But hopes of a swift Georgian victory -- on a day when the world's attention was diverted by the opening of the Beijing Olympics -- disappeared when armored elements of the Russian 58th Army poured through the Roki Tunnel, which separates the Russian republic of North Ossetia from South Ossetia, and Russian fighter planes began pounding Georgian positions in and around the rebel republic.
"During the whole day, Russian jet planes have been continuously attacking Georgian towns," President Saakashvili told journalists in Tbilisi. "They have been continuously attacking the town of Gori, in the middle of Georgia, which has nothing to do with South Ossetia."
Both sides blamed the other for starting the conflict.
Moscow has long supported South Ossetia and another Georgian rebel statelet, Abkhazia, and maintains a contingent of peacekeeping troops in both. The two republics won de facto independence through bitter civil wars in the early 1990s, and have since lived in legal limbo, unrecognized by the world community, which supports Georgia's claim of sovereignty over the whole territory of Soviet-era Georgia.