The Russian Defence Ministry claims to have sunk a Georgian warship which was attacking its navy ships in the Black Sea, according to Russian new agencies. The ITAR-Tass news agency quoted a ministry spokesman as saying that Georgian missile patrol boats twice tried to attack Russian ships, which fired back and sank one of the Georgian vessels.
But Russian bombers still appeared to be shelling a military airport at Tbilisi. Cataclysmic Russian bombing has laid waste to major towns, including Tskhinvali and Gori with around 2,000 believed dead.
The New York Times states that Russian troops are advancing on Gori:
Russian tanks and troops moved through the separatist enclave of South Ossetia and advanced on the city of Gori in central Georgia on Sunday night, for the first time directly assaulting a Georgian city with ground forces after three days of heavy fighting, Georgian officials said.
Georgian tanks were dug into positions outside Gori and planning to defend the city, said Shota Utiashvili, an official in Georgia’s interior ministry. He said the city of Gori was coming under artillery and tank fire. There was no immediate comment from Russia.
Note that Gori is in Georgia proper, not in South Ossetia or any other disputed territory.
Foreign Policy Passport says Russia is landing troops on Georgia’s coast:
Here’s the latest on this fast-moving conflict:
- A reported 1,500 civilians have been killed in the fighting, and Russian tanks continue to flow into South Ossetia. The Russians say they have taken Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, though Georgia claims its forces withdrew of their own accord
- Russian planes have bombed Gori, a Georgian city due south of Tskhinvali where eyewitnesses describe “scenes of panic“
- Georgia is calling for a ceasefire but also recalling all 2,000 of its troops from Iraq, with U.S. logistical help [UPDATE: Russia rejects a ceasefire]
- U.S. President George W. Bush said that Russia’s attacks on South Ossetia were a “dangerous escalation” of the conflict
- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Bush in a phone conversation that Russia’s aim was “forcing Georgia to accept peace“
- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has left Beijing and is reportedly visiting North Ossetia
- Politico‘s Ben Smith wonders if this is a “3 a.m. moment” for the U.S. presidential candidates
UPDATE: The New York Times reports that the situation is “nearing all-out war,” with Russia landing troops on Georgia’s Black Sea coast.
It’s probably too much to hope for that a sniper will get the war criminal Putin while he’s in Ossetia.
All this amounts to a massive escalation of the conflict. As I said yesterday, the West needs to get tough with Russia. It should stop Russia now, with threats of:
1. economic sanctions (the West could say it won’t trade with Russia, nor will it trade with any country that does, forcing them all to choose between the West and Russia)
2. use of air power to gain air superiority over Georgia
3. use of air power to destroy Russian armour formations on the ground
Regarding this last point, bear in mind that NATO’s air forces have until very recently been configured to destroy columns of Russian armour advancing across Germany. Now imagine if this Russian column was hit by a squadron of Tornadoes or Eurofighters armed with Brimstone missiles: