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Russia Claims 'Aggressor Punished,' As Peace Proposal Emerges

August 12, 2008

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said he ordered the halt of military operations in Georgia, although a top Russian military official said troops are still carrying out some "tasks."

"I have made a decision to end the operation to force the Georgian authorities to peace. The goals of the operation have been achieved," Medvedev said at the Kremlin. "The safety of our peacekeeping forces and the civilian population has been established. The aggressor has been punished and has suffered significant losses. Its armed forces are disorganized.

"Nevertheless," he continued, "if there are little pockets of opposition and other aggressive manifestations, we will make a decision to liquidate them."

Russian Colonel General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, told reporters in Moscow that Russian troops "will continue carrying out their tasks" while remaining at the same locations they were at the time when the order was issued.

"While we have received the order to cease fire," Nogovitsyn said, "this does not mean we have ceased all actions, particularly our intelligence activities and so on. That would be simply unreasonable. We are trying to keep the situation under control and, most importantly, we are waiting for Georgia's official reaction."

Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze told Reuters just after the announcement that Tbilisi needed more evidence to confirm that military operations had ended and remained "prepared for everything."

"Everyone in this situation needs a signed binding agreement," he told the news agency.

'The Real State Of Affairs'

Medvedev met in Moscow with visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy. France, the current president of the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have been trying to broker an end to the hostilities.

"It is perfectly normal that Russia wants to defend its own interests and the interests of Russians inside Russia, as well as Russian speakers outside Russia," Sarkozy said at the Kremlin. "It is equally important that we -- I mean the international community -- want to guarantee the integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Georgia."

Following his meeting with Sarkozy, Medvedev presented a six-point plan for a cessation of hostilities in Georgia.

"One, not to resort to the use of force. Two, to end all military action completely," Medvedev said, adding: "Three, to provide access to humanitarian aid. Four, Georgian troops return to their permanent locations. Five, Russian troops move to the line prior to the beginning of hostilities; Russian peacekeepers exercise additional security measures until international mechanism are created. And six, the beginning of an international discussion about the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and ways of ensuring their lasting security."

The announcement of an end to hostilities was welcomed as "extremely positive" by senior U.S. diplomat Matthew Bryza, who is in the region as part of international mediation efforts.

From Moscow, Sarkozy headed to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, to speak with Georgian President Mikhail Saakasvili, who earlier in the day said his government would now declare the breakaway regions occupied territories.

After Medvedev's talks with Sarkozy, the Russian president insisted that Moscow "recognize[s] Georgia's sovereignty" but added that "this doesn't mean that a sovereign state is allowed to do whatever it pleases. Even sovereign states have to answer for their actions."

"Territorial integrity is a separate notion," Medvedev said. "And while sovereignty is based on the will of the people and the constitution, territorial integrity, as a rule, represents the real state of affairs."

He went on to invoke the example of Kosovo, whose declaration of sovereignty from Serbia has been fiercely rejected by Russia, in suggesting that Georgia's breakaway regions should be allowed to determine their future status based on "strict compliance with international law."

"Can the Ossetians and the Abkhaz -- and do they want to -- be a part of Georgia?" Medvedev said. "This question should be put to them and they will give their own, unambiguous answer. It is not Russia or any other country that should answer this question."

Peace Negotiations

Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, whose country currently chairs the OSCE, said on August 11 that the Georgian government had signed a cease-fire proposal worked out by the OSCE and EU, and was "carefully optimistic" that Russia would agree to the plan to end fighting in South Ossetia.

Zalmay Khalizad, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, characterized Medvedev's announcement as a "positive" development.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice followed the day's developments by urging Russia and Georgia to end hostilities, saying progress apparently had been made toward a cease-fire but that it was important that all parties stop fighting.

"I believe that they believe that they have made some progress, and we welcome that and we certainly welcome the EU mediation," Rice told reporters at the White House after briefing President George W. Bush on French-led European Union efforts to mediate with Russia.

"It is very important now that all parties cease fire," Rice said. "The Georgians have agreed to a cease-fire. The Russians need to stop their military operations as they have apparently said that they will, but those military operations really do now need to stop."

Rice said the United States supported Georgia's elected government.

"I want to make very clear that the United States stands for the territorial integrity of Georgia, for the sovereignty of Georgia, that we support its democratically elected government and its people," Rice said.

Abkhaz Questions

The Russian president's statement regarding an end to military operations came as Georgian officials said that different locations throughout the country were being targeted by Russian bombing raids.

There were reports that gunfire could still be heard in Gori, a city near the de facto border with South Ossetia that has been pounded by Russian air strikes in recent days, and Georgian television reported prior to Medvedev's announcement that the city center had been hit by bombs.

Putting further pressure on Georgia, separatists in the Black Sea region of Abkhazia, west of the main war theater, launched a push early on August 12 to drive Georgian forces out of the Kodori Gorge -- the only area of that province under Georgian control.

A Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman told AFP that "we have left Kodori. There was an evacuation. There were no casualties."

"We removed everything we had there, police and civilians," ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili told Reuters.

De facto Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh discussed the situation with journalists in Sukhumi later in the day.

"We offered the Georgians a chance to leave the Kodori Gorge to minimize casualties, but they refused to go, so we had to use aviation and artillery," Bagapsh said. "At five o'clock this morning we entered the northern part of the gorge and since then we have reached Azhara, the main village in Upper Kodori. We deployed our unit there and are now moving to Abkhazia's state border."

The separatist region's de facto foreign minister, Sergei Shamba, described the operation in Abkhazia as one of liberation that should not be lumped together with the conflict in South Ossetia.

"That [Russian announcement of a cessation of military operations] concerns South Ossetia," Shamba said. "We are liberating our territory. The Russian president said the phase of forcing the enemy, the aggressor, out of South Ossetia is completed. Georgian troops are still present on our territory. We will not consider our operation finished until they've been forced out of here."

Abkhazia has insisted that the Russian military, which sent 9,000 troops and 350 armored vehicles to the province in recent day, is not involved in the fighting.

The United Nations refugee agency says nearly 100,000 people have been driven from their homes since major fighting began on August 7. The estimate is based on figures from the Georgian and Russian governments.

In Washington on August 11, U.S. President George W. Bush used his toughest language yet to warn Russia to reverse course in Georgia and accept international mediation to end the crisis.

"Russia's government must respect Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty," Bush said in Washington, shortly after returning from the Olympic Games in Beijing. "The Russian government must reverse the course it appears to be on and accept this peace agreement as a first step toward resolving this conflict."

Fierce Fighting

Georgia and Russia have been engaged in fierce fighting since Georgian troops moved into the pro-Moscow breakaway region of South Ossetia on August 7 after exchanging gun and mortar fire with separatist forces for days.

The offensive sparked a furious reaction from Russia, which sent troops, military aircraft, and tanks to repel Georgian forces in South Ossetia. Fighting expanded to another Georgian breakaway region, Abkhazia, as Russian jets pounded strategic sites within Georgia proper.

By August 11, Russian troops had crossed the country's de facto border with Abkhazia.

Later that day, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told a meeting of the National Security Council that Russian forces had "cut off connections between western and eastern Georgia." In a televised address, he appealed to the West to intervene.

Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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