Kim Sengupta: First war, now anarchy as Russian militias run riot

Share
Related Topics

The conflict in Georgia appeared to be evolving into a vicious new phase yesterday, with killings, burning and looting by irregular militias coming in behind Russian military columns thrusting from the breakaway province of South Ossetia deep into the country.

George Bush and the Georgian government accused Moscow of breaking the less than 24-hour-old ceasefire, as armed bands of Ossetians, Cossacks and Chechens raided villages around the strategic town of Gori which was taken over by Russian forces in the morning.

Bullet-riddled bodies were seen at three villages, Karaleti, Gavardzhavli and Variani, struck by the militias who appeared to be members of Caucasian groups fighting alongside South Ossetian separatists against Georgian government forces. There were also corpses at Dzardzanis and Kelktsuili. Some of the houses were ablaze and there was widespread evidence of looting.

Shotu Chulukhadze, who had left his home in Variani with six members of his family, said: "They shot dead Vachtang; he was my neighbour. There were four of them in a yellow private car; they stopped at the village and started insulting Vachtang and killed him. Afterwards, they took some things from his house and just drove away."

About 30 villagers from Karaleti and Gavardzhavli were in a lorry on the road to the capital, Tbilisi. Darejan Khuleidze wept as she described how her cousin was murdered. "He was shot in the back; he was just trying to get away and they killed him for nothing. We have now lost everything. We can never go back to our homes as long as those men are there."

Hundreds of terrified refugees fled towards Tbilisi, to escape the roaming gangs, some of them masked, setting fire to buildings and robbing and killing people. Many of the civilians said Russian troops had done nothing to stop the abuse by the militia fighters.

A few hours later, the Russians themselves began to move towards Tbilisi, causing fear in the city, but they halted after 18 miles. Although there was initial relief in the capital, which had been bracing itself for occupation, the manoeuvre has effectively bisected Georgia east to west, leaving Moscow in control of movement between the two regions as well as a pipeline supplying oil to western Europe.

Georgia's President, Mikheil Saak-ashvili, accused the Russians of blatantly breaching the ceasefire agreement and accused Western nations of failing his country. "I feel that they are partly to blame," he said. "Not only those who commit atrocities are responsible, but so are those who fail to react."

The day had started with a Russian column entering Gori, the biggest city across the border from South Ossetia, abandoned by the Georgian army on Monday. At first, there was relative calm inside the near-deserted city, which had come under sustained attacks from the Russians in the hours before the ceasefire. Russian troops set up checkpoints and a contingent moved to a Georgian army base and took arms and ammunition, then the building was set on fire. It was unclear whether this was done by regular Russian forces or militias.

Soon, reports began to surface about atrocities in the surrounding countryside. But people injured by the militias no longer have anywhere to go for treatment after the staff at Gori hospital were evacuated. A 28-year-old surgeon, Georgi Abramishvili, was killed in a Russian missile strike at the hospital on Tuesday, and the dean, Professor Gurami Guasalia decided it was too risky. He said: "I know there are a lot of people injured in the villages, but what can I do? I have responsibility towards my staff as well."

Russian officers were guarded about their mission. But one of them, Captain Pavl Baskarov, said: "We tried to find and talk to Georgian officials in Gori but couldn't find any." Asked about the abuse of civilians by militias, he said: "I do not know about that, but I am sure if people have committed crimes they will be punished."

Human Rights Watch reported "terrifying scenes of destruction" in ethnic Georgian villages inside South Ossetia. In the village of Nizhnie Achaveti, researchers spoke to an elderly man who said the South Ossetian militia had set his house on fire. The man said he had no food or water; his hands were burnt and hair singed from trying to extinguish the blaze. He said there were about five to 10 elderly and sick people left in the village, all in a desperate condition.

The Georgian government also accused the Russians of breaching a cease-fire agreement in the west of the country by driving out Georgian troops from the other separatist region, Abkhazia.

The global perspective

John McCain Republican presidential candidate

"I'm not saying we are reigniting the Cold War but this is an act of aggression which we didn't think we'd see in the 21st century... of course we have to deal with Russia and deal with Putin. But it has to be on a very realistic basis.

"I think it's very clear that Russian ambitions are to restore the old Russian Empire. Not the Soviet Union, but the Russian Empire... Russia no longer shares any of the values and principles of the G8, so they should be excluded."

Mikhail Gorbachev Last president of the Soviet Union

"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 the interest of everyone. But it is simply common sense to recognise that Russia is rooted in the region by common geography and centuries of history.

"Russia is not seeking territorial expansion, but it has legitimate interests in this region."

Craig Murray Former British ambassador to Uzbekistan

"Russia's actions are illegal [but] the US andUK, who launched an equally illegal and much more devastating invasion of Iraq, are ill-placed to be outraged... A de facto Russian annexation of South Ossetia must not be permitted, unless we eventually want a war for East Ukraine.

"Nato is part of the cause of the problem, not the solution. By encircling and humiliating Russia, Nato has created the climate in Russia so favourable to Putin."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery assistants required in Cambridgeshire

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

History Teacher

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Cover Supervisors Urgently Required In Knowsley **

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Photo issued by Flinders University of an artist's impression of a Microbrachius dicki mating scene  

One look at us Scots is enough to show how it was our fishy ancestors who invented sex

Donald MacInnes
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp  

Oscar Pistorius sentence: Judge Masipa might have shown mercy, but she has delivered perfect justice

Chris Maume
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album