Violence Escalates In Georgia
SCOTT SIMON, host:
Military operations continue today in the Republic of Georgia as separatist war planes bombed the Kodori Gorge. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili called for an immediate ceasefire. President Bush spoke with the president and with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, urging them both to stand down. NPR's Gregory Feifer is in Moscow. He spoke today with the Georgian security adviser and the Russian foreign minister. Greg, thanks so much for being with us.
GREGORY FEIFER: My pleasure.
SIMON: And what different explanations does the weak(ph) side provide for the situation on the ground?
FEIFER: Well, the Georgian side, the Georgian national security adviser said that Russia is attacking targets around Georgia, including in the Kodori Gorge, which is a part of Georgia's second separatist region from Moscow, as well called Abkhazia. He said that Russia was bombing government buildings in the Kadori Gorge and that Georgia was preparing for a Russian ground attack.
Now, this would mark a serious escalation of the hostilities of the past two days. We've also seen pictures, television pictures from the town of Gori, which is also outside South Ossetia, inside Georgia near the capital of T'bilisi. There are pictures of burning apartment buildings, dead bodies of what appeared to be civilians, dazed and wounded civilians, as well. In South Ossetia itself, the national security adviser said that Georgia had withdrawn its forces from the capital and separatist stronghold Tskhinvali after fierce fighting there.
SIMON: We do have to kind of remind ourselves what this is all about.
FEIFER: Well, that's right, and there are diametrically opposing explanations from both sides. Russia says it is only undertaking a peacekeeping operation against Georgian aggression. And today, I've also spoke to foreign minister - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said Western countries that support Georgia are partially to blame for creating an atmosphere of impunity for Georgia to act now. Although he didn't name the United States, this is essentially a direct accusation because the United States has for years been training and equipping Georgia's military.
SIMON: Is there any suggestion that all the international calls for - I guess it's fair to say, at this point, are calls from both sides to desist having any effect?
FEIFER: So far not. Georgia says it's being invaded by Russia. It's comparing Russia's actions to the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 to the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Georgia has now declared a state of war. It's appealing to the international community to mediate. The national security adviser today said Georgia may appeal for military aid. U.S. diplomats are traveling to T'bilisi to try to mediate, and President Bush in Beijing today said that Russia's actions were a dangerous escalation, and he called for an end to Russian bombing of areas outside of the separatist region of South Ossetia.
SIMON: Thanks very much. NPR's Gregory Feifer on the job for us, reporting the situation in Ossetia from Moscow. Gregory, thanks very much for being with us.
FEIFER: Thank you.