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Key question lingers: Who started the war in Georgia?

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"In Georgian society, as well as around the world, exactly how the war started is the biggest question mark," says Archil Gegeshidze, an expert with the independent Foundation for Strategic and International Studies in Georgia's capital, Tbilisi. "We want to know whether this crisis was avoidable or not."

Was Georgia the aggressor?

The Kremlin insists that it intervened only to blunt the Georgian offensive and save South Ossetia's Russian-passport-carrying population under 1992 accords that designate Russia as the peacekeeper in the region. Most of the world accepts key elements of the Russian version, and very few contradict it.

South Ossetia, a Rhode Island-sized territory of about 70,000 people, declared independence from Georgia as the USSR was collapsing.

It defeated Georgian forces in 1992, and survived until last summer as a Russian protectorate with no chances of being recognized as an independent country, even by Moscow. Though the territory is Georgian under international law, Russian experts argue that Georgia's second attempt to seize it by force invalidate Tbilisi's claim.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia following the August war, and Russia is now constructing permanent military bases in both regions.

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