U.S. tells Russia to pull troops out of Georgia

  • World
  • Saturday, 16 Aug 2008

MYT 6:32:16 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)

Tbilisi accused Russian troops of blowing up a key railway bridge west of the capital, but Moscow denied the claim, saying hostilities had ceased.

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," said a Russian soldier at a checkpoint outside Gori.

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.

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.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili signed the ceasefire on Friday after a much longer than expected five-hour meeting with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.


Fresh controversy flared on Saturday when Georgia's Interior Ministry accused Russian troops of blowing up a railway bridge about 45 km west of the capital Tbilisi, saying this had paralysed Georgia's rail network.

"This therefore can only be yet another completely unverified statement," Russian Colonel-General Anatoly Nogovitsyn of the General Staff told a daily official briefing.

"We are not conducting bombardments. I can say with full responsibility that this cannot be the case."

Nogovitsyn said Georgian snipers were still shooting in South Ossetia and that Russian forces had engaged a "Georgian sabotage group" near the Roki tunnel, the main crossing point for Russian troops into Georgia.


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 to the U.S. demand for an immediate troop withdrawal.

The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed that Moscow had received a faxed copy of the peace 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."

On the ground, Russian forces continued to move around in areas of Georgia far outside the separatist areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where they have peacekeeping forces.

In the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti, Russian forces carried off crates and equipment in trucks and helicopters from the port and airport, according to witnesses.

"They carried out everything they could take," a local resident, Tengiz Khukhia, told Reuters. "They loaded it onto the helicopters and took it straight away."

Rice, visiting Tbilisi on Friday to show support for close ally Saakashvili, 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.


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.

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.

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, Ralph Boulton in Tbilisi and Ron Popeski in Moscow)

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