President Mikhail Saakashvili said his forces seized strategic heights after fighting in the rebel South Ossetia region Thursday and promised more such victories to fulfill a pledge to reunite his country.

Hours later, Saakashvili said his troops would hand over the heights above South Ossetia’s regional capital of Tskhinvali to peacekeepers and pull back in what he described as a last chance to avoid all-out war there.

“There will be many more such gifts in the future,” Saakashvili said after announcing at a ceremony that Georgian forces had “wiped out” South Ossetian separatists responsible for killing Georgian soldiers in overnight fighting.

The battles were some of the worst fighting in the breakaway region since a war more than a decade ago. Georgian officials said three Georgian soldiers were killed overnight, while South Ossetia’s military chief said three civilians had died in Georgian shelling of Tskhinvali, the regional capital. South Ossetian officials denied Georgian forces had captured the hills, saying fighting in the area was continuing.~ International Herald-Tribune, August 20, 2004

President Saakashvili’s commitment to the path of war would be outrageous to the Western political classes if he were not an American puppet. Let us recall that NATO attacked Yugoslavia without provocation or justification for doing even less than what Saakashvili is now doing, which is nothing except the deliberate provocation of a new war in a region where there has been an uneasy truce, but a truce nonetheless, and the effective autonomous government of South Ossetia by Ossetians for 12 years, approximately the same amount of time the pseudo-state of Kurdistan in northern Iraq existed on its own. Keeping South Ossetia in Georgia by force is to make the old, accidental Soviet territorial divisions somehow sacrosanct and worth defending with violence. It serves neither the Georgians nor Ossetians to perpetuate this fight. It serves only the petty and despotic goals of Mr. Saakashvili.

It would be completely wrong for outsiders to intervene in this conflict by force, but the United States should cut all funding to the government of Georgia if it persists in its belligerent and aggressive course. Since Washington is the architect of its own war of aggression, though, I doubt this is likely to happen. However, if Washington fails to declare that Georgian attacks are unacceptable, it will share in the responsibility for precipitating yet another useless conflict that will only make the stabilisation of Georgia and the Caucasus that much more difficult. It is an unfortunate reality that Russia is the patron of South Ossetia, and Moscow is unlikely to ignore its client’s plight. While Russia would do well to seek a peaceful resolution, Mr. Saakashvili seems intent on forcing the issue. In so doing, he seriously jeopardises Georgia’s future and its relations with Russia for virtually no gain.