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Russia Pushes Into Georgia

Russian forces showed signs of withdrawal in some areas of Georgia, but announced plans to strengthen their presence in others, two weeks after conflict began on Aug. 8.

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The Russian news agency Interfax later reported that Russian troops had pulled out of Senaki after "eliminating" the potential to shell South Ossetia.

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Senaki is several hours' drive from South Ossetia and had been a concern for separatists in Abkhazia, not South Ossetia. Completed in 2006, the base was built to meet standards of the NATO alliance, which Georgia aspires to join.

The French and Finnish foreign ministers visited Tbilisi on Monday as part of a diplomatic push to end the fighting. They visited Gori as well, where they inspected a bombed apartment building. Bernard Kouchner, the French minister, said he wanted to get a "strong picture" of events on the ground. Finland's Alexander Stubb was present in his country's capacity as rotating head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Saakashvili joined them in Gori. Toward the end of the visit, the sound of an airplane overhead caused panic among his security detail. Shouting "air, air" in Georgian, his bodyguards pulled him to the ground and covered him with flak jackets for protection. They later bundled him into a sport-utility vehicle that sped off.

Earlier Monday, Saakashvili signed a peace proposal offered by Kouchner, which calls for a cease-fire, the withdrawal of forces to positions held before the start of the recent hostilities, an international peacekeeping presence in South Ossetia, and the respect of Georgia's territorial integrity.

It is unclear whether the plan will be acceptable in Moscow. Russians have said that Georgia must sign an agreement not to use force against the two separatist enclaves, which under international law are part of Georgia. Other Russian officials have suggested that Georgian troops near the enclaves would have to surrender their weapons to the Russians.

Russian officials continued Monday to defend their country's actions. Grigory Karasin, Russia's deputy foreign minister, said Monday that "we want television screens in the West to be showing not only Russian tanks and saying Russia is at war in South Ossetia and with Georgia, but also to be showing the suffering of the Ossetian people, the murdered elderly people and children, the destroyed towns of South Ossetia, and Tskhinvali. This would be an objective way of presenting the material."

The Russian claims of atrocities have not been independently verified. Some of them appear to echo hearsay accounts provided on Russian television by South Ossetians who fled a Georgian military assault on the capital, Tskhinvali.

Some of the few reporters who have visited Tskhinvali described a devastated city with large numbers of dead. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said in a CNN interview Monday that 2,000 people had died in South Ossetia during the recent Georgian offensive.

Western countries, particularly members of the European Union, are far from united about the conflict. East European and Baltic countries have been harshly critical of Russia's action.

Major powers such as Germany, France and Britain have called for an end to the fighting, but they have avoided directly condemning Russia. Italy, whose prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is a friend of Putin's, is sympathetic to Russia's position.

"We cannot create an anti-Russia coalition in Europe, and on this point we are close to Putin's position," said Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, speaking to the newspaper La Stampa. "This war has pushed Georgia further away . . . from Europe."


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