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Violence Escalates In Georgia

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Military operations continue today in the Republic of Georgia as separatist warplanes bombed the Kodori Gorge. Georgian President Mikheil - forgive me. Mikhail - forgive me. Georgian President Saakashvili called for an immediate cease-fire, and President Bush spoke with the president and with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urging them both to stand down. NPR's Gregory Feifer is in Moscow. He spoke today with the Georgian security adviser and the Russian foreign minister. Gregory, thank you very much for being with us.

GREGORY FEIFER: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: Georgia has just declared a state of war. What does that mean?

FEIFER: It's not exactly clear. The national security adviser said that it means parliament will essentially always be in session and it gives the government additional powers, but that it wouldn't affect media freedom or individual freedoms. He also said that a state of war isn't the same as martial law. But at the same time, President Saakashvili is calling for an immediate cease-fire. He has said that he has ordered Georgian troops not to fire at Russian positions outside the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali.

I think the state of war, the main purpose is declarative. Georgia says it's under a full-scale attack from Russia. It says Russian planes are bombing targets in different parts of the country, including, as you said, the Kodori Gorge which is in Georgia's second separatist region, Abkhazia. Georgia also says that Russian planes tried to bomb a strategically important oil pipeline to the west but that the bombs missed.

SIMON: Gregory, since this will capture the attention from much of the rest of the world for the next few days, weeks, and perhaps beyond, remind us what's all this about?

FEIFER: Well, Russia says that it's only conducting peacekeeping operations, that it's stopping what it calls Georgia's aggressive move to take control over its pro-Moscow separatist region, South Ossetia. But it's - the Georgians say exactly the opposite. The Georgians are saying, as I said, that Russia has staged an invasion of Georgian territory. It's comparing Russia's actions to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

Georgia says that it's unclear how long it can hold out, and it's appealing for international mediation. At the same time, Russia is saying that there are somewhere around 30,000 refugees streaming into Russia from South Ossetia. And both sides are accusing each other of ethnic cleansing.

SIMON: Yeah. And is there anything to support that charge at the moment?

FEIFER: There's nothing to support it right now. It's not clear in the next few days what's going to happen. There is an international delegation of diplomats traveling to Tbilisi, but Russia is saying that it will not stop military operations until Georgia pulls out all of its forces out of South Ossetia.

SIMON: NPR's Gregory Feifer on duty in Moscow. Thanks very much for being with us, Gregory.

FEIFER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Weekend Edition Saturday
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Gregory Feifer
Gregory Feifer reports for NPR from Moscow, covering Russia's resurgence under President Vladimir Putin and the country's transition to the post-Putin era. He files from other former Soviet republics and across Russia, where he's observed the effects of the country's vast new oil wealth on an increasingly nationalistic society as well as Moscow's rekindling of a new Cold War-style opposition to the West.