President Bush, flanked by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, left, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, makes a statement on the conflict between Georgia and Russia, Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008, in the Rose Garden of the White House. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush demanded Wednesday that Russia end all military activities in the former Soviet republic and dispatched U.S. aid to devastated Georgians.
"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 during brief but stern remarks in the White House Rose Garden. Moscow's apparent violation of a cease-fire in neighboring Georgia puts its global aspirations at risk, he said.
"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.
The president announced that "to demonstrate our solidarity with the Georgian people" he was sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Paris to assist the West's diplomatic efforts on the crisis, and then on to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
He also announced a massive U.S. humanitarian effort that would involve American aircraft as well as naval forces. A U.S. C-17 military cargo plane loaded with supplies landed in Georgia on Wednesday, 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.
Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said later that a second supply-laden C-17 would arrive Thursday and that an assessment team was to arrive soon in Georgia to determine other needs. The Pentagon also is preparing to send the hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, if needed, though it would take weeks to get to the region.
The administration also will review what military help is needed for Georgia's now-shattered armed forces, Whitman said.
The president spoke amid a fast-moving chain of events, with Rice moving a planned morning news conference to the afternoon and the White House scrubbing altogether its regular morning briefing with reporters.
Despite extensive intelligence resources and deep ties to the Georgian military, which has been trained by the U.S., the administration has struggled to determine what's happening on the ground, for instance whether Russia is going farther into Georgia or threatening Tbilisi.
"There are confused reports and varying reports that are coming in," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. "We're doing our best to keep up with them and to best understand the situation. ... It's not the easiest thing in the world given the geography and the cutoff of information."
Still, Bush said developments on the ground appear to contradict Russia's promise of a halt to military operations. Perino called reports of the cease-fire violation "credible."
Neither the president nor any Cabinet member has answered questions on the record about the 6-day-old crisis except for remarks that Bush made in a television interview Sunday on the sidelines of the Olympic Games in Beijing.
Bush spent the morning meeting with his national security team in the White House Situation Room, the nerve center for monitoring international developments. He talked by telephone with Georgia's embattled president, Mikhail Saakashvili, and with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who traveled to both Tbilisi and Moscow and is leading a European Union initiative to bring about peace there.
Rice was leaving for Paris Wednesday evening. And Bush delayed the start of his vacation by "a day or two" to monitor developments, said presidential spokeswoman Dana Perino. He had been scheduled to leave Thursday for a two-week stay at his Texas ranch.
The Russian operation began after Georgia last week tried to secure control over South Ossetia, a breakaway region loyal to Moscow. Russia's fierce military response expanded to Abkhazia, another separatist province on Georgia's coast, and ended up on purely Georgian soil.
On Wednesday, Russian tanks rumbled into the Georgian city of Gori — after Saakashvili said he accepted a cease-fire plan brokered by France that called for both sides to retreat to their original positions, and after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia was halting military action.
Georgian officials said Gori was looted and bombed by the Russians. An AP reporter later saw dozens of tanks and military vehicles leaving the city, roaring south and deeper into Georgia. Later in the day, Georgian officials said the Russians pulled out of the western town of Zugdidi, near Abkhazia.
Bush cited specific concerns: that Russian units have taken up positions on the east side of Gori, which could allow Russia to block an east-to-west highway, divide the country and threaten the capital of Tblisi; that Russian forces have entered and taken positions in the port city of Poti; and that Russia is blowing up Georgian vessels.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied that Russian troops were anywhere near Poti.
The administration and its allies are debating ways to punish Russia, including expelling Moscow from an exclusive club of wealthy nations — the G-7 — and canceling an upcoming joint NATO-Russia military exercise. Whitman said the U.S. will be reviewing other military-to-military cooperative programs with Russia as well.
But it has become increasingly clear that the West may have little leverage to influence Moscow's decisions. Bush held out no specific punishment.
"Russia has sought to integrate into the diplomatic, political, economic, and security structures of the 21st century. The United States has supported those efforts," he said. "Now Russia is putting its aspirations at risk by taking actions in Georgia that are inconsistent with the principles of those institutions."
Lavrov lashed back from Moscow, calling Georgia's leadership "a special project of the United States. And we understand that the United States is worried about its project."
He was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that at some point, the United States will have to choose "either support for a virtual project, or real partnership on issues that really demand collective action," referring to U.S. cooperation with Russia in the U.N. Security Council on Iran and other global hot spots.
Saakashvili, meanwhile, called the Western response inadequate. "I feel that they are partly to blame," he said. "Not only those who commit atrocities are responsible ... but so are those who fail to react."
Bush, during a 2005 visit to Tbilisi, personally assured the people of Georgia that the United States would be its unflinching ally. "The path of freedom you have chosen is not easy, but you will not travel it alone," he said then.
The tiny, poverty stricken nation of Georgia has staked its future on leaning West and joining NATO is one of its key goals. Bush has supported this move, but the security alliance's leaders put the requests from Georgia, as well as another ex-Soviet republic, Ukraine, on hold in April for fear of upsetting relations with Moscow.
In Tbilisi, the U.S. embassy is passing out $1.2 million in disaster packages containing medical supplies, tents, blankets, bedding, clothing and other items, said State Department spokesman Robert Wood said. The U.S. is also sending 104,000 doses of antibiotics in response to a Georgian request.
The relief agency USAID is adding an initial $250,000 for emergency relief supplies.
Associated Press reporters Jennifer Loven, Anne Gearan, Pauline Jelinek and Lolita Baldor contributed to this story.
Georgia: A Timeline of Events Aug. 13, 2008
Stratfor Today » August 13, 2008 | 2222 GMT
Crisis in South Ossetia
8:30 p.m.: Interfax reports that Russian forces have shot down three Georgian unmanned reconnaissance aircraft in South Ossetia, citing an unnamed source in the headquarters of Russia’s North-Caucasian Military District. The aircraft were trying to gather information about Russian troop positions, the source says.
8:01 p.m.: Lithuania President Valdas Adamkus, Estonia President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Polish President Lech Kaczynski along with Latvian Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis offer to draft their own action plan for Georgia to join NATO. According to the BNS agency, the leaders have signed a declaration containing six provisions. All were in Tbilisi on Aug. 12 and 13, Interfax reports.
7:40 p.m.: The nationalist wing of Ukraine’s Crimean office releases a statement calling on Ukraine’s leaders to break the agreement to allow Russia’s Black Sea Fleet to be based in Ukrainian territory, Interfax reports. The statement says Russia’s fleet has become a “tool of aggression” in military operations in Georgia, making Ukraine “de facto party to Russia’s aggression against Georgia.”
7:14 p.m.: Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili speak by phone Aug. 13 and discuss details of implementing the fundamental principles, proposed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, for resolving the Georgian-South Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhaz conflicts, Interfax reports.
6:36 p.m.: Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Georgia Catherine Zguladze denies rumors that a Russian military convoy has been sent to Tbilisi, saying that the situation in the country remains stable.
6:22 p.m.: Russian soldiers have left the Georgian city of Zugdidi on the Abkhazian border, Gazeta reported Aug. 13, citing Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Batu Kutelia. Kutelia said most Georgian troops have returned to their areas of permanent deployment. He also denied media reports that Russian military vehicles had moved toward Tbilisi, saying diplomatic talks are under way on withdrawing Russian units from Georgia.
5:56 p.m.: About 200 Georgian soldiers who were involved in the operation against South Ossetia are being held captive, an unnamed source in South Ossetia tells Interfax. Russian investigators are focusing their questioning on Georgians who were “interested in killing soldiers of the peacekeeping contingent,” the source says.
5:43 p.m.: The EU foreign ministers’ council adopts a ruling saying the European Union will be “actively involved” in securing peace in the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict zone, Interfax reports. The ruling says the European Union will send humanitarian aid to the area and help with reconstruction. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana says working on a political solution will take a long time but must begin because “frozen conflicts turn into real ones.”
5:28 p.m.: Russia’s Foreign Ministry says it considers Ukraine’s statement about possibly not allowing Russian ships to return to their base in Crimea to be completely irrelevant, Interfax reports. The ministry says it was bewildered at the statement, which it says contradicts all understandings between Russia and Ukraine.
5:19 p.m.: Estonia is sending some 76 volunteers to Tbilisi on what is being called a “humanitarian mission,” Interfax reports. More than 120 people answered the call for volunteers.
5:07 p.m.: Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia deny statements made by Georgia about the movements of peacekeepers into the depths of Georgia, Interfax reports.
4:54 p.m.: Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko issues a decree that permits the movement of Russian aircraft and naval vessels through his country’s territory only on condition that their plans are shared with Ukrainian military officials, at least 72 hours beforehand. The information required includes the number of people and the types of munitions and explosives aboard each vessel, Interfax reports.
4:53: p.m.: The Russian military denies reports that it has advanced from Gori to Tbilisi, Interfax reports citing Russian Gen. Anatoliy Nogovitsyn.
4:33 p.m.: South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity says he supports a French-brokered peace plan to resolve the Russia-Georgia conflict, RIA Novosti reports. Kokoity says amendments France and Georgia have made to the plan need to be discussed, but South Ossetia’s primary concern is ending hostilities there and keeping peace in the Caucasus. South Ossetia still faces a refugee problem, he adds.
4:32 p.m.: A police official in Tbilisi tells InterpressNews that the road between the capital and Gori has been blocked as Russian army troops take up new positions.
4:27 p.m.: Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili says that Russian troops have destroyed ships belonging to the Georgian coast guard, Interfax reports.
4:22 p.m.: Witnesses in Gori tell CNN that Russian tanks are moving deeper into Georgian territory, along the road that leads to Tbilisi. The movement, reportedly involving hundreds of troops in armored personnel carriers, comes after Russia and Georgia agreed to a cease-fire framework brokered by France.
4:13 p.m.: Russian peacekeepers confirm they are taking military hardware and ammunition from a Georgian arms depot outside Gori, Reuters reported. A spokesman says the battle-ready equipment there was found unguarded, and is being removed as part of efforts to demilitarize the conflict zone.
4:02 p.m.: A Russian military delegation says Russian T-22 and Su-25 planes that were shot down over Georgia were taken down with S-200 air defense systems set up in Georgia by Ukraine and other countries, Interfax reports. The Russians made the statement during a meeting of Council of Independent States ministers.
3:58 p.m.: Several European states say they are ready to send security monitors to Georgia, but the EU wants the United Nations to pass an appropriate resolution before action is taken, Reuters reports, citing French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
3:31 p.m.: Russia’s Foreign Ministry says Moscow will not withdraw its peacekeeping troops from Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia, Interfax reports.
3:21 p.m.: Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says the Georgian requirements about the curtailment of peacekeeping operations in the Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia are an attempt by Georgia to prepare a new armed attack there, Interfax reports.
3:04 p.m.: Russian President Dmitri Medvedev says military operations in South Ossetia were halted because their ends were achieved – not because of demands made by U.S. President George W. Bush, RIA Novosti reports.
3:03 p.m.: Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Yakobashvili says Georgian troops have left the Kodori Gorge, the last part of the breakaway region of Abkhazia they occupied, The Associated Press reports.
3:03 p.m.: Georgian Security Council chief Alexander Lomaia says Russian tanks have rolled into the Georgian city of Gori, violating a truce deal, The Associated Press reports. Russia’s Defense Ministry denies the claim, RIA Novosti reports. Russian forces also have seized a military base outside Gori that is located on Georgia’s only significant east-west road, a Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman says. Russian troops had previously moved toward Gori but were not in the city when the truce was brokered, Georgian officials add. Lomaia says Russian forces also are keeping control of the western Georgian town of Zugdidi, where they siezed a police station and government buildings on the area’s man highway.
2:41 p.m.: Russia’s Emergency and Disaster Relief Ministry plans to remain in South Ossetia until the winter, Interfax reports. The ministry’s main task will be to help South Ossetian refugees to return as soon as possible.
1:45 p.m.: Russian Deputy Chief of General Staff Anatoliy Nogovitsyn says the mandate of peacekeeping forces in the zone of the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict must be reformulated, Interfax reports.
1:41 a.m.: Gazeta reports that the government of Kazakhstan is considering the possibility of reorienting Kazakh oil for export going through the Georgian port of Batumi to the domestic market.. Prime Minister Karim Masimov reportedly made this statement to the leadership of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and state-owned oil company KazMunaiGaz.
1:40 p.m.: Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko expresses condolences to victims of the conflict with South Ossetia after being chided by Russia for offering limited support in its conflict with Georgia, Reuters reports.
1:30 p.m.: Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili says Russian tanks are still operating inside Georgia, Bloomberg reports. Saakashvili says that there are reports of firing, the tanks are destroying infrastructure, large-scale weapons are being used, and Russian soldiers are “behaving extremely aggressively.” Russian tanks in the Georgian city of Gori early Aug. 13 destroyed military facilities, Deputy Georgian Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria says.
1:25 p.m.: Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin tells Russia’s NTV that Georgia’s military operation in South Ossetia was likely carried out with U.S. approval. Churkin says it is “hard to imagine” that Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili would have made such a risky move without some kind of U.S. approval.
1:21 p.m.: French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner says France is proposing that EU inspectors should be sent into Georgia to help peacekeepers and observe the peace process, Interfax reports.
1:19 p.m.: Russia’s General Staff tells Interfax that Russian forces have seized maps from the Georgian military showing it was planning an imminent invasion of Sukhumi in the breakaway province of Abkhazia.
1:19 p.m.: Russian armed forces seize maps from Georgian military indicating that a Georgian invasion of Abkhazia was imminent, Interfax reports.
1:08 p.m.: The Russian military says that 74 soldiers have been killed, 171 injured and 19 missing, Interfax reports citing Russian Gen. Anatoliy Nogovitsyn.
12 p.m.: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says that foreign citizens were fighting on the Georgian side during the conflict in South Ossetia, Interfax reports.
12:20 p.m.: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Georgia must be held responsible for the violence in South Ossetia and pay for the costs of reconstructions here, Interfax reports. Russia has given priority to the restoration of the regional capital, Tskhinvali, and other settlements razed in the conflict.
11:55 a.m.: Georgian units who have served with a mixed peacekeeping contingent in South Ossetia will be ejected from that force, Interfax cites Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying. Lavrov refers to the Georgian troops as “traitors.”
11:41 a.m.: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urges Georgian officials to sign a cease-fire plan brokered by French leader Nicolas Sarkozy and demands the withdrawal of Georgian troops from South Ossetia, Interfax reports.
11:31 a.m.: Georgia has officially brought genocide charges against Russia before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Interfax reports, citing Georgian national security chief Alexander Lomaia.
The Georgian war minute by minute - August 13
15:13 GMT - Bush orders Defence Secretary Gates to start a "humanitarian mission headed by the U.S. military" in Georgia.
14:39 GMT – Russian military reveals a Georgian drone was shot down over Tskhinvali last night.
14:20 GMT – Georgian troops have returned to their permanent bases, according to the country’s Defence Ministry.
13:33 GMT – Four Russian navy ships return from Abkhazia back to Sevastopol base, reports RIA Novosti.
13:14 GMT – Georgian Interior Ministry confirms Russian troops are not moving to Tskhinvali.
13:09 GMT – Withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from Abkhazia is not subject to discussion, says Abkhazian President Bagapsh.
13:01 GMT – Russian peacekeepers deny Georgian reports claiming they are advancing towards Tbilisi.
13:00 GMT – Russian peacekeepers report they are removing military hardware and munitions from an unguarded Georgian depot in Gori.
12:46 GMT – EU will send observers to South Ossetia once a UN Security Council mandate is issued – EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana.
12:36 GMT – EU Foreign Ministers approve the peaceful resolution plan agreed by Russia and Georgia.
12:05 GMT – EU says it is ready to send peacekeepers to Georgia.
11:24 GMT – Georgia’s withdrawal from the Abkhazia peacekeeping agreement is an attempt to create conditions for a new military adventure, says Russian Foreign Ministry.
10:50 GMT - Polish President Lech Kaczynski describes the ceasefire agreement as inadequate and calls on the EU to take a more decisive stance.
10:27 GMT – Saakashvili claims Russian military moved three Georgian ships from the port of Poti to the sea and sank them.
09:55 GMT - Moldovan breakaway republic of Transdniester announces a day of mourning for the victims of Georgian aggression.
08:28 GMT - The ceasefire in South Ossetia is a victory for the international community - Japanese Foreign Minister.
08:26 GMT - Arrests have been made in connection with two cases of looting in South Ossetia - Russian Interior Ministry
07:10 GMT - Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking at a press briefing in Moscow, says "traitorous" Georgian troops will no longer serve as peacekeepers in South Ossetia, and that Georgia should pay for the destruction of Tskhinvali.
06:11 GMT - Abkhaz armed forces fully regain control of Upper Kodori Gorge from Georgian troops.
06:10 GMT - Russia begins questioning of captured Georgian soldiers.
05:48 GMT - Kazakhstan sends humanitarian aid to conflict area.
05:33 GMT - EU will guarantee the conditions of the ceasefire and help introduce stability in the region - French President Nicholas Sarkozy.
20:01 GMT (August 12) - Russia begins day of mourning for victims of violence in South Ossetia.