THE facts seem to be these: On Thursday Georgia ordered an assault on South Ossetia, a semi-autonomous part of Georgia since an earlier war in 1991; yesterday Russia, which borders South Ossetia and supports it economically, ordered tanks across its border to repel the Georgian army.

The background is this: 70 per cent of the people of South Ossetia are ethnically different from the Georgians and many hold Russian passports; Georgia's president, the US-educated Mikheil Saakashvili has been building his country's economy and army and developing links with the West; last year the US strongly pushed Georgia's case for membership of NATO but EU countries opposed the move; 2'000 Georgian troops are serving in Baghdad with the US Army; Britain also has strong links with Georgia's present government - an important oil pipe line from the Caspian to the Black Sea runs through Georgia.

Yesterday President Saakashvili called on the US and UK to come to Georgia's aid in its “legitimate” attack on South Ossetia. If they refuse to do so, Saakashvili will quickly lose the war he has so recklessly started, and maybe more too. If they offer help of any kind they will risk igniting a totally unnecessary conflict with Russia whose consequences in this volatile region cannot easily be envisaged. The UK and US should tell Russia and Georgia that they are not interested in military involvement and do everything possible they can to secure a cease-fire.