Georgia says Russians control one-third of country
U.S.-Russian relationship could be adversely affected for years to come - Gates
Georgia said Russian troops still control one-third of the country three days after Russia accepted a European Union-brokered cease-fire to end fighting over the breakaway region of South Ossetia, according to Bloomberg.
The Russian army has brought in ``thousands and thousands of irregulars,`` who are terrorizing the population, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told reporters in Tbilisi yesterday. He appealed for increased diplomatic pressure on Russia.
Russia is waiting for Georgian leaders to sign a six-point EU plan after the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia committed to the deal in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner in a telephone call late yesterday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
The five-day war increased tensions between the U.S. and Russia with Defense Secretary Robert Gates saying yesterday Russian actions ``called into question the entire premise`` of their strategic relationship. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice travels to Tbilisi today to meet with Georgian leaders.
Rice will offer Georgia a plan that would allow Russian peacekeepers to stay in South Ossetia and temporarily patrol a strip that extends as many as 10 kilometers (six miles) outside the region, the Associated Press reported, citing unidentified U.S. government officials.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met in Moscow with South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity and Sergei Bagapsh, the leader of Abkhazia. Both regions argue that Kosovo`s declaration of independence from Serbia, recognized by much of the West, should be a precedent for their independence.
``If Russia does not step back from its aggressive posture and actions in Georgia, the U.S.-Russian relationship could be adversely affected for years to come,`` Gates said in Washington. The U.S. canceled two military exercises with Russia scheduled for this month, he said.
Poland won a U.S. pledge to help improve its defenses yesterday in exchange for basing 10 American interceptor missiles, an agreement reached after Russia`s attacks on Georgia highlighted the vulnerability of former Soviet republics and satellite states in eastern Europe.
U.S. government officials have to be cautious in dealing with Russia in its own backyard, said former ambassador James Dobbins, who held senior White House posts under four presidents. Moscow has supported American-led initiatives, including Afghanistan after the al-Qaeda attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, he said.
``We`ve gotten used to having Russian support,`` said Dobbins, director of the nonprofit Rand Corporation`s international security and defense policy center. ``Maybe we`ve come to take it for granted and been surprised when it isn`t forthcoming.``
The U.S. has provided military training and financial aid to Georgia`s army. About 1,000 U.S. soldiers joined 600 Georgians for exercises in July. President George W. Bush backs Georgia`s bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which Russia views as a security threat.
Eka Zguladze, Georgia`s deputy interior minister, said more than 100 Russian armored vehicles left Zugdidi in western Georgia last night and started moving toward the Georgian military base of Senaki, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Abkhazia.
``They have made one stop in the village between Senaki and Khobi, probably for overnight purposes, though it is difficult to tell what exactly they are going to do,`` Zguladze said in a telephone interview late yesterday.
Georgian officials said Russian troops returned to the Black Sea port of Poti and may hand back control of Gori later today, Kakha Lomaia, Georgia`s national security chief.
``Right now it is important to avoid humanitarian catastrophe as they are still blocking the free movement of vehicles and humanitarian aid to Gori,`` Lomaia said on state television today.
Gates said Russia isn`t blockading Poti or air and road corridors used for the delivery of humanitarian aid by U.S. forces, as ordered by Bush on Aug. 13.
It will take ``one or two days`` more for Russia to complete disabling Georgian military equipment near the conflict zone, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Moscow yesterday.
Russia wants to secure United Nations permission to maintain a buffer zone with its peacekeepers in Georgia without the presence of Georgia`s military, he said.
``As far as Russian peacekeeping troops, they stayed before and they will stay there, definitely,`` he said.
No country has formally recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia since they fought wars to break away from Georgia after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then, the government in Moscow has stationed peacekeepers in the regions, where most residents have Russian passports.
The UN Security Council is negotiating a new draft resolution that will be based on the six-point plan, Vitaly Churkin, Russia`s ambassador to the UN, said in comments broadcast on CNN.
The EU plan calls for the withdrawal of Georgian and Russian troops to the positions they held before the conflict, renunciation of the use of force, an end to all military operations and a commitment to making humanitarian aid freely available in the conflict zone.
The UN estimates that about 100,000 people have been displaced by the conflict, the UN Children`s Fund, Unicef, said in a statement.
Russian aircraft used cluster bombs, killing at least 11 civilians in a populated area of Georgia on Aug. 12, New York- based Human Rights Watch said in an e-mailed statement today.
Cluster munitions are canisters packed with as many as 650 small bombs that can cover an area of several thousand square meters. Human Rights Watch said it found evidence of the attacks and called on Russia to halt the use of such weapons, according to the statement.
The last known use of cluster bombs came during Israel`s war with the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon in 2006, Human Rights Watch said.