Credit: Corey Flintoff, Alice Kreit/NPR
President Bush on Wednesday called on Russia to live up to a cease-fire deal with Georgia, expressing concern over the continuing crisis and pledging humanitarian aid to the Western-backed former Soviet republic.
The president's remarks from the White House Rose Garden came as Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili said Russian forces were still burning and looting towns despite the truce. Saakashvili said the West's response to Russia's military intervention "looks like appeasement."
"There is no cease-fire," Saakashvili told CNN Wednesday a day after Russian forces shattered the Georgian army Monday after forcing it out of South Ossetia. "We have a humanitarian disaster on our hands."
Bush said the U.S. expects all Russian forces that entered Georgia in recent days to withdraw. He said he would send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Paris to consult with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who brokered the truce. Then, she would go to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, to express solidarity with the democratically elected leadership there.
"The United States stands with the democratically elected government of Georgia and insists that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected," Bush said.
Later Wednesday, Rice said Russian officials risk further isolation from the rest of the world if hostilities continue. "If indeed Russia is violating a cease-fire, and I have to say the reports are not encouraging about Russia's respect for the cease-fire ... that will only serve to deepen the isolation to which Russia is moving," said Rice, adding that Russia's response was out of proportion.
Bush said a U.S. Air Force C-17 military cargo plane loaded with supplies is en route to Georgia, and he called on Russia to ensure that "all lines of communication and transport, including seaports, roads and airports," remain open to let deliveries and civilians through.
The Pentagon confirmed Wednesday that a U.S. Air Force C-17 was enroute from Germany to Georgia carrying such items as medical supplies and bedding. Another flight was scheduled for Thursday. A 12-member U.S. government assistance team would also be sent "soon," a Pentagon spokesman said.
Earlier, Georgia's Security Council chief Alexander Lomaia said that Russia had moved 50 tanks into Gori, a strategic town 15 miles from the border with the breakaway region of South Ossetia, in violation of the accord. Witnesses in Gori backed up the Georgian claim, but the RIA-Novosti news agency cited the Russian Defense Ministry as denying any of its troops were in the town.
The Russian incursion began last week after Georgian forces moved against separatists in South Ossetia.
Saakashvili said Russian forces were cutting off roads and shooting people. He said the pro-Moscow separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia were carrying out ethnic cleansing, burning villages and conducting summary executions.
Saakashvili's remarks came hours after the two sides accepted in principle a cease-fire to end the bloodshed. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said his nation would halt military action because Georgia had been "punished" for last week's attack on South Ossetia.