We have evidence of genocide – Russian investigators

Russian investigators say they have found evidence of genocide by the Georgian military against South Ossetians. The Head of Russia's Investigative Committee, Aleksandr Bastrykin, said that witnesses reported that Georgi

He also said that investigators came across the body of a pregnant women shot in the head.

Bastrykin added that more than 200 specialists continue to work in the region.

Russian MPs back independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia

On Monday, both houses of the Russian parliament have voted unanimously to ask President Dmitry Medvedev to recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. MPs gathered for special sessions to debate the future of the unrecognised states. Georgia has repeatedly said it will never surrender its territories.

MPs gathered for special emergency sessions to debate the issue of the unrecognised states.

The Federation Council, the upper chamber, has also agreed that additional forces of Russian peacekeepers will be deployed in the conflict areas where the two breakaway republics border Georgia.

The lower chamber, the State Duma, meanwhile, has called on international parliamentary organisations and parliaments of the UN-member countries to recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

As the emergency session of the Federation Council began in Moscow, the presidents of the two breakaway republics have once again said they will never agree to remain within Georgia.

In his speech, the President of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, said that both unrecognised states have more right to independence than Kosovo.

“As President of South Ossetia and on behalf of the South Ossetian parliament and its people, with all gratitude to the President of the Russian Federation I once again call for the recognition of South Ossetia as an independent state,” he said before the senators.

Abkhazian President Sergey Bagapsh, for his part, said neither Abkhazia nor South Ossetia will live as one state with Georgia.

In his address the Speaker of the Duma, Boris Gryzlov, called Georgia's action a case of genocide and compared it to the aggression of Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union.

Even if Russia recognises Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the entire process will take a long time. There will be a need to decide what form their independence will take.

But if NATO makes a strong push to bring Georgia into the alliance, Russia will recognise both of them instantaneously, says RT’s political commentator Peter Lavelle.

International reaction

The EU was quick to react to the vote in the Russian Parliament. Brussels issued a statement saying both South Ossetia and Abkhazia should remain in Georgia.

The U.S., joined by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, said Russia's stance on the breakaway regions is not acceptable. The Baltic states also said recognising the republics as independent states breaches international law and disrupts neighbourly relations.

Germany has announced that it hopes President Medvedev will not accept the appeal.

A spokesperson for the German government recalled a meeting between Angela Merkel and Dmitry Medvedev, where the German Chancellor insisted the key to solving the conflict was maintaining the integrity of Georgia.

Britain said the Russian parliament's initiative would simply increase tension in the Caucasus.

Hard road to independence

South Ossetia, which borders Russia in the south Caucasus, and Abkhazia on the Black Sea had previously attempted to break away from Georgia following referendums which were overwhelmingly in favour of independence. The results were ignored by Tbilisi, which claimed the ethnic Georgians forced to flee the regions were not consulted. The recent conflict in South Ossetia has added further urgency to the demands for self-determination.
 
The roots of the current discord can be traced back to the divide and conquer policies of Joseph Stalin – himself half Georgian, half Ossetian. Before the 1917 revolution, the ethnic groups of the Caucasus all lived as separate subjects of the Russian empire. However, with the Bolsheviks came the redrawing of the map, with both South Ossetia and Abkhazia becoming parts of Georgia.
 
When the Soviet Union collapsed, the then Georgian leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia advocated a nationalist “Georgia for the Georgians” policy, re-opening old wounds. Two military conflicts followed, leaving thousands dead and forcing many more to flee the conflict zones.

The ceasefire in the early 1990s brought de-facto independence to both regions with the shaky truce maintained by peacekeeping forces of mainly Russian troops.
 
Since becoming president in 2004, Mikhail Saakashvili has pledged to bring his country closer to the West, which has also motivated his drive to end the territorial disputes.
 
Ossetians and Georgians have lived side by side for centuries. The two groups share Soviet history and the Orthodox Christian religion and intermarriage is common. But the ties that once bound their cultures have been severely damaged in the trauma of the recent fighting. Kosovo's self-declared independence in February, too, has boosted these regions' ambitions.
 
Most Abkhazians and South Ossetians carry Russian passports and the only valid currency is the Russian rouble. In addition, both self-declared republics have presidents, flags and national anthems.