On Monday, I said it didn't look likely that Russia would try to grab Georgia proper. Well, that idea is looking somewhat less crazy today:
Just hours after Russia agreed to a French-brokered cease-fire, Russian troops followed by irregular Ossetian militias pushed deep into Georgia, seizing the strategic city of Gori and deploying armored vehicles on the nation's main highway that leads to capital city Tbilisi.
Thick black plumes of smoke rose from Gori as panicked residents -- including the doctors and patients of the local hospital -- fled to Tbilisi in packed cars and minivans. Most locals had already abandoned Gori after it was heavily bombarded by Russian forces on Tuesday, just before Presidents Dmitry Medvedev of Russia and Nicholas Sarkozy of France announced a provisional cease-fire.
Eyewitnesses and fleeing residents said that with Russian tanks securing Gori, Ossetian militias and Russian cossacks began pillaging stores and homes. Some Georgians attempting to escape said they were told by irregulars to abandon their cars and valuables at gunpoint, and forced to walk toward Tbilisi. At least one vehicle of Western journalists was also seized at gunpoint by Russian-allied irregulars.
"The Russians are looting everything in sight. The whole city is full of marauders," said Roland Bochiashvili as he left Gori.
It still seems more likely that they're just trying to worsen Georgia's BATNA in order to get a more favorable deal. And demonstrate to the world that they can do whatever the hell they want. Still, if I were in Europe, I'd be locking in my home heating oil prices now.
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