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By Tim Whewell
BBC File On 4

Alan Tskhurbayev, Institute of War and Peace Reporting)

Dr Marina Kochieva says her car was targeted by a Georgian tank

The BBC has discovered evidence that Georgia may have committed war crimes in its attack on its breakaway region of South Ossetia in August.

Eyewitnesses have described how its tanks fired directly into an apartment block, and how civilians were shot at as they tried to escape the fighting.

Research by the international investigative organisation Human Rights Watch also points to indiscriminate use of force by the Georgian military, and the possible deliberate targeting of civilians.

Indiscriminate use of force is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, and serious violations are considered to be war crimes.

The allegations are now raising concerns among Georgia’s supporters in the West.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has told the BBC the attack on South Ossetia was “reckless”.

He said he had raised the issue of possible Georgian war crimes with the government in Tbilisi.

The evidence was gathered by the BBC on the first unrestricted visit to South Ossetia by a foreign news organisation since the conflict.

Georgia’s attempt to re-conquer the territory triggered a Russian invasion and the most serious crisis in relations between the Kremlin and the West since the Cold War.

Alan Tskhurbayev, Institute of War and Peace Reporting)
They went on firing all the next day without stopping. At some point there was a pause, and we saw Georgian soldiers going along the street in their Nato uniforms
Taya Sitnik

And Georgians themselves have suffered. We confirmed the systematic destruction of former Georgian villages inside South Ossetia.

Some homes appear to have been not just burned by Ossetians, but also bulldozed by the territory’s Russian-backed authorities.

The war began when Georgia launched artillery attacks on targets in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, at about 2330 on 7 August 2008.

Georgia said at the time that it was responding to increasing attacks on its own villages by South Ossetia militia, although it later said its action was provoked by an earlier Russian invasion.

Eye-witness account

Georgy Tadtayev, a 21-year-old dental student, was one of the Ossetian civilians killed during the fighting.

His mother, Taya Sitnik, 45, a college lecturer, told the BBC he bled to death in her arms on the morning of 9 August after a fragment from a Georgian tank shell hit him in the throat as they were both sheltering from artillery fire in the basement of her block of flats.

Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili refutes the allegations of war crimes

Mrs Sitnik said she subsequently saw the tank positioned a few metres from the building, firing shells into every floor.

Extensive damage to the five-storey block appeared consistent with her version of events.

She said she and her son were watching television when the Georgian attack began.

“They started firing not from rifles, but from heavy weapons. Shells were exploding.”

“We jumped up straight away, switched off the lights and ran down to the cellar.”

“And we sat here on boxes. We thought it would end, but the firing got heavier and heavier,” she added.

We’re very concerned at the use of indiscriminate force by the Georgian military
Allison Gill
Human Rights Watch

“They went on firing all the next day without stopping. At some point there was a pause, and we saw Georgian soldiers going along the street in their Nato uniforms,” according to Mrs Sitnik.

“Then they started firing again, even more heavily. The Grad rockets were coming over all the time.”

“How can you trust those people now? What possible friendship can there be? Let them all be cursed, cursed for the deaths of our children.”

Neighbours said another resident of the block, Khazbi Gagloyev, also died of wounds received during the attacks.

‘Basements targeted’

The Russian prosecutor’s office is investigating more than 300 possible cases of civilians killed by the Georgian military.

Some of those may be Ossetian paramilitaries, but Human Rights Watch believes the figure of 300-400 civilians is a “useful starting point”.

That would represent more than 1% of the population of Tskhinvali – the equivalent of 70,000 deaths in London.

Find Out More
Listen to File On 4, Radio 4 Tuesday 28 October 2008 2000 GMT, repeated Sunday 2 November 1700 GMT
Or catch up at Radio 4’s Listen Again site
Listen to Assignment on BBC World Service Assignment
Tim Whewell meets a mother stricken with grief after the death of her son in South Ossetia Newsnight

Allison Gill, director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, said: “We’re very concerned at the use of indiscriminate force by the Georgian military in Tskhinvali.

“Tskhinvali is a densely populated city and as such military action needs to be very careful that it doesn’t endanger civilians.”

“We know that in the early stages there were tank attacks and Grad rockets used by Georgian forces,” she added.

“Grad rockets cannot be used in densely populated areas because they cannot be precisely targeted, and as such they are inherently indiscriminate.

“Our researchers were on the ground in Tskhinvali as early as 12 August.

“And we gained evidence and witness testimony of Grad rocket attacks and tank attacks on apartment buildings, including tank attacks that shot at the basement level.

“And basements are typically areas where civilians will hide for their own protection.

“So all of this points to the misuse, the inappropriate use of force by Georgia against civilian targets,” according to Alison Gill.

Human Rights Watch will talk only of the “possible” deliberate targeting by Georgian forces of individual civilians, a still more serious charge, though some Ossetians the BBC spoke to in Tskhinvali claim to have witnessed such cases.

Wreckage

Marina Kochieva, a doctor at Tskhinvali’s main hospital, says she herself was targeted by a Georgian tank as she and three relatives were trying to escape by car from the town on the night of 9 August.

She says the tank fired on her car and two other vehicles, forcing them to crash into a ditch.

The firing continued as she and her companions lay on the ground.

She showed the BBC the burnt-out wreckage of the car on the town’s ring-road, riddled with bullet holes and with a much larger hole, apparently from a tank round, in the front passenger door.

Ms Kochieva says a nurse from her hospital was killed while fleeing Tskhinvali in similar circumstances.

She says she counted 18 burnt-out cars on the ring-road on 13 August, at the end of the war, suggesting there may have been more casualties.

Alan Tskhurbayev, Institute of War and Peace Reporting)

Many Tskhinvali buildings were damaged during the conflict

Asked if, at night, Georgian soldiers might not have suspected her car of carrying Ossetian fighters, Ms Kochieva said: “Fighters wouldn’t have gone away from town, they would have gone towards town. We were escaping like other refugees.

“The Georgians knew this was the ‘Road of Life’ for Ossetians. They were sitting here waiting to kill us,” she said.

Georgia’s Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili told the BBC, “I can firmly say that the Georgian military, on intention, never attacked directly any civilian object.

“On the surface, the damage to some of the houses in Tskhinvali that can be observed might lead to this conclusion. But to see if some is damage inflicted by direct targeting, for that an in-depth military assessment needs to be done.

“I think the best response is a fully-fledged independent, impartial international inquiry into the issue,” she added.

Her British counterpart David Miliband, who visited Georgia immediately after the war to show solidarity with its government, said he took the allegations of war crimes “extremely seriously” and had raised them “at the highest level” in Tbilisi.

Apparently hardening his language towards Georgia, he called its actions “reckless”.

But he added: “The Russian response was reckless and wrong”.

“It’s important that the Russian narrative cannot start with Georgian actions; it has to start with the attacks on the Georgians from the South Ossetians and that is the tit-for-tat that got out of control,” he said.

Revenge

The BBC saw evidence of the cycle of revenge since the war, with the demolition of most houses in the former ethnic Georgian villages on the northern outskirts of Tskhinvali.

Alan Tskhurbayev, Institute of War and Peace Reporting)
No, it wasn’t ethnic cleansing… we just let them go from our land
Zaur Gagloyev

The houses, whose occupants fled during the war to other parts of Georgia, were burnt by Ossetians immediately after the fighting.

They are now expected to be replaced by a brand-new housing complex with a cinema and sports facilities to be financed by the city of Moscow.

Zaur Gagloyev, a 20-year-old former law student, now unemployed, claimed he was one of those responsible for the burning.

“There were so many provocations in these villages by Georgians,” he said.

“For example, they were taking Ossetians as hostages and that’s why I feel so angry.”

Mr Gagloyev added: “If you want an advice on how to burn a house, just set light to a curtain and the whole house will catch fire.”

Asked if he was guilty of ethnic cleansing, he replied, “No, it wasn’t ethnic cleansing.

“No-one was killed there. We just let them go from our land. I don’t know whether they will return or not,” he added.

“But I did everything I could for them not to return. Never. You can call it ethnic cleaning, but I think I just did it to prevent a future war,” he said.

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Who’s to blame for the Russian Georgian war?

Pepe Escobar: Georgia is a strategic client state of the US with close ties to the Bush administration

Georgian troops launched an aerial bombardment and ground attack on its separatist province of South Ossetia on Thursday. South Ossetians want to join up with their ethnic brethren in North Ossetia, an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation. Seeing this as an act of aggression Russia launched bombing raids against Georgia, vowing to defend its citizens. More than half of South Ossetia’s citizens are said to have taken up Moscow’s offer of a Russian passport. Pepe Escobar believes that “the hypocrisy of the international community knows no bounds for if the West forced the issue of Kosovar independence then the independence of South Ossetia should also be on the cards.”

Transcript

PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST: If you believe the very, very loud hordes of Russian-haters in the US—politicians, lobbyists, corporate media—we are back to the Cold War, and the Russian bear is behaving like the invasion of Hungary in ’56 and Czechoslovakia in ’68. Well, this is absolute rubbish. To understand the real story, let’s take a look at the map. Georgia is a strategic so-called democracy in the Caucasus since the 2003 US-engineered Rose Revolution. It wants to be part of NATO, it provides the US with 2,000 troops in Iraq, it wants to be part of US missile defense shield, and it hosts a stretch of the BTC pipeline, the Baku-to-Ceyhan pipeline in Turkey. Basically, it’s a US client state in the middle of the Caucasus. Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian president, unpopular at home, implicated in monstrous corruption scandals, thought the Beijing Olympics gave him a fabulous opening to solve the problems Georgia has with separatist South Ossetia, since 1989, for that matter. So he staged a surprise invasion supported by the US. If we look at the map, we see that North Ossetia is in Russia and South Ossetia is in Georgia. Only 82,000 people. They don’t want independence; they want to unite with North Ossetia. The last referendum in the region was in November 2006. Ninety-one percent of attendance. Ninety-nine percent, they voted for union with North Ossetia and Russia. And the referendum was totally ignored by Georgia, the US, and in Europe. Once Saakashvili decided to attack South Ossetia last week, he was applying Pentagon tactics. US troops had just finished teaching Georgians how to ethnically cleanse an area. That was part of the so-called, I quote, “Georgian-US Immediate Response 2008 Military Exercises.” This whole thing ended less than two weeks ago, on July 31. Saakashvili’s game was to smash South Ossetia. In fact, his troops killed more than 2,000 civilians, destroyed the capital, Tskhinvali, killed 10 Russian peacekeepers, at least, provoked an exodus of 35,000 people to North Ossetia. He wanted to profit from the spotlight being on the Olympics, of course, but he also had to solve two huge problems: NATO does not accept states involved in territorial disputes, and the Bush administration, key supporters of Georgia, is on the way out. The Russians saw this for what it was, a search-and-destroy mission, ethnic cleansing, and a huge provocation to boot. After all, Russian citizens were killed—99 percent of the population of South Ossetia is ethnically Russian. For the Russians, this is exactly what the West said was happening in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and they saw it, the Russians, as a test-run for the breakup of the Russian Caucasus. Does that all remind us of Kosovo? Yes, it does. But Ossetia is not Kosovo, as the Russians are the first to tell us. The hypocrisy of this so-called international community knows no bounds. If the US and Europe actually forced the independence of Kosovo, they should have to admit that the independence of South Ossetia and the other separatist Georgian province, Abkhazia, is also in the cards. And then there’s oil and pipelines. That’s where the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline fits in. The pipeline is just one factor in a much, much bigger picture. And that’s the attempt sponsored by the US, and joined by many other former Soviet satellites, to cripple all traces of Russian influence, economic, politic, diplomatic, military, not only in the Caucasus, but in Central Asia as well. To believe that Russia would accept any of this is to live in Fantasy Land like US corporate media, or Brzezinski, for that matter, former national security advisor to Jimmy Carter, an informal advisor to Barack Obama. The McCain campaign is infested with Rusophobia. McCain wants to expel Russia from the G8. But Brzezinski may be even more dangerous. This is the guy who gave the Soviets their Vietnam in Afghanistan, facilitating the rebirth of radical jihadist Islam. Brzezinski’s the godfather of al-Qaeda. Brzezinski now says that the Russian invasion of Georgia—and he forgets to say that it was Georgia that attacked South Ossetia first—is like Stalin’s attack on Finland. Well, we should not forget that Brzezinski himself negotiated the BTC pipeline in Baku in the mid-’90s. The Russians will not bomb his pipeline as it has been reported—not a single confirmation in the Russian press or international agencies. What the Russians want is to teach Saakashvili a lesson. In essence, George Bush, enjoying his swimming competitions in Beijing, is not in a position to say anything to Vladimir Putin. What Putin is more or less saying to the US and to Europe is that South Ossetia should do what the population of South Ossetia wants: independence from Georgia, a new referendum, union with North Ossetia, which is the ethnic twin of South Ossetia on the northern side of the Caucasus Mountains. Saakashvili, well, he can scream in English on CNN as much as he wants. He’s already being blamed by the Georgian opposition for his reckless adventure. He was also blamed because he ignored that US badly needs Russia to solve the Iranian nuclear dossier. And he’s being blamed because he ignored that Europe is in the middle of a very complex negotiation with Russia for access to Russian gas—Europe depends on Russian gas. As for Russian hawks with a Cold War mentality, and there are plenty, Dick Cheney said that Russia’s actions in Georgia, I quote, “must not go unanswered.” Well, maybe he should take Putin for some quality quail hunting.

Bio

Pepe Escobar, born in Brazil is the roving correspondent for Asia Times and an analyst for The Real News Network. He’s been a foreign correspondent since 1985, based in London, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris, Singapore, and Bangkok. Since the late 1990s, he has specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central Asia, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has made frequent visits to Iran and is the author of Globalistan and also Red Zone Blues: A Snapshot of Baghdad During the Surge both published by Nimble Books in 2007.

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By Shiva – Aug 13th, 2008

obama-mccain-georgia-russia-war fake

-And the thousands of innocent Georgian and Ossetian lives are sacrificed to achieve it? Are Putin and George Bush shaking hands behind the closed doors?

WHAT IS GOING ON? HOW CAN ANYONE BELIEVE ANYTHING THESE PEOPLE ARE SAYING? THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES HAVE STRENGHTENED MY BELIEF THAT WE MUST ELECT BARACK OBAMA IF WE ARE TO SAVE OUR WORLD FROM THESE MADMEN!!!!

In the attack on Ossetia by Georgia, President Saashkhavili seems to have miscalculated the level of response by the Russians. This may be due in part to the suggestions made by his top adviser who just happens to be McCains top foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann. Scheunemann who works as a lobbyist for Georgia to help them obtain weapons from the US, also serves as a strategic and tactical adviser to Georgia. McCain and Scheunemann have visited Georgia as many as 15 times since 2004 to assist in the deployment of the military and to advise on foreign policy including a bid to join NATO and tactical advise on Russia. One has to wonder if McCain and Scheunemann recent advise was intended to create a small skirmish that would assist McCain in his presidential bid. Both McCain and Scheunemann were likely surprised that Russia would take the opportunity to consider overthrowing the Georgian government. But you know what they say about playing with fire.

Now it is going to be a war of wills between McCain and Putin and neither will win. McCains roots go further back with Georgia. He was the primary force behind arming Georgia in exchange for their acting as one of our few allies in Iraq. McCain and his top foreign policy adviser (who also happens to be a lobbyist paid by Georgia to get weapons and training from the US) have been advising Georgia since 2004 on how to deal with Russia.

This is currently backfiring on McCain (and the US) because Putin is pointing the finger and the blame for the Georgian invasion squarely on the US. Today Putin condemned the overnight US operations that airlifted soldiers out of Iraq so they could fight Russian forces in Ossetia. Many, including McCain have threatened sanctions and other actions against Russia if they do not stand down from the conflict.

This shifts the conflict from the battle front to a dispute between Russia and the US, and in particular with McCain who has been taunting Putin for some time in a war of words. Putin has retaliated saying that top members in the US are acting like we are in the midst of the past cold war, and that their actions are not in line with the current peaceful relationship.

Although McCain is not President in the US he has taken center stage to both condemn Russia and call on the world to threaten sanctions against Russia if they do not stand down and comply with US request.

Russia, the 3rd largest military superpower in the world maintains an arsenal of nuclear weapons pointed directly at the US. In addition, Russia’s primary allies include China, the Middle East including Iran and any other communist regime who might side against the US.

The McCain camp who has publicly stated that a conflict such as this could help their campaign are surely overjoyed at the prospect of war with Russia as it would all but ensure his presidency.

[my.barackobama.com]

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Here, four Russian citizens share their views on international perceptions of the country following the fighting.

ANDREY KROUPNIK, 28, ANLAYST AT INVESTMENT BANK, MOSCOW

Andrey says nobody was in the right over the war

Andrey says nobody was in the right over the war

There are no good guys here. Not Saakashvili, not Putin, not the South Ossetian separatists, not the politicians from the West.

I believe the Georgians were reacting to provocation from Ossetian separatists, and the situation gave Russian forces the chance to make their presence felt in Georgia.

But there is no justification for Saakashvili to order the attack on South Ossetia as it was bound to lead to civilian deaths.

From what I’ve read he’s just as bad as Putin.

This situation is analogous to Kosovo, where separatists there provoked action from Milosevic and Serbia. He was called a war criminal, but Saakashvili is seen as the victim in the West.

The media coverage has been biased on both sides. I expect this from the mainstream Russian media – but not from Western media. The only information I can rely on is independent Russian news sites.

There was a lack of historical context in much of the Western media and the overwhelming sense that Russia was to blame.

The reaction from the international community merely plays into Putin’s hand. He wants Russia to be feared and respected. Condemnation from the West results in ordinary Russians rallying behind the government.

NADEZHDA ERMAKOVA, 24, TEACHER, EKATERINBURG

Nadezhda Ermakova

Russians don’t have anything against Georgians, says Nadezhda

When the fighting began I was in Spain and the reports I saw did not explain the situation fairly.

For some years in Russia we have been watching how Georgia was buying armaments and sending more soldiers to the border with South Ossetia.

And when Russia responded to protect people in South Ossetia, the US government paints the picture of Russia as a huge, bad, anti-democratic state that only wants to suppress its neighbours.

But we don’t want to suppress our neighbours. The Russian people don’t have anything against the Georgians. Can’t Russia protect its people? I am Russian and I want my country to protect me if necessary.

I don’t know what will happen in the future.

I don’t care if Georgia joins Nato, the only thing that is important for me is not to see all these people suffering. I want peace.

TATIANA SOKOLOVA, 24, PhD STUDENT, MOSCOW

Tatiana Sokolova

Tatiana says Russia lost the media war

Russia simply couldn’t have stayed out of this conflict.

The Ossetians did not carry out any action that could have justified the Georgian assault and civilian death.

For such a long time Ossetians and Georgians lived side-by-side and never felt hatred against each other.

My grandmother is a Georgian and she has many Ossetian friends in Tskhinvali. From the very beginning of this disastrous campaign she was trying to contact them in floods of tears.

She would never believe that Georgians would attack Ossetians without any serious motive or provocation.

The intentional reaction has been unfairly anti-Russian. But maybe this is to be expected, since Georgia is an ally of the West.

Most Russians support the government and the Ossetians. But Russia has lost the international media war.

The coverage I saw in Western media was biased, with reports emphasising Russia’s aggressive stance without underlining that Georgia began the war. There was little coverage of the suffering people in Tskhinvali.

But again this is to be expected. For years commentators in the West have speculated about Moscow’s lust for power and its wish to expand its territory, painting the relationship between Russia and America in Cold War cliches.

NIKOLAY ZYLYAEV, 36, VISUAL COMMUNICATIONS, MOSCOW

I was a pro-Western guy but now I have seen the real face of Western countries toward Russia – double-standards and hypocrisy.

Western countries always said they wanted to see a strong Russia – but really they want to see us weak. As Russia recovered from the chaos of the ’90s, Nato expanded up to the edge of our borders.

I expect to see the West continue to act against Russia in the future

America can do anything it wants – bomb Serbia, bomb Iraq. But when Russia acts to defend the people of South Ossetia it is in the wrong. Russia is always seen as the guilty one, the aggressive one.

I have watched Western coverage of the war and there seemed to be no reflection of the Russian viewpoint.

In short, we lost the information war. Maybe we should try and learn something from President [Mikhail] Saakashvili.

I blame the pro-Washington leadership in Georgia. The Russia and Georgian people have more than a century of friendship.

I have friends in Georgia and I hear internal tension is growing there and the opposition will move against the government in the near future.

I expect to see the West continue to act against Russia in the future. But I think we have become stronger after this episode. We are united behind the government.

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Fighting in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia has caused death and widespread destruction.

Georgian, Russian and South Ossetian forces have all been involved. There have also been clashes in Abkhazia, and Russian attacks on other parts of Georgia.

The separatist administrations in South Ossetia and Abkhazia have been trying to gain formal independence since breaking away in the early 1990s.

Tensions in both regions began to escalate after Mikhail Saakashvili was elected Georgian president in 2004, on a promise to re-unite the country.

The conflicts have remained largely frozen, despite occasional flare-ups, until this month.

What triggered the crisis?

A series of clashes between Georgian and South Ossetian forces in the summer of 2008 prompted Georgia to launch an aerial bombardment and ground attack on South Ossetia on 7 August.

Georgian forces controlled the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, for part of the following day.

Russia, meanwhile, poured thousands of troops into South Ossetia, and launched bombing raids both over the province and on targets in the rest of Georgia.

There have been unverified reports of war crimes on both sides.

Did the Russian forces enter South Ossetia before or after the Georgian attack?

This is unclear.

Georgia says it began its assault after learning that a large convoy of Russian armour was coming through the Roki tunnel, from North Ossetia into South Ossetia.

Russia says it acted to defend Russian citizens in South Ossetia, and its own peacekeepers stationed in the breakaway region.

How did the conflict develop?

Russian forces occupied parts of Georgia adjoining South Ossetia, including the town of Gori, a strategic town on the main road linking eastern and western Georgia.

They also moved from bases in Abkhazia into parts of western Georgia, and the Russian fleet went into action against the Georgian navy.

Abkhaz forces re-captured the Kodori Gorge – a region of Abkhazia taken under control by Georgian troops in 2006.

Who are the main casualties?

Large numbers of civilians have been driven out of their homes in South Ossetia. Many South Ossetians have crossed over to the Russian republic of North Ossetia.

Residents of Georgian villages in South Ossetia, and the town of Gori, have also fled.

The South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, is reported to be largely in ruins.

Why is Russia involved?

More than half of South Ossetia’s 70,000 citizens are said to have taken up Moscow’s offer of Russian citizenship. Russia says its actions were designed to protect those citizens.

Russia also has peacekeepers based in South Ossetia. Some of these were killed in the Georgian attack on 7 August.

Until recently, Russia said it respected Georgia’s territorial integrity, and only wanted to look out for Russian citizens. But, following Georgia’s military action, Russian PM Vladimir Putin said it was now unlikely that South Ossetia would reintegrate with the rest of Georgia.

Does Georgia have links to Nato?

President Saakashvili has made membership of Nato one of his main goals – and Nato agreed in April 2008 that Georgia would become a member of the alliance at some unspecified date in the future.

The country has had a close relationship with the United States – sending troops to join the US-led coalition in Iraq.

The US has helped to train and arm the Georgian military. It also helped Georgian troops return from Iraq after the Russian incursion into South Ossetia.

What is the status of South Ossetia?

South Ossetia has run its own affairs since fighting for independence from Georgia in 1991-92, in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

It has declared independence, though this has not been recognised by any other country.

Abkhazia is in the same position.

Why do Ossetians want to break away?

The Ossetians are a distinct ethnic group originally from the Russian plains just south of the Don river. In the 13th Century, they were pushed southwards by Mongol invasions into the Caucasus mountains, settling along the border with Georgia.

Georgia map

South Ossetians want to join up with their ethnic brethren in North Ossetia, which is an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation.

Ethnic Georgians are a minority in South Ossetia, accounting for less than one-third of the population.

But Georgia rejects even the name South Ossetia, preferring to call it by the ancient name of Samachablo, or Tskhinvali, after its main city.

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