- Gordon Brown urges Moscow to order a ceasefire
- Putin lashes out at the U.S. for ‘helping Georgia’
- Georgia ‘restarts shelling’ after ceasefire call ignore
- Refugee crisis as 40,000 flee
Georgian officials tonight claimed the country had been ‘overrun’ by Russian troops after a full-scale ground invasion.
Amid reports that Moscow forces had taken the town of Gori – and were marching on the capital Tsblisi – Georgian soldiers appeared to be in full retreat.
Troops were apparently in complete chaos as a full-scale rout pushed them back through the countryside.
Meanwhile, the civilian crisis intensified with thousands of refugees fleeing the seemingly unstoppable advance of the Russian army.
An unidentified Georgian woman cries after finding out that her child was killed in a neighbouring village, in the town of Gori
Around 9,000 soldiers and 350 tanks had been massing at a base in the border region of Abkhazia throughout the day.
But the huge force has now moved into Georgia proper, demolishing hopes of a rapid solution to an increasingly bitter conflict.
The invasion comes as Gordon Brown urges Russia to call a ceasefire.
The Prime Minister warned Russia there was ‘no justification’ for its military action in Georgia.
Residents of Gori wait to receive humanitarian aid from local authorities as Russia called today for Georgian forces to surrender in the separatist enclave of Abkhazia
Mr Brown issued a strongly-worded statement after Georgia backed an EU peace plan for the breakaway province of South Ossetia amid continued fighting.
‘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 is an immediate and pressing need to end the fighting and disengage all military forces in South Ossetia.
‘The Georgian government has offered a ceasefire, which I urge the Russians to reciprocate without delay.’
Meanwhile, intense shelling continued in the breakaway region of South Ossetia where hostilities broke out last Friday.
There were also conflicting reports that Russian troops had overrun the city of Gori while Georgian forces were concentrating on holding Mtskheta, 15 miles from the capital.
On the move: Russian troops wind along a road near the border between North and South Ossetia amid fears of a ground invasion
Retaliation: Russian forces secure the area in the Khurcha settlement in breakaway region of Abkhazia
Earlier in the day, Russian premier Vladimir Putin raised the stakes over the conflict by lashing out at the U.S. as the fighting continued to escalate in the region.
The Russian prime minister rejected calls from Georgia for a ceasefire and declared that his country would pursue its mission to its ‘logical conclusion’.
A day after a face-to-face meeting with President George W. Bush in Beijing who expressed ‘grave concern’, Mr Putin accused the U.S. of siding with Georgia by ferrying Georgian troops from Iraq to the battle zone.
‘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.’
Russian Defence ministry spokeswoman Nana Intskerveli confirmed tanks had seized a Georgian military base in the western town of Senaki.
The statement indicated Russian troops had entered the region from a second rebel province of Abkhazia, where troops have been massing since the weekend.
There are concerns a new front away from South Ossetia could open up around Abkhazi, which would represent a major escalation in the conflict.
Thousands of troops, dozens of tanks and Hurricane multiple rocket launchers were seen pouring along roads to the south of Russia.
Russian warplanes also launched new attacks inside Georgia today, one on the outskirts of the capital and another on the Black Sea port of Poti.
Officials in the breakaway region today claimed Georgian troops had also resumed shelling there after its calls for a ceasefire were ignored by Russia.
President Bush warned Mr Putin of his ‘grave concern’ about the ‘disproportionate’ military intervention at a face-to-face meeting in Beijing yesterday.
His Vice-President Dick Cheney also personally called the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili over the weekend to reassure him his country has U.S backing.
Warning: U.S. President George W. Bush with Vladimir Putin in Beijing. Putin today lashed out in return, accusing the U.S. of helping Georgia
Amid fears Moscow intends to seize the whole country to gain control of its crucial oil pipelines, Mr Cheney declared Russian military action ‘must not go unanswered’.
In a statement, he added: ‘Its continuation would have serious consequences for its relations with the United States, as well as the broader international community.’
Russia appeared to be totally defying the U.S. warning today, with Georgia claiming up to 50 Russian jets were roaming its skies ready to strike.
Mr Putin and Russian President, Dimitry Medvedev, attended a summit with senior generals at the Kremlin today for a council of war.
President Medvedev announced later that its military operations in South Ossetia were ‘nearing conclusion’.
‘A major part of operations to force the Georgian side, the Georgian authorities, into peace in South Ossetia has been completed.’
Loss: Family and friends of an Ossetian killed in the fighting in Tskhinvali weep at his funeral today
Safety: The first group of 95 Poles evacuated from Georgia arriving in Warsaw today
Russia was also reported to have sent more paratroopers into Abkhazia where it now has more than 9,000 soldiers as well as tanks and armoured vehicles.
Georgia claimed Gen. Sergei Chaban, who is in charge of Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia, had warned their forces must disarm or face Russian troops there as well as in South Ossetia where the conflict began on Friday.
A ground invasion launched from Abkhazia would be a drastic step, and almost impossible for Georgia to counter with most of its troops still near South Ossetia.
It was also alleged dozens of Russian bombers were attacking targets inside Georgian territory, including around Tbilisi.
Bloodied: A woman lies injured in the ruins of an apartment block in Gori
Basic: The wounded stay in a hospital shelter in the South Ossetian capital
Russian officials said the air raids were targeting supply lines and military facilities and were not directed at civilians but one in Gori on Saturday killed more than 20 and wounded scores of others.
Meanwhile NATO also joined the condemnation today, accusing Russia of using excessive force and violating Georgia’s territory by taking the military action beyond South Ossetia.
Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was ‘seriously concerned about the disproportionate use of force by the Russians and the lack of respect for the territorial integrity of Georgia,’ a spokesman said.
‘The military operations that we saw on Saturday and since then, including air and missile attacks, have no relation to and go well beyond the CIS peacekeeping operation.’
But diplomatic efforts to secure a ceasefire were continuing with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner leading a delegation from the European Union asking for a ‘controlled withdrawal of troops’.
In further developments, Russia accused Georgia of killing three of its troops in the shelling on the South Ossetian capatal Tskhinvali and claimed another two of its planes had been shot down.
Support: U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney (left) phoned Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili in person to offer America’s backing to the region
A separate Council of Europe delegation lead by Sweden’s foreign minister was also on its way to the Georgian capital for talks.
Georgia claimed yesterday to have pulled out its troops from South Ossetia and was calling for a ceasefire.
The demand was rejected by the Kremlin, which said it did not believe the Georgian forces had actually retreated.
The region is an international flashpoint, given its vital position in terms of oil supplies which run from the Caspian Sea to Europe through the small country.
It is feared the Kremlin could be using the conflict to disrupt fuel supplies, which would make the West even more dependent on Russian oil.
The U.S. has refused to indicate what it may do if the fighting continues and Russia refuses to back down.
Anguish: A man cradles the body of a relative in the street after Russian planes bomb homes in Gori, killing five people
Two women attempt to sleep after taking refuge in the hospital shelter
State-controlled Russian television claim more than 2,000 people have been killed in South Ossetia and thousands made homeless.
And a Georgian government source said yesterday that 130 civilians and military personnel had been killed and 1,165 wounded, many because of Russian bombing.
The smaller country’s withdrawal from South Ossetia left Russian troops in control. Many towns were deserted with reports of 40,000 fleeing across the war zone.
Some 50 ambulances were ferrying wounded Georgian troops from South Ossetia to hospitals in neighbouring cities, all of which were already overcrowded.
Russian television showed Tskhinvali’s main hospital in ruins and most of the more than 230 patients crammed into the basement.
A few bare lightbulbs provided scant illumination and the report said the hospital had no ready supply of water.
Some patients sat listlessly on beds jammed into a tiny, dim area with unfinished walls.
Fierce fighting: An injured soldier in the village of Dzhava
South Ossetians stay in a school shelter in the South Ossetian capital of Tshinvali
Russia’s Defence Ministry also claimed yesterday to have sunk a Georgian missile boat that was trying to attack its navy in the Black Sea.
South Ossetia, which unlike Georgia proper, is loyal to Russia – provided the catalyst for the dispute.
Pro-Moscow rebels provoked Georgia’s president into ordering his troops into South Ossetia last week.
Mr Putin’s government then retaliated with a counter-offensive to seize back the disputed region.
However, the escalation of violence has led to concerns that Russia could try to annex the entire country.
‘They want the whole of Georgia,’ claimed President Saakashvili. ‘The Russians need control over energy routes from central Asia and the Caspian Sea.
‘In addition, they want to get rid of us, they want regime change. Every democratic movement in this neighbouring region must be got rid of.’
Despair: A woman holding her baby cries at her damaged home in Gori
Russian planes yesterday bombed the main civilian airport in the capital Tbilisi, which is used by British Airways and other Western airlines.
A government official said the Russian air strike appeared to have been aimed at the nearby military airport and an aviation construction plant.
‘It turns out they hit both military and civilian airports,’ the spokesman added.
The attack came hours before the arrival of the French foreign minister on a peace mission.
‘We don’t want the conflict to spread in a region which is extremely volatile and dangerous,’ Mr Kouchner told reporters.
Outnumbered: Georgian troops ride on a pick-up truck
Despite the attempts of the international community to calm the crisis, Mr Putin was bullish last night, blaming Georgia for creating a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’.
He appeared on TV listening to two young women from an Ossetian village who claimed that Georgian soldiers herded 50 people into a house and burned them alive.
One of them said: ‘My friend was a witness of a Georgian tank driving over an elderly woman with two kids.’
Putin replied: ‘They are completely mad. It’s genocide.’ He later claimed that Georgia had lost the right to rule the region, implying the Russians were set for a long and probably permanent occupation of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
It is clear that Moscow is intent on severely hampering Georgia’s military capability, which has been built up with Western help.
Crucial strategic sites in the port of Poti, the city of Gori – staging post to South Ossetia – and around Tbilisi have been taken out by the Russian air force.
Worst-hit was the capital of the separatist region, Tskhinvali, but death and devastation was wreaked across the region, as well as in cities in Georgia.
Walking wounded: An injured woman stands next to her bombarded home
Fleeing: Mother and son stare at the carnage as they are evacuated
Western concerns about Moscow’s desire to control the region’s oil supply were yesterday gathering strength.
While Georgia does not produce oil itself, U.S. and European energy firms have counted on the pro-Western country – sandwiched between Russia and Iran – to host a pipeline for oil and gas exports from Azerbaijan.
The head of Azerbaijan’s state oil company warned that exports had already been halted via the Georgian ports of Batumi and Kulevi due to the fighting.
The announcement came shortly after Russian warplanes staged a raid near the 1,109-mile BTC pipeline, the world’s second longest.
BP, a partner in this project, was seeking information on the reports.
Some analysts believe Russia provoked Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia, knowing that the smaller country could not win the resulting conflict.
Others say that Moscow was simply drawing a red line around areas with pro-Russian populations which it would not allow to be controlled by pro-Western states.
The regions of Ossetia and Abkhazia are culturally and linguistically distinct from Georgia, and broke away from it during brief wars in the early 1990s.
CLAIM AND COUNTERCLAIM: COUNTRIES DEATH TOLLS
- Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said on Sunday that more than 2,000 people, mostly Russian citizens, had died in the conflict zone.
- On Saturday Russian Ambassador to Georgia Vyacheslav Kovalenko said at least 2,000 civilians had died in Tskhinvali alone as a result of fighting between Russian and Georgian forces, according to Interfax news agency. He said 13 Russian peacekeepers were killed and up to 70 injured in the fighting.
- Sergei Sobyanin, the Russian government chief of staff, said 30,000 South Ossetian refugees had fled to Russia since early on Friday.
- Kakha Lomaia, the National Security Council secretary, said on Sunday that 40 civilians had been killed and more than 200 wounded but gave no details.
- A source in the Georgian government told Reuters on Saturday 129 Georgian civilians and military were killed and 748 wounded.
- Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Russian aerial bombing had killed around 30 Georgian soldiers.
- South Ossetia’s President Eduard Kokoity on Friday said about 1,400 people had died in Tskinvali.
Last updated at 21:09pm on 11.08.08
Source: London Evening Standard