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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow, Tbilisi Ratchet Up Tensions

APA boy playing Monday in Tskhinvali near a building destroyed during a Georgian assault on the breakaway region.

A year after fighting a war with Georgia, Russia strengthened the combat readiness of its troops in South Ossetia on Tuesday and warned the United States against rearming Georgia.

“Provocations from the Georgian side … are not stopping,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said in a statement. “We have stepped up the combat readiness of Russian troops and border guards,” it said.

“The most important thing now is to prevent escalation and not to allow skirmishes to grow into bigger clashes,” Nesterenko said.

Tension has been rising in South Ossetia ahead of the Aug. 7 anniversary of the war. The European Union has called on all sides to show restraint, but in recent days the rebels and Georgia have accused each other of firing across the de facto border.

“The Russian occupiers and proxy regimes still continue to pursue their efforts aimed at further raising tension,” the Georgian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Tbilisi said late Monday that three rocket-propelled grenades were fired from the rebel region at a Georgian village near the boundary. No one was hurt. South Ossetia has accused Georgian forces of firing mortars, a charge Tbilisi denied.

The region’s leader ordered the closure of the last segment of the border through which ethnic Georgians living in the Georgian-populated Akhalgori region had been given permission to cross. “To avoid any kind of provocation from the Georgian side, from 12 o’clock tonight the state border with the republic of South Ossetia will be closed,” leader Eduard Kokoity said on the rebel web site Cominf.org.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told France’s RTL radio on Tuesday that there was a risk of a new conflict because Russia was putting constant pressure on Georgia.

Meanwhile, a senior Russian diplomat voiced concern about what he said were U.S. plans to provide military assistance to Georgia.

“It is highly regrettable that the Americans are going to further pump up Mikheil Saakashvili’s military machine,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told Interfax. “Washington is playing the key role in rearming the Georgian war machine.”

He said Moscow “would not stand aloof, watching an unpredictable regime being again openly armed right at our borders in the Caucasus.”

The United States is discussing a Georgian request for $16 million in military aid this year, with most of it intended for training and technical assistance. But Washington reacted coolly after Saakashvili told The Washington Post that Georgia was interested in acquiring heavy weapons for defensive purposes.

Karasin also said Ukraine was “unfriendly” to Russia by being one of the most active arms suppliers to Georgia and that Russia would “deliberately thwart” supplies of arms to Tbilisi.

n Kokoity said he would announce a new prime minister on Wednesday after Aslanbek Bulatsev quit the post, citing his health, Interfax reported.

“Unfortunately, the doctors have recommended that he not continue working under such stressful conditions,” Kokoity said.

(Reuters, AP, MT)