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Russia, Georgia Blame Each Other for 2008 Conflict


Russia and Georgia have branded each other as the aggressor in their brief war one year ago.

Thursday, on the eve of the anniversary of that conflict, the Russian Foreign Ministry repeated in a lengthy statement the contention that Russian forces swept into Georgia in August 2008 to protect the people of South Ossetia from a pre-planned "criminal" attack. The statement condemned Georgia's artillery strikes on the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, as "barbaric aggression."

For their part, authorities in Georgia say they used military force only after Russian troops and tanks crossed into Georgia. A report issued in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, Thursday cited evidence that reputedly shows Russia started the war by invading Georgian territory following weeks of provocations.

European Union monitors in the area stepped up patrols Thursday. They say the situation in general was calm.

Europe's largest security organization is warning that the North Caucasus region remains "unstable and fragile" one year after the Georgian-Russian conflict.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called for both sides to refrain from actions and statements that could further inflame tensions.

U.S. envoy Daniel Fried was in Tbilisi Thursday meeting with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and other top officials.

Russia on Wednesday accused the United States of rearming the Georgian military and warned the U.S. move would force Moscow to react. In Washington, Alexander Vershbow, a high-ranking U.S. defense official, told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that U.S. efforts are aimed at training Georgian forces although other forms of help could be offered in the future.

Weeks after a French-brokered cease-fire took hold last year, Moscow recognized South Ossetia and a second Georgian breakaway territory, Abkhazia, as independent countries, despite strong Western protests. Earlier this week, U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev spoke by telephone about reducing tensions in Georgia.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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