No Peace Talks Until Georgian Forces Pull Back: Russia

GORI, Georgia -- Georgia has called for a ceasefire after Russian bombers widened an offensive to force back Georgian troops seeking control over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

'State of war': Georgian soldiers in Gori after Russian warplanes bombed the city.

On Thursday Georgia sent troops to retake the breakaway province, which has been independent since the 1990s, and that move triggered an invasion of Russian forces dispatched to restore the status quo.

Russia has accused Georgia of "ethnic cleansing" in South Ossetia, where the majority of the population is ethnically distinct from Georgians.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told CNN his country was ready to take immediate steps towards a ceasefire in South Ossetia providing Russia stopped its attacks.

"We are willing to do ceasefire immediately, provide the other side stops to shoot and to bomb," the Georgian leader told the US television network.

"And we are willing to disengage, disengage immediately, and as soon as they stop shoot[ing] at us we're willing to take any steps, first steps required for us."

The call seemed to fall on deaf ears, with Russia's leaders saying Moscow's actions were legitimate and that the only way to end the conflict was for Georgia to pull back from the region.

Russian officials said the death toll now stood at 2,000 and 30,000 refugees from South Ossetia had fled over the border to Russia over the past 36 hours.

It said two of its warplanes had been shot down, 13 of its soldiers killed and 70 wounded.

Georgian officials said that on its side, 129 Georgians had been killed and 748 injured.

US President George W Bush said Russian attacks on Georgia marked a "dangerous escalation" of the crisis and urged Moscow to halt the bombing immediately.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Bush the only solution was for Georgian troops to quit the conflict zone.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin defended Russia's incursion.

"Russia's actions in South Ossetia are totally legitimate," he said in the Russian city of Vladikavkaz, near to the separatist Georgian region.

"We urge the Georgian authorities to immediately stop their aggression against South Ossetia, to stop all violations of all standing agreements on a ceasefire and to respect the legal rights and interests of other people."

A senior US official has stated, Russia has used "disproportionate" force in the South Ossetia conflict with Georgia and must immediately withdraw its troops and agree to a ceasefire with Tbilisi.

"The response has been far disproportionate from whatever threat Russia was citing," the official told reporters in a conference call.

"We are calling for an immediate ceasefire and a stand down of all troops," he added.

Russia's military action dramatically intensified its long-running stand-off with the pro-Western Georgian leadership and has sparked alarm in the West and led to angry exchanges at the United Nations reminiscent of the Cold War.

President Bush, Mr Saakashvili's main ally in the West, said Georgia's territorial integrity must be respected.

"The attacks are occurring in regions of Georgia far from the zone of conflict in South Ossetia. They mark a dangerous escalation in the crisis," said Mr Bush, who is attending the Olympics in Beijing.

In a telephone call with Mr Bush, Mr Medvedev "stressed that the only way out of the tragic crisis provoked by the Georgian leadership is a withdrawal by Tbilisi of its armed formations from the conflict zone," a Kremlin statement said.

Russian officials said there could be no talks until Georgian forces pulled back.

European reaction

Britain said a delegation of US and European officials was travelling to Georgia to seek to broker a ceasefire.

Georgia's parliament approved a state of war across the country for the next 15 days, while Russia accused the West of contributing to the violence by supplying Georgia with arms.

In New York, Belgium's UN ambassador was trying to get Security Council agreement on how to call for a halt to hostilities, diplomats said.

Sweden's foreign minister has compared Russian policy to that of Adolf Hitler and Slobodan Milosevic.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said he had asked the French EU presidency "to urgently convene a meeting of the European Council at the level of heads of government," the PAP news agency reported.

"The territorial integrity of Georgia is currently being violated on an enormous scale," Mr Sikorski added. "There are bombardments, civilians are dying, foreign military forces are on Georgian territory."

Poland backs pro-western Georgia's efforts to join the EU and NATO and was supported by fellow ex-Soviet bloc members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in urging the EU and NATO to oppose Russia's "imperialist" policy, a statement said.

"The EU and NATO must take the initiative and stand up against the spread of imperialist and revisionist policy in the east of Europe," leaders of the four countries said in a joint statement.

"The Russian Federation has overstepped a red-line in keeping the peace and stability in the conflict zone and in protecting Russian citizens outside its own borders," the statement added.

NATO has repeated calls for talks between Georgia and the separatist Russian-backed South Ossetian leadership but insisted that these "can only be based on Georgia's territorial integrity," a NATO spokeswoman told AFP.

Alongside another former Soviet republic, Ukraine, Georgia was prevented from obtaining NATO candidate status at an alliance summit this year.

A joint mission of diplomats from the EU, the US and Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe was due in Georgia late Saturday.

The UN Security Council was also to meet again Saturday, while EU foreign policy chief Solana was to speak with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko.

But German's deputy foreign minister, Gernot Erler, said Georgia had breached a 1992 South Ossetia ceasefire agreement, monitored essentially by Russian peacekeepers.

"In this sense, it is also a question of a violation of international law as soon as you start to go down the road of military action," Mr Erler told German radio station NDR Info.

Mr Erler acknowledged provocation by separatists, but said he understood Russia's reaction given the economic support it has long given the region.

Source: ABC News

Comments

Fred said…
The United States of America needs to get out of Georgia, Ukraine, and abandon the plans for getting these countries into NATO and to build a rocket shield and military bases in these countries or else they will ignite a war that will spread thru the whole of Europe. This is the real problems with the war that broke out there.

America’s presence in Russia’s back yard and be compared to as if Russia would build a rocket shield and military bases on Cuba, Canada and Mexico. That would not be accepted either.

Russia does not want the rocket shield in Georgia and Ukraine, because they do not want to end up like Iraq because USA needs new oil fields to pump from in 5 years to meet the demands at home..

Europe is so depended on Russia’s oil now that EU might even turn towards America if America does not cool down their tactics here and stop sending dollars paying for the nations to seek NATO membership, a war could very easy start between Russia and USA because of the amount of dollars in this courtiers.
Spoken like a true coward.