Russia Says ‘Forget’ Georgian Territorial Integrity, Tensions with US Mount

MOSCOW (Combined Sources)–Russia’s foreign minister declared Thursday that the world "can forget about" Georgia’s territorial integrity, and officials said Russia targeted military infrastructure and equipment — including radars and patrol boats at a Black Sea naval base and oil hub.

Russia’s president met in the Kremlin with the leaders of Georgia’s two separatist provinces — a clear sign that Moscow could absorb the regions. And the commen’s from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov appeared to come as a challenge to the United States, where President Bush has called for Russia to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia."

"One can forget about any talk about Georgia’s territorial integrity because, I believe, it is impossible to persuade South Ossetia and Abkhazia to agree with the logic that they can be forced back into the Georgian state," Lavrov told reporters.

Bush Sends Troops with Aid
The White House said it would ignore the comment, while President George W. Bush sent American troops to Georgia on Wednesday to oversee a "vigorous and ongoing" humanitarian mission, in a direct challenge to Russia’s display of military dominance over the region. His action came after Russian soldiers moved into two strategic Georgian cities in what he and Georgian officials called a violation of the cease-fire Russia’signed the day before.

Bush demanded that Russia abide by the cease-fire and withdraw its forces or risk its place in "the diplomatic, political, economic and security structures of the 21st century." It was his strongest warning yet of potential retaliation against Russia over the conflict.

On a day when the White House evoked emotional memories of the cold war, a senior Pentagon official said the relief effort was intended "to show to Russia that we can come to the aid of a European ally, and that we can do it at will, whenever and wherever we want." At a minimum, American forces in Georgia will test Russia’s pledge to allow relief supplies into the country; they could also deter further Russian attacks, though at the risk of a potential military confrontation.

in Georgia, President Mikheil Saakashvili interpreted the aid operation as a decision to defend Georgia’s ports and airports, though Bush administration and Pentagon officials quickly made it clear that would not be the case. A senior administration official said, "We won’t be protecting the airport or seaport, but we’ll certainly protect our assets if we need to."Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was headed to Georgia to ask the U.S. ally to to sign a cease-fire agreement with Russia that includes apparent concessions to Moscow but preserves Georgian borders, a U.S. official said Thursday.

Poland Signs Missile Deal With US
Meanwhile, Poland finally agreed on Thursday to host elemen’s of U.S. global anti-missile system on its territory after Washington improved the terms of the deal amid the Georgia crisis. The preliminary deal was signed by deputy Polish Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer and U.S. chief negotiator John Rood. It still needs to be endorsed by the Polish parliament.

Washington says the interceptors and a radar in the Czech Republic would form part of a global "missile shield" protecting the United States and its allies from long range missiles that could in the future be fired by Iran or groups such as al-Qaeda. Russia, however, had warned the west that it would regard such a move as a direct threat to its national security.

"We have crossed the Rubicon," Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said just before the deal was signed. "We have finally got understanding of our point of view that Poland, being a crucial partner in NATO and an important friend and ally of the United States, must also be safe."

Officials said the deal included a U.S. declaration that it will aid Poland militarily in case of a threat from a third country and that it would establish a permanent U.S. base on Polish soil in a symbolic gesture underlining the alliance.

"We are comfortable that we negotiated a strong agreement," Rood said. "It elevates our security relationship to a new level."

If everything goes to schedule, the interceptor base would be ready by around 2012, officials have said. The Czechs have already signed an agreement to host the radar although parliament there must yet ratify it.

Russia Vehemently Opposes
Russia has vehemently opposed placing the shield installations in central Europe, saying they would threaten its security and upset the post-Cold War balance of power in Europe.

Moscow has threatened to take retaliatory steps against Poland and the Czech Republic, its former reluctant vassals who are now part of the European Union and NATO.

In the face of Russian opposition, Tusk had argued he could not agree to the shield unless the United States agreed to boost Warsaw’s air defenses and enhance mutual military cooperation.

Russia’s military action against Georgia strengthened the argument, Tusk said on Tuesday, ahead of the talks this week.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski played down the impact of the events in Georgia on the deal, apparently hoping to soften any criticism from Moscow.

In the first sign of Moscow’s displeasure, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday canceled a planned trip to Warsaw in September, Polish diplomats said.

The deal, if approved by parliamen’s in Prague and Warsaw, will escalate the recent diplomatic row between Russia and the United States.

Washington hopes the shield might persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear program, although Teheran’says it wants to develop nuclear energy only to generate electricity and not to make nuclear weapons.

Tensions Mount
In Washington, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he saw no need to invoke American military force in the war between Russia and Georgia but warned that U.S.-Russian relations could suffer lasting damage if Moscow doesn’t retreat.

"The United States spent 45 years working very hard to avoid a military confrontation with Russia," said Gates. "I see no reason to change that approach today."

The latest developmen’s presented a huge challenge to the EU-sponsored cease-fire agreement designed to end seven days of fighting. The accord had envisioned Russian and Georgian forces returning to their original positions.

Lavrov on Wednesday also sent a decisive message to the United States, but saying that the US must choose between its “real partnership” with Russia and what he called the US’s “special project” of Georgia, reported the Pravda newspaper.

“We realize and everyone writes about that Georgia today is a special project of the US. We understand that the US worries about the fate of this project,” the minister added. “But here we have either the notion of prestige about this ‘virtual project’ or partnership, which requires collective actions to be taken,” the minister said.

“The Russian Armed Forces and the Russian peacemakers have orders from the Supreme Commander-in-Chief–the president of Russia–to observe all combat laws. Civilians must be protected against infringemen’s of human life and dignity. We will look into every message saying that it is taking place and we will not let this happen,” Lavrov said.

He also said that in assessing the recent developmen’s, the US was neglecting to condemn Georgia for bombing S. Ossetia and leveling its capital Tskhinvali.

About 100 Russian investigators continue to work in the capital of South Ossetia, which was virtually leveled as a result of the Georgian aggression. The officers are investigating the murder of Russian citizens and Russian peacemakers.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the gathering of concrete evidence to prove that the Georgian authorities had committed acts of genocide against the citizens of South Ossetia.


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