Tag Cloud

2008-08-14

Russia: 'Forget' Georgian territorial integrity

By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA, Associated Press Writer
Thursday, August 14, 2008

Russia's foreign minister declared Thursday that the world "can forget about" Georgia's territorial integrity, and American and Georgian officials said Russia appeared to be targeting military infrastructure — including radars and patrol boats at a Black Sea naval base and oil hub.

An AP Television News crew in the oil port city of Poti saw one destroyed Georgian military boat, and two Russian armored vehicles and two Russian transport trucks. Soldiers who identified themselves as Russian peacekeepers blocked the crew from going further.

Russia's president met in the Kremlin with the leaders of Georgia's two separatist provinces — a clear sign that Moscow could absorb the regions. The comments from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov appeared to come as a challenge to the United States, where President Bush has called for Russia to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia."

The Russian refusal to withdraw from Georgia presents a challenge to the cease-fire agreement designed to end seven days of fighting. The EU-sponsored accord had envisioned Russian and Georgian forces returning to their original positions.

In Washington, an American official said Russia appears to be sabotaging airfields and other military infrastructure as its forces pull back. The U.S. official described eyewitnesses accounts for The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The official said the Russian strategy seems like a deliberate attempt to cripple the already battered Georgian military.

The United States poured aid into the Georgian capital of Tbilisi on Thursday and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice launched emergency talks in France aimed at heading off a wider conflict.

Russia's deputy chief of General Staff Col.-Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn said he was not sure that the U.S. planes carried exclusively humanitarian cargo. "It causes our concern," he said.

At least 20 explosions were heard near Gori, along with small-arms fire. It could not immediately be determined if the blasts were a renewal of fighting between Georgian and Russian forces, but they sounded similar to mortar shells and occurred after a tense confrontation between Russian and Georgian troops on the edge of the city.

The strategically located city is 15 miles south of South Ossetia, the Russian-backed separatist region where Russian and Georgian forces fought a five-day battle. Russian troops entered Gori on Wednesday, after the two sides signed the cease-fire.

In Washington, a Pentagon official said U.S. intelligence had assessed that the number of Russians in Gori was small — about 100 to 200 troops. But the Russian presence in Gori, only 60 miles west of Tbilisi, was viewed as a demonstration of the vulnerability of the capital.

Nogovitsyn said Russian troops went to Gori to establish contact with local civilian administration and take control over military depots left behind by the Georgian forces. "The abandoned weapons needed protection," he said.

Georgian government officials who went into the city for the possible handover left unexpectedly around midday, followed by a checkpoint confrontation outside Gori which ended when Russian tanks sped toward the area and Georgian police quickly retreated.

A Russian general in Gori had said Wednesday it would take at least two days to leave the city.

Besides the hundreds killed since hostilities broke out, the United Nations estimates 100,000 Georgians have been uprooted; Russia says some 30,000 residents of South Ossetia fled into the neighboring Russian province of North Ossetia.

Russian troops also appeared to be settling in elsewhere in Georgia outside the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

"One can forget about any talk about Georgia's territorial integrity because, I believe, it is impossible to persuade South Ossetia and Abkhazia to agree with the logic that they can be forced back into the Georgian state," Lavrov told reporters.

The White House bluntly rejected Lavrov's message.


"Our position on Georgia's territorial integrity is not going to change no matter what anybody says," White House press secretary Dana Perino said Thursday. "And so I would consider that to be bluster from the foreign minister of Russia. We will ignore it."

Georgia's coast guard said Russian troops had burned patrol boats and destroyed radars and other equipment at the port city of Poti, home to Georgia's main naval base and a major hub for oil exports to Europe. The APTN crew saw one destroyed boat, about 60 feet long.


On Poti's outskirts, the APTN crew followed a different convoy of Russian troops as they searched a forest for Georgian military equipment.


Nogovitsyn avoided comment on the Russian presence in Poti, saying only that Russian forces were operating within their "area of responsibility."


Another APTN camera crew saw Russian soldiers and military vehicles parked Thursday inside the Georgian government's elegant, heavily-gated residence in the western town of Zugdidi. Some of the soldiers wore blue peacekeeping helmets, others wore green camouflage helmets, all were heavily armed. The scene underlined how closely the soldiers Russia calls peacekeepers are allied with its military.


"The Russian troops are here. They are occupying," Ygor Gegenava, an elderly Zugdidi resident told the APTN crew. "We don't want them here. What we need is friendship and good relations with the Russian people."


Georgia, bordering the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia, was ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.


A steady, dejected trickle of Georgian refugees fled the front line in overloaded cars, trucks and tractor-pulled wagons, heading to Tbilisi on the road from Gori. One Soviet-era car carried eight people, including a mother and a baby in the front seat. The open back door of a small blue van revealed at least a dozen people crowded inside.


The Russian General Prosecutor's office on Thursday said it has formally opened a genocide probe into Georgian treatment of South Ossetians. For its part, Georgia this week filed a suit against Russia in the International Court of Justice, alleging murder, rape and mass expulsions in both provinces.


More homes in deserted ethnic Georgian villages were apparently set ablaze Wednesday, sending clouds of smoke over the foothills north of Tskhinvali, capital of breakaway South Ossetia.

One Russian colonel, who refused to give his name, blamed the fires on looters.

Those with ethnic Georgian backgrounds who have stayed behind — like 70-year-old retired teacher Vinera Chebataryeva — seem increasingly unwelcome in South Ossetia.

As she stood sobbing in her wrecked apartment near the center of Tskhinvali, Chebataryeva said a skirmish between Ossetian soldiers and a Georgian tank had gouged the two gaping shell holes in her wall, bashing in her piano and destroying her furniture.


Janna Kuzayeva, an ethnic Ossetian neighbor, claimed the Georgian tank fired the shell at Chebataryeva's apartment.


"We know for sure her brother spied for Georgians," said Kuzayeva. "We let her stay here, and now she's blaming everything on us."

North of Tskhinvali, a number of former Georgian communities have been abandoned in the last few days. "There isn't a single Georgian left in those villages," said Robert Kochi, a 45-year-old South Ossetian"

But he had little sympathy for his former Georgian neighbors. "They wanted to physically uproot us all," he said. "What other definition is there for genocide?"

___

Associated Press writers Misha Dzhindzhikhavili in Tbilisi; Mansur Mirovalev in Tskhinvali, Georgia; Jim Heintz in Moscow; and Anne Gearan, Matthew Lee and Pauline Jelinek in Washington contributed to this report.

1 comment:

Αντωνης Βαλαμoντες said...

I'll quote a friend, he expresses my sentiments so well

"Here we go, the plan is being implemented. US now claims we need to go there with massive aid and troops. Ye-haw we get to go to war. For what is not important, we are committed to war for any reason. We will battle, we will kill, these are the hallmarks of NeoConism. We must, we must, we must invade Belarus. I am sure glad we got all the right info here, sure was confusing all those conflicting reports, blasted lets simply ignore the reports and invade, sure we don't really need to be there but that is beside the point. We have bombs, lets use them. Of course I stand behind Candy Rice, she is great at her job to, to, to, um, er, uh well she is, uh she will make an agreement probably soon give her time. She is sort slow on the negotiations thats all. She means well, she, she's like a late bloomer. We need her for her vast foreign relations expertise and she is great at negotiating peace just not so far, in so much as like the wars we have but give her a chance its only been 7 years.æ

My Headlines

Subscribe to RSS headline updates from:
Powered by FeedBurner