GORI, Georgia — A stocky man in camouflage fatigues who walked from behind a Russian tank seemed like any other Russian soldier at the main military checkpoint just inside this occupied Georgian city. Then, he pulled out a pistol, stuck it into the thigh of a United Nations official and demanded the keys to a gleaming SUV parked nearby.
Seconds later, he pointed the gun at the feet of another international official, collected another pair of car keys, and — unleashing a volley of obscenities — fired two shots in the air. Suddenly, dozens of journalists, aid workers and diplomats rushed to their cars as Russian troops sat atop several tanks, watching the mayhem around them with amused detachment.
Three staffers of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, their vehicle seized at gunpoint, sought refuge in the back of a speeding Wall Street Journal car, breaking a window as they jumped inside. “This is not a very safe place,” exhaled Nikolai Vanchev, the UNHCR field-safety adviser, as he tried to relay a protest to the Russian Embassy. Mr. Vanchev, a Bulgarian citizen, said his agency lost two sport-utility vehicles to the marauders at the Gori checkpoint.
The gunman’s thin white armband meant he was almost certainly a member of Russian-backed fighters from South Ossetia, the breakaway province of Georgia where fighting first erupted a week ago.
His brazen behavior belied a series of claims made at the very same checkpoint by the top Russian commander in Gori, Gen. Vyacheslav Borisov — who assured reporters Wednesday night that there are no Ossetian irregulars in the city and that his soldiers would execute anyone found looting or marauding.
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