Russia remains in Georgia with diplomacy stalled

August 15th, 2008 - 11:09 am ICT by IANS  

Tbilisi, Aug 15 (DPA) Georgian officials have alleged that Russian military and irregular forces were grinding on into the Caucasus republic, while international efforts to halt the conflict continued fruitlessly. Russian troops “are in control of about one-third of Georgia’s sovereign territory”, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said late Thursday.

In addition to Russian army troops, a “huge number of irregulars” were committing killings, rapes and looting against the Georgian population, he told US broadcaster CNN.

Saakashvili said Russia remained in control of Gori, a Georgian city near the border with the breakaway region of South Ossetia, where the conflict broke out Aug 7.

Earlier Thursday, there were conflicting reports about Russian military actions despite a ceasefire that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev accepted Thursday.

Georgian authorities said Russian forces were continuing to destroy Georgia’s military infrastructure.

The internet news agency Civil Georgia cited Georgian border guards as saying that Russian soldiers had again entered the Black Sea port city of Poti to disable radar facilities.

Meanwhile, Georgian radio reported that in the city of Senaki, near the Abkhazia border, Russian troops had emptied Georgian munitions depots, with loud explosions being heard.

At the UN headquarters in New York, Russia offered a Caucasus peace plan in the Security Council that includes some of the six-point French ceasefire plan but would not respect Georgian territorial integrity, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said.

He called it the “Medvedev-Sarkozy plan” and told reporters that the draft would include the substance of Medvedev’s talks with French President Nicholas Sarkozy.

It was not clear whether the European Union or Paris, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, would accept the terms.

Churkin said the new draft was different from the plan forwarded by Sarkozy, which demanded a ceasefire and withdrawal of Russian and Georgian troops to positions before Aug 7.

Meanwhile, in the presence of Medvedev Thursday, the internationally unrecognised leaders of the two breakaway regions - Eduard Kokoity of South Ossetia and Sergei Bagapsh of Abkhazia-signed the ceasefire agreement, the Interfax agency reported.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Western demands for Georgian territorial integrity were no longer acceptable to Moscow, and that such a demand as a precondition for further negotiations was deeply insulting to the people of South Ossetia.

US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, due Friday in Tbilisi after consultations Thursday in Paris, warned Moscow that violations of the ceasefire accord would lead to Russia’s deeper isolation.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates Thursday said Russian military activity in Georgian airspace had dropped sharply since Wednesday, and saw Russian forces “generally complying” with the ceasefire and “moving back into a position where they can start to make their exit in an orderly fashion”.

Gates accused Russia of punishing Georgia for its effort to politically and economically integrate with the West.

“The Russians’ further message was to all of the parts of the former Soviet Union as a signal about trying to integrate with the West and move outside of the long-time Russian sphere of influence,” Gates said.

Gates said the conflict “has profound implications for our security relationship going forward” with Moscow, as the world will view Russia “through a different set of lenses”.

Washington was cancelling its participation next week in joint US, Canadian and Russian military exercises, he announced.

In Vienna, Georgia accused Russia of still operating in territories of western Georgia and planting landmines.

In Geneva, Georgia and Russia traded accusations during a meeting of the UN disarmament negotiating body, the Conference on Disarmament. Georgia accused Russia of “serious violations of international human rights,” while Russia accused Georgia of “ethnic cleansing” and genocide, the conference said.

Overnight, Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleged that Russia has dropped cluster bombs in Gori and the Georgian town of Ruisi, killing at least 11 civilians, including a Dutch journalist. The New York-based group cited extensive testimony and physical evidence collected by its researchers inside the Georgian war zone.

HRW has previously reported possible indiscriminate attacks against civilians by Georgian forces entering South Ossetia in the early hours of the conflict last week, against ethnic Georgians by South Ossetian militia, and inside Georgia by the Russian military.

The Georgian parliament voted Thursday to pull the country out of the Commonwealth of Independent States, which was founded in 1991 by all the former Soviet republics except Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.

In Warsaw, Poland agreed Thursday to host part of a US anti-missile shield, capping more than a year of tough bargaining over a project that had infuriated Russia, despite assurances from Washington that the system is meant to counter missile threats from Iran, and is too small to undermine Russia’s nuclear deterrent.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski called the Russian move into Georgia a “very strong argument” for wrapping up the missile defence talks.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said: “Only bad guys need to fear the decision we made today.”

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