posted on Oct, 3 2008 @ 01:02 PM
A fragile ceasefire in the Caucasus seemed close to collapse after seven Russian soldiers were killed when a car bomb exploded near their base in
Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia.
The Ossetian rebel administration immediately accused Georgia of being behind the attack. Moscow has so far held its counsel, although Russia's force
commander in South Ossetia, the crucible of August's five-day war, confirmed the deaths of his servicemen and said that seven others had been
The explosion reportedly happened as the car was being searched in South Ossetia's capital, Tskhinvali. Although details remain sketchy, it seems
likely that Russia will blame Georgia. If so, few in the region doubt that Moscow's retribution will be swift and quite possibly violent.
Georgia denied responsbility for the blast, and an interior ministry spokesman suggested that Russia might have planned the attack to provide a
pretext for keeping its troops in the area.
"They want to make it look like tensions are increasing and that therefore the Russians cannot withdraw," said Shota Utiashvili.
Under a ceasefire agreement, Russian troops are supposed to withdraw from a buffer zone in undisputed Georgian territory surrounding South Ossetia by
the end of next week. Unarmed European Union monitors were supposed to replace them.
But the Kremlin had already reneged on earlier pledges to pull its forces out of Georgia proper.
Western diplomats, while refusing to attribute blame for the attack, said it was likely that Russia could use the incident either to reverse its
promise for a troop withdrawal or even, if Kremlin hardliners have their way, restart the war against Georgia.
Powerful Kremlin hawks are believed to want President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia forced from office.
Russia, which invaded Georgia in August after Mr Saakashvili launched at attack on South Ossetia's Kremlin-backed rebel administration, ended its
assault after achieving a crushing victory in five days of war.
Since then, Russia has unilaterally recognized the independence of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another rebel region and has stationed troops deep
inside uncontested Georgian territory.
The death of the Russian servicemen, however, marks by far the most serious incident since hostilities ended.
The EU peace monitoring mission will undoubtedly want to investigate the incident. They are unlikely to be given access to South Ossetia, however.
Although an earlier ceasefire deal called on all Russian combat troops to pull out of South Ossetia to pre-conflict positions, the Kremlin has vowed
to maintain a military presence in the region.
Since their arrival this week, EU monitors have been hampered from operating within the buffer zone and Russia has indicated that they would not be
given access to South Ossetia itself.