Russia Leaves Troops in Georgia, Despite Conditions of Peace Deal
Sunday, August 17, 2008
CRAWFORD, Tex., Aug. 16 -- President Bush issued the latest in a series of stern warnings to Moscow on Saturday with little immediate effect, as Russian leaders failed to follow through on a new agreement to withdraw troops from Georgia.
Bush told reporters at his Texas ranch that Russia took "a hopeful step" earlier in the day with an agreement to cease hostilities and pull back its forces. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the deal at the Black Sea resort of Sochi after meeting with Russia's Security Council, according to a Russian news agency.
But Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said later that "extra security measures" were necessary before any troops could be removed -- a stance that U.S. and Georgian officials said was at odds with the French-negotiated agreement.
"Now Russia needs to honor its agreement and remove its forces and, of course, end military operations," Bush said.
Bush also explicitly warned Russia that it should not try to seize control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two Russian-backed breakaway provinces at the heart of the military dispute. "There's no room for debate on this matter," he said.
The developments appeared to worsen the nine-day, Cold War-style standoff between Western allies and Russia, which has left troops encamped in Georgia despite intensifying diplomatic efforts and condemnations by U.S. and European leaders.
Bush and his aides have deployed increasingly tough rhetoric during the past week in condemning Russia's incursion into Georgia, with the president accusing Moscow of "bullying and intimidation" on Friday. The administration has also sent humanitarian aid to the country using U.S. military planes and troops, and has warned Russia to keep ports, roads and other access points open.
At the same time, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has explicitly ruled out the use of military force. The administration has focused instead on possibly isolating Russia by removing it from, or blocking its entry into, international organizations.
The United States and Poland also signed a deal Thursday for a missile interception system that U.S. officials say is aimed at blocking attacks from Iran and other enemies. But Russia views the system as a threat; one general was quoted on Friday as saying that Poland would expose itself to "a strike" if it accepts the missiles.
In a bid to continue the diplomatic pressure, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plans to travel to Brussels this week to meet with European and NATO allies, officials said. Georgia and the Ukraine were not granted membership to NATO during a summit in Bucharest in April, but that is to be reassessed in December.
In remarks in Crawford on Saturday, Bush and Rice sought to balance encouragement of diplomatic progress with a reiteration of U.S. demands that Russia remove its troops immediately and curtail any expansionist designs.
Rice, who traveled to Texas after a diplomatic trip to Georgia's capital of Tbilisi, told reporters that Moscow's assertion that its forces could remain in Georgia for security reasons violated the language of the cease-fire agreement brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The only Russian forces allowed to remain were peacekeepers already present before the conflict broke out, she said, and the "French had very detailed notes of what their conversation with the Russians had been about."