DIVIDED THEY STAND: NATO SEARCHES FOR A STRATEGY TO CONFRONT RUSSIA
August 19, 2008
Tony Halpin in Gori and Charles Bremner in Paris
The Russian Army continued to occupy Georgia in defiance of the West
yesterday as Nato leaders gathered to hammer out a united response
to the new military threat from Moscow.
There was no sign of a withdrawal from Georgian soil despite a
declaration from Moscow that a pullout had begun. The Georgian
Government in Tbilisi countered that Russian forces were still trying
to take more territory.
Nato foreign ministers will meet in Brussels today to try to overcome
deep-seated divisions on the best way to confront the first Russian
invasion of a neighbour since the end of the Cold War. The United
States, Britain and many Eastern European states are pressing for a
tough stance but France, Germany and others are reluctant to alienate
Dmitri Medvedev, the Russian President, told forces veterans in the
city of Kursk, the scene of one of the decisive battles of the Second
World War, that Russia would deliver a "crushing response" to any
attack on its citizens. A Nato spokeswoman said that its 26 foreign
ministers would "reiterate full support for the territorial integrity
of Georgia" and its eventual membership of the alliance. A package
of support measures could include aid to rebuild Georgia’s military
infrastructure, which Tbilisi says has been wrecked by Russian forces.
Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s Ambassador to Nato, warned the alliance that
its relationship with Moscow would suffer if the foreign ministers
expressed support for Georgia. Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign
Minister, also disclosed that Russia was "not inclined to accept"
a team of 100 European observers to monitor the ceasefire in Georgia.
The Times witnessed Russian forces continuing to man checkpoints
and defensive positions 40km (25 miles) from Georgia’s capital,
Tbilisi, yesterday. Troops controlled the road to the city of Gori,
which remained under Russian control.
Hundreds of Georgian soldiers sat in pick-up trucks about five miles
from the first Russian checkpoint, waiting to reclaim control of
Gori. After some hours, however, they retreated towards Tbilisi when
it became clear that the Russians were not leaving.
Russian troops blocked access to Gori, although humanitarian aid
was allowed in, and a series of explosions could be heard in the
city. Several blasts were also heard in the town of Senaki, where
Russian troops also barred reporters from entering.
Georgia’s Foreign Ministry said that there was "not even a sign"
of a Russian withdrawal, adding that police had deterred a Russian
advance into the town of Sachkere and the spa resort of Borjomi in
The deputy head of the general staff in Moscow announced the start of a
pullout from Georgia but gave no indication of when Russia would comply
with US and European demands for a complete withdrawal. Colonel-General
Anatoly Nogovitsyn said: "I can only say that we will not be leaving
as fast as we came."
The White House repeated its demand for a withdrawal "without
delay". US Defence Department officials said that Russia had moved
SS-21 missile launchers into South Ossetia that are capable of
EU leaders have been hardening their attitude as patience over Kremlin
intransigence runs out. President Sarkozy of France, the EU’s current
chairman, said he would call an emergency summit "to decide what
consequences to draw" if Russian forces were not pulled out.
President Sarkozy, who brokered the ceasefire deal with Russia last
week, warned President Medvedev on Sunday that there would be "serious
consequences" for relations with the EU if Russia did not comply with
Germany is working on a proposal for a reconstruction conference for
Georgia involving the EU and Georgia’s neighbours in the Caucasus,
Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Before flying to the Nato meeting, Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary
of State, said that Russia’s reputation lay in tatters. She said:
"We are going to help rebuild Georgia into a strong Georgian state. The
Russians will have failed in their effort to undermine Georgia."
A President Saakashvili’s future seemed less certain in Georgia as
criticism emerged of his decision to send troops into South Ossetia
on August 7.
Opposition leaders said that he would face hard questions once Russian
tanks had left Georgia.
Nino Burjanadze, a former ally in the 2003 Rose Revolution that swept
Mr Saakashvili to power, is emerging as a potential challenger. She
told Reuters: "Georgian mothers are very brave and they are ready to
send their children, their sons, to fight to defend their country. But
Georgian mothers, as all mothers in the world, have a right to know
why they are doing this."