Fighting Called off in Georgia as EU's Sarkozy Arrives in Moscow

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has reportedly declared an end to military operations in Georgia, but warned that they could resume if South Ossetia is again threatened.

Medvedev called for a halt to his country's military advancement in Georgia, according to Interfax, Tass and other news agencies. The safety of Russian peacekeeping forces had been guaranteed and the Georgian "aggressor" had been punished, Medvedev reportedly said after meeting with Russian military leadership.

French and current EU President Nicholas Sarkozy arrived Moscow Tuesday morning in a bid to resolve the ongoing Ruso-Georgian conflict.

After an otherwise quiet night, Abkhaz forces apparently began an offensive against Georgian troops on Tuesday, Aug. 12, in an attempt to drive the latter out of Upper Kodori Gorge, a piece of the breakaway region still controlled by Tbilisi.

The foreign minister of the Abkhaz separatist government, Sergei Shamba, told Russian television that a UN observer mission in the area had been warned of the operation and pulled out before fighting began.

France's president, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, meanwhile was due to arrive in Moscow in the early morning for a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev. He was then scheduled to continue on to Georgia to meet President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Russia rejects French peace plan

Late on Monday, Russia's ambassador to the UN had rejected a proposed Western draft resolution in the Security Council that would call for an immediate truce between Russia and Georgia and for the mutual withdrawal of their forces from the conflict zone.

"I cannot see us accepting this French draft," Vitaly Churkin told reporters, referring to a French-drafted text agreed by Western ambassadors.

The text is based on a three-point French peace plan calling for an immediate truce, respect for Georgia's territorial integrity and a return to the status quo.

In light of the need for action, both the 26-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the 27-member EU are now under intense pressure to come up with a reaction that goes beyond diplomatic rhetoric, which has thus far been unable to quell the recent outbreak of hostilities in Georgia.

Saakashvili: biggest action in Abkhazia

European diplomats met Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi on Monday and convinced him to sign a draft ceasefire agreement.

Saakashvili called on the West to provide more than words of support and emergency aid to Georgia.

"So far we have got from them moral support and humanitarian aid, but we need more than that to stop this barbaric aggression," he said in a televised address Monday. "The majority of Georgia's territory is occupied."

Saakashvili remained defiant late Monday in the face of Russian attacks into Georgia and accused Moscow of committing "ethnic cleansing" in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia.

In an interview by telephone with US broadcaster CNN, Saakashvili said that the "biggest action" was currently in Abkhazia, where he alleged that ethnic Georgians were being forced out by Russian forces.

"I directly accuse Russia of ethnic cleansing," he said.

Saakashvili said that the latest Russian airstrikes inside Georgia had taken place against targets between the already heavily shelled city of Gori and the capital Tbilisi.

"Georgia will never surrender," he said. "Democracy is stronger than any of their bombs, any of their tanks."

He said that Russia would not heed international calls for a ceasefire and withdrawal to previous troop positions "when it's just a call and nothing more." Georgians do "feel let down by world democracies," Saakashvili said.

Bush: Russian actions unacceptable

Immediately after his return from the Beijing Olympics, US President George W. Bush meanwhile warned of a "dramatic and brutal escalation" in Georgia and accused Russia of trying to oust the democratically elected Georgian government.

"It now appears that an effort may be underway to depose (Georgia's) duly elected government," Bush said at the White House, adding that there was evidence that Russia would soon bomb the civilian airport in the capital Tbilisi and was targeting other Georgian sites outside the initial combat zone in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

"If these reports are accurate, these Russian actions would represent a dramatic and brutal escalation of the conflict in Georgia," Bush said. "These actions would be inconsistent with assurances we have received from Russia that its objectives were limited to restoring the status quo in South Ossetia that existed before fighting began on Aug. 6."

Bush said that the Russian military campaign has harmed Moscow's own international standing and that an extended conflict would damage Russian relations with the United States and Europe.

"These actions have substantially damaged Russia's standing in the world," Bush said. "Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century," Bush said.

[Source: Detutsche Welle, Georgia, 11Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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