I was talking with friends last night about the Russia-vs.-Georgia fighting, and I wasn’t really up to speed on the basics. I’d like to find an abridged online version of “The Russia-Georgia-Abkhazia-South Ossetia Conflict for Dummies.” Here’s my own attempt in lieu of this, running a little less than 500 words.

Georgian soldiers ducking a bombardment in the Georgian city of Gori, 50 miles from Tblisi. (N.Y. Times photo by Reuter’s Gleb Garanich.)

I know that Georgia, a democracy governed by 41 year-old president Mikheil Saakashvili (who speaks fluent English, French, Russian and Ukranian), has long been at odds with Russia, which seems to strongly resent Georgia’s secularism and various western-leaning alliances, including its interest in joining NATO and, down the road, gradual access to the European Union.
And I understand that Russia supports/has supported Abkhazia and South Ossetia in their efforts to secede from Georgia. Abkhazia and South Ossetia “broke away” from Georgia in the early 90s and have been “de facto independent” ever since, and that this is more or less the central issue in Georgian-Russian relations.
Today’s N.Y. Times story, written by Anne Barnard and reported by two others, says that the conflict between Russia and Georgia seems to “developing into the worst clash between Russia and a foreign military since the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.” And that at least 1500 people have been killed within the last 48 hours.
It’s obviously not a mano e mano-stype situation — it’ s Russia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia vs. Georgia with western authorities stand off to the side and more or less saying, “Hey…not nice for people to die! Stop it!” I know that Georgian troops have killed some Russians, and that Russian troops have been pouring into South Ossetia and also that Russias have been shelling and bombing Georgia, including areas near its capital of Tibilisi.

Devastation and death in Gori, Georgia. (N.Y. Times photo by Reuter’s Gleb Garanich.)

I know also that Georgia would like its presumed western allies to step in and do something in a vigorous diplomatic vein. I understand that two days ago Russian troops entered South Ossetia after Georgian troops attacked and killed 12 Russian peacemakers. But I don’t really understand why Georgia troops were in Ossetia in the first place.
The Times story reports that “exhausted Georgian troops, their faces covered with stubble, said they were angry at the United States and EU for not coming to Georgia’s aid. A Georgian major who was driving an armored truck out of South Ossetia and who gave his name as Georgy, said, ‘Over the past few years I lived in a democratic country, and I was happy. Now America and the European Union spit on us.'”
I’ve also read in the Times that “neither side [has shown] any indication of backing down.” And that Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has declared that “war has started,” and that Saakashvili has accused Russia of a “well-planned invasion” and has mobilized Georgia’s military reserves.