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Russian Troops Launch Ground Offensive in Georgia

Aug. 11 (Bloomberg) — Russia sent ground forces into Georgia proper for the first time since fighting began five days ago, seizing a military base and forcing the Georgian army to retreat toward the capital.

Georgian officials accused Russia of seeking to overthrow the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili, while Russia said it was protecting the separatist Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Both countries gave contradictory accounts of fighting. Georgia says Russia is invading two cities while the Russians insist they’re hitting only military targets.

“We no longer know the limits of the invading Russian Army. Russia seems intent on overthrowing the democratically elected government of Georgia and occupying the country,” said Kakha Lomaia, the Secretary of the National Security Council.

The conflict is Russia’s first major military offensive outside its borders since the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union. The war threatens to draw the U.S. into confrontation with Russia. The Bush administration backs Georgia’s bid to join NATO which Russia views as a security threat. The West has courted Georgia as a counterweight to Russia’s influence in the region, in part because it has an oil pipeline that bypasses Russia.

Russian troops seized a military base in the town of Senaki, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Abkhazia, and “invaded” the city of Gori near South Ossetia, Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said by phone. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said in comments on CNN that Russia has “to attack Georgian military targets” to “protect the lives of Russian citizens.”

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