This past weekend, we reported on the spate of robberies and looting by Russian troops and groups of South Ossetian bandits following a phone call with a Georgian official. Today the New York Times corroborates these reports with some of the first contacts with citizens that haven’t been staged managed by either government (which of course has left a heavy presence on much of the coverage). Leaving aside for the moment the bitter political disagreements over the cause of the war, these sad, sad stories highlight how many of these military actions have been executed with extreme prejudice, if not hate. My impression is that even if the Russian troops fully withdraw, the conflict will remain frozen for years to come.
On Monday, three journalists from The New York Times gained unaccompanied access to four of these villages — Akhaldaba, Variani, Shindisi and Karaleti — providing an unfiltered, though limited, view of the ill fortune and punishments endured by the civilian Georgian population caught in the war.
The villages are in the southern part of the area where Georgia claims ethnic cleansing occurred and do not include any of the villages from which the most severe and chilling allegations have come. They also constitute a small area of the entire territory.But the scenes suggested that ethnic anger and a sustained, often unchecked period of looting reached nearly to the boundary of Gori, the city astride the highway that has been under a Russian-enforced martial law.Only in Akhaldaba, just outside Gori, where food was running short Monday because the village was still cut off, did the residents say that they had not faced privations beyond the initial barrages of artillery or rocket fire.In Variani, further up the road, the scene was bleaker. The Rev. Tadeoz Kebadze, the priest at a small Georgian Orthodox church, said that after the rocket attacks had come rounds of what he called “lawless marauders.” More than 1,200 of the village’s roughly 1,500 people had fled, he said.In Shindisi, the families gathered for a bus carrying sacks of rice and flour said they were too afraid to speak. One old man had a badly beaten face. When asked what had happened, another man answered in his place: “Nothing happened to him.”