“Russian forces need to leave Georgia at once,” Rice said in the Georgian capital of Tiblisi after talks with Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili. “This is no longer 1968.”
Saakashvili said Friday he signed the cease-fire agreement with Russia that protects the former Soviet republic’s interests despite making some concessions to Moscow. The pact also does not immediately address the underlying conflict over the status of Georgia’s breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a discussion that will be mediated in “international discussions,” Rice said.
The truce requires Russia to pullout its combat forces from Georgia but allows Russian peacekeepers to remain in South Ossetia and conduct limited patrols outside the region. A draft of the document also does not commit Russia to respecting Georgia’s “territorial integrity,” but rather refers to Georgian “independence” and “sovereignty,” the Associated Press reported.
“Our most urgent task today is the immediate and orderly withdrawal of Russian armed forces and the return of those forces to Russia,” Rice said.
Saakashvili accused the West of inviting Russian aggression by denying Georgia an opening for NATO membership but said U.S.-allied Georgia would “never, ever surrender” to Russia.
“This is not a done deal,” Saakashvili said. “We need to do our utmost to deter such behavior in the future.”
Russian forces entered the two breakaway provinces last week to push out Georgian troops engaged in fighting with separatist rebels.
On Friday, President Bush accused Russia of “bullying and intimidation” for invading its neighbor and said the United States would stand behind Georgia.
“The cold war is over. The days of satellite states and spheres of influence are behind us. A contentious relationship with Russia is not in America’s interest. And a contentious relationship with America is not in Russia’s interest,” Mr. Bush said in a statement to reporters.
The Georgia conflict has re-ignited concerns over Russia’s ambitions in the region and its dissatisfaction with Georgia’s pro-Western government.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Friday that Russian’s actions were not meant as a sign that it wanted to cut ties with other countries.
“We would not like, of course, to see relations deteriorate in the long or short-term. We have always based our position on full-fledged development of relations with the EU, separate EU states, the United States and other states,” Medvedev said.
But Medvedev defended Russia’s actions in Georgia, saying he would make the same moves in a similar situation in the future.
“If someone continues to attack our citizens, our peacekeepers, we will of course respond in just the same way we have responded. There should be no doubt about this.”
Medvedev also referenced the uncertain future of the two breakaway regions in a joint news conference in the Russian resort of Sochi with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“After what happened, it’s unlikely Ossetians and Abkhazians will ever be able to live together with Georgia in one state,” he said, according to news agencies.
Medvedev maintains that Russian peacekeepers will remain in South Ossetia and Abkhazia to protect the citizens there – many of whom hold Russian passports. Russian troops permitted the delivery of humanitarian supplies to the Georgian city of Gori on Friday, but maintained a blockade on a main road into the city.
Russian forces remain stationed in cities deep into Georgia, including the strategically located port city of Poti on the Black Sea.
Reports of food shortages continued from Gori and other Georgian cites. The U.S. dispatched humanitarian aid to Georgia earlier this week.
“You know I am very ashamed, we don’t have a kopeck left and I’m so hungry,” said Zhozhona Gogidze who is living in a camp outside the capital of Tbilisi. An estimated 100,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, according to the AP.
Adding more tensions to the region, the U.S. signed a deal with Polish leaders Thursday to put missile interceptors in Poland as part of a European missile shield that Russia strongly opposes.
The anti-missile shield will be used to block attacks from countries in the Middle East, the United States says, though Russia believes it will be used as a defense against its missiles.
Medvedev denounced the missile shield deal, saying it represents a threat to Russia.
“This decision clearly demonstrates everything we have said recently,” Medvedev said. “The deployment of new anti-missile forces has as its aim the Russian Federation.”
The missile shield will also put a radar tracking station in the Czech Republic in a separate agreement that still needs approval from the Czech government.
Russian Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn was quoted by Interfax News Agency on Friday as saying that by accepting a U.S. missile defense system Poland “is exposing itself to a strike.”
At the Olympics continue in Beijing, a U.S. Congressional resolution sent to the International Olympic Committee proposes to strip Russia of hosting the winter games in 2014 as punishment for its military action in Georgia.
“Sochi, a mere 20 miles from the current conflict zone makes it a practically unacceptable location for the Olympics,” said Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., who proposed the legislation along with Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa.