After Warnings to Moscow, U.S. Has Few Options

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili questioned Russia's intentions for invading his country. He says the bombing of Georgia's oil pipeline may alter the strategic balance of the region. Video by AP
By Dan Eggen and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Bush administration mixed strong rhetoric with modest action yesterday in response to Russia's continued military incursion in Georgia, warning that Moscow's international aspirations are threatened if it does not honor a negotiated cease-fire in the conflict.

President Bush announced the start of a humanitarian aid program for Georgia using U.S. military airplanes and ships, although officials said the effort so far includes only two scheduled flights. One shipment arrived later yesterday and another is to land today. He also dispatched Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for a diplomatic trip that will take her to Paris and then to Georgia's capital of Tbilisi to show "America's unwavering support."

"The United States stands with the democratically elected government of Georgia," Bush said during an appearance at the White House. "We insist that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected."

Yet Bush's statement, along with the moderate measures that came with it, served to underscore the limited options available to the United States, which has neither the wherewithal nor the willingness to enter into a military conflict with Russia on its territorial border.

The administration has proposed relatively little in the way of concrete consequences for Moscow if it does not comply with U.S. demands, focusing instead on Russia's standing in the world and its perceived desire to be accepted as a major player in international organizations. "Russia is putting its aspirations at risk by taking actions in Georgia that are inconsistent with the principles of those institutions," Bush said.

The remarks came amid reports from local officials and eyewitnesses that Russian troops and armor had moved deeper into Georgian territory yesterday in apparent violation of a new cease-fire agreement. Russian officials said the movement of troops was aimed only at "demilitarizing" areas near the border with South Ossetia, the breakaway pro-Russia province at the heart of the conflict.

At an afternoon news conference before her hastily scheduled trip, Rice compared the crisis to one of the seminal events of the Soviet era. "This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can threaten a neighbor, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it," she said. "Things have changed."

The two major presidential candidates, whose aides have sparred in recent days over the relative wisdom of their statements on Georgia, both weighed in with words of support for the administration's latest actions. Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama also called for rethinking U.S. and international agreements in the wake of the conflict.

"As we move forward, the United States and Europe must review our multilateral and bilateral arrangements with Russia in light of its actions," Obama said in a statement released in Hawaii, where he is vacationing.

McCain, speaking to reporters in Birmingham, Mich., also praised Bush's announcement but said he was concerned the cease-fire did not do enough to guarantee Georgia's "territorial integrity."

"I'm interested in good relations between the United States and Russia," he said. "But in the 21st century, nations don't invade other nations.''

Flanked by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), McCain also said that "it isn't a time for partisanship, sniping between campaigns."

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