- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for a halt to fighting in Georgia on Tuesday and the leaders of France and Russia inked a cease-fire deal, but not before Georgia’s modernized arsenal sustained massive damage.

“We haven´t achieved peace yet, but we have achieved a provisional cease-fire of hostilities,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said.

Georgia’s president said early Wednesday that he agreed to the “general principles” of a plan for ending fighting with Russian troops in his country, the Associated Press reported.

The cease-fire plan brokered by Mr. Sarkozy calls for both Russian and Georgian troops to return to their positions before fighting erupted across the breakaway province of South Ossetia last week.

Meanwhile, NATO countries scrambled to punish Russia for its invasion of pro-Western Georgia just days after President Bush and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin embraced in a show of friendship at the Beijing Olympics.

The Western alliance found its options limited to largely symbolic measures, such as boycotting meetings.

“Clearly, the Russian military is still capable of launching complex, combined arms operations. Its leaders have apparently studied the NATO air campaign over Kosovo and Operation Iraqi Freedom,” said Nathan Hodge, a senior analyst at Jane’s Defense Weekly, a leading private intelligence publication.

“Over the past five years, Georgian defense budgets have risen dramatically and the country has built a small, but well-armed force with updated equipment,” Mr. Hodge said. Georgia had modernized its arsenal in anticipation of NATO membership.

“Georgian ground forces have gained valuable operational experience through repeat deployments in support of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. But Georgia’s military modernization efforts are now increasingly at risk.”

A Georgian diplomat confirmed that its military hardware had sustained heavy damage.

Over objections of the United States, several NATO nations at an April summit in Romania blocked preliminary applications by Georgia and Ukraine to join the Western alliance. Opponents cited Russian objections to further NATO enlargement.

Moreover, the United States and Russia have been locked in an increasingly acrimonious dispute over U.S. plans to build a missile defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland.

With five months remaining in the Bush presidency, the outcome of either initiative is most likely to be decided under the next president.

Leaders from the former communist states of Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Ukraine appeared on stage in front of a huge crowd in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, on Tuesday to show support for Georgia. All but Ukraine are NATO members.

Georgia accused Russia of continuing cease-fire violations Tuesday night, with continued bombing of military and civilian targets.

“Within hours after the cease-fire was announced, at least 14 people have been killed by Russian forces,” Alexander Lomaia, the secretary of Georgia´s National Security Council, told reporters in a telephone briefing.

Russian planes had bombed a microbus, killing 12 people, and a car, killing two, he said.

Mr. Lomaia said Russian troops were still “fully in control” of an 18-mile zone between Gori and the city of Khashuri, where they were beating, interrogating and killing Georgians.

He also cited reports that Russian troops and South Ossetian separatists in Karaleti, a town north of Gori, were “severely beating” locals.

“We have also been informed that there has been a detention camp set up very close to Tskhinvali in the village of Kurta,” he said, adding that neither the International Red Cross nor other agencies had been able to pass Russian lines to verify the claim.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has called on Mr. Saakashvili, a pro-Western president, to leave office. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice publicly backed comments Monday in which Mr. Bush strongly condemned Russian aggression, expressed support for Mr. Saakashvili and said Moscow had put relations with the West in serious jeopardy.

Amplifying doubts about the cease-fire, Mr. Lavrov warned Tuesday that Russia could take “additional measures” if Georgian troops refuse to return to their bases under a plan to end fighting in the former Soviet republic.

“We will be forced to take additional measures to prevent any possibility of a repeat of the situation resulting from the Georgian aggression” in the rebel province of South Ossetia, Interfax news agency quoted Mr. Lavrov as saying.

In other developments, Georgia announced it was withdrawing from the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose alliance that has little influence.

Georgia also said it was filing an ethnic-cleansing case against Russia at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The U.S. and its allies said they are considering expelling Moscow from an exclusive club of wealthy nations and canceling an upcoming joint NATO-Russia military exercise, Bush administration officials told AP.

“It is very important now that all parties cease fire,” Miss Rice said. “The Georgians have agreed to a cease-fire, the Russians need to stop their military operations as they have apparently said that they will, but those military operations really do now need to stop because calm needs to be restored.”

At the same time, however, Mr. Bush and his top aides were engaged in frantic consultations with European and other nations over how best to demonstrate their fierce condemnations of the Russian operation, which began in Georgia’s separatist region of South Ossetia, expanded to another disputed area, Abkhazia, and ended up on purely Georgian soil.

“The idea is to show the Russians that it is no longer business as usual,” said one senior official familiar with the consultations among world leaders that were going on primarily by phone and in person at NATO headquarters in Brussels, where alliance diplomats met together and then with representatives of Georgia.

Jon Ward contributed to this report, which is based on wire service reports.

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