Georgia and Russia rattle their sabres over war damage

Both sides claim the other damaged historic buildings

ST PETERSBURG. The guns may be silent and an uneasy truce in place, but Russia and Georgia are continuing the public relations war, most recently levelling accusation and counter-accusation of destroying historical and cultural sites during their week-long conflict in August.

At the end of September Georgia issued a 26-page report detailing how Russian air attacks destroyed dozens of churches, monasteries, and museums. Among these are the 12th-century Ikorta Church, the 11th-century Bishop’s House in Nicosi, and a 7th-century monastery, also in Nicosi. Georgia appealed to Unesco to send a mission to Russian-occupied areas to better ascertain the situation regarding cultural sites. Located in the Caucasus mountain region on the border between Europe and Asia, Georgia has one of the most ancient cultures in the world, creating its own state in the 5th century BC. In the 4th century AD it became one of the first states to embrace Christianity, and therefore has many ancient churches and monasteries.

On 7 August Russia invaded Georgia, it said, to protect Russian citizens living in the dissident republic of South Ossetia, which Russia now recognises as independent. Russia says that Georgian troops damaged 11 cultural and historical sites in the local capital, Tskhinval. These include the 18th-century Birth of the Virgin Mary Church; a local synagogue; and buildings in the city’s historical district. Russia’s deputy foreign minister Alexander Yakovenko told journalists his country will raise the issue with Unesco.

Meanwhile, Georgia said it will close the Museum of Joseph Stalin in the city of Gori and reopen the building as the Museum of Russian Aggression.

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