Medvedev Defiant on Response

Russian Troops Stay in 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.
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.

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