Georgia launched a large-scale offensive against the province during the night, using tanks, combat aircraft, heavy artillery and infantry.
"The president has instructed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev to provide humanitarian aid to people affected by the escalation of the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict," the Kremlin press service said.
According to various reports, a large part of the republic's capital, Tskhinvali, has been destroyed. South Ossetian authorities are reporting numerous civilian casualties. There are also casualties among peacekeepers.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: "A Russian humanitarian convoy has come under fire. Panic is growing among the local population, and the number of refugees is increasing. There are reports of ethnic cleansing in some villages... The situation is ripe for a humanitarian catastrophe."