Pressure Mounts On Russia To Pull Out Of Georgia

The Russian military promised Thursday that all of its forces in Georgia will be withdrawn by Friday night. However, many Russian units remain deep in Georgian territory. Meanwhile, Russia's allies, the militias from South Ossetia, seem to be expanding their breakaway region.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. The Russian military today promised that all its forces in Georgia will be withdrawn by tomorrow night, but many Russian units remain deep in Georgian territory. Meanwhile, Russia's allies, the militias from South Ossetia, seem to be expanding their breakaway region. Let's join our correspondents there: Gregory Feifer has been bringing us the news from South Ossetia, and Ivan Watson in Georgia.

And Ivan, let's begin with you. The Russians say that they'll be behind the ceasefire lines by - as I've just said - tomorrow night. Is there any sign of that?

IVAN WATSON: No sign whatsoever, Renee. And they've repeatedly said that, hey, we're going to pull out tomorrow, tonight.

MONTAGNE: Greg, we seem to have lost Ivan there from Georgia. But let me turn to you there in South Ossetia. And you're in the main town?

GREGORY FEIFER: Yes, that's right. I'm in the capital, Tskhinvali. And I can just second what Ivan was saying in that the Russians have been repeating that they're going to be pulling back, but that they haven't. And I can say that I was - when I was driving to Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, this morning from Russia, I noticed absolutely no movement of the Russian military on the roads. I'd seen a lot of movement in the past few days, mainly military trucks and armored personnel carriers and tanks moving south into South Ossetia toward Georgian territory. The fact that the streets are empty leads me to believe that they've dug in now and that they're off the roads.

MONTAGNE: And - now Ivan has joined us back. And as I was asking you, have you seen any sign there? Now you're in Georgia, near the border of South Ossetia. Have you seen any sign of a Russian pullback?

WATSON: None, whatsoever. The Russian troops were digging new trenches alongside the highway that runs to this Russian occupied town of (unintelligible), supplies being delivered to the Russian soldiers - no sign whatsoever they're going to pull back. And a map that the Russian military published yesterday indicates that if and when they do fall through on their word and pull back, that they will still maintain a perimeter of positions around South Ossetia, up to 10 miles into Georgian territory - something that, of course, the Georgian government is not going to like very much. But at this point, there's not much they can do or say about it.

MONTAGNE: And, Greg, back to you there in Tskhinvali, the town in South Ossetia. Many locals, apparently, have sworn they'll never reunite with Georgia. What have you been seeing, and does that make sense to you?

FEIFER: Well, maybe you can hear in the background, there is a rally going on now. There are about two or 3,000 people in the main square, here. And about 20 minutes ago, the president of the South Ossetian separatist government said that he would be sending a letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, asking Russia to recognize South Ossetia's independence. This won't be the first time that he's done that, but it'll be the first time since the conflict with Georgia and since Medvedev said that Russia would do whatever the South Ossentians want. So I think for all intents and purposes, this was a declaration of independence, because Russia has essentially indicated that it's going to rubber stamp whatever the separatist government here says. And people that I see on the streets, they all say we will never, ever be a part of Georgia again. The Georgians, they say, are animals. They try to commit genocide against us, and they have only very warm words for the Russians and they say they want to join Russia.

WATSON: And, Renee, if I could come off of what Greg just said, I was in a town called - by the Georgians - Alconcesta(ph), that town was administered by the Georgian government for more than a decade. It is technically part of the South Ossetia region. And when this war erupted, Russian forces, as well as South Ossetian militias, they moved into that town, drove the Georgian forces out, and now there are South Ossetian militia sitting in the police station that Georgians once - that they built and once controlled. Now those fighters, they said, this is now part of our territory. First, we're going to become an independent republic, and then we're going to become part of Russia. And, of course, the community there is mixed ethnically between South Ossentians and Georgians. And Georgians came up to me, and they were very frightened that suddenly, they were going to become part of another country, that they would have to leave their homes, and very angry, of course, at Russia, just using swear words and just basically hating the presence of what they see as an occupying army.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you both for joining us, and, of course, we'll be talking to you later as events evolve. NPR's Ivan Watson, on the road leading to the town of Gori, Georgia, and NPR's Gregory Feifer is in South Ossetia.

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