Russia today revealed plans to consolidate its hold on the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia.
With its troops showing no sign of obeying a cease-fire deal to pull out, a senior general announced that a series of checkpoints manned by hundreds of soldiers will be built in the so-called “security zone” around the province’s border.
The Russian region was the flashpoint of fighting this month that brought Russian troops deep into Georgia. A cease-fire that calls for both sides to pull back to their positions before the brief war allows Russia to maintain troops in a zone extending more than four miles into Georgia from South Ossetian line.
General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy head of the Russian general staff, said Russia will build a double line of 18 checkpoints in the zone, with the posts in the front line to be manned by about 270 soldiers.
Russia clearly aims to solidify control of South Ossetia which still technically remains a part of Georgia.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said his troops will complete its withdrawal from Georgia by Friday, but few signs of movement have been seen other than the departure of a small portion of the troops who have held the strategically key city of Gori.
The Russian forces appear to be aiming to weaken Georgia’s military through the detention of personnel and destruction of equipment before they withdraw as promised.
General Nogovistsyn said 64 Russian soldiers were killed in the fighting and 323 were wounded.
Georgia said it lost 160 soldiers and that 300 were missing.
Civilian casualties remain unclear. South Ossetian officials said 1,492 had been killed.
Meanwhile the Red Cross moved the first international relief workers into South Ossetia since fighting broke out.
A total of 17 travelled by convoy to South Ossetia’s capital Tskhinvali.
One of their first jobs would be to determine the needs of the population cut off by the conflict, a spokesman said.
Tskhinvali was the site of some of the fiercest fighting between the Georgian army and South Ossetian rebels backed by Russian troops. The city is currently under Russian control.
The agency estimates that in the rest of Georgia 80,000 people have fled their homes – both Georgians from South Ossetia and Georgians from Gori and cities in western Georgia.