Russia’s actions ‘brutal’

The Edmonton Sun
The Associated Press
August 12, 2008

WASHINGTON — The world’s seven largest industrial democracies are urging Russia to accept an immediate ceasefire with Georgia.
The Group of Seven, which includes Canada, is also calling on Moscow to agree to mediation over the crisis involving the independence-minded Georgian territory of South Ossetia.
Georgia hosts a key pipeline supplying the West and the fighting has also unsettled oil markets. It has alarmed investors in Russia and has raised fears of a wider conflagration in the volatile region bordering Iran, Turkey and Russia.
Meanwhile, U.S. President George W. Bush has criticized the violence, saying Russia’s response to Georgia’s invasion of South Ossetia has been disproportionate.
Ahead of that, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the foreign ministers of the U.S., Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan spoke in a conference call, during which they noted that Georgia had agreed to a ceasefire and wanted to see Russia sign on immediately.
Bush pressed Russia yesterday to end its military action, warning a “dramatic and brutal escalation” of Moscow’s push into the smaller country would jeopardize its relations with the West.
Bush said it appeared Moscow was trying to overthrow the elected government of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, a close U.S. ally.
“Russia has invaded a sovereign neighbouring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century,” Bush told reporters at the White House.
The crisis began Thursday when Georgia sent forces to retake South Ossetia, a pro-Russian area that broke from Georgia in the 1990s. Moscow, which supports South Ossetia’s independence, responded by sending troops into Georgia.
“I am deeply concerned by reports that Russian troops have moved beyond the zone of conflict, attacked the Georgian town of Gori and are threatening Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi,” Bush said after returning from a trip to China for the Olympics.
“There is evidence that Russian forces may soon begin bombing the civilian airport in the capital city.”
Bush said continuation of the conflict over separatist South Ossetia would be “inconsistent with the assurances that we have received from Russia that its objectives were limited to restoring the status quo” that existed before fighting began.
Bush said Georgia had agreed to elements of a peace agreement Russia had previously said it would accept: An immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of forces from the zone of conflict, a return to the military status quo as of Aug. 6 and a commitment to refrain from using force.
“Russia’s actions this week have raised serious questions about its intentions in Georgia and the region. These actions have substantially damaged Russia’s standing in the world,” Bush said.
— Files from Reuters and The Associated Press
WARSAW, Poland — Poland and other former Soviet satellites have expressed deep anxiety that the escalation of fighting between Russia and Georgia signals a resurgent Russia’s willingness to use force to dominate the newly democratic region.
After fighting broke out in Georgia’s breakaway province of South Ossetia, the presidents of Poland and the three Baltic states issued a statement calling Russia’s policy “imperialist and revisionist.”
They also called on NATO and the European Union to stand up to Moscow.
“We, the leaders of once-captive nations of Eastern Europe, and now EU and NATO members — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland — express a deep concern over the Russian Federation’s actions toward Georgia,” the statement said.
About 100 people gathered for a rally in front of Warsaw’s Russian Embassy last evening. They chanted “Russia, Go Home” and “Free Georgia,” while a banner read “Out with Russian Imperialism.”
Poland, the Czech Republic and their neighbours have lingering memories of communist-era domination and are deeply suspicious of Russia.
They fear that Russia, strengthened by Vladimir Putin’s rule as president, and now prime minister, as well as its vast oil and natural gas wealth, have translated into a dangerous new boldness.
In Prague on Sunday, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg compared Russia’s incursion into Georgia to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.