Russia-Georgia Peace Deal In The Works
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And there's been some breaking news from Moscow this morning. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he has ordered an end to the military operation in Georgia. NPR's Gregory Feifer is in Moscow and joins us live on the line now. And, Greg, what are you hearing from the Kremlin today?
GREGORY FEIFER: Well, just about 15 minutes ago, there was an announcement over the Russian news agencies that has since been confirmed by the Kremlin that President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered a halt to Russia's military operations in Georgia five days after they began.
MONTAGNE: Okay. So this order has been made public. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is arriving in Moscow just about now, I would guess. He's just the latest in a group of high profile visitors to the capital of Russia, including the French foreign minister who's carrying a cease-fire agreement signed by the president of Georgia. Are the Russians responding to all of this international pressure in ways other than this announcement this morning?
FEIFER: Well, it's impossible to say exactly what's going on. First of all, I should say it's impossible to verify whether Russia's military operation has indeed ended, or is indeed ending in Georgia. We are expecting French President Sarkozy to be here and have talks with President Medvedev.
They're due to hold a joint news conference in about a couple of hours. So, there are actually conflicting things that Moscow has been saying. On the one hand, President Medvedev has said that the operation has ended. On the other hand, the Finnish foreign minister, Alexander Stubb, who is the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe which is trying to help broker a cease-fire agreement, he had a joint news conference with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. And Lavrov laid down some very, very hard line conditions for a possible deal with Georgia.
He said that Russia wants to see no Georgian peacekeeping troops in South Ossetia, which is a breakaway region, over which the two sides are fighting. He wants Georgia to sign a legally binding document not to use force in the future. But most important, Lavrov is saying Moscow doesn't see Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili as somebody you can talk to. Moscow says that -and Lavrov said that Moscow wants to see Saakashvili go.
Now these are very tough conditions, that Russia wants Saakashvili to step down. It's very difficult to see how negotiations will go forward.
MONTAGNE: So you're really talking of a regime change there. And, of course, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would seem to be the man with the power. What's he saying?
FEIFER: Well, he hasn't spoken today. But Putin is - I mean, if there's one thing that's clear that's coming out of this conflict is Putin appears to be very much in control of what's going on in Russia. He has put down, himself, some very hard rhetoric. And part of the problem, I think, with what's been going on on the ground is that there's escalating war of rhetoric between Russia and the U.S.
Putin yesterday accused Washington of aiding the Georgians and saying that the West is waging a propaganda campaign against Moscow, and that Moscow really is the real victim in this conflict.
MONTAGNE: Just in the seconds we have left, is this a mark of Moscow's newly assertive foreign policy?
FEIFER: Absolutely. I think this marks a completely different stage for Russia. A lot of people are talking about the Cold War and how conditions are very different. But clearly this is a major change. Russia has asserted itself in a completely new way.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR's Gregory Feifer in Moscow. And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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