TBILISI, Georgia — Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili defiantly marked the first anniversary of his country's war with Russia on Friday, denouncing Russian troops who control two Georgian regions as "invaders."
In a heated speech to a rain-drenched crowd of thousands in Gori, Saakashvili vowed Georgia's neighbor would never again regain control of his small country.
"Our future will not be written in a hostile, far away, frigid capital," Saakashvili said, referring to his frequent contention that Moscow aims to control or occupy all of Georgia, which it ruled for decades during the Soviet period.
The brief war killed at least 390 people and left a legacy of animosity between leaders and fears of more fighting. About 26,000 people displaced by the conflict still live in temporary housing in Georgia, many on less than $3 a day, according to aid group World Vision.
For five days Georgian troops fought to rein in the breakaway region of South Ossetia and push back advancing Russian forces. Russian troops and tanks backed the separatist forces against what they called an unprovoked Georgian assault.
Fighting ended with an EU-brokered agreement that left South Ossetia cut off from the rest of Georgia by military checkpoints. Russia, which recognizes South Ossetia as independent, maintains thousands of troops there to support local forces.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev defended his decision to go to war last year. "Each time I remember these events, I scroll the tape backward, as they say, and realize that on the one hand we had no other choice," he said in a statement released by the Kremlin.