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Behind checkpoints, a look at Russian actions in Georgia

Our correspondent describes a tour led by Kremlin press attaché Sasha
Mechevsky through Russian-controlled villages and the South Ossetian capital
of Tskhinvali.

Rich Clabaugh–STAFF

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Since agreeing to a cease-fire deal with Georgia Aug. 15, Russia has been under close scrutiny. Is it pulling troops out or not? Is it protecting smoldering villages or pillaging them?

Moscow has frequently said one thing while eyewitnesses have reported another during the conflict. Even after Friday's withdrawal, US officials said Russia – which left troops at military checkpoints ringing South Ossetia – had not gone far enough. Georgia blamed the weekend explosion of a train carrying crude oil on a Russian-planted land mine.

As someone who has lived in and reported from Georgia for six years, I knew how rumors could fly around here. I wanted to see for myself what Russia was doing.

The only trouble was, I couldn't get access to Russian-controlled areas without a Russian visa and press accreditation. Unless, that is, I joined a Kremlin-sponsored trip. So last Thursday, along with two dozen other foreign journalists, I signed up for a Kremlin-arranged escort to Tskhinvali. The administrative center of South Ossetia, it bore the brunt of Georgia's lightning offensive Aug. 7-8 to retake the breakaway territory. Russia, citing humanitarian concerns for South Ossetians – 90 percent of whom hold Russian passports – swiftly drove out the Georgians, and has occupied the city since.


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