As the world's attention is on Beijing and the international hugfest that is the Olympics opening ceremonies, the conflict between Russia and pro-Western former Soviet satellite Georgia erupted in violence.
Georgian troops launched a major military offensive Friday to regain control over the breakaway province of South Ossetia and the president accused Russia, which has close ties to the separatists, of bombing Georgian territory.
A Russian official denied the bombing. But Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the Georgian attack will draw retaliation and the Defense Ministry pledged to protect South Ossetians, most of whom have Russian citizenship.
An Associated Press reporter saw tanks and other heavy weapons concentrating on the Russian side of the border with South Ossetia and villagers were fleeing into Russia.
Georgia acknowledged that it fired on a Russian military convoy and aircraft that it said were attacking Georgian ground positions. Russia is acting as an ostensible peacekeeper in the conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia, but Georgia accused the country of bombing the town of Gori, and the villages of Kareli and Variani.
Georgia, which borders the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia, was ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the breakup of the Soviet Union. The country has angered Russia by seeking NATO membership — a bid Moscow regards as part of a Western effort to weaken its influence in the region.
Saakashvili long has pledged to restore Tbilisi's rule over South Ossetia and another breakaway province, Abkhazia. Both regions have run their own affairs without international recognition since splitting from Georgia in the early 1990s and built up ties with Moscow.
Most residents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have Russian passports. An open war could prompt Russian to send in more forces under the claim of protecting its citizens.