- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 12, 2008

President Bush condemned Moscow for its “dramatic and brutal” invasion of Georgia, as Russian forces rolled deeper into Georgian territory and prompted fears of an all-out war.

At the United Nations, the threat of a Russian veto in the Security Council relegated the world body to the sidelines, while forces loyal to Moscow pushed within 35 miles of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.

Just days after embracing Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Olympics in Beijing, Mr. Bush was forced to condemn the invasion as an action “unacceptable in the 21st century,” and demand that Moscow accept an immediate peace agreement “as a first step toward solving this conflict.”

At an emergency Security Council meeting requested by Georgia, U.N. officials B. Lynn Pascoe and Edmond Mulet on Monday told the council that non-peacekeeping Russian airborne troops were entering Georgia from Abkhazia, and were not meeting any resistance while taking control of Georgia’s Senaki army base, council diplomats said on the condition of anonymity because it was a closed session.

“A full military invasion of Georgia is going on,” Georgian Ambassador Irakli Alasania told reporters after the meeting. “Now I think the Security Council has to act.”

Council diplomats said Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was asked repeatedly whether it was Russia‘s intention to topple Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili’s fledgling democratic government.

“We in Russia, we cannot see how we can do business with him,” Mr. Churkin said. “We make no secret of that.”

France also circulated a draft resolution Monday that would have the council call for “the immediate and unconditional cessation of hostilities, and the complete withdrawal of Russian and Georgian forces to their positions prior to August 7.”

The council is expected to take up the proposal Tuesday.

Georgian officials said the invasion has effectively split their country in two and feared the Russians would bomb the civilian airport in Tbilisi.

Mr. Saakashvili said his country was essentially cut in half after Russian forces took Gori, a key city on the country’s main east-west highway.

Mr. Bush made his statement on the heels of an intense diplomatic effort to quell the violence.

U.S. State Department official Robert Wood on Monday said that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the foreign ministers of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan have asked Moscow not to breach Georgian borders.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer accused Russia on Monday of using excessive force and violating Georgia’s sovereignty.

The Group of Seven leading industrialized nations asked Moscow to accept a cease-fire and mediation offers, while the European Union called for a halt to military actions.

“We call on all sides to show restraint,” said European Commission spokeswoman Krisztina Nagy. “We consider that the latest developments, such as the crossing of the Georgian border by Russian troops, change the dimension of the conflict.”

NATO is scheduled to hold a Russia-NATO meeting on Tuesday at Moscow’s urging.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the current chairman of the European Union, is set to visit Moscow in the coming days, according to a Reuters story citing Russian news agencies.

The report said Mr. Sarkozy will propose a three-point plan that includes the withdrawal of forces to their previous positions. He is due to arrive in Georgia on Tuesday.

But Georgian officials said Mr. Saakashvili has signed a cease-fire agreement drawn up by the foreign ministers of Finland, France and Georgia, and that French and Finnish officials were to take the agreement to Moscow in hopes of persuading Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to sign it.

Reuters quoted Kremlin sources saying that Mr. Medvedev is warm to the idea of sending a mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to South Ossetia.

Earlier in the day, Georgian officials issued a list of purported military actions.

“At this hour, the invading army of the Russian Federation has entered Georgian territory outside the conflict zones of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” the early morning statement said. “The Georgian army is retreating to defend the capital.”

By pushing beyond South Ossetia and Abkhazia - two pro-Russian autonomous provinces populated by people who are not ethnic Georgians and who hold Russian passports - Russia appears to be headed toward an all-out invasion, or at the very least a heated diplomatic collision with Western powers, analysts said.

Each country offers conflicting versions of death tolls and military movements. Russia on Sunday said about 2,000 civilians and 18 soldiers had died. Georgia did not have figures by press time, but the numbers have been consistently lower than Russia’s since the conflict began.

The Russian Defense Ministry denied claims it had seized Gori. “There are no Russian troops in Gori,” a ministry spokesman said.

The deputy head of the Russian military’s general staff, Anatoly Nagovitsin, denied a litany of Georgian allegations Monday. “We do not intend to penetrate in depth of Georgia. We do not show such an initiative,” he was quoted as saying. “We are operating with peace-support mission.”

Russian defense officials quoted by media reports citing the Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency said troops were conducting operations in the west Georgian city of Senaki to prevent troops from regrouping there and firing on South Ossetia.

Later, both sides said Russian units had left Senaki after hitting a military garrison.

Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Putin have repeatedly justified their actions as retaliatory measures prompted by Georgia’s attack against South Ossetians, as well as Mr. Medvedev’s constitutional mandate to protect Russian citizens.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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