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Georgia marks 10th anniversary of war with Russia

TBILISI: Georgia marked the tenth anniversary of its war with Russia on Wednesday which has left the country dismembered with a fifth of its territory remaining under Moscow’s control.

Georgia’s five-cross red-and-white national flags were flying at half-mast outside government buildings as the tiny Black Sea nation mourned the victims of the bloody war.

On Wednesday morning, President Giorgi Margvelashvili laid a wreath at the memorial cemetery of the Georgian soldiers killed in the conflict.

He later addressed troops at the Senaki military base that was looted and destroyed by invading Russian forces during the conflict and then rebuilt as a showpiece of Georgia’s drive to join Nato.

“Today, I mourn together with you our soldiers and civilians, journalists and doctors who were killed in this war,” Margvelashvili said. “One must be stupid, faithless or a coward not to believe that our country will be reunified,” he added.

Georgia and its Soviet-era master Russia have long been at loggerheads over Tbilisi’s bid to join the European Union and Nato with the spiralling confrontation culminating in a full-out war on August 8, 2008.

The Russian army swept into Georgia — bombing targets and occupying large swathes of territory — after Tbilisi launched a large-scale military operation against South Ossetian separatist forces who had been shelling Georgian villages in the region.

Over just five days, Russia defeated Georgia’s small military and the hostilities ended with a ceasefire mediated by France’s then-president Nicolas Sarkozy, who at the time held the EU’s rotating presidency.

After the war — that claimed the lives of hundreds of soldiers and civilians from both sides — Moscow recognised South Ossetia and another separatist enclave, Abkhazia, as independent states where it then stationed permanent military bases.

The two regions constitute 20 per cent of the country’s territory.

On Wednesday the Georgian presidency said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo phoned Margvelashvili to reiterate Washington’s “strong support to Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty”.

In a show of solidarity with Tbilisi, the foreign ministers of Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, and Ukraine’s vice premier visited the country and issued a joint statement urging Russia to “start honouring international law and the right of sovereign neighbouring states to choose their own destiny”.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the “Russian military presence in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia continues to violate international law”.

The German and French foreign ministries called Russia’s recognition of the breakaway Georgian areas Abkhazia and South Ossetia “unacceptable.”

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