(Reuters) - A year has passed since Georgia and Russia fought a five-day war over South Ossetia, when Russia crushed a Georgian assault on the breakaway pro-Moscow territory.
Russia recognized South Ossetia and the Black Sea region of Abkhazia as independent states in the wake of the war.
Following are the key facts about the conflict, which shook confidence in oil and gas routes running West through Georgia.
Pro-Russian South Ossetia and Abkhazia threw off Georgian rule in wars in the early 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Georgia continued to control Georgian-populated villages dotted around the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali and the Akhalgori region, as well as the Kodori gorge in Abkhazia.
The conflicts remained frozen during the rule of former Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze, but began to heat up under his successor Mikheil Saakashvili, who took power after the 2003 “Rose Revolution” and promised to take Georgia into NATO and restore control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi deteriorated. Georgia accused Russia of strengthening its hand in both regions. Russia granted passports to most Abkhaz and South Ossetians. Georgia stepped up support for Georgian villages in South Ossetia and spent more on defense.
The West’s recognition of Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in February 2008, over Russian objections, fueled tensions and in April NATO pledged future accession for Georgia and Ukraine, angering Moscow.
In April last year, Russia established semi-official ties with the separatist regimes, and shot down Georgian drones. It sent extra troops into Abkhazia and accused Georgia of planning to attack. In July, Russian jets briefly entered Georgian air space over South Ossetia.
August saw fatal skirmishes between Georgian and South Ossetian forces, with Russian forces concentrated over the border in the North Caucasus following annual exercises. South Ossetia began evacuating women and children.
On Aug 7, after intense clashes, Saakashvili declared a ceasefire. Hours later, Georgia launched an air and land assault on Tskhinvali to “neutralize separatist positions” which it said were continuing to fire on Georgian villages.
Russian forces delved into South Ossetia and quickly drove back the Georgian military. Russian-backed Abkhaz forces drove Georgian police out of Abkhazia’s Kodori gorge. Russian forces entered Georgia proper from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and advanced to within 40 km (25 miles) of Tbilisi.
The EU brokered a ceasefire plan on Aug 12. A 240-strong EU monitoring mission deployed in October, but is denied access to either rebel region. The Kremlin recognized both regions as independent states on Aug 26.
Russia and Georgia agreed to withdraw forces to pre-war positions. But Russia says it has 7,600 soldiers in the territories, twice as many as before the war, and is building bases. It has also taken control of their de facto borders.
Georgia says 228 Georgian civilians died and 184 Georgian servicemen are dead or missing. Russia said 64 of its servicemen and 162 South Ossetian civilians died.
Rights groups condemned the use of cluster bombs by both sides. They said Georgia’s shelling of Tskhinvali was indiscriminate, and that Russia bore responsibility for the ethnic cleansing of Georgians by South Ossetian and North Caucasus militias who followed the Russian advance.
At the height of the conflict, tens of thousands of civilians on both sides were displaced. Thousands of South Ossetian civilians remain homeless. Some 25,000 Georgians have been unable to return to South Ossetia.
The West condemned Russia’s response as “disproportionate” and the EU and NATO both froze dialogue with Russia. Within a year, their dialogue with Russia — the key energy supplier to much of Western Europe — was back on.
The United States sent warships to Georgia’s Black Sea coast to deliver humanitarian aid.
Western donors offered Georgia a total of $4.5 billion dollars in direct aid and loans. Russia pledged 8.5 billion roubles ($272.1 million) for reconstruction efforts in South Ossetia in 2009.
Diplomats say Saakashvili’s standing with the West has been damaged, and the war deepened a split in NATO over the wisdom of extending membership to Georgia and fellow ex-Soviet republic Ukraine in the face of fierce Russian resistance.
An EU-commissioned inquiry into the causes of the war is due to deliver its findings in September.