Russia signs cease fire agreement with Georgia
Bush urges Russia to honor the agreement and withdraw its troops from Georgia, calling truce 'hopeful step'.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a cease-fire agreement with Georgia on Saturday, a day after Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili reluctantly signed the plan that calls for Russian troops to pull back, but that also grants them limited patrols inside Georgia.
Medvedev spokesman Alexei Pavlov said the president signed the cease-fire order Saturday, but did not give further details.
Meanwhile Saturday, U.S. President George W. Bush called for Russia to honor the agreement and withdraw its troops from Georgia.
After meeting with his national security team, Bush said that there was progress in resolving the Georgia crisis.
He said the fact that Russia and Georgia have signed a ceasefire pact was "a hopeful step."
But he said Russia now needed to honor the agreement and withdraw its forces. He said the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia are a part of Georgia and "there's no room for debate on this matter."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy also called on Russia to withdraw from all Georgian territory, in a letter sent to Saakashvili. In the letter, Sarkozy said the withdrawal must come, in spite of conditions authorizing "additional security measures" for Russian forces.
The cease-fire plan both sides have signed appears to leave some tense issues open to interpretation, including whether Georgia will be able to send troops back into parts of South Ossetia.
A few hours earlier, a group of Russian troops moved further into Georgia from positions in the Georgian city of Gori, the British Broadcasting Corporation reported.
According to the report, five tanks and 4 personnel carriers moved into the town of Igueti, about 35 kilometres outside the Georgian capital Tbilisi.
The activities of the group of Russian soldiers indicated that they were setting up a position in the area, the report said.
After signing the cease-fire plan on Friday, Saakashvili called the Russians barbarians who had been plotting for months to invade and occupy his country's sovereign soil.
Late on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. A U.S. official said Lavrov told Rice Russia would faithfully implement the ceasefire agreement. It wants to see Saakashvili's signature on the document first.
Meanwhile on Saturday, Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said Russian soldiers had blown up a key railway bridge on Saturday, cutting the country's main east-west rail link.
"At 12.20 this afternoon, Russian forces blew up a major railroad bridge near Gori," he told reporters. "That bridge being gone effectively results in the country losing east-west railway communications. For how long I do not know."
In Moscow, the General Staff strongly denied that Russian forces had blown up the bridge.
Bush: Russia's actions in Georgia 'completely unacceptable'
Bush called Russia's actions in Georgia "completely unacceptable" and said that Moscow must end the crisis.
"The world has watched with alarm as Russia invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatened a democratic government elected by its people," Bush said in his weekly Saturday radio address, which the White House released on Friday.
Bush said he would send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Brussels next week to meet with NATO foreign ministers and European Union officials.
Rice visited Tbilisi and France, which brokered a cease-fire this week, and was headed to Crawford, Texas, to meet with Bush at his ranch this weekend.
"To begin to repair the damage to its relations with the United States, Europe and other nations, and to begin restoring its place in the world, Russia must act to end this crisis," Bush said.
Georgian leader Saakashvili on Friday told a joint news conference with the U.S. Secretary of State that his country would never be reconciled to losing any of its territory to Russia. He also criticized the muted reaction by European nations to the build up.
Of the cease-fire agreement, Saakashvili said it was not a done deal. "We need to do our utmost to deter such behavior in the future," he explained.
He later said that Russian tanks had moved on two more towns in central Georgia, widening their "occupation."
Saakashvili's claim could not be independently verified and Russian officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Saakashvili said the tanks had moved to the towns of Khashari and Borjomi southwest of South Ossetia. "We now have an increasing area of Russian occupation of our territory," Saakashvili told reporters several hours after signing the cease-fire agreement.
Rice, visiting the Georgian capital Tbilisi in efforts to secure a peace deal between the warring states, said the Russian president had also signed the pact - and that Russian troops must now withdraw from Georgia as outlined in the deal brokered earlier in the week by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"Georgia has been attacked. Russian forces need to leave Georgia at once," she said calling for the immediate and orderly withdrawal of Moscow's military and all paramilitary troops that went with the convoys.
"The Russian pullout must take place - and take place now," she said, speaking at the pro-Western Georgian leader's side at a joint news conference outside his presidential palace in central Tbilisi.
Rice flew to the Georgian capital Friday to discuss the cease-fire with Saakashvili after meeting with Sarkozy in Paris, saying the immediate goal was to get Russian combat forces out of Georgia.
She warned that Russia's military action had wider implications for its relationship with the U.S. - and the West.
Rice consulted with Saakashvili about details of the cease-fire, which requires Russia to withdraw its combat forces from Georgia but allows Russian peacekeepers to remain in the breakaway region of South Ossetia and conduct limited patrols outside the region.
The draft document also does not commit Russia to respecting Georgia's territorial integrity, but rather refers to Georgian independence and sovereignty, meaning Moscow does not necessarily accept that South Ossetia and the other rebel region Abkhazia, are Georgian.
Officials say the eventual status of the two areas will be worked out under existing United Nations Security Council resolutions which recognize Georgia's international borders and Abkhazia and South Ossetia as Georgian.
The U.S. and its allies had been pushing for Russia to agree to restore the situation in Georgia to the status quo ante, or how it stood before Georgian troops moved into South Ossetia last week prompting Russia's severe response and seven days of bloodshed.
Now they have been forced to back down on the key issues of the mandate of Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia, which did not previously include outside patrols, and the territorial integrity question, which Russia ostensibly accepted before but no longer does.
U.S. officials concede the agreement is not perfect but maintain it will get Russian combat troops out of Georgia, hopefully in a matter of days.
"It will be a major accomplishment for Georgia to get the Russians out of their country and back effectively to the status quo ante," Rice said.
In addition to the cease-fire document, Rice brought with her a letter signed by Sarkozy that clarifies the special security measures that Russian peacekeepers will be allowed to take on Georgian soil, officials said.
Sarkozy welcomed Georgia's signature of the ceasefire accord ending the hostilities with Russia and said the way was clear for a UN Security Council resolution to end the crisis.
"The President of the Republic considers that the conditions are now in place for the rapid adoption of a resolution by the Security Council and the definition of an international mechanism which will be charged with overseeing the implementation of the agreement on the ground," Sarkozy's office said in a statement.
Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, has the power to veto any resolution.
Rights group accuses Russia of dropping cluster bombs
Meanwhile, a U.S. human rights group on Friday accused Russia of dropping cluster bombs in populated areas of Georgia during its military offensive that began last week, but Moscow denied the charge.
Human Rights Watch said Russian aircraft had used cluster bombs in two separate raids on the towns of Ruisi and Gori on Tuesday, August 12, killing at least 11 civilians and wounding dozens.
Asked about the report, the deputy chief of Russia's General Staff, Colonel-General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, told a news conference, "We never use cluster bombs. There is no need to do so."
The Gori strike killed at least eight people, Human Rights Watch said, including a Dutch cameraman. An Israeli journalist was among the wounded in the attack.
Russian troops on Friday also allowed some humanitarian supplies into the strategic Georgian city of Gori but continued their general blockade, raising doubts about Moscow's intentions in the war-battered country.
Georgia has asked the United Nation's highest court to issue an urgent order to Russia to halt what it describes as human rights violations on ethnic Georgians, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) said on Thursday.
On Tuesday Georgia filed a lawsuit with the Hague-based ICJ or World Court, which investigates conflicts between nations, accusing Russia of ethnic cleansing in the provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Typically cases before the ICJ take years to settle but if a party requests an "indication of provisional measures," the court's judges can make a swift provisional order.
In its suit Georgia accused Russia of violating an anti-discrimination convention during three interventions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia from 1990 to August 2008.
The ICJ said in a statement that Georgia has requested it as "a matter of utmost urgency" to order Russia to comply with the anti-discrimination convention and to immediately halt what Georgia termed "discriminatory violations of the human rights of ethnic Georgians, including attacks against civilians... murder, forced displacement, denial of humanitarian assistance."
Russian troops and armor deployed around three Georgian towns on Thursday, as international pressure mounted on Moscow over its continuing occupation of parts of Georgia.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was "extremely concerned" about the humanitarian situation in Georgia and called for a halt to lawlessness.
In Gori, west of the capital Tbilisi, correspondents saw signs of looting, which locals blamed on militias from the neighboring province of South Ossetia, where the conflict erupted a week ago Thursday.
Russian armed forces have occupied parts of Georgia since repelling a Georgian attack last week on the tiny pro-Russian separatist territory of South Ossetia, which threw off Tbilisi's control in the 1990s.
Bush accuses Russia of "bullying" in Georgia
Meanwhile Friday, Bush again expressed his support for Georgia and accused Russia of "bullying" and damaging its international standing by sending its military into Georgia.
But Bush, delivering a statement from the White House, also said the United States wanted to have good ties with Russia and not revert to Cold War-era relationships.
"A contentious relationship with Russia is not in America's interest and a contentious relationship with America is not in Russia's interest," Bush said before departing for Texas for a vacation.
But he added, "With its actions in recent days, Russia has damaged its credibility and its relations with the nations of the free world. Bullying and intimidation are not acceptable ways to conduct foreign policy in the 21st century."
Saakashvili: Need 'closer look' at U.S.-backed peace deal
Saakashvili said on Thursday he would need to "take a closer look" at a U.S.-backed cease-fire proposal with Russia before signing it.
Asked in an interview with CNN's "Larry King Live" whether he would sign a six-point French-negotiated proposal that Rice is bringing to Georgia, Saakashvili said, "We have to see what she has to bring."
"We are still in the negotiating process.... Russians are trying to justify their invasion and to legalize their presence in Georgia," Saakashvili said.
"Without genuine international peacekeepers, without genuine international transparency, these people are going to make much more trouble for us and for the rest of Europe. I think we should take a closer look at it."