Russia Orders Halt to Fighting in Georgia

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave the order to halt military action Tuesday after he said Russia had achieved its goals in the region.

“The goal of the operation has been achieved. The security of our peacekeepers and civilians has been ensured,” Medvedev said. “The aggressor has been punished and suffered very significant losses. Its military has been disorganized.”

But reports continued to surface from the caucus region of continued fighting. Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said Russian jets continued to bomb Georgian villages even after Medvedev ordered a stop to the attacks.

“Despite the Russian president’s claims earlier this morning that military operations against Georgia have been suspended, at this moment, Russian fighter jets are bombarding two Georgian villages outside South Ossetia,” Gurgenidze said, according to Reuters.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto said U.S. officials “saw the reporting and the announcement from the Russian president, Medvedev … we’re trying to get an assessment of what exactly it means, what a halt means and whether it’s taken place.”

French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who traveled to Moscow to help hammer out a cease-fire in the crisis, praised Medvedev’s decision. Sarkozy said it was “the news we expected. It’s good news,” according to the New York Times.

The clashes began last Thursday after Georgian forces entered South Ossetia to prevent a separatist uprising in the pro-Russian province. Russia responded by sending its own forces to push the Georgian army out of the area and then opened a second front in another separatist region of Abkhazia on Monday.

The Georgian government accused Russia of carrying out attacks deeper into Georgia itself, including air strikes on villages in the Kareli and Kaspi regions and other attacks.

An Associated Press reporter saw 135 Russian military vehicles driving Tuesday toward the Kodori Gorge in Abkhazia, which is held by Georgian forces. Conflicting reports from Georgia claim Russian troops are launching attacks, while Akbhazia claims its forces are responsible for the bombings.

In South Ossetia, one Russian peacekeeper was quoted by Reuters as saying that Georgian forces were shooting at Russian forces. Georgia, however, says its troops have been pulled back to defend its capital city of Tbilisi.

More than 2,000 people are reported to have died in the five-day crisis, according to the AP, although reports of casualties have been impossible for reporters in the region to verify.

Leaders of NATO, the 27-country-strong security alliance led by the United States, met in Tbilisi on Tuesday to discuss the situation and called for troops to return to the positions they held before fighting erupted.

“It is very important that all parties go back to the status quo ante, that is as it existed on Aug. 6,” said Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

At the meeting, Scheffer also said that a pledge made earlier to allow Western-leaning Georgia to join the alliance has not changed. Russia strongly opposes NATO expansion.

On Tuesday, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Georgia would leave the Commonwealth of Independent States, an alliance of ex-Soviet nations dominated by Russia.

A survey conducted by independent pollsters Levada and released by news agencies Tuesday reported that 46 percent of Russians questioned on Aug. 9 -10 wanted South Ossetia to become part of Russia. Thirty-four percent said it should be independent while four percent said it should remain part of Georgia.

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