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Roots of Georgia-Russia clash run deep

The war broadened Monday as Russian troops moved beyond rebel provinces into Georgia proper.

Toll: Georgians pore over a list of wounded in Gori, a town Russian troops occupied Monday. Russia says it must protect Ossetians after Georgia attempted to retake the separatist region.

Gleb Garanich/Reuters

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Ancient ethnic strife, fanned by East-West rivalry and Moscow's growing regional ambitions, lie behind the war over Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where Russian troops opened a second front Monday.

For dozens of young Ossetian men lined up at a Russian Army recruitment center in the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz, the conflict is a replay of endless clashes with their traditional foe: Georgia. For Georgians, whose forces are retrenching after failing to retake the separatist province of South Ossetia, the war appears just the latest futile effort to unite their country against what they see as Moscow's neocolonial designs.

US and Russian diplomats, who sparred angrily over the crisis at a United Nations session Sunday, were falling back into the language and passions of their long, bitter cold-war standoff.

"This conflict has very deep and complicated roots," says analyst Alexei Malashenko at the Carnegie Center in Moscow. "It was Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili who started it, hoping to redraw the whole situation with one sweeping action. But if it goes on for much longer, it is likely that there will be no winners, and Russia will suffer very badly, too."


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