Cease-Fire Signed By Russia, Georgia
SCOTT SIMON, host: This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Russia and Georgia have both signed a cease-fire, but so far Russian troops show no sign of leaving Georgia. We're going to talk to our reporters in the field. NPR's Gregory Feifer is with Russian troops in Gori. Greg, thanks for being with us.
GREGORY FEIFER: You're welcome.
SIMON: And NPR's Ivan Watson is at a Russian checkpoint in a village called Kaspi that is, I guess, just outside the capital. Ivan, thank you for being with us.
IVAN WATSON: It's my pleasure, Scott.
SIMON: And gentlemen, Greg first, what's it look like where you are?
FEIFER: Well, it's very eerie. The entire area that I see, the north part of the city, is occupied by Russian troops. Most of the residents out in the street are elderly. They're going around to various spots where they're being given food aid, bread and water. There is a significant Russian military presence. I drove down here with the Russian military from the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali. And when we crossed the border into Georgia, it was a very, as I say, eerie sight. Houses had been torched. There were cars on the side of the streets, the roads, destroyed cars. And it was virtually empty, almost no citizens. Just convoys of Russian military trucks driving north and south.
SIMON: Ivan, what's it look like where you are at Kaspi?
WATSON: Well, I'm at a Russian checkpoint. The Russians advanced to this position last night. It's about 20 miles west of the Georgian capital. The Russian soldiers here have been digging in throughout the morning, Scott. They've dug in a number of tanks and armored personnel carriers on the side of the highway. They've planted a Russian flag. And they've fanned out up into the hills as well. They are searching cars that pass through on this very key highway that links the capital to the rest of the country.
I'm being told to move back by a Russian soldier right now. As for the civilian population here, there are just a few old Georgian villagers here and invalid villagers who are kind of sitting on benches under trees outside their homes, clearly very worried about what's going to come in the next couple of days, and rather depressed, I'd say, Scott.
SIMON: Let me pass along to you both a report that's coming in now on wire services now. The...
(Soundbite of clattering)
SIMON: Are you all right? Whoever, I'm hearing some clatter...
FEIFER: Yeah, it's Greg. I'm in the back of a Russian military truck. We're being packed up, and just about to start and drive to another part of town.
SIMON: OK. Well, do you know anything, Greg? There are reports in wire services that the country's main east-west rail link has been blown up by Russian troops.
FEIFER: That's right. We've been hearing that this railway bridge has been blown. I've been asking around. People on the streets don't know much of what's going on. They're quite scared. I mean, this is land that is occupied by Russian forces, and people are afraid to give their names. At first they repeat that we wish everyone would get along. We don't know why this is going on. If you ask them several times, they admit that they're scared and that they're deeply, deeply unhappy. I think they were just very frightened, and they're waiting for this to end as soon as possible.
SIMON: And your impression, from both of you, from what you can observe of Russian troops, that the end is at hand, that the cease-fire agreement is going to make any difference?
WATSON: I'd say, Scott, that these soldiers are digging in, and they have advanced in increments into Georgian territory here near the capital and in other parts of the country steadily over the course of this week. And the Georgian forces, there are several hundred Georgian troops behind me, between me and the capital, who are amassed on the side of the road. They've just been giving ground.
They have been observing a cease-fire. And there has been no contact, really, significant contact between the two sides. But bands of irregulars backed by the Russians who've been systematically looting and torching buildings, that is what has really scared the population. And when we approached this checkpoint today, we could see smoke from fires just behind the Russian front lines. And it's anybody's guess why something's burning there.
SIMON: So even if the Russian troops withdraw, the irregulars - paramilitaries, if you please - still seem to be at work.
WATSON: They definitely have been at work, and we've heard multiple accounts from refugees fleeing, describing how even livestock were set on fire with fuel by some of these people who've been going through houses, stealing everything that isn't nailed down. And when you look at these elderly folks who were staying behind when most of the young people have left the village, you know, offering fruit from their fruit tree to any passerby and water, actually, for the journalists who've been gathered here, you just wonder whether they will also have to join the waves of refugees in the coming days as the chaos that has followed the Russian military catches up with their villages.
SIMON: Gregory, do you have any idea where you're going with your troops?
FEIFER: We're driving closer to downtown Gori. And I can tell you that the Russian forces feel very much at home. They are moving around freely. It's almost like a lark for them, a holiday here. It's absolutely not clear how long this is going to last.
SIMON: Gentlemen, I thank you both very much for bearing with us, and thank you for your good work. Take care of yourselves. Gregory Feifer with Russian troops in Gori and NPR's Ivan Watson at a Russian checkpoint in the village of Kaspi.