Tension Mounts as Russian Military Activity Amidst Ceasefire Continues
Russian troops occupied Kutaisi, the second-largest Georgian city, on Thursday, defying calls for a provisional ceasefire agreement after the Russian Georgian conflict escalated on the eve of the Beijing Olympics.
A provisional ceasefire agreement was being brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and in process of completion, when the key issue regarding the retraction of Russian forces to original territory lines, amidst the arrival of U.N. peacekeepers became a point of contention.
Reports of Russian military activity ensued nullifying the initial ceasefire.
Details of the occupation of Kutaisi were initially reported by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvilii.
The conflict began after Georgian forces entered the autonomous republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, prompting a disproportionate response by the Russian military.
The Russian military has since launched a large-scale attack on Georgian ground forces with widely spread reports attacks on civilian territories, and an occupation deep into Georgian territory.
U.S. and international leaders have repeatedly called for an end to the conflict and a full withdrawal of Russian forces to the original Georgian territory lines.
“The ceasefire, the provisional ceasefire that was agreed to, really must go into place. And that means that activities, military activities, have to stop,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
With a lack of peacekeepers on the ground in Georgia, reports by President Mikheil Saakashvili have yet to have been officially confirmed.
“The Russian president has said that their military operations have halted. We would hope that he would be true to his word and that those operations will halt. And we will work very hard to see if we can bring an end to this crisis. It is long overdue,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
“Too many innocent people have died, and Georgia, whose territorial integrity and independence and sovereignty we fully respect, must be able to get back to normal life,” she added.
Unruly Activity in Georgia
Amidst continuing occupation of Georgian territory, several instances of lawlessness have erupted.
The United Nations reported yesterday that two U.N. vehicles were hijacked at gunpoint in by men in unidentified uniforms.
The vehicles were later recovered abandoned by the roadside.
In a statement released by the office of the U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon called for a halt to the conflict, stating that “all fighting should end immediately and the current state of lawlessness should cease.
In a separate story a Georgian television journalist was fired upon and grazed by a bullet on her arm.
Georgian Parliament met today in Tbilisi and voted unanimously to withdraw their membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Georgia had held membership in the CIS since 1993.
Ten of the former Soviet Republics joined the CIS after the fall of the Soviet Union, to form a loose confederation of former Soviet Republics, signifying a unity of sorts, with free trade zones across all members.
Members within the CIS allow for intra-CIS travel without official visa requirements.
The withdrawal from the CIS is not seen as significant by Columbia University Professor Robert Legvold, an expert in the foreign policy of the Soviet Union and post Soviet States.
“I think the move will have relatively little effect on Georgia's economic future. If Georgia's economic ties with Russia are adversely affected, as they are likely to be, it will be because Russia has disrupted them as a measure of punishment, and that will be because of the general deep deterioration in relations between the two countries, not primarily because of this step.”
With regard to the current occupation, Legvold stated that South Ossetia and Abkhazia are their major concern and a full occupation of Georgia is not what Russia intends.
“Their apparent aim at this point is to give themselves a political and military position of strength in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia permitting them to dictate the future political outcome for both territories. Whether that is to be the annexation of South Ossetia into the Russian Federation and independence for Abkhazia remains to be seen,” said Legvold.