News & Current Affairs

August 23, 2008

Russia accused of abusing truce

Russia accused of abusing truce

A Russian soldier, his helmet marked "Peacekeeping Forces", watches combat troops pull out of Georgia on 22 August

Shoulder and helmet badges mark out Russia’s peacekeepers

The US and France have accused Russia of failing to comply with the terms of its ceasefire with Georgia by creating buffer zones and checkpoints.

Russia announced the full withdrawal of combat forces from Georgia proper on Friday but insisted hundreds of other troops could stay under the ceasefire.

France brokered the ceasefire to end fighting over Georgia’s pro-Russian breakaway province of South Ossetia.

Its terms are vague about the extent of any buffer zones, analysts say.

A White House spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, said the checkpoints and buffer zones set up by Russia were not part of the ceasefire agreement.

A spokesman for the French foreign ministry, Eric Chevalier, said a United Nations Security Council resolution was needed to clarify exactly what the ceasefire agreement covers.

The Russian military say they intend to maintain a peacekeeping presence in Georgia, controlling buffer zones around both South Ossetia and the other breakaway province, Abkhazia.

The zones include sections of the main highway from the capital Tbilisi to the Black Sea as well as Georgia’s main airbase at Senaki.

‘Clearly stated’

US President George W Bush and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy agreed in a telephone conversation on Friday that Russia was “not in compliance [with the ceasefire] and that Russia needs to come into compliance now”, Mr Johndroe said.

“Compliance means compliance with that plan,” he added.

“We haven’t seen that yet. It’s my understanding that they have not completely withdrawn from areas considered undisputed territory, and they need to do that.”

PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops to return to pre-conflict positions
International talks about security in South Ossetia and Abkhazia

“Establishing checkpoints, buffer zones, are definitely not part of the agreement,” US state department spokesman Robert Wood added.

The French spokesman told that the ceasefire had stipulated that Russia’s forces “should go back to the situation before the hostilities started”.

“The idea is that, yes, for a temporary period some Russian peace forces could stay on… next to the [border] line of Ossetia but it’s temporary, it should be for patrolling and it should be until we have an international mechanism,” Mr Chevalier said.

“It was clearly stated that this presence first has to be through patrolling, no fixed presence and, second, should not have an effect on the freedom of movement on roads and trains in this place.”

The UN Security Council split this week over a resolution, with rival drafts submitted by Moscow, and the US and its allies.

Western diplomats fear that Moscow is determined to define the parameters of the interim security arrangements on its own terms.

Part of the problem, he adds, is the extraordinary vagueness of the EU-brokered ceasefire deal, which speaks only of “additional security measures” in “the immediate proximity of South Ossetia” – proximity being defined as a distance of “several kilometers”.

‘Zone of responsibility’

Moscow intends to maintain a peacekeeping presence of nearly 2,600 troops in the buffer zones for the foreseeable future, backed by armoured cars and helicopters.

Of these, 2,142 will be deployed along Abkhazia’s de facto border and 452 on the de facto border of South Ossetia, the Russian military said.

Russia’s so-called “zone of responsibility” also includes Georgia’s main airbase at Senaki, some 40km (25 miles) from the boundary with Abkhazia, which sits astride vital road and rail links to the Black Sea port of Poti.

Correspondents on the ground say they have seen what appears to be a significant Russian troop movement out of Georgia.

Correspondents in Igoeti – just 35km (21 miles) from the capital, Tbilisi – says he saw Russian troops leave the town, joining a column of hundreds of armoured vehicles on the road towards South Ossetia.

Our correspondent says buses of Georgian police are arriving in Igoeti to take control after Russian troops removed their roadblocks and pulled out.

But another correspondent in the nearby town of Korvaleti says Georgian police vehicles there are still being blocked at checkpoints.

Russia’s four-day war with Georgia began after Tbilisi tried to retake South Ossetia – which broke away in 1992 – in a surprise offensive on 7 August.

Georgia map


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August 13, 2008

Georgia and Russia agree on truce

Georgia and Russia agree on truce

Russian military convoy in Abkhazia, 12/08

Russian troops have pulled back through Abkhazia

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has agreed an outline plan with Russia and Georgia to try to resolve their crisis.

A key element calls for all forces to return to the areas where they were before fighting broke out last week.

EU foreign ministers in Brussels are discussing the plan at an emergency meeting on the crisis.

Some 100,000 people are estimated to have been displaced by the conflict, which has created huge tensions in international relations.

Fighting in the South Ossetia region does now seem to have ended.

On Tuesday, Russia announced its military activity in the area was completed and witnesses saw troops pulling out.

However on Wednesday, journalists and eyewitnesses reported seeing Russian tanks patrolling the streets of Gori, the nearest major Georgian town to the South Ossetian border.

Russia has held all the cards in this conflict and looks set to end up with both a diplomatic and a military victory.

It has shown its power within the region and the weakness of the West, which has been unable and unwilling to come to Georgia’s aid with anything other than words of support, our correspondent adds.

Fiery rhetoric

Despite the diplomacy and apparent withdrawal, rhetoric on both sides remained fiery and analysts were predicting a long road to peace.

On Wednesday, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili accused Russia of violating the ceasefire with troop movements around the country, while asserting that the ceasefire on the Georgian side was always in force.

FIVE-POINT PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops return to pre-conflict positions

“They went through our towns and they are rampaging and they are also shooting,” he said at a news conference in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

He also said he had been getting reports of large-scale violations of human rights by Russian forces: “What we are seeing is classic Balkan-type and WWII-type ethnic cleansing and purification campaigns,” he said, speaking of a Russian “rampage” through Georgian-controlled villages in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia.

A BBC correspondent in Tbilisi says there have been reports of extensive looting and kidnappings by gunmen around the town of Gori.

Shortly after the Georgian president spoke, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned the actions of the Georgian leadership in South Ossetia.

“Georgia – of course, not Georgia, but the Georgian leadership – gave an order which led to an act of genocide, which resulted in war crimes, ethnic cleansing. And this, of course, cannot go unanswered.”

Russian troop reinforcements would be withdrawn from South Ossetia, depending on the extent to which Georgian troops did the same, he added. Mr Lavrov also said that Russian peacekeepers would remain in South Ossetia.

Aid agencies on the ground say they have not come across any evidence of human rights violations.

“It is clear that both sides are exaggerating, and that figures are inflated,” Giorgi Gogia of Human Rights Watch told the BBC News website from Tbilisi.

EU meeting

France – which currently holds the EU presidency – wants Wednesday’s meeting to endorse its peace initiative before it is submitted to the UN Security Council.

The ministers are to consider sending peacekeepers to secure a ceasefire between Russia and Georgia, and protect humanitarian supplies.

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband has said Russian troops in Georgia should withdraw to pre-7 August positions and criticised the country’s “19th-Century way” of doing politics.

Mr Sarkozy, in his current role as EU president, held talks with President Medvedev in Moscow for most of Tuesday before flying to Tbilisi, where his arrival was greeted by emotional displays.

He held news conferences with both Mr Medvedev and Mr Saakashvili – with all three leaders saying they had agreed in principle to a five-point plan.

A sixth point in the plan, about holding international discussions on the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, had been deleted with the agreement of Mr Medvedev, Mr Sarkozy and Mr Saakashvili said.

“The territorial integrity and belonging of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Georgia can never be put under doubt,” the Georgian leader said.

On Wednesday, the Russian army said 74 of its soldiers were killed, 171 were wounded and 19 were missing, the AFP news agency reports.

In Abkhazia, Georgia said its troops had withdrawn from the only area of the breakaway province they still occupied following a Russian offensive there, the Kodori Gorge.

The self-styled president of Abkhazia said it was in control of the disputed upper reaches of the gorge and that its forces had pushed Georgian troops out of the area a day earlier.

National mourning

The US has meanwhile said it is cancelling an annual joint naval exercise with Russia, scheduled for the end of this week in the Sea of Japan.

A US official told news agencies there was no way Washington could “proceed with this joint exercise at this time”.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned that Russia was “frankly… doing great damage” to its prospects for integrating into international organisations.

In a reference to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, she said Moscow’s behaviour belonged to “another time”.

“We are not in 1968 and the message has been very clear to Russia that it cannot operate that way,” she told the US channel ABC News.

Making Wednesday a day of national mourning in Russia, President Dmitry Medvedev accused Georgia of mounting a “genocide of the South Ossetian people”.

In his decree on national mourning, Mr Medvedev, who on Tuesday called Georgian troops “thugs” [Russian: otmorozki], did not give figures for civilian casualties in South Ossetia, but said they were “numerous”.

Russia moved in forcefully, sending troops into South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway province. Georgian towns away from the two regions were also bombed.

Fighting flared last Thursday night when Georgia sent its army to regain control of South Ossetia – a region nominally part of Georgia, but with de facto independence and where a majority of people hold Russian passports.

Map of region


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August 12, 2008

Russia ‘ends Georgia operation’

Russia ‘ends Georgia operation’

Courtesy BBC

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

Mr Medvedev made his announcement before meeting the French president

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered an end to military operations against Georgia, the Kremlin says.

He told officials he had taken the decision to end the campaign after restoring security for civilians and peacekeepers in South Ossetia.

However, Russia has been highly critical of Georgia’s leadership, and there were no signs of imminent talks.

Before the announcement, there were fresh reports of Russian warplanes bombing the Georgian town of Gori.

Witnesses told  that several people were killed when a bomb hit a hospital in the town, which is 10 miles (15km) from the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali.

A reporter for Reuters news agency said several bombs exploded in front of his vehicle, while a Reuters photographer spoke of seeing dead and injured people lying in the streets.

Officials in the Netherlands, meanwhile, confirmed that a Dutch TV cameraman was among those killed in Gori and a journalist was wounded.

And in Georgia’s other breakaway region, Abkhazia, separatist rebels continued an offensive against Georgian troops in the Kodori Gorge region – the only area of Abkhazia still under Georgian military control.

‘Safety restored’

News of Mr Medvedev’s decision emerged as French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in Moscow expecting to press Russia on the need for a ceasefire.

According to a statement, Mr Medvedev told his defence minister and chief of staff that “the goal has been attained”.

Should centres of resistance or other aggressive attempts arise, you must take the decision to destroy them
Dmitry Medvedev
Russian president

I’ve decided to finish the operation to force the Georgian authorities to peace. The safety of our peacekeeping forces and civilian population has been restored.

“The aggressor has been punished, having sustained considerable losses. Its armed forces have been disorganised,” he added.

There is no sign yet that Russia is willing to engage in talks with the government in Tbilisi.

Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has insisted that Georgia must sign a legally binding document on the non-use of force.

And Mr Medvedev warned that Russia would not tolerate any further Georgian military activity in South Ossetia, saying: “Should centres of resistance or other aggressive attempts arise, you must take the decision to destroy them.”

The BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse, near Gori, reported seeing sporadic artillery fire around the town right up until shortly before the Russian announcement.

Our correspondent said there was no sign of Russian troops south of Gori, but said there were a number of Georgian military vehicles abandoned or burnt on the road outside the town.

Map of region


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August 8, 2008

Georgia surrounds rebel capital

Georgia surrounds rebel capital

Georgia says its troops have surrounded the capital of separatist South Ossetia as Russia warns further aggression would lead to retaliation from Moscow.

Fighting around Tskhinvali resumed overnight, breaking a ceasefire deal, and bombardments are continuing.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakasvili has called on reservists to sign up for duty and accused Russia of sending fighter jets to bomb Georgian towns.

At least 15 civilians are said to have died as well as several Russian troops.

Residents of Tskhinvali are reported to be sheltering in basements as massive explosions rock the city. Both sides blame each other for breaking the ceasefire.

This is very sad and very disturbing and, of course, this will provoke actions in response
Vladimir Putin
Russian Prime Minister

A spokesman for the Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia told Interfax news agency that Georgian shells directly hit barracks in Tskhinvali, killing several peacekeepers.

Irina Gagloyeva, a South Ossetian official in Tskhinvali, described the scene in the beseiged city overnight after the Georgian military action started.

“Virtually all the people of the city are in shelters, myself included. It started at midnight, and has barely stopped for a minute,” she told the BBC. “Can you hear? That’s rockets. All my windows have blown out. Thirty-five thousand residents of our capital have become the hostages of Georgian fascism.”

Russian fighters

Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said Georgia had simply run out of patience with attacks by separatist militias in recent days and had had to move in to restore peace in South Ossetia.

SOUTH OSSETIA
Map of South Ossetia
Population: About 70,000
Capital: Tskhinvali
Major languages: Ossetian, Georgian, Russian
Major religion: Orthodox Christianity
Currency: Russian rouble, Georgian lari

Georgia accuses Russia of arming the separatists who have been trying to break away since the civil war in the 1990s. Moscow denies the claim.

Russia called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to respond to the crisis, but members failed to agree on a Russian statement calling on both sides to renounce the use of force.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has convened his national security council and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised a response to what he called Georgian aggression.

The BBC’s James Rodgers in Moscow says Russia has always said it supports the territorial integrity of Georgia but has also said it would defend its citizens. Many South Ossetians hold Russian passports.

Hundreds of fighters from Russia and Georgia’s other breakaway region of Abkhazia are reportedly heading to aid the separatist troops.

Mr Saakashvili’s claims of Russian jets bombarding Georgian targets have not been independently confirmed.

Georgia says its aim is to finish “a criminal regime” and restore order.

Georgia’s Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze told reporters on Friday the military operations would continue until there was “a durable peace”.

“As soon as a durable peace takes hold we need to move forward with dialogue and peaceful negotiations,” he told reporters.

Appeal for talks

South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity told Interfax news agency his forces were still in control of the city, but Georgia claims to have Tskhinvali surrounded.

The Russian envoy to the UN, Vitaliy Churkin, described Georgia’s actions as “treacherous”.

“The situation in the conflict zone has reached a dramatic line,” he told the emergency session, according to Russian Vesti TV news.

“Civilians, old people and children are under massive artillery shelling from Grad rocket systems, guns and large-calibre mortars.”

Despite failing to agree a text, many council members did call on the parties to pull back.

China, where the Olympic Games opens on Friday, called for worldwide truce during the sporting event.

A White House spokesman said “all sides should bring an immediate end to the violence and engage in direct talks to resolve this matter peacefully”.


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August 7, 2008

Several hurt in new Georgia clash

Filed under: Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 12:49 pm

Several hurt in new Georgia clash

BBC map showing Georgia and its breakaway regions

Georgian and separatist South Ossetian forces have exchanged  fire again near the town of Tskhinvali, wounding several people, officials say.

Georgian television said there were wounded on both sides. A South Ossetian report spoke of 18 wounded.

Russia has close ties to the separatist administration in Tskhinvali.

Russian and Georgian officials are due to hold talks shortly aimed at defusing the tensions in South Ossetia, which broke away from Georgia in the 1990s.

At least six people have been killed in clashes in the region in recent days.

Russia’s special envoy to the region, Yuri Popov, has gone to the Georgian capital Tbilisi for the talks, but South Ossetia has refused to take part, saying it will only agree to a meeting at which the Russian region of North Ossetia is also represented.

“The South Ossetian side, in connection with recent events, has voiced doubts about holding such negotiations. If this is the case, then I… will conduct shuttle negotiations,” Mr Popov said.

The Ossetians have traditionally had good relations with Russia – unlike some of their Caucasus neighbours – and North Ossetia is part of the Russian Federation.

‘Preparations for war’

The South Ossetian news website Cominf.org said 18 people were wounded in shelling overnight by Georgian forces deployed around Tskhinvali. There was no independent confirmation of that figure.

Georgian soldiers in ethnic Georgian village of Ergneti, 5 Aug 08

Georgian troops protect ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia

Georgia’s interior ministry said South Ossetian forces had started the latest fighting.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin discussed the latest escalation with South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity and “they voiced concern about the actions of the Georgian side near Tskhinvali, which can be regarded as preparations for war,” the Russian foreign ministry said.

Separately, Mr Kokoity warned that his forces would drive Georgian troops from their positions near Tskhinvali if the shelling continued.

Georgian-Russian relations have been tense for months, with Georgia accusing Russia of actively supporting the separatists in South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia.

Russia is hostile to Georgia’s ambition to join Nato and has accused Georgia of building up its forces around the breakaway regions, where Russian peacekeeping troops are deployed.

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