The first official U.S. statement on the escalating conflict backs Georgia and calls for cease fire:

“We call on Russia to cease attacks on Georgia by aircraft and missiles, respect Georgia’s territorial integrity, and withdraw its ground combat forces from Georgian soil,” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement.

Rice issued her statement as Georgia, a former Soviet state that now wants to join NATO, said it would declare martial law and battled to get control of the rebel enclave, which was fortified by Russian forces.

Georgia said Russian fighter jets bombed container tankers and a shipbuilding plant in the port of Poti, prompting Washington’s sharpest rebuke of Russia since the crisis began.

“We deplore the Russian military action in Georgia, which is a violation of Georgian sovereignty and territorial integrity,” U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters at a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York.

Both Rice and the White House urged an immediate cease-fire in South Ossetia, and U.S. officials said they would send an envoy to the region to help mediate.

This swings the White House in line with McCain’s position, but, more importantly, it signals a public U.S. stance that favors Georgia’s understanding of the conflict: as Russian interference in an internal dispute.

In other developments, Tom Parfitt of the Guardian reports that hundreds of “coassacks” (volunteer fighters) are planning to cross into Georgia to support the South Osseitans. This appears to be a familiar case of co-ethnic mobilization, although I’m not really sure what significance, if any, to attribute to it.

For actual “blog journalism” (i.e., first-hand accounts), be sure to check out A Fistful of Euros (at least in a few hours — but Doug’s analysis, as usual, is top notch) and, via them, Wu Wei. Also, via Maria Farrell, a great post by Daragh McDowell, which points out that, whatever one makes of the strategic calculations of the antagonists: (1) the Russians deployed a significant force quite rapidly and (2) South Ossetia originated in an attempt by Russia to leverage Georgia–on that front, nothing much has changed.

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