Russian Troops Due to Leave Georgia

Georgian families who fled into the mountains to escape the Russian army saw the first aid convoy crawl up the road from the occupied city of Gori today, hungry for news and for food.

ABC News accompanied the convoy for the two hour drive into the hills as part of a sweep through the area where Russian troops claimed to be pulling back.

The convoy was organized by the World Food Program and crept out of Gori, the city that has turned into a virtual ghost town since Russian tanks and troops spilled out of South Ossetia last week and chased away the Georgian army.

Georgians from Gori are hiding out in the nearby mountains, too scared to return and eager for news. Some families followed a WFP convoy to its drop point at a makeshift distribution centrer. They were desperate for food.


One woman told ABC News that her family of 12 had fled to the mountains about a week ago. Half of them were sleeping outside on the grass, and today was the first time they received any aid or food.

The woman said they had been terrorized by the bombing of Gori and wanted to go home but were afraid of what might greet them if they left their mountain hideaway and the Russians were still in the city.

"We came here because of the bombs and we had to rely on the villagers for food," she said.

Inside Gori and along the road from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, there were few signs of Russian troops pulling back despite an announcement by Russia's Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, "Today, according to the peace plan, the pullback of Russian peacekeepers and reinforcements has begun."

Nogovitsyn said Russian troops were leaving Gori, but in the city Russian armored personnel carriers could be seen crushing Georgian police cars and Russian troops were clearly in control.

Tensions were high and the few elderly Georgians left behind huddled around the town hall in the central square, which is overshadowed by a statue of Stalin, Gori's most famous son. They seethed with anger.

"How should I feel about the Russians? They killed my brother," one woman told ABC News between sobs. "The bombs killed him, and I have no food to feed his children. I need some help!"

Another man complained, "We have no food. We can't go to Tbilisi."

"I wouldn't say there's a humanitarian catastrophe, but there's an urgent need for primary products," Georgian national security council head Alexander Lomaia told journalists Monday on the outskirts of Gori.

Russian soldiers when approached by ABC News began shouting and threatened to confiscate cameras and equipment.

The one indication that some Russians may have been pulled back was a Georgian army barracks in Gori which was full of Russian soldiers on Sunday, but was nearly deserted today except for a lone tank standing guard.

The road from the capital to Gori was also firmly under control of the Russians and their allies.

ABC saw five checkpoints on the road manned by Russians as well as irregular forces in the uniform of South Ossetian militia. They stopped and searched every car on the road heading back to the capital. Other soldiers were camped in fields along the road.

"We're tired and bored," Russian soldiers at the checkpoints told ABC News. They also said they are eager to go home.

"Maybe we'll leave in 10 days" one soldier said.

Instead of reducing the level of armed forces in the area, the U.S. confirmed to ABC News reports that the Russians were digging in just over the border in the disputed province of South Ossetia and had brought in SS-21 rockets, a weapon capable of reaching anywhere in Georgia including the capital.

Russian intentions have been difficult to sort out, and the cease-fire plan signed by both sides appears to be open to interpretation, at least by the Russians.

To add to the confusion, Novogitsyn indicated that the Russians believe the cease-fire worked out with French President Nicolas Sarkozy calls for a pullback, not a withdrawal, from Georgian territory.

"In the telephone conversation between the Russian president and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, they only spoke of a pullback. And I hope this subtlety is well perceived. We're not talking about a withdrawal," the general said at a press conference in Moscow today.

More ominous is the discovery that Russia is reportedly making preparations for a long stay in South Ossetia, the breakaway Georgian province that is at the center of last week's bloody battle that has threatened to create a new cold war between Russia and the West.

Two senior U.S. defense officials confirm that Russia took a series of steps over the weekend to build up its military capabilities in and around Georgia. The developments are detailed in a classified intelligence report. In the most troubling moves, Russia moved several SS-21 missile launchers into South Ossetia. As The New York Times reports, with these launchers the Russians can strike most of Georgia, including Tbilisi. The Russians used a variation of the SS-21 to destroy parts of Chechnya's capital Grozny during the Chechen War.

In addition, the Russians are literally digging in. The intelligence report said the Russian military is "garrisoning" in South Ossetia, establishing military positions for what appears to be a long-term stay.

Along with the military buildup, the Russians have conducted a series of Bear bomber exercises in the Black Sea that officials believe are intended to further intimidate Georgia. Pentagon intelligence analysts believe these exercises are meant to simulate a cruise missile attack on Georgia.

There are also indications that the Russians are destroying as much of Georgia's military as it can. Georgia's Interior Ministry spokesman, Shota Utiashvili, said today that the Russians blew up stores of Georgian ammunition and weaponry at a base near the western town of Senaki and destroyed the runway at the base.

"They are destroying everything and then pulling out of these places," Utiashvili said. "If they call this a pullout, then I do not understand the meaning of the word."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flew to Europe today to talk with NATO allies about what message the West should send to Russia.

Russia can't use "disproportionate force" against its neighbor and still be welcomed into the halls of international institutions, she warned. "It's not going to happen that way," she said. "Russia will pay a price."

Sarkozy, who brokered the six-point peace deal between Russia and Georgia, also threatened "serious consequences" if Russia does not pull back to its positions before the conflict began.

Neither Rice nor Sarkozy were specific on the punitive measures Russia could face if it did not stick to this agreement.

The capital Georgian capital of Tbilisi has been flooded with people fleeing the fighting. The United Nations estimates that at least 130,000 people have been displaced since the start of the conflict.

So far, at least six U.S. military flights carrying aid have arrived in Tbilisi, ferrying such items as cots, sleeping bags, medicine, emergency shelters and syringes.

Many from South Ossetia sought refuge in Russia, and Russia insists on maintaining a peacekeeping force there. Today, the president of the breakaway region once again made clear his allegiance to Russia.

South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity said he would not allow international observers into South Ossetia. "We have no confidence in these international observers, in these people who corrupt the truth," Kokoity told Reuters.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in turn fiercely vowed to protect the people of the province, many of whom have Russian passports, "If anyone thinks that they can kill our citizens and escape unpunished, we will never allow this. If anyone tries this again, we will come out with a crushing response," he told a group of World War II veterans in the city of Kursk today.

Medvedev later flew into the Russian city of Vladikavkaz near the border with South Ossetia to hand out medals to Russian soldiers who took part in the fighting.

ABC News' Jonathan Karl and Angus Hines, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report