South Ossetia declared independence from Georgia following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and a bloody conflict ensued in the region. The current Georgian leadership is determined to bring the separatist region back under its control, and shootouts are not uncommon.
Speaking at a ceremony before the train's departure, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov said, "This is a duty of friendship and brotherhood... it is important to support the people of South Osseta in the fight for justice and their wish to resolve their problems independently."
Eduard Kokoity, the president of South Ossetia, said the humanitarian aid from Moscow was the help of a friend and a brother, and support from former fellow countrymen.
He said "Moscow demonstrates everyone how to be friends and how to restore destroyed bridges."
South Ossetia stated its desire earlier this year to join the neighboring Russian republic of North Ossetia, with which it is ethnically and historically connected. The majority of people in South Ossetia already hold Russian passports, and the ruble is widely used.
Russian peacekeepers have been deployed in South Ossetia since the 1990s. Russia says they are needed to keep the sides apart, while Georgia has repeatedly accused Moscow of supporting separatists in an attempt to annex the region.