Eyes on Russia after Georgia signs ceasefire


  • World
  • Saturday, 16 Aug 2008

MYT 5:02:14 PM

GORI, Georgia (Reuters) - The United States demanded that Russia pull its troops out of Georgia "at once", but there was no immediate response from Moscow on Saturday.

Russian servicemen sit atop armoured vehicles on the road outside Gori, August 15, 2008. (REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

France, which brokered a peace deal, said Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev had told French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a telephone call late on Friday that Moscow would sign the pact and pull back its troops.

"(Medvedev) confirmed ... that he would also sign the accord and that Russia would scrupulously respect the engagements in the accord, notably those concerning the withdrawal of Russian forces," Sarkozy's office said.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili signed the ceasefire, intended to pave the way for the withdrawal of Russian tanks and soldiers, on Friday afternoon after a five-hour meeting with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Rice said Moscow should respond without delay.

A Reuters correspondent in the central Georgian city of Gori, the main area occupied by Russian troops, said early on Saturday that there was no sign of large-scale redeployment.

"We will be here until Saakashvili resigns," a Russian soldier at a checkpoint outside Gori said.

A simmering conflict between Georgia and Russia erupted into war more than a week ago, when Tbilisi launched an assault to retake the rebel province of South Ossetia, prompting a huge counter-offensive from Moscow.

RUSSIANS "DRAG THEIR FEET"

Georgia accused Russia of unnecessary delay, saying Rice had sent a copy of the document to Moscow.

Medvedev was due to convene his National Security Council in the Black Sea resort of Sochi later on Saturday, a possible opportunity for Moscow to announce a response.

The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that Moscow had received a faxed copy of the document bearing Saakashvili's signature, the Interfax news agency reported.

But a Kremlin source told Reuters: "I don't think any major decisions will be made on this on the basis of a fax."

Rice, visiting Tbilisi on Friday to show support for close ally Saakashvili, sharply criticised Moscow for its actions.

In a reference to August 1968, when a Soviet-led tank invasion crushed Czechoslovakia's fledgling reforms, Rice said: "Russian forces need to leave Georgia at once. This is no longer 1968."

The Kremlin has deployed warships, planes, tanks and troops against Georgia in the biggest Russian military operation outside its borders since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Moscow says the United States has failed to appreciate that Saakashvili started the hostilities and that it had an obligation to defend Russian passport-holders in South Ossetia against Georgian attack.

CONVOY ON THE MOVE

On Friday, about 17 Russian armoured personnel carriers and about 200 soldiers drove to a village 45 km (30 miles) from Tbilisi, the nearest they have come to the Georgian capital since fighting began last week.

The vehicles were unimpeded by Georgian police and army and the purpose of their movement was not clear.

Saakashvili, who has denounced the Russians as "21st century barbarians", said on Friday Moscow's forces had advanced on two other towns -- Khashari and Borjomi -- in central Georgia.

Russia's military denied any presence in Borjomi.

There have been independent reports of Russian troops moving in and out of the Black Sea port of Poti and the western Georgian town of Zugdidi, seizing and destroying Georgian military equipment.

German leader Angela Merkel joined the calls for Russia to pull out its troops from Georgia proper.

After meeting Medvedev in Sochi on Friday, she criticised Moscow's actions as disproportionate and said Russia must pull its troops back to the two separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The pressure from Berlin was significant: Germany is Russia's biggest trading partner, considered by Moscow to be a more reliable and sympathetic European power than pro-American Britain or Poland.

Poland signed an agreement with the United States on Thursday to station part of a new anti-missile system on its territory. A Russian general said the deal laid Poland open to a possible nuclear strike by Moscow in the event of war.

(Additional reporting by Oleg Shchedrov in Sochi and Ron Popeski in Moscow)

For special cover see:

http://www.reuters.com/news/globalcoverage/georgiaconflict

For Reuters blogs see:

http://blogs.reuters.com/global/

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