13 August 2008
TBILISI – Georgia and Russia agreed Wednesday to a French-brokered peace plan after Moscow ordered a halt to its military onslaught, but there was scepticism whether the conflict is truly over.
"There is a text. It has been accepted in Moscow, it was accepted here in Georgia. I have the agreement of all the protagonists," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said at a news conference, flanked by his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili.
The six-point plan, which obliges the parties to halt fighting, will be reviewed by EU foreign ministers at a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, according to Sarkozy.
Saakashvili insisted the deal does not compromise Georgia’s territorial integrity, and a contentious reference in the plan to negotiations on the "future status" of breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia was changed to discussion on how to ensure "security and stability" there instead.
As Sarkozy visited Moscow earlier on Tuesday Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a halt to Russia’s military offensive against Georgia.
In announcing the move, Medvedev declared that "the aggressor has been punished and suffered significant losses."
"I have taken the decision to end the operation to force Georgian authorities into peace," Medvedev told defence chiefs though he warned any attacks by Georgia would be "liquidated."
Russian troops and tanks poured into Georgia on Friday after the Georgian army launched an offensive to regain control of South Ossetia, the Moscow-backed region which broke away from Tbilisi in the early 1990s.
Georgia said several villages were bombed after Medvedev’s announcement.
Russia’s military angrily denied the claim and said Georgian soldiers were still firing at its troops.
There was considerable scepticism among Russian newspapers about whether the conflict was really over.
Even as Medvedev announced an end to the Russian operation "it immediately became clear that in fact the confrontation was hardly finished," wrote the daily Kommersant.
"It is too early to reach unequivocal conclusions about whether the agreement reached by Medvedev and Sarkozy will really put an end to military actions in South Ossetia," wrote the popular daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.
"Saakashvili is characterised by his unpredictability and a lack of willingness to respect agreements," it added.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Russia’s decision to stop its military advance in Georgia was important but not enough, urging both sides to withdraw to their pre-conflict positions.
NATO ambassadors meeting in Brussels condemned Moscow for "an excessive, disproportionate use of force," and reiterated their support for Georgia to ultimately join the military alliance.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Russia that the United States "stands for the territorial integrity of Georgia" and backs its democratically elected government.
But she said the top priority was that "those military operations really do, now, need to stop because calm needs to be restored," she said in Washington.
The United States cancelled on Tuesday a joint naval exercise with Russia in response to the conflict in Georgia, as it considered a range of options to respond to the aggression.
"In the wake of this conflict, there is no way that we can proceed with this joint exercise at this time," a senior defence official said of the 15-23 August FRUKUS naval exercise in the Sea of Japan.
Before Medvedev’s announcement, warplanes bombed the city of Gori, Georgia’s security council said, hitting the central square and killing a Dutch cameraman and a Georgian journalist.
Russian forces moved briefly into the western city of Senaki on Monday and destroyed a military base, officials said. They also entered Georgia’s main Black Sea port of Poti.
In a show of defiance to the Russian attacks, 100,000 people packed the main Rustaveli avenue of Tbilisi, where a sea of red-and-white Georgian flags waved above the crowds.
Saakashvili told the rally that Georgia would quit the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a grouping of former Soviet states, and urged Ukraine to follow suit.
Georgia has received strong support from other former communist states with the leaders of Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states travelling to Tbilisi where they addressed the rally.
Georgia took Russia before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for "alleged acts of ethnic cleansing" between 1993 and 2008, starting with the period when Russian peacekeepers entered Georgia’s breakaway regions.
Russia claims the conflict has left more than 2,000 civilians dead, while the United Nations estimates some 100,000 people have been forced from their homes.
The Georgian health minister Tuesday put the death toll in Georgia at 175 people, mainly civilians.
In addition to the physical attacks, Georgia has been hit by cyber attacks on its government websites, the US Internet firm which now hosts them said.
Tulip Systems Inc executive Tom Burling suggested that Russia was behind the attacks, but other experts said it was too early and difficult to determine who had orchestrated the attacks.
[AFP / Expatica]