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Russian Attack on Georgia Unacceptable, Says Bush

Russian Attack on Georgia Unacceptable, Says Bush; White House urges cease-fire as European envoys arrive in the region

Washington, 11 August 2008 -- Russia's continued attacks despite a proposed Georgian cease-fire mark a "dangerous escalation in the crisis" over the breakaway region of South Ossetia, says President Bush. "This violence is unacceptable."

"This situation can be resolved peacefully. We've been in contact with leaders in both Georgia and Russia at all levels of government," Bush said on the sidelines of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. "The United States is working with our European partners to launch international mediation, and with the parties to restart their dialogue."

Bush met twice with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during the games. "I expressed my grave concern about the disproportionate response of Russia and that we strongly condemn bombing outside of South Ossetia," he told NBC Television in an August 11 interview.

Bush followed up with calls to both Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, urging a halt to the violence, withdrawal of Russian combat forces and return by all parties to pre-conflict boundaries before entering into peace talks.

Despite a Georgian cease-fire proposal and Georgia's withdrawal of troops from the South Ossetia conflict zone, Russian warplanes pushed outside the Moscow-backed separatist region, targeting the nearby city of Gori and the Black Sea port of Poti, as well as a civilian airport outside Georgia's capital, Tbilisi. Meanwhile, news reports of Russia opening a second front with airstrikes, troop buildups and seizures of bases to the west in Georgia's disputed Abkhazia region threaten to further widen the conflict, says a top White House adviser.

"Right now, our focus is on trying to end the fighting, to get people back in place and to get a diplomatic process under way," Deputy National Security Advisor Jim Jeffrey said August 10.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated Bush's message to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in several phone conversations through August 9-10 -- including a conference call with Russia's fellow G8 members Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan to urge the Kremlin to respect Georgia's borders and to express concern about civilian casualties.

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte also pressed Washington's case with senior Russian Embassy officials, while Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reached out to Russian military leaders.

At the U.N. Security Council, members debated a draft resolution condemning the violence and raising questions among some representatives on whether Russia's ultimate aim is the removal of Georgia's reformist president, Saakashvili, whose efforts since the 2003 Rose Revolution to put his country on a path to join NATO and other international institutions have drawn angry criticism from the Kremlin.

Media reports suggest that as many as 2,000 people have been killed in the fighting and up to 30,000 have been displaced, but these estimates cannot be independently verified.

The crisis topped the agenda during Bush's meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, as well as a later meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency. European leaders joined the United States in expressing their concern as French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, representing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), arrived in Tbilisi to launch the international mediation effort. Special envoy Matt Bryza, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, also will take part in the peace talks.

"We have sent an envoy to the region and we will continue to work in the U.N. with the OSCE, which has a mission in South Ossetia, and with the international community, to bring this extremely dangerous situation to an end," Jeffrey said.

Kouchner told reporters in Tbilisi that Saakashvili has agreed to the envoys' peace proposal, which they will take to Moscow August 12.

"We have made it clear to the Russians that if the disproportionate and dangerous escalation on the Russian side continues, that this will have a significant long-term impact on U.S.-Russian relations," Jeffrey said.

***

ALSO...

09 AUGUST 2008

President Bush's Statement on Attacks in Georgia

(begin transcript)

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Beijing, People's Republic of China)
August 9, 2008

STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT

7:20 P.M. (Local)

THE PRESIDENT: I'm deeply concerned about the situation in Georgia. The United States takes this matter very seriously.

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. The violence is endangering regional peace. Civilian lives have been lost, and others are endangered.

This situation can be resolved peacefully. We've been in contact with leaders in both Georgia and Russia at all levels of government. Georgia is a sovereign nation and its territorial integrity must be respected. We have urged an immediate halt to the violence and a stand-down by all troops. We call for an end to the Russian bombings, and a return by the parties to the status quo of August the 6th.

The United States is working with our European partners to launch international mediation, and with the parties to restart their dialogue. Russia needs to support these efforts so that peace can be restored as quickly as possible.

Laura and I were also saddened by the attack on an American family and their Chinese tour guide today in Beijing. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. And the United States government has offered to provide any assistance the family needs.

Thank you very much.

END 7:22 P.M. (Local)

(end transcript)

***

AUGUST 8, 2008

Statement By Ambassador Khalilzad On Situation In Georgia's South Ossetia Region (USUN Press Release)

Statement by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Permanent Representative, on the situation in Georgia, in the Security Council, August 8, 2008

Mr. President, the United States is deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation and the resort to violence in the south Ossetia region of Georgia that has taken place over the past several days.

The underlying problems in the South Ossetia region have a long history and need to be addressed through appropriate diplomatic and political channels.

However, the situation has seen an even more dangerous downturn with the introduction of additional Russian forces into South Ossetia and by Russian air and missile attacks against Georgia.

This raises serious concerns about the commitment of Russia to respect Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as questions about ultimate Russian intentions and objectives.

We are profoundly troubled by these developments, and we regret the resulting loss of life and numerous casualties among innocent civilians.

Mr. President, we call on Russia to cease attacks on Georgia by aircraft and missiles, respect Georgia’s territorial integrity, and withdraw its ground combat forces from Georgian soil.

The violence that has taken place must stop in order to avert further escalation and loss of life in Georgia and escalation of a conflict that affects not only Georgia but the wider region. What has been happening in the past days in Georgia clearly poses a threat to international peace and security that affects us all around this table.

For these reasons, the United States calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities by all parties to avert further risk of escalation and to stop the suffering for the people of the region. This cessation should lead to a restoration of the status quo ante by all concerned.

My government is working actively with others to secure a ceasefire. We also support international mediation to calm the situation. We seek Russia’s support for these efforts.

We call on the parties to show the utmost restraint and to refrain from actions that would further inflame the situation.

We also call on all parties to facilitate access for humanitarian assistance.

Mr. President, let me close by reiterating a fundamental tenet of this Council’s engagement on issues that affect Georgia: support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

***

08 AUGUST 2008

United States Seeks Emergency Mediation to Defuse Georgia Crisis

Washington -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is urging Russia to halt its attacks in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia as the United States reaches out to its European allies to assemble an emergency mediation effort to defuse the crisis. "We urgently seek Russia's support," she said.

"We call on Russia to cease attacks on Georgia by aircraft and missiles, respect Georgia's territorial integrity, and withdraw its ground combat forces from Georgian soil," Rice said in an August 8 statement as Russian troops, warplanes and tanks crossed into the Moscow-backed breakaway region to drive back a Georgian offensive to take back the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, following several days of cross-border clashes. Georgian and South Ossetian officials have accused each other of initiating the hostilities.

State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said the United States is sending an envoy to the region. Envoys from the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also were heading to Georgia.

President Bush is being updated regularly on the crisis while attending opening ceremonies for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, says White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, who also confirms that Bush has spoken with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the event.

"I want to reiterate on [Bush's] behalf that the United States supports Georgia's territorial integrity and we call for an immediate cease-fire," Perino said. "We urge all parties, Georgians, South Ossetians and Russians to de-escalate the tension and avoid conflict. We are working on mediation efforts to secure a cease-fire and we are urging the parties to restart their dialogue."

"We're monitoring it very closely," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters. U.S. military officials, he added, are reaching out to their Georgian counterparts for information. Georgia has not requested assistance, he said. Since 2001, U.S. forces have trained and equipped Georgian forces, 4,000 of whom have served in international coalitions operating in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

An emergency session on the crisis at the U.N. Security Council ended in deadlock when members were unable to reach agreement on a Russian-drafted text.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer issued a statement calling for a halt to hostilities and immediate direct talks. The alliance expressed support for Georgia's future membership aspirations at its 2008 Summit in Bucharest, Romania, over strong objections from Moscow.

South Ossetia, along with Georgia's western Abkhazia region, declared independence from Georgia following brief but violent conflicts in the early 1990s that displaced thousands of families. Both remain among several unresolved "frozen conflicts" across the territory of the former Soviet Union.

The United States supports the Georgian government's commitment to peace and is working with France, Germany, Russia and Britain through the Friends of the U.N. Secretary-General on Georgia to get the process back on track. But while Russia may be a member of the Friends group, many of its recent actions in the region have caused concern in Washington, Rice said during a July 10 meeting in Tbilisi with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Moscow has extended Russian citizenship to many current residents of the disputed territories, and Russian military personnel are known to be serving in both separatist governments and armed forces. In recent months, Rice has expressed U.S. concern about Russia's April order to expand its cooperation and assistance programs to the two breakaway regions, the Kremlin's decision to deploy additional troops into the Abkhaz conflict zone without Georgia's consent and repeated Russian violations of Georgia's territory. Such violations include the incursion of four Russian warplanes into Georgian airspace on the eve of Rice's Tbilisi visit, artillery and air strikes on Georgian villages bordering the regions and the recent Russian shoot-down of a Georgian unmanned surveillance plane.

"In view of Russia's past provocative actions in South Ossetia, including the recent overflight of the region by Russian warplanes on July 8th, Moscow has a particular obligation to avoid further escalation of the situation," said Senator Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"Maintaining the territorial integrity of Georgia is crucial to preserving stability in the region," said Representative Howard Berman, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

***

EARLIER...

10 JULY 2008

Rice Urges End to Separatist Violence in Georgia

Washington -- Russia must do more to help defuse rising tensions between neighboring Georgia and its breakaway regions, says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "It needs to be a part of resolving the problem and solving the problem and not contributing to it."

In a July 10 briefing in Tbilisi with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, Rice underlined U.S. support for Georgia's emerging democracy and stepped-up international diplomatic efforts to resolve ongoing disputes over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Her visit follows several months of simmering tensions in the region, including a recent series of bombings in Abkhazia, as well as a clash between South Ossetian separatists and Georgian security forces.

"There are many things that could be done and we're going to pursue them, but I do think we need to do it more intensively," Rice said. She also stressed the need for direct dialogue between the Georgian government and Abkhazia.

Following a series of meetings with both government leaders and opposition party members, Rice thanked Georgia for its contributions of troops to both Iraq and Afghanistan and encouraged continued progress toward developing democratic institutions. "A strong parliament, strong independent media, a strong civil society and an independent judiciary will ultimately serve as the foundation for democracy in Georgia," Rice said.

The Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions declared independence from Georgia following brief but violent conflicts in the early 1990s that displaced thousands of families and remain among several unresolved "frozen conflicts" across the territory of the former Soviet Union.

The United States supports the Georgian government's commitment to peace, Rice said, and is working with France, Germany, Russia and Britain through the Friends of the U.N. Secretary-General on Georgia to get the process back on track. "Violence should not be carried out by any party. And we, through the Friends process, will do everything that we can to help resolve those conflicts," Rice said.

But while Russia may be a member of the Friends group, many of its recent actions in the region have caused concern in Washington, Rice said.

Russia has extended passports to many current residents of the disputed territories, and Russian troops are known to be serving in both separatist governments as well as their armed forces. Rice also expressed U.S. concern about Russia's April 2008 order to expand its cooperation and assistance programs to the two breakaway regions as well as the Kremlin's decision to deploy 500 additional troops into the Abkhaz conflict zone without Georgia's consent.

"Georgia is an independent state. It has to be treated like one," Rice said in a recent interview.

While Russian peacekeepers have operated under the auspices of the Commonwealth of Independent States in both territories, Georgia has called for them to be replaced by a new international presence, pointing to repeated Russian violations of Georgia's territory, such as the July 8 incursion of four Russian warplanes into Georgian airspace; artillery and air strikes on Georgian villages bordering the regions; and the recent Russian shoot-down of a Georgian unmanned surveillance plane.

The European Union has proposed taking part in the new peacekeeping force, the first step in a new Friends group peace proposal which has been endorsed by all members except Russia.

Rice repeated America's strong support for Tbilisi's efforts to secure a Membership Action Plan (MAP) -- a multiyear program of advice, assistance and support for reforms ahead of applying for NATO membership.

"I think the NATO MAP would be a very good status from which Georgians could move to resolve their frozen conflicts, in much the way that we've seen the MAP work to help any number of countries deal with difficult issues," Rice said.

ENDS

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