Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Saturday made a surprise visit to the tense Caucasus region to discuss the Ossetia war with his generals, dpa reported.
The former Russian President met with commanders of Russia's 58th Army, which is locked in intense air and ground combat with Georgia's military over control of Georgia's South Ossetia province.
Speaking at a televised meeting with general officers, Putin said Russia's full-scale intervention in the conflict was not open war against Georgia, but legitimate peacekeeping given Russia's role in the region.
" Russia for centuries has played in this region... a fully positive, stabilising role, was always a guarantor of security, cooperation, and progress."
Putin promised a half billion dollars in Russian government money to rebuild the destroyed Ossetian main city Tskhinvali, and said openly the fighting - begun when Georgian military units came into contact with Russian peacekeepers - had in Russia's opinion removed almost all Georgian claim to the region.
"There is almost no way we can imagine a return to the status quo," he said, in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.
It was the harshest official Russian statement yet on the conflict.