What is South Ossetia? The region has been a de facto independent region of Georgia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 … South Ossetia is inhabited mostly by ethnic Ossetians … Officially at least, the region is part of Georgia, but it borders North Ossetia, which is part of Russia. A decade ago, with some Russian support, the South Ossetians effectively broke away from Georgia. Peace was restored by a 1992 agreement on the deployment there of Georgian, Ossetian and Russian peacekeepers.
Virginia Gidley-Kitchin BBC News Online, August 19

What sparked the current hostilities? The increased tension stems from … [Georgian president] Mikhail Saakashvili’s determination to reassert control over the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia … Since his election last November after an uprising toppling the discredited government of Eduard Shevardnadze, Mr Saakashvili made reintegration of South Ossetia and Abkhazia top priorities for his government in Tbilisi … Moscow warned Georgia any action against Russian ships on the Black Sea would be regarded as a “hostile act, with all the ensuing consequences”.
Harry Sterling in the Gazette, Montreal, August 9

What conflict has occurred to date? Political delegations from Russia and Georgia alike claim to have come under small-arms fire while travelling near South Ossetia [earlier this month], and the Georgians have complained that Russian warplanes have intruded on Georgian airspace … On August 11, three people were killed in South Ossetia in what appears to have been an artillery attack. In Abkhazia, the leadership held a call-up exercise for reservists in July.
CJ Chivers in the New York Times, August 17

How is Moscow involved? Russia still has military bases in Georgia and is desperate to maintain influence over its former Soviet subjects … Moscow and Tbilisi have accused each other of trying to spark war in South Ossetia, where Russia has handed out thousands of passports in recent months. Georgia also claims that Moscow is supplying arms to South Ossetia, and that [some] Russians … have crossed into the province to fight alongside the separatists.
Report from the Irish Times, August 21

Have there been peace talks? Russia said on Friday it had pulled out of talks with … Georgia … The Russian foreign ministry cited loud and abusive protests outside its Tbilisi embassy in stopping the talks, held against a backdrop of bloodshed this month in … South Ossetia.
From Reuters, August 27

How does the US view the conflict? [It] is nervous about the security of a crucial oil pipeline slated to open next year across Georgia, [but] backs Mr Saakashvili’s bid to restore central authority – as long as it doesn’t erupt into open warfare.
Fred Weir in the Christian Science Monitor, US, August 12

Is America now involved? Because of Mr Saakashvili’s desire to broaden relations with the US, Washington has … increased its diplomatic presence in Georgia [and] trained Georgian military in counter-insurgency methods. The US training is supposed to … control cross-border movement by insurgents from Chechnya.
Harry Sterling in the Toronto Star, August 19

What is the Russian view? South Ossetia is fiercely opposed to being absorbed into the ‘mini-empire’ of Mr Saakashvili … South Ossetia … has very little in common with “mainland” Georgia. The people predominantly belong to the Russian Orthodox faith, carry Russian passports and use the Russian rouble.
Camden Pierce in the Moscow News, August 18

How could the dispute be resolved peacefully? Mr Shaakashvili will have to give up some of his ambitions … in order to please Russia. For example, he has openly and repeatedly said he wants to join Nato. This deeply offends the Russians … If the young president can ensure … free and fair elections, curb corruption and improve his people’s standard of living, western institutions will invite his country to join them … and foreign aid will find its way to his doorstep. … Abkhazia and South Ossetia may still refuse to reunite with Georgia – only this time, the loss will be theirs.
Eugene Mazo in the International Herald Tribune, August 19