Despite Cease-Fire, Russia Remains In Georgia
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Joining us now from the Georgian capital Tbilisi is NPR's Ivan Watson.
Ivan, what have you been able to figure out there about Russian military actions in Georgia today?
IVAN WATSON: Robert, hours after the Russians had agreed to a provisional ceasefire agreement with Georgia, the Russians then demonstrated that their military could move freely across Georgian territory. In fact, we saw columns of Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers advancing into the town of Gori, which is located barely 50 miles west of the capital Tbilisi today.
And another column of Russian army trucks, perhaps 40 vehicles in all, then traveled up the highway from Gori towards Tbilisi some 10 miles. And that prompted fears that they were advancing on the capital itself. Even that sparked some panic until the Russian trucks stopped and parked for awhile and then turned back.
However, we saw carloads of frightened refugees fleeing the areas where the Russians have been operating, and those refugees were saying that pro-Russian militias were torching and looting homes in those areas. In addition, Robert, in the western part of the country, eyewitnesses say that the Russians have occupied the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti, and several other western Georgian towns for several days now.
SIEGEL: Well, if the Russians have, as it sounds, from what you're describing free rein throughout Georgia, what does that say about the authority of the Georgian government?
WATSON: For all intents and purposes, the authority of the Georgian government right now does not extend very much beyond the limits of the capital Tbilisi. Georgia's U.S.-trained army was routed on Monday night after just four days of fighting against the Russian army. And today, when the panic was spreading that the Russian forces were advancing on the capital, it was Georgian police that established check points on the outskirts of Tbilisi.
I did see a handful of Georgian military trucks go through that checkpoint towards the Russians, a few armored personnel carriers, a few pickup trucks full of very grim-faced Georgian soldiers heading west. But this looked like little more than the ragtag remnants of the army that was routed Monday night.
For now, the Georgian government seems to have little other option, Robert, than to make appeals for international supports as its country is basically being dismembered by the Russian military.
SIEGEL: And Georgia has been joined in those appeals of a support by other former Soviet republics. What's happening there is a very great concern to them.
WATSON: Exactly. We had the presidents of five ex-Soviet bloc countries arrive in Tbilisi last night. These were countries that were once ruled by Moscow, and they made a show of solidarity with the Georgian president against Russia.
And today, Lithuania's President Valdas Adamkus - he called for the creation of an international force to ensure Georgia's freedom and self-determination, comparing Russia's military occupation of parts of Georgia to Hitler and Stalin's occupation of European countries, and warning that if Georgia falls to Russia now that their former Soviet satellite countries could be next.
SIEGEL: Ivan, one last point, how have Georgians reacted to President Bush's statement today into the arrival of the first shipment of American emergency aid?
WATSON: There was a brief scene on Georgian pro-government TV of a handful of flag-waving Georgians, kissing the cheeks of the U.S. envoy to Georgia right now. But this was largely a symbolic gesture of support, because just 50 miles from the airport today, you had columns of dozens of Russian tanks and military trucks rolling freely across Georgian territory. And it seems that there's little that Georgia or the U.S. or the European Union can really do to stop Russia from occupying its much smaller Georgian neighbor, aside from applying diplomatic pressure right now.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Ivan Watson in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Ivan, thank you.
WATSON: You're welcome, Robert.