First, the good news: our co-blogger Jonathan Kulick, an American who lives and works in Tblisi, reports that he’s fine. He also promises to keep us up to date, either by posting or by sending email.
I asked Jonathan a bunch of questions; what follows are his words, rearranged for continuity. (Headnotes: Tskhinvali is the regional capital of South Ossetia and the seat of the South Ossetian government that no other country recognizes. North Ossetia is a province of Russia.)
Take it away, Jonathan:
South Ossetia is an analyst’s or commentator’s minefield. About 10 people in the world outside of Georgia or Russia really understand it. Abkhazia is sexy — S.O. was the ugly stepsister.
The South Ossetian forces (under Russian command) hit Georgian villages in So. Ossetia, and the Georgian army responded. It had been going on for a few days/weeks/years, depending on how you look at it.
Administratively (at least until last week), South Ossetia was a patchwork quilt of Tskhinvali-, Georgian-, and Georgian-backed-proxy-Ossetian-controlled villages. The peacekeepers are a four-party (Georgia, Russia, South O, North O) operation, under an OSCE mandate. It’s hard to tell the difference between Russian “peacekeepers,” Russian Army, and So. Ossetian army. The Tskhinvali security forces are largely regular Russian Army (not mercenaries), wearing S.O. uniforms.
And it only gets more complicated. Many yakkers refer to the S. Ossetians as “ethnic Russians.” They’re not; they are Ossetians (an Iranic ethnos), Georgians, and mixed families. The residents of Tskhinvali-controlled S.O. have been given Russian passports, and most call Putin “our president.” Russia has de facto annexed S.O., while Tskhinvali maintains that it’s independent.