“Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century,” Bush said.
“There is evidence that Russian forces may soon begin bombing the civilian airport in the capital city. If these reports are accurate, these Russian actions would represent a dramatic and brutal escalation of the conflict in Georgia,” he told reporters at the White House after returning from China. (Reporting by David Alexander, Editing by Kristin Roberts)
Bush to Russia: Reverse course in Georgia
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Russia’s “brutal escalation” of attacks against the former Soviet republic of Georgia has jeopardized Russia’s relationship with the United States and European nations, President Bush told reporters Monday after returning from his trip to Asia.
President Bush said Russia was damaging its standing in the world by attacking Georgia.
Bush said evidence suggests Russia may be preparing to depose Georgia’s democratically elected government.
“Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century,” he said.
World powers have urged Russia to agree to an immediate cease-fire with Georgia and accept international mediation on the crisis in South Ossetia, as the international community sought to head off all-out war between the two.
“Russia must reverse the course it appears to be on and accept this peace agreement as a first step in resolving this conflict,” Bush said.
Earlier Monday, as Russian warplanes launched fresh raids and the central Georgian city of Gori was falling to Russian troops, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke by telephone with most of the foreign ministers belonging to the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations.
The G-8 consists of the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and Russia. Russia, which officially joined the group in 1998, was absent from Monday’s discussions. Watch Russia blame Georgia for the crisis »
The ministers reiterated their support for Georgian sovereignty and called for a diplomatic solution, Deputy State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.
Rice and the ministers voiced concern over the increasing civilian casualties and pressed Russia to accept the internationally brokered cease-fire that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili already has signed.
Georgia said it launched an operation in South Ossetia — a territory intent on breaking away from Georgia — on Thursday after artillery fire from separatists killed 10 people.
Russia, whose forces entered the republic Friday, accuses Georgia of plotting to wipe out Ossetians loyal to Russia. Georgia has contended that Russia merely wants control of an oil pipeline, and Saakashvili asserted Monday that Russia seeks to stamp out his country’s “democratic ambitions.”
Rice’s Monday call was one of more than 90 she made this weekend to discuss the situation in Georgia, Wood said.
A senior State Department official said Rice had spoken several times with Georgian Saakashvili and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. She also has spoken with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb who were in Georgia on Monday before leaving for Moscow.
Diplomacy efforts now move to the U.N. Security Council, which is expected to discuss the matter Monday. NATO also is expected to hold urgent talks on the conflict, which analysts say threatens to engulf the region. See photos from the conflict »
The United States hopes the Security Council will pass a “strong” resolution that “makes the point that these attacks have to stop,” Wood said.
“We want to see the Russians stand down,” Wood said. “We are calling on Russia to stop its aggression.”
Senior U.S. officials said the prospect for such a resolution seems dim because Russia wields veto power as a permanent member of the council.
Rice and the ministers endorsed mediation efforts led by Kouchner, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, and Stubb. Finland is the present chair of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Wood said U.S. envoy Matthew Bryza would arrive in Georgia on Monday and stay several days to help jumpstart mediation.
The U.S. is trying to transport 2,000 Georgian troops serving in Iraq back home to fend off Russian advances, but beyond that “there are no discussions about the U.S. getting involved militarily,” Wood said.
The United States has begun to provide humanitarian assistance to Georgia, however. The first package of supplies is expected to be depleted by Monday evening.
The U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi declared a “disaster” in Georgia and has authorized $250,000 in initial funding for supplies to assist about 10,000 people.
Wood said the U.S. is pre-positioning other supplies such as tents and blankets and bringing in additional replacement supplies from Germany.
Over the weekend, the State Department allowed families of U.S. diplomats in Georgia to leave the country. Diplomats, however, would remain, the department said.
The United States also has helped about 170 Americans leave Georgia in two convoys, with a third planned Tuesday.