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South Ossetia: A Decade of Cross-Border Strife

As fighting continues between Russian backed separatists and the Georgian army in South Ossetia, DW-WORLD.DE takes a look at the history of the dispute which has created tension since the break up of the Soviet Union.

A column of Russian tanks rolls into South Ossetia on Aug. 8, 2008.

Tensions between South Ossetia and Georgia have been intense for two decades.

With Georgia and Russia locked in a tense confrontation over Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia, observers say it would take only the smallest spark on the ground to trigger a war, which could embroil the entire region. A review of the last two decades shows how the relations between the neighbors have steadily deteriorated.

1991

The Soviet Union collapses and Georgia, which was absorbed into the Russian empire in the 19th century, then taken over by the Soviet Bolsheviks in the next century, becomes independent.

1992- 1994

Minority ethnic groups in the provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia fight separatist wars to end Georgian rule, resulting in thousands of deaths. Both breakaway regions have significant Russian financial and political backing, but have not been recognised by any foreign government and officially remain part of Georgia.

1994

Under a shaky ceasefire agreement, a mainly Russian peacekeeping force is deployed in Abkhazia. Russian troops also lead a joint peacekeeping force in South Ossetia.

2000

Russia's new president, Vladimir Putin, imposes visa requirements on Georgians going to Russia, unlike citizens from other countries in the 12-member Commonwealth of Independent States.

2002

After repeated accusations by Russia that Georgia is sheltering Chechen rebels, an air raid takes place on the Pankisi Gorge just inside Georgia. Russia denies responsibility for the attack, which killed one person.

Georgia applies to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, angering Russia. Georgia also becomes a key US ally after agreeing to host oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian Sea to Turkey, bypassing Russia.

2003

The peaceful "Rose Revolution" ousts Eduard Shevarnadze and brings to power Mikheil Saakashvili, who immediately launches a strongly pro-Western policy aiming at NATO membership and economic and governmental reforms.

2005

Despite growing tensions with Saakashvili's government, Moscow agrees to remove Soviet-era military bases from Georgian territory by the end of 2008.

2006

Georgia is hit by with severe gas shortages after a pipeline explosion inside Russia destroys a key export route. Those behind the bombing are never discovered.

Georgia arrests four Russian military personnel on spying charges. Moscow responds with sweeping economic sanctions, cutting all travel links, deporting hundreds of ethnic-Georgians from Russia, and stopping Georgian imports.

2008

Feb 17: Kosovo declares itself independent from Serbia. Moscow opposes the move, and warns it will now be difficult to resist claims for recognition from breakaway regions in former Soviet countries, including Georgia.

April 3: NATO member states at a summit in the Romanian capital Bucharest agree that Georgia and Ukraine can one day join the alliance, though they stop short of giving them a firm timetable for accession. A key prerequisite for joining NATO is a resolution of all internal and cross-border disputes.

April 16: Russian President Vladimir Putin orders his officials to establish semi-official ties with separatist administrations in Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia says the order is a violation of international law.

April 29: Russia despatches extra troops to Abkhazia to counter what it says are Georgian plans for an attack. The next day NATO accuses Moscow of stirring up tensions with Georgia.

May 6: Georgia says Russia's deployment of extra troops in Abkhazia has brought the prospect of war "very close."

May 31: Putin, now prime minister of Russia, says he approves of a Georgian proposal for Abkhazia's autonomy but not full independence. He insists that the people living in Abkhazia must give their consent.

July 3: Two separatists are killed in South Ossetia in one of the most intensive exchanges of fire with Georgian forces in months.

July 5: New Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urges Georgian President Saakashvili to refrain from "stoking tensions" in Georgia's breakaway regions.

July 6: A bomb explodes in a cafe in the Abkhaz town of Gali, killing four people. It is the largest single loss of life in months. The separatists blame Georgia, Tbilisi denies any involvement.

July 7-10: South Ossetia detains four Georgian servicemen, saying they were scouting out artillery targets. Later Saakashvili tells police to release the four. The same evening, Russian fighter jets fly into Georgian airspace over South Ossetia. Moscow says the mission was intended to "cool hot heads in Tbilisi." Georgia recalls its ambassador from Moscow in protest at the Russian flights.

July 11: Russia says it will reject moves by the US to play a bigger role in defusing the standoff with Georgia.

Aug. 3: Moscow speaks of a potential "large-scale" military conflict in light of Georgia's moves to silence rebels wanting to break away.

Aug. 4: Georgia claims that the evacuation of hundreds of South Ossetian children to Russia is an attempt to create an "illusion of war."

Aug. 6: As fighting breaks out in South Ossetia, each side claims the other opened fire first.

Aug. 8: After weeks of tension and low-level clashes, Georgia says it has taken control of the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali. Russia sends reinforcements into the territory, claiming Georgian attacks killed more than 10 of its peacekeepers.

Russian warplanes reportedly bomb Georgian targets. More than 1,400 civilians are killed in the fighting and thousands of refugees have fled to the Russian border.

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