By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 16, 2008
MOSCOW, Aug. 15 -- President Dmitry Medvedev remained defiant Friday in response to international criticism of his country's war with Georgia, as Russia's tanks and troops showed no sign of leaving its neighbor's territory three days after a truce was declared.
"If someone continues to attack our citizens, our peacekeepers, we will of course respond in just the same way we have responded," Medvedev said, referring to Georgia's assault on a Russian-backed separatist zone last week. "There should be no doubt about this."
Speaking in the Black Sea port of Sochi, Medvedev also had harsh words for an agreement that Poland and the United States signed Thursday to build an antimissile facility on Polish soil. The deal was "aimed at the Russian Federation," he said. A senior Russian general suggested that the base's presence might expose Poland to a military strike.
U.S. leaders, who staunchly supported Georgia in the conflict, dialed up their rhetoric as well. President Bush told Russia to stop "bullying" its neighbor. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flew into the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, to offer support and secure a signature to a peace document from President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Diplomats have been closely analyzing Russian statements for clues to Moscow's future relations with the two separatist zones in Georgia and with Western powers.
Medvedev offered some conciliatory words. "We, of course, we do not want to see long-term or short-term worsening of relations" with the United States and Western Europe, he said. "Russia is ready to continue talks on the missile shield in Europe with all interested parties."
Speaking after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who urged a Russian withdrawal, Medvedev suggested that people in the separatist areas would not be able to again be part of Georgia, following that country's assault on South Ossetia last week. But he said that "Russia will respect any decision on future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia that reflects the breakaway republics' wishes."
A senior Russian military officer, in a meeting with reporters, underlined previous Russian warnings against the proposed missile defense system, which U.S. officials say is designed only to deter the missile forces of Iran and other smaller countries and would be useless against Russia's huge nuclear arsenal.
Any missile defense installation "can be a target of interest for any side," said Anatoly Nogovitsyn, a colonel-general on Russia's General Staff. "The Russian side has already explained its stance. We can only express regret. The American side is aggravating relations even more."
The Russian officials' remarks suggested that leaders want to pursue two paths at the same time, analysts said. Julia Latynina, a journalist and commentator on radio station Echo Moskvy, said the Russian actions and words are aimed less at the United States than at the young democracies that have sprung up around Russia. But she said Russia does not want to go as far as to jeopardize the nation's economic progress -- or the personal wealth that its leaders enjoy.
"These guys are about their power -- and their wealth," Latynina said.
Lilia Shevtsova, a senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center, also saw a dual approach. The armed response and the invasion of Georgia were intended to show that Russia is back on its feet and will not tolerate Western meddling in its traditional sphere of influence, she said. But, she added, Russian leaders are also trying to suggest that they do not want to jeopardize the economic progress the nation has achieved through its ties to the West. Russia has become rich by selling oil, and it needs to sell its oil to the West, she said.
"They're playing two pianos," Shevtsova said.
Russian troops continued Friday to occupy cities in western Georgia as well as the city of Gori, about 40 miles from Tbilisi. During the day, a Russian column rolled from the Gori area about six miles toward the capital, with officers offering no explanation for the movement.
After several hours of talks with Rice, Saakashvili signed a six-point accord that seeks to return Russian and Georgian troops to their pre-Aug. 6 positions. With the signature of the Georgian president, all Russian troops and any irregular and paramilitary forces that entered with them must leave immediately, Rice told reporters at a joint news conference with Saakashvili.
Rice said that international observers may arrive in Georgia within a few days, and called for a more robust and impartial international force of peacekeepers to follow. Before the conflict, Russia had deployed its own peacekeeping forces in the disputed regions; Georgian officials contend those soldiers backed the separatists.
Rice said the Group of Seven industrialized nations, as the organization was known before Russia was invited to join, the International Monetary Fund and other international financial institutions would help Georgia rebuild.
Saakashvili, looking shaky and livid, denounced Russians as "barbarians" and accused European countries of ignoring what he said were signs of Russia's imperialist intentions. "Georgia was the first one to take their hit, but they are on the roll," he said. "They are euphoric. They are arrogant. They will not stop."
Russian troop movements in recent days have been erratic, leading some people here to say they are designed to confuse and scare Georgians. "The Russians are like envelopes without postage stamps," said Temuri Yakobashvili, Georgia's minister of reintegration. "They go without addresses."
With the United States having said it has no intention of responding militarily to Russia's confrontation with Georgia, President Bush held out the threat that Russia would be increasingly isolated from the West.
"Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century," Bush said. "Only Russia can decide whether it will now put itself back on the path of responsible nations or continue to pursue a policy that promises only confrontation and isolation."
At the United Nations, France and Russia continued to negotiate the wording of a draft resolution that will formally endorse the cease-fire agreement brokered by France. The draft resolution, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, calls for the withdrawal of Russian forces to their positions before fighting began. But it allows Moscow to maintain a force of thousands of Russian "peacekeepers" in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Under the terms of the resolution, Russian forces would be permitted to implement unspecified "additional security measures." European diplomats said that means Russia would be able to freely patrol South Ossetia's and Abkhazia's borders with Georgia. The resolution calls for the withdrawal of Georgian forces to their bases -- although Georgia has already pulled its troops back well beyond its frontline military bases.
The resolution raises the prospect that Russian responsibilities in the breakaway regions might diminish if the international community reaches agreement on long-term "security and stability arrangements" for Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters Thursday that Abkhazia and South Ossetia "expect a continued, strong Russian . . . peacekeeping presence on their territory."
U.N. diplomats said the main stumbling block in the negotiations centered on language underscoring a U.N. commitment to the "sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Georgia." Russia has sought to strike the provision.
Staff writers Tara Bahrampour in Tbilisi and Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.