Rice Gets Georgian Approval of Cease-Fire, Demands Russians Withdraw

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.
By Tara Bahrampour, Howard Schneider and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 15, 2008; 5:39 PM

TBILISI, Georgia, Aug. 15 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanded Friday that Russian troops withdraw from Georgian territory "immediately" now that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has signed a cease-fire agreement.

After arriving here to discuss the deal with Saakashvili and to show U.S. support for Georgia's embattled government, Rice told reporters, "Our most urgent task today is the immediate and orderly withdrawal of Russian armed forces and the return of those forces to Russia." She said that "all Russian troops and any irregular and paramilitary forces that entered with them must leave immediately." The only forces allowed to stay under the cease-fire agreement are Russian peacekeeping troops who were in two breakaway provinces of Georgia before Aug. 6, she said.

In a joint news conference with Saakashvili, Rice said international observers are needed on the scene to monitor the Russian withdrawal and that the United States is talking to European allies about getting such a force in place "in a matter of days." She said those observers should be followed eventually by "a more robust peacekeeping force."

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev provided assurances Friday that "he would also sign the accord and that Russia would scrupulously respect the engagements in the accord, notably those concerning the withdrawal of Russian forces," the office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement after the two presidents spoke. Sarkozy, who brokered the cease-fire deal, reportedly obtained Medvedev's signature on the plan Tuesday before flying to Tbilisi to present it to Saakashvili. It was not immediately clear whether there were changes that required Medvedev to sign it a second time.

An emotional Saakashvili stressed that the agreement he signed Friday "is not a final settlement" of the dispute over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two Georgian provinces controlled by Russian-backed separatists. "This is a cease-fire agreement between us and the Russians, facilitated by France and the United States," he said. "And we certainly should move from this temporary arrangement to . . . an international peacekeeping force on the ground to replace the occupiers."

Saakashvili apparently accepted the accord grudgingly after nearly five hours of talks with Rice. News services reported that the agreement contains no specific deadlines for Russian withdrawal and offers concessions to Russia that the Georgian president evidently found difficult to accept, such as the continued presence of Russian peacekeeping troops in the breakaway provinces.

The Georgian president later charged that Russian tanks have moved deeper into his country, advancing on the towns of Khashari and Borjomi and widening their "occupation," Reuters news agency reported. The agency said a Russian military convoy made up of about 17 armored personnel carriers and 200 troops advanced to a village about 30 miles from the capital Friday in the deepest Russian incursion so far.

Speaking in forceful terms in the news conference with Rice, Saakashvili decried what he said was European inattention to his warnings in recent months that Russia was planning to invade Georgia. He asserted that the situation in South Ossetia was a pretext for the invasion and that Moscow's ultimate aim was to "kill Georgian democracy." He repeatedly invoked comparisons to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin as he denounced the current leadership in Moscow.

"Today we are looking evil directly in the eye," he said. "And today this evil is very strong, very nasty and very dangerous for everybody, not only for us."

Saakashvili described Georgia's former status as a Soviet republic as "70 years of subjugation by barbarians" and said he "grew up with the idea that it should never happen again." He vowed, "Never, ever will we surrender."

Rice arrived in the Georgian capital as President Bush made some of his strongest comments to date on a crisis that has undermined relations between Moscow and Washington.

Bush, speaking as he left the White House for a vacation at his ranch in Texas, said the incursion of Russian troops into Georgia last week amounted to "bullying and intimidation" of a democratic neighbor, remarks that further escalated the Cold War-style rhetoric exchanged between the United States and Russia in recent days.

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