Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a halt to military action in Georgia yesterday, after five days of air and land attacks that took Russian forces deep into the small Western-allied nation.
Medvedev said on national television that the military had punished Georgia enough for its attack on South Ossetia. Georgia launched an offensive late last Thursday to regain control over the separatist Georgian province, which has close ties to Russia.
“The security of our peacekeepers and civilians has been restored,” Medvedev said. “The aggressor has been punished and suffered very significant losses. Its military has been disorganized.”
The Russian president, however, said he ordered the military to defend itself and quell any signs of Georgian resistance.
“If there are any emerging hotbeds of resistance or any aggressive actions, you should take steps to destroy them,” he told his defense minister at a televised Kremlin meeting.
Hours before Medvedev’s announcement, Russian forces bombed the town of Gori and launched an offensive in the only part of Abkhazia still under Georgian control, tightening the assault on the beleaguered nation as French President Nicolas Sarkozy flew to Moscow carrying Western demands that Russia pull back.
The UN and NATO called meetings to deal with a conflict that blew up in South Ossetia and quickly developed into an East-West crisis that raised fears in former Soviet bloc nations of Eastern Europe. Five European presidents were headed to Russia and Georgia to mediate.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said yesterday that Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili should leave office and that Georgian troops should stay out of South Ossetia permanently.
Moscow will not talk to Saakashvili, Lavrov said; the best thing for Saakashvili to do “would be to step down.”
Russian troops who had advanced into Georgia on Monday from South Ossetia, took positions near Gori on the main east-west highway as terrified civilians fled the area, and President Saakashvili said his country had effectively been cut in half.
Russian jets targeted administrative buildings and a street market in the center of Gori yesterday, Georgia’s security chief Alexander Lomaia said, but there was no immediate information about casualties.
The Russians had also opened a second front in western Georgia on Monday, moving deep into Georgian territory from separatist Abkhazia. They seized a military base in the town of Senaki and occupied police precincts in the town of Zugdidi.
Lomaia said yesterday that the Russians had left Senaki.
But Russian troops attacked Georgian forces who continued to hold the northern part of Abkhazia’s Kodori Gorge, Lomaia said, Abkhazian officials said their own forces were carrying out the artillery attacks and that Russian forces were not involved in that fighting.
At least 9,000 Russian troops and 350 armored vehicles were in Abkhazia, according to a Russian military commander.
Georgia’s deputy Interior Minister Eka Sguladze said yesterday that Russian troops remained at their positions near Zugdidi and Gori.
A reporter who visited Zugdidi yesterday morning saw several Russian armored vehicles and dozens of troops outside the town’s central police station. The mood in the city was calm, people were moving around and many stores that shut previously were open for business yesterday.