages lie in ruins. Nothing can justify this loss of life and destruction. It is a warning to all.

The roots of this tragedy lie in the decision of Georgia's separatist leaders in 1991 to abolish South Ossetian autonomy. This turned out to be a time bomb for Georgia's
territorial integrity. Each time successive Georgian leaders tried to impose their will by force -- both in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia, where the issues of autonomy are similar -- it only made the situation worse. New wounds aggravated old injuries.

Nevertheless, it was still possible to find a political solution. For some time, relative calm was maintained in South Ossetia. The peacekeeping force composed of Russians, Georgians and Ossetians fulfilled its mission, and ordinary Ossetians and Georgians, who live close to each other, found at least some common ground.

Through all these years, Russia has continued to recognize Georgia's territorial integrity. Clearly, the only way to solve the South Ossetian problem on that basis is through peaceful means. Indeed, in a civilized world, there is no other way.

The Georgian leadership flouted this key principle.

What happened on the night of Aug. 7 is beyond comprehension. The Georgian military attacked the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali with multiple rocket launchers designed to devastate large areas. Russia had to respond. To accuse it of aggression against "small, defenseless Georgia" is not just hypocritical but shows a lack of humanity.

Mounting a military assault against innocents was a reckless decision whose tragic consequences, for thousands of people of different nationalities, are now clear. The Georgian leadership could do this only with the perceived support and encouragement of a much more powerful force. Georgian armed forces were trained by hundreds of U.S. instructors, and its sophisticated military equipment was bought in a number of countries. This, coupled with the promise of NATO membership, emboldened Georgian leaders into thinking that they could get away with a "blitzkrieg" in South Ossetia.

In other words, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was expecting unconditional support from the West, and the West had given him reason to think he would have it. Now that the Georgian military assault has been routed, both the Georgian government and its supporters should rethink their position.

Hostilities must cease as soon as possible, and urgent steps must be taken to help the victims -- the humanitarian catastrophe, regretfully, received very little coverage in Western media this weekend -- and to rebuild the devastated towns and villages. It is equally important to start thinking about ways to solve the underlying problem, which is among the most painful and challenging issues in the Caucasus -- a region that should be approached with the greatest care.

When the problems of South Ossetia and Abkhazia first flared up, I proposed that they be settled through a federation that would grant broad autonomy to the two republics. This idea was dismissed, particularly by the Georgians. Attitudes gradually shifted, but after last week, it will be much more difficult to strike a deal even on such a basis.

Old grievances are a heavy burden. Healing is a long process that requires patience and dialogue, with non-use of force an indispensable precondition. It took decades to bring to an end similar conflicts in Europe and elsewhere, and other long-standing issues are still smoldering. In addition to patience, this situation requires wisdom.

Small nations of the Caucasus do have a history of living together. It has been demonstrated that a lasting peace is possible, that tolerance and cooperation can create conditions for normal life and development. Nothing is more important than that.

The region's political leaders need to realize this. Instead of flexing military muscle, they should devote their efforts to building the groundwork for durable peace.

Over the past few days, some Western nations have taken positions, particularly in the U.N. Security Council, that have been far from balanced. As a result, the Security Council was not able to act effectively from the very start of this conflict. By declaring the Caucasus, a region that is thousands of miles from the American continent, a sphere of its "national interest," the United States made a serious blunder. Of course, peace in the Caucasus is in everyone's interest. But it is simply common sense to recognize that Russia is rooted there by common geography and centuries of history. Russia is not seeking territorial expansion, but it has legitimate interests in this region.

The international community's long-term aim could be to create a sub-regional system of security and cooperation that would make any provocation, and the very possibility of crises such as this one, impossible. Building this type of system would be challenging and could only be accomplished with the cooperation of the region's countries themselves. Nations outside the region could perhaps help, too -- but only if they take a fair and objective stance. A lesson from recent events is that geopolitical games are dangerous anywhere, not just in the Caucasus.

The writer was the last president of the Soviet Union. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 and is president of the Gorbachev Foundation, a Moscow think tank. A version of this article, in Russian, will be published in the Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper tomorrow.

War's Siren Call to the World's Children

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Georgia: Widening War

"Bodies are lying everywhere. It’s hell’

By Mark Franchetti, Moscow

10/08/08 "The Times" -- - OLEG KALCHAKEYEV sighed with relief as he watched the evening news on Thursday.

The reports told of renewed skir-mishes between separatist rebels seeking South Ossetian independence and the Georgian army – but also revealed that Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia’s president, had declared a ceasefire. On Friday, so the young leader said, the two sides would sit down to negotiate.

Kalchakeyev, a car mechanic from Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, told his son: “At least we’ll be able to watch the Olympics.”

Only a few hours later, however, shortly before dawn, Kalchakeyev woke up to the sound of explosions. He looked out of the window and saw the night sky over Tskhinvali filled with tracer fire. A barrage of Grad and Katyusha rockets followed.
It is unclear who first violated the ceasefire, but less than eight hours after Saakashvili’s pledge, the Georgian president had ordered his troops to retake South Ossetia by force.
“Suddenly there was a massive explosion which hit a house down the road from us,” said Kalchakeyev, who managed to flee across the border to Russia.

“Our windows shattered and I jumped for cover. I grabbed my son and wife and ran down to the basement, where I was joined by dozens of other civilians. The bombing only got worse. It was relentless and went on for hours. I never thought it would come to this – Georgians bombing us – not in my wildest imagination.”

As Vladimir Putin and George W Bush gathered with world leaders at the so-called bird’s nest stadium in Beijing for the Olympic opening ceremony, war was breaking out between Putin’s Russia and Bush’s client state Georgia.

Within hours, Russia sent its tanks rampaging into South Ossetia – even though it still officially recognises it as Georgian sovereign territory – and yesterday it ordered its air force to attack Georgian targets.

Apartment blocks were on fire in Gori, 15 miles from South Ossetia. Afterwards, a woman knelt in the street and screamed over the body of a dead man.

Another old woman covered in blood stared into the distance, and a man knelt by the road, his head in his hands.

“Why do I have to go through this again?” asked one woman, who said she had survived the second world war. “Why can’t we just live in peace?”

A wave of shock and apprehension gripped the region as survivors asked themselves whether Georgia was about to follow Chechnya into another Caucasian war.

Yesterday it emerged that Tskhinvali, a quiet, small town, had been all but destroyed by the initial Georgian attack on Friday.

As a barrage of artillery fell on its outskirts, Georgian tanks moved into the centre, where they were met with fierce resistance from South Ossetian separatist rebels.

“Georgian snipers are taking down anything that moves, even outside the town’s hospital, which is making it hard to deliver the wounded. They are not sparing anyone,” claimed a South Ossetian government spokesman.

The presidential palace of a region of only 70,000 inhabitants was in flames as intense hand-to-hand fighting broke out across the town. Ordinary apartment blocks were pounded as the remains of Georgian tanks struck by rocket-propelled grenades stood burning in the middle of the street.

“It’s hell,” said Zara Valiyeva, a local journalist trapped in the city. “Houses are being hit around us by rockets. We have no food but it’s too dangerous to go out.”

Battered Ladas delivered the wounded to the town’s hospital, which according to several reports was also badly hit.

“There were bodies lying everywhere, in the streets, around ruined buildings, in cars. There is hardly a single building left undamaged,” said Ludmilla, a woman who fled the town during the fighting.

“The city is burning,” stated a local resident, Oleg Repukhov, in a text message from a basement he took refuge in.

“Grad missiles are falling. They are taking the city. We are running out of ammunition. Where’s our f***ing help!!?” he wrote before the line went down.

“We never thought this could happen,” said Fatima Kochieva, a 47-year-old mother of two who lived on Tskhinvali’s southern outskirts, where the first Georgian artillery shells landed. “It all happened so quickly. Suddenly we were in the middle of heavy fighting. I saw our neighbour’s house get a direct hit. I took cover with the kids in the basement. It was terrifying.”

It took the Georgian army, which in the past few years has received US training and equipment, only a few hours to take the town.

Huge bomb craters cut through the streets. Blackened Soviet-era apartment block buildings were in flames; dead bodies of fighters and civilians lay on the ground amid the rubble. The remains of Georgian armed vehicles hit by grenades lay upside down close to the central square. Power and water supplies were cut off.

“The town is destroyed. There are many casualties, many wounded,” said Zaid Tsarnayev, a resident. “I was in the hospital on Friday where I saw many civilian wounded. The hospital was later destroyed by a Georgian jet.”

Russia’s response to the crisis was swift. Tank columns from the 58th army rolled across the border into South Ossetia. Backed by Russian fighter jets that pounded the Georgian army’s position, they quickly advanced towards Tskhinvali.

“Russia will not close its eyes on the deaths of Russian citizens in South Ossetia,” warned Dmitry Medvedev, the new Russian president.

Hundreds of volunteers from across the Caucasus – including scores of Cossacks – continued to cross into the disputed enclave to help the South Ossetian separatists.

Yesterday morning the Russians stepped up the pressure by sending in their Spetsnaz special forces. Clashes were reported in and around Tskhinvali but by midday the Russians had pushed the Georgians back, establishing a big military presence that Moscow will argue needs to stay for the fore-seeable future as a “peacekeeping” force.

Georgia’s interior ministry claimed that Russian warplanes had bombed a military base on the outskirts of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and three military bases on the Black Sea port of Poti. Russia denied the claims. Georgia also claimed to have shot down 10 Russian planes. The Russians said they had lost two.

It was when Russian jets attacked Gori, a small Georgian town to the south of the fighting, that the worst bloodshed occurred.

Richard Galpin of the BBC was the first foreign reporter on the scene. He said: “We saw the impact of the air strikes – buildings on fire. We could hear the Russian jets above us. In one strike the pilot missed the intended military base, instead hitting two apartment blocks.

“When we arrived, flames were pouring out of the buildings and people were still trapped inside. We saw injured civilians being pulled from the buildings.”

Roots of the conflict

Why is the Caucasus so important?

Because it is the only route for Central Asian oil supplies that does not cross Russia. Throughout the 19th century Russia fought wars to control the region and Moscow considers the area a key part of its sphere of influence.

Why does South Ossetia want to break away?

Most of its people speak their own language and feel closer to the Russians than the Georgians. They say they were absorbed into Georgia after the fall of the old Soviet Union. The 70,000 South Ossetians want independence – just like Kosovo, the breakaway Serbian province.

Why are the Georgians so upset about South Ossetia?

Because they see it as a Russian outpost funded largely from Moscow, and where most people carry Russian passports.

Why has Georgia’s president chosen to raise the issue now?

Because he thought everyone was focused on the Olympics and the Russians would hesitate to respond with force.

Why has Russia been willing to go to war?

The Kremlin is angry about western, particularly American military support for Georgia, its desire to join Nato and US plans for a missile defence shield in Europe.

Will anyone else intervene?

Unlikely, western armies are busy and the prospect of taking on Russia is not enticing.

What happens next?

The Georgians will back down looking like the bad guys. Both sides will go back to hating each other. Result: Russia 1, Georgia 0.