Bush, Medvedev trade barbs over Georgia

August 16th, 2008 - 3:37 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 16 (DPA) The US and Russia traded barbs overs Georgia Friday as US President George W. Bush accused Russia of “bullying” its neighbour, while Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia would respond the same way if provoked again. “Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century,” Bush said at the White House before departing to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, for vacation.

“Only Russia can decide whether it will now put itself back on the path of responsible nations, or continue to pursue a policy that promises only confrontation and isolation,” he said.

Meanwhile speaking after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Black Sea resort of Sochi Friday, Medvedev defended Russia’s actions in Georgia.

“If our peacekeeping troops and our citizens are attacked, we will respond in the future in the same way that we have responded. Let there be no doubt about this,” the Russian president said.

Medvedev insisted that Russia was “the guarantor of security in the Caucasus and the region” and that Russian troops would remain in Georgia.

Merkel described Russia’s military action in sending troops into South Ossetia and further into central Georgia around the city of Gori as “in some aspects disproportionate.”

But she acknowledged some of the Russian actions were reasonable. “Both sides are probably to blame,” she said.

The German chancellor called for Russian troops to withdraw from central Georgia to the sites set out in a six-point European Union plan put forward by President Nicolas Sarkozy under France’s EU presidency.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a ceasefire agreement in the Georgian capital Friday, ending the Ossetia war and, according to her, obliging Russia to remove its troops from Georgia immediately.

“All Russian troops and any paramilitary Ossetian or other troops with them must leave Georgia and they must leave Georgia now,” Rice said.

The agreement signed by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili reportedly gives Moscow significant concessions, among them allowing Russia to retain its past ability to station troops in the two Georgian separatist provinces Ossetia and Abkhazia, and the new right of conducting military patrols 10 kilometres into Georgia proper.

Speaking at the same press conference, an emotional Saakashvili made clear his country would “never accept” Georgian loss of sovereignty over the two regions.

Russia’s only concession in negotiations also involving the US and European leaders came earlier this week when Moscow gave its acceptance in principle of the placement of independent peacekeepers, possibly from the European Union, in the region.

Rice, in Tbilisi after consultations Thursday in Paris, warned Moscow that further violations of the ceasefire accord would lead to Russia’s deeper isolation.

Bush Wednesday ordered US military aircraft and warships to deliver humanitarian aid to Georgia. Russian occupation of Georgian territories has placed Moscow on a collision course with the US.

Russian marine infantry, tank and helicopter forces were also occupying the Georgian port city Poti and the city Senaki 30 kilometres inland Friday, more than three days after the end of active hostilities in the six-day Ossetia war, witnesses said.

Russian infantry in Poti were seen destroying Georgian warships, navigation equipment, and shore installations. Light Georgian motorboats and other modern Georgian naval equipment were seen being loaded onto Russian warships.

Commanders of Russia’s 58th Army were still delaying a planned evacuation of the northern Georgian city of Gori, claiming that were they to pull out of the town, it would be given over to robbers and marauders and that the Georgian military was unprepared to guarantee security in the region.

Looting and attacks in Gori by Ossetian militia, in part in retaliation for damage inflicted by the Georgian Army on the Ossetian city Tskhinvali, was a substantial threat to civil order despite Russian military efforts to repress it, Russian army officials said.

Georgian internet sites, however, showed camera phone images of Russian and Ossetian troops looting Gori, loading furniture, home appliances and even construction materials on lorries for transport north.

Rice said the US would head up a major reconstruction effort for Georgia, “but security must come first.”

The conflict in Georgia has prompted another former Soviet ally to push ahead with taking part in a planned US missile defence shield.

“I’m very happy,” Polish President Lech Kaczynski said in Warsaw of the agreement to station US missile interceptors in Poland in return for military aid including Patriot air defence missiles.

“Because Poland must be strong, on its own and with its allies.”

In Prague, the Czech government, which has agreed to station a radar station on its soil as part of the same missile defence shield, welcomed the US-Polish deal.

“We are glad that Poland and the US made this agreement, which is also good for the Czech Republic and NATO,” deputy foreign minister Tomas Pojar told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Moscow reacted by saying it would add the planned US bases in Poland and the Czech Republic to its list of missile targets, a point raised by Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of Russia’s general staff.

“By putting up interceptors, Poland is placing itself at risk. In terms of priority, such targets are the first to be destroyed,” the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

Medvedev called the agreement “sad for Europe” and mocked US assurances that the missile defences are aimed at threats from nations like Iran and North Korea, not Russia.

“The fairy tales that they are aimed at rogue states don’t work anymore,” he said after the talks with Merkel.

In other news, the Romanian Foreign Ministry confirmed Friday that it delivered arms to Georgia but in compliance with international arms conventions.

Bucharest was reacting to accusations by Sergey Bagapsh, president of the Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia, that illegal shipments of arms are being used by Georgian regular forces.

International human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HWR) told international media Friday it had evidence RTL television cameraman Stan Storimans was killed by Russian cluster bombs, despite an international ban on such bombs.

Storimans was killed in the Georgian city of Gori while reporting about the conflict over South Ossetia between Georgia and Russia. Two other journalists, Dutch Jeroen Akkermans and Israeli Zadok Yehezkeli, sustained injuries in the same incident.

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