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Key question lingers: Who started the war in Georgia?

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"Russia had been actively preparing for Georgian aggression for the past six months, because our intelligence services warned us that Saakashvili was preparing an attack" on South Ossetia or Abkhazia, says Andrei Klimov, deputy chair of the Russian State Duma's international affairs committee. Mr. Klimov has compiled a detailed timeline of events leading up to the war, that shows the Russian 58th Army entering South Ossetia on the afternoon of Aug. 8, nearly 20 hours after massed Georgian armor and artillery began bombarding Tskhinvali.

Or had Russia started invading first?

"When it happened, we were not as ready as we should have been, and Saakashvili had time to destroy Tskhinvali," Klimov says.

But Saakashvili's version, backed by at least one dissenting Russian military expert, is that he flung his forces into South Ossetia in an attempt to head off a significant Russian invasion already in progress.

Saakashvili has repeatedly insisted that Georgian intelligence identified huge numbers of Russian tanks and troops inside South Ossetia on Aug. 7, before Georgian forces assaulted Tskhinvali.

Top US officials told him that they are unable to verify this, he explained in a televised statement recently, because "their satellites were directed mainly on Iraq ... and it was impossible to see what was happening on the ground [in Georgia] because it was cloudy."

Georgian officials argue that Russia has been preparing a military strike since the Saakashvili-led "Rose Revolution" five years ago put the little country on a path to join NATO; Georgia declared itself a key US ally in the energy-rich Caspian region.

That case is broadly supported by US officials, but unexpected details have been provided by a Russian investigative journalist, Pavel Felgenhauer, military correspondent of the independent Moscow weekly Novaya Gazeta.

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