Georgia: President Bush warns Russian actions will 'jeopardise relations'

Posted on 11:45 PM by Sameer Shah

He was speaking in response to a Russian ground advance beyond the enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, into Georgia itself. The Russian incursion effectively cut Georgia in two - separating its Black Sea coast from the capital Tbilisi.

In a statement given outside the White House, Mr Bush said he had evidence that Russia "may soon begin bombing the civilian airport in the capital city" Tbilisi.

He said that if such an attack was carried out, it "would represent a dramatic and brutal escalation of the conflict in Georgia."

However, despite taking a tougher line than he had in earlier comments, the US president did not commit his country to any direct action against Russia.

Georgian forces are already in a full scale disorganised and panicked retreat from Gori and the country's officials yesterday confirmed they were transferring "all troops" from South Ossetia towards Tbilisi.

Seen by The Telegraph, they were crammed into vehicles heading down road towards the capital. They say 6,000-7,000 Russian troops are heading their way and the Georgians are abandoning their positions.

Kakha Lomaia, a senior Georgian security official, said: "We received very reliable information that the Russians decided to move towards Gori. That's why we decided to pull out all our troops and to relocate them - to defend Tbilisi."

Lomaia has since claimed that Russian forces have "captured" the city. However a Reuters reporter in Gori said: "We are right now driving through the town and I see no trace of troops or military vehicles. It is absolutely deserted."

A Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman said that Russian forces had also moved into the town of Zugdidi in the west and seized police stations, and had made bombing raids against communications facility in Tblisi, the Georgian capital.

Moscow began moving troops from the breakaway region of Abkhazia into the town of Senaki, well inside western Georgia, earlier today, while most Georgian troops were tied up in the north, and just hours after senior military figures insisted Russia was not planning offensives in the main area of the country.

Although both Russian and Georgian officials confirmed that the Russian forces had withdrawn from Senaki, it was not clear how far back they had pulled.

The new troop movements were revealed as Gordon Brown, the UK Prime Minister, said: "There is no justification for continued Russian military action in Georgia, which threatens the stability of the entire region and risks a humanitarian catastrophe." He said there was a "clear responsibility" on Moscow to agree a ceasefire and bring a swift end to the conflict.

Responding to international diplomatic pressure to bring hostilities to a close, Mr Putin, the Russian Prime Minister, said his country would pursue operations to their "logical conclusion" and accused the US of aiding its enemy by transporting Georgian troops to the conflict zone from Iraq.

"It is a shame that some of our partners are not helping us but, essentially, are hindering us," said Mr Putin. "The very scale of this cynicism is astonishing.

"Russia, of course, will take its peacekeeping mission to a logical conclusion. We will strive for working relations with all participants of this conflict."

The Russian Defence Ministry said that its operation in Senaki, which sits 20 miles outside the Abkhaz border, was necessary to avert renewed Georgian attacks on South Ossetia.

A spokesman said: "Russian peacekeepers and support units are carrying out an operation aimed at preventing Georgian forces from regrouping to carry new attacks on South Ossetia. Senaki is one of the places where such actions were underway."

Witnesses have reported at least six Georgian attack helicopters bombed targets in the region around the South Ossetian capital, apparently breaking their self-imposed ceasefire. Russia claims the shelling has killed three Russian troops and injured dozens more.

The Daily Telegraph has seen a large group of Russian soldiers wearing flak jackets near Senaki. The troops, who were flanked by about 40 vehicles including lorries and armoured personnel carriers, were carrying heavy weaponry and could be seen securing positions, including ambush positions.

The town is at a strategically important point on the main east-west highway through Georgia. Control of the highway could cut off the port of Poti on the Black Sea, south of Abkhazia. There is a Russian naval presence off the port and Russian air strikes have already been launched on it.

A Georgian Defence Ministry spokesman said that Russian armoured vehicles had seized a military base in the town. It is thought that Russian troops could also be targeting a Georgian radar station.

The Gergian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, said in a televised address that Russia is seeking to occupy all of Georgia. "This provocation was aimed at occupying South Ossetia, Abkhazia and then all of Georgia," he said.

Earlier today the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, had said that the "major part" of his country's assault on Georgia was over, raising hopes of a swift end to the fighting, which was sparked on Friday after Georgia entered South Osettia, attempting to wrest back control of the breakaway state by military means.

Both sides accuse each other of ethnic cleansing in the violence, in which more than 2,000 civilians are thought to have died and more than 40,000 are feared to have been displaced.

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