Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned of retaliation Friday after Georgia launched an attack to regain control of South Ossetia, and the president pledged to protect Russian citizens in the breakaway Georgian province.
Putin, on a trip to Beijing to attend the Olympics opening, did not specify the retaliatory action but criticized Georgia for the massive military offensive to retake South Ossetia.
South Ossetia has close ties with Russia, and the escalation of tensions has drawn fears that Russia may join the fighting. Most of the nation's residents have Russian passports.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev later chaired a session of his Security Council in the Kremlin, vowing that Moscow will protect Russian citizens.
"In accordance with the constitution and the federal law, I, as president of Russia, am obliged to protect lives and dignity of Russian citizens wherever they are located," Medvedev said, according to Russian news reports. "We won't allow the death of our compatriots go unpunished."
Russia's Defense Ministry denounced the Georgian attack as a "dirty adventure." "Blood shed in South Ossetia will weigh on their conscience," the ministry said in a statement posted on its official Web site.
"We will protect our peacekeepers and Russian citizens," it said without elaboration.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili accused Russia of aggression, saying that Russian jets bombed several Georgian villages, wounding seven civilians. A Russian diplomat denied that Russian aircraft had bombed Georgian territory.
The choice of the city of Helsinki is not incidental as the capital of Finland had hosted US-Soviet negotiations on the limitation of nuclear stockpiles in 1969