By Ruben Meloyan
Armenia joined the international community on Friday in expressing serious concern about the outbreak of deadly fighting in South Ossetia that threatened to degenerate into an all-out war between neighboring Georgia and Russia.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry said official Yerevan is closely monitoring the situation and urging the conflicting parties to call a halt to military operations..
“We are certainly concerned about the situation and hope that a solution will be found very quickly,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gegham Gharibjanian told RFE/RL. “We hope that the parties will make maximum efforts to quickly stop bloodshed and find peaceful solutions to contentious issues,” he said.
A separate statement by the Foreign Ministry said Armenia’s embassy in Tbilisi and the consulate general in Batumi have been instructed to be “in constant touch with Georgia’s central and regional authorities.” It said the diplomatic missions will also provide “necessary assistance” to Armenian citizens in Georgia who will wish to return home.
Georgian troops launched a major military offensive on Friday morning to regain control over South Ossetia which had won de facto independence from Tbilisi in a 1992 war. They reportedly seized much of the regional capital Tskhinvali by early afternoon, triggering a Russian military intervention.
News reports from South Ossetia said a convoy of Russian tanks and other military vehicles was moving towards Tskhinvali from Russia’s republic of North Ossetia later in the day. Also, Georgian government officials said Russian military aircraft bombed Georgian army positions in South Ossetia and the Vaziani military airbase near Tbilisi. The airbase is less than 50 kilometers from Georgia’s border with Armenia.
Observers believe that a large-scale Russian-Georgian war is a nightmare scenario for Armenia, which uses Georgia’s territory as its main commercial conduit to the outside world and maintains close political and especially military ties with Russia.
The spiraling hostilities prompted the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to call a special meeting of its decision-making Permanent Council in Vienna on Friday afternoon. Finland, the current holder of the OSCE’s rotating presidency, warned that the conflict could escalate into "a full-fledged war." “War would have a devastating impact for the entire region," Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said in a statement.