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Debate Abounds on Russia’s Ambitions in Georgia Conflict

Defense chief Robert Gates warned Russia Thursday to curb its military actions in Georgia while Moscow affirmed its support for the separatist enclaves there. Two analysts examine why Russia has engaged in the conflict.

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    The U.S., Russia and Georgia story. We begin our coverage from the Georgian town of Gori. The correspondent is Julian Manyon of Independent Television News.


    Sitting by the roadside in the no man's land near Gori, a group of frightened refugees. They've been driven out of their villages by South Ossetian militiamen, following on the heels of the victorious Russian army.

    Fifty-five-year-old Zina Archvadze told me how she fled her home.

  • GEORGIAN RESIDENT (through translator):

    We've been walking for five days to get out. We left everything behind. There was shooting, and they burned the houses. I've lost my son, and I don't know where he is.


    They came here from different villages, but all felt the same terror.

  • GEORGIAN RESIDENT (through translator):

    They were looting the houses, and then they started burning them. I've been walking since morning to get here, and I don't know where I'll go now.


    The refugees began to move on. Nearby, members of the feared South Ossetian militia were exchanging angry words with Russian soldiers who were trying to prevent them from stealing a car.

    The Russian army is now the only authority in this part of Georgia. This morning, they put heavy tanks on the road into Gori, dashing hopes that they might soon pull out of the town.

    Russian tanks are now blocking the entrance to Gori. A short time ago, Georgian soldiers came here, and one of their officers asked the Russians to leave and allow them into town. The Russian response was direct and blunt: We'll leave when we're ready, when we get the orders, and not before.

    A Russian colonel told me that his troops are ready to march on the capital, Tbilisi, if they get the order to do so. "If the Americans can take Baghdad," he said, "we can take Tbilisi."

    At one point today, the Russians allowed a few Georgian police into Gori to conduct a symbolic joint patrol. But that arrangement appears to have broken down.

    As armor rumbled past, a top Georgian official came to negotiate with the Russian commander. He wanted a promise that the Russians would soon leave, but he didn't get it.

    When is the Russian army going to leave Gori?

  • RUSSIAN SOLDIER (through translator):

    We need to stabilize the situation in this area, and that could take some time.


    Back on the road to Tbilisi, the Georgians have now brought up many of their remaining troops, standing by in long lines of vehicles. But few believe that they would have any chance if the Russians decide to march on the capital.