Confusion in the Caucus region: are Russian tanks rolling back into Georgia? - Aug 13, 2008— watch the video here:
President Bush sternly warned Russia today to "keep its word" and end attacks on its neighbor Georgia, and 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" with 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 humanitaran relief in the region. A U.S. C-17 military cargo plane, loaded with supplies, already is on the way, and 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." Georgia and Russia traded 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 earleir 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 commited 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. Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili made an impassioned appeal for the Europeans to send a mission, claiming that Russia was violating the cease-fire with a renewed attack on the strategic town of Gori. "European monitors have to be on the ground," Tkeshelashvili said. "Europe has to get engaged physically on the ground and Europe has to stop that from happening. We are part of Europe and part of Europe is being aggressed now," she said, speaking to reporters as she arrived for talks with EU officials. Both Russia and Georgia have made allegations against each other of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Georgia has filed a case against Russia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague. According to a press release issued by the ICJ, "The Republic of Georgia today instituted proceedings before the International Court of Justice against the Russian Federation for 'its actions on and around the territory of Georgia.'" Lavrov in response said today that Georgian orders had led to acts of genocide and announced that hundreds of Russian citizens in Southern Ossetia intended to file cases at the ICJ with Russia's support. The Russian military gave journalists a tour of the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali, which was heavily bombed by both Georgian and the Russian military. Pictures show a deserted town with several ruined buildings. One hospital employee told the BBC that they had been deliberately targeted by the Georgian army. "How can you shell a hospital with rockets?" she asked. But the Georgian president said today that they could not have been responsible, telling reporters "we do not have these kinds of bombs" and called for international organizations to be given access to the town. Lavrov said Russia had already allocated funds to help rebuild Tskhinvali but that "the aggressors should also pay." Meanwhile refugees continue to flee the areas of conflict, thousands flooding into the Georgian capital Tblisi and over the border into Russia proper. The UN estimates that 100,000 have so far been displaced. The flags in both Moscow and Tblisi are flying at half mast after both presidents declared a day of mourning for those killed in the conflict.