August 19, 2008 in Nation/World

Georgia remains under siege

Russian military shows no signs of withdrawing
By Tom Lasseter and Shashank Bengali McClatchy
Associated Press photo

Russian soldiers sit atop an armored vehicle in the outskirts of Gori, northwest of the capital Tbilisi, Georgia, on Monday.
(Full-size photo)

Rice meeting with NATO officials

 BRUSSELS, Belgium – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday condemned Russia for what she said was a growing reliance on military power as she headed for Europe to increase allied pressure for that nation to withdraw forces from Georgia.

 Rice, in her toughest criticism to date, said Russia’s incursion into Georgia was part of a pattern in which the government has turned increasingly to its military to assert its growing national power.

 She cited Russia’s practice of sending long-range bombers on patrol near U.S. and allied coastlines, and its dispute with Great Britain over the alleged poisoning of a former KGB agent in London.

 “Russia is a state that is unfortunately using the one tool it has always used when it wants to deliver a message … that’s its military power,” she told reporters.

 Rice is scheduled to meet today in Brussels with NATO officials to persuade them to step up support for Georgia and for other former Soviet republics that feel threatenedby Russia’s recent show of muscle.

Los Angeles Times

IGOETI, Georgia – Despite assurances that it would withdraw troops from Georgia starting Monday, the Russian military operated with impunity as its forces moved convoys in and out of the city of Gori and plowed through a police roadblock in this town some 25 miles northwest of Tbilisi, the capital.

In Washington, senior defense officials cited “troubling” intelligence that Russia had set up short-range ballistic missile launchers in South Ossetia. The SS-21 missiles have a range of 40 to 70 miles, meaning they can reach the capital from practically any part of South Ossetia, which Russian forces now occupy.

The U.S. officials also said there was no significant Russian movement out of Georgia.

The deputy head of the Russian military’s general staff, Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, told reporters in Moscow on Monday that Russian troops were being drawn back to the breakaway region of South Ossetia, which sits just on the Georgia-Russia border.

McClatchy journalists working in both the west and center of the country saw little to indicate that was happening. As has been the case throughout the 10-day conflict – which began with a Georgian military move into South Ossetia – Russian commanders seemed intent on showing they controlled the ground.

Russian forces dominated the country’s vital road and rail arteries, held military bases they had seized from the Georgian army, and occupied Gori, a strategically important city and the birthplace of the late Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Military convoys continued to move in and out of Gori all afternoon, including tanks and an anti-aircraft gun. The day before, dozens of Russian supply trucks were seen driving from the direction of South Ossetia into the city.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev again charged Monday that Georgia had provoked the clash 10 days ago by sending forces into South Ossetia, a region in North Georgia. “We shall do our best to not let this crime go unpunished,” state newswires quoted Medvedev as saying.

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