Georgia-Russia Shaky Cease Fire

The war of words between the U.S., Russia and Georgia heats up.

ByABC News
August 13, 2008, 8:35 AM

Aug 13, 2008— -- Russia responded angrily to President Bush's harsh words this morning about their handling of the situation in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, where Russian and Georgian troops have been fighting since last week.

Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, told reporters that Washington was playing a dangerous game by supporting Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili.

"We understand that this current Georgian leadership is a special project of the United States, but one day the United States will have to choose between defending its prestige over a virtual project or real partnership which requires joint action," Lavrov said.

While the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, was meeting at Meiendorf Castle with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, Lavrov minced no words in his criticism of Bush's remarks, calling it the work of "bad speech writers."

"Frankly speaking, once again I was surprised by the skills of the speech writers who prepared the statement of the U.S. president," Lavrov said.

"Bush's speech said nothing of how Georgia was armed all these years, including by the United States," he said, adding, "We have more than once warned our partners that this is a dangerous game."

The fighting erupted last week following an attack by Georgian troops on Thursday on the pro-Russian enclave of South Ossetia.

Earlier today, President Bush, responding to reports that the Russians were not abiding by a cease-fire warned Russia to "keep its word" and end attacks on Georgia, as he dispatched a military plane loaded with supplies for Georgian refugees.

The president spoke briefly in the White House Rose Garden after Georgian officials accused Russia of violating the cease-fire both sides agreed to on Tuesday.

"To begin to repair the damage to its relations with the United States, Europe and other nations, and to begin restoring its place in the world, Russia must keep its word and act to end this crisis," Bush said.

He announced that he will send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Paris and then Tblisi to help negotiate the peace plan and to show the administration's "unwavering support" for the Georgian government.

"The United States stands with the democratically elected government of Georgia and insists that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected," Bush said.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who was standing next to the president and Rice, is to coordinate humanitarian relief in the region.

A U.S. C-17 military cargo plane, loaded with supplies, arrived in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi today with a second flight scheduled for Thursday. Bush said that Russia must ensure that "all lines of communication and transport, including seaports, roads and airports" remain open to let deliveries and civilians through.

He expressed his concern at reports that Russian forces were active around the eastern side of Gori, a key town in central Georgia. Reports said that militias from the adjacent province of South Ossetia were looting the town.

"Russia has also stated that it has halted military operations and has agreed to a provisional cease-fire," Bush said. "Unfortunately we've been receiving reports of Russian actions that are inconsistent with these statements."

The White House said that Bush was delaying a planned vacation trip to his Texas ranch to for a "couple days" to monitor the situation. He was scheduled to leave Washington on Thursday.

Georgia and Russia traded more verbal barrages this morning. Despite the announcement of the cease-fire suspicion and accusations were rife on both sides.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili claimed earlier today that the Russians had violated the cease-fire and were still deploying ground troops within Georgia.

"As I speak the Russian tanks are attacking the town of Gori and are rampaging through the town," he told reporters earlier today.

The Russian Defense Ministry denied that any of their tanks were in Gori. Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn told reporters, "I can tell you with all responsibility that there are no and cannot be any [Russian] tanks in Gori."

Danish television showed pictures of what they say are Russian tanks on the road outside Gori and BBC reporters confirm that they had seen Russian troops on the outskirts of the town.

Interfax, Russia's official news agency, reported that Russian forces, in their capacity as peacekeepers, were evacuating a storage of military equipment and weapons in the area of Gori.

However eyewitnesses leaving the city described a dire situation, telling the BBC that Ossetian separatists -- allegedly backed by Russia -- are torching homes and robbing locals at gunpoint.

"The world seems to talk about cease-fires while the worst kind of atrocities are being committed in my country," Saakashvili said at a press conference, flanked on the podium by the presidents of Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Estonia.

The Eastern Bloc allies flew to Tblisi to show their solidarity with their pro-Western neighbor.

The president of Ukraine, addressing the crowd after Saakashvili called for more international intervention, said, "Let the world finally wake up and take action and provide real security for the region."

Russia vehemently denies any wrongdoing. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, at a press conference today, called the Georgian troops in South Ossetia "cowards and traitors" and said they would not be allowed to resume their duties as peacekeepers.

A cease-fire plan negotiated by French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy calls for Russian and Georgian forces to move back to their positions before the fighting broke out Aug. 7. The plan is being debated by European Union ministers in the Belgian capital Brussels today.