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Russia, Georgia clash in breakaway statelet

After weeks of escalating skirmishes with South Ossetia, Georgia moved to regain control of the enclave. Russia responded by sending in tanks.

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The diplomats may still be talking of peace, but from the front line deep inside the pro-Moscow breakaway republic of South Ossetia, a long-feared war between Russia and NATO-leaning Georgia appears to be under way.

At stake are Russia's already strained relations with the West, which backs Georgia, as well as Georgian President Mikhael Saakashvili's hopes of leading his country into the NATO alliance within the next year. An extended conflict might also hit global energy prices, if a crucial pipeline that carries Caspian oil and gas through Georgia to Western markets should be threatened.

After weeks of escalating skirmishes along the frontier between Georgia and South Ossetia, Georgian forces launched a full-scale invasion on Friday. By nightfall, they claimed to have occupied the capital, Tskhinvali, and about 70 percent of the rebel republic's territory.

A Georgian military spokesman said the fighting would go on until "constitutional order" was restored, meaning Tbilisi's full control. South Ossetia's rebel president, Eduard Kokoity, was quoted by Russian state TV as saying that 1,400 civilians died Friday in the Georgian military offensive.

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