Following Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s agreement to a six-point ceasefire plan, French President Nicolas Sarkozy landed in Georgia to try to get Tbilisi to sign up on the deal.
In a joint display of diplomatic goodwill, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced Moscow’s acceptance of a ceasefire proposal to try to settle the confrontation over South Ossetia Tuesday. But, they reiterated, the agreement was not a final peace deal.
Speaking at a joint press conference in Moscow, Medvedev and Sarkozy detailed six principles of a ceasefire proposal, including a cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of Russian and Georgian troops to the positions they held prior to the start of the conflict last week.
“I think these are good principles to settle the problem, to end this dramatic situation,” said Medvedev. “These principles can be used both by Georgia and South Ossetia.”
The current crisis in the Caucasus erupted late last week when Russia responded to Georgian military movements in the tense, Russian-backed breakaway province of South Ossetia. It quickly spread to Georgian regions outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another Russian-backed breakaway province.
Amid mounting international concern, the French president and his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, along with a team of European diplomats, are visiting the region to try to stem the crisis. France currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU.
All eyes on Tbilisi
Following Moscow’s ceasefire agreement, the political ball, Medvedev noted, was now in Georgia’s court. “It is up to Georgia now,” said the Russian president.
Hours after the joint press conference in Moscow, Sarkozy landed in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi to present the plan to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and urge him to sign on to the deal.
The visiting French president held talks with his Georgian counterpart in the parliament building in downtown Tbilisi late Tuesday as hundreds of thousands of Georgians gathered in a mass display of support for Saakashvili.
The day-long rally, which continued well into the night, was attended by the leaders of Poland, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in a rousing demonstration of support for Georgia in its faceoff against Russia.
Reporting from the rally at Tbilisi, FRANCE 24’s Robert Parsons said the leaders of the former communist states received a rapturous reception from the crowd. “Georgians are clearly desperate to feel that the outside world is standing with them at this moment and the fact that these five,” he said, referring to the five leaders, “plus Nicolas Sarkozy as representative of the European Union are here, obviously means a lot to them.”
'Military operations really do now need to stop'
Responding to the agreement, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice welcomed Tuesday’s EU initiative, but she warned that all parties – Russian as well as Georgian – have to cease the fighting.
Reiterating Washington’s position on Georgia’s territorial integrity, Rice said the US supported Georgia’s “democratically elected government and its people,” and said the Russians “need to stop their military operations as they have apparently said that they will. But those military operations really do now need to stop."
Chinks in the reconciliatory rhetoric
But at Tuesday’s joint press conference, both Sarkozy and Medvedev were at pains to stress that the ceasefire agreement was not a final peace deal.
“There are bigger problems relating to South Ossetia that we cannot resolve here,” said Sarkozy.
While the agreement foresees the opening of an "international discussion" on the future status of South Ossetia, a thorny issue between Moscow and Tbilisi, Sarkozy said Medvedev had agreed that Georgia is a sovereign, independent country, which in Sarkozy’s words was a “major point”.
As if to underline the longstanding hostilities between Russia and Georgia that continue to threaten the region, there were occasional lapses in the conciliatory rhetoric at the press conference.
Referring to Saakashvili as a “lunatic”, Medvedev claimed his Georgian counterpart had lied about an earlier unilateral ceasefire agreement.
“You know the difference between lunatics and normal people is that when they smell blood it is very difficult to stop them,” said Medvedev. “So you have to use surgery.”
Accusations of attacks despite ceasefire deal
While diplomatic efforts appeared to be gaining ground, there was little sign of improvement on the ground, with Russia and Georgia trading accusations of new attacks despite Medvedev’s orders to cease military actions in Georgia.
Georgian officials accused Russia of bombing three Georgian villages - Ruisi, Sakorsiko and Agara – after Medvedev’s announcement, claims Moscow has denied. Russian peacekeepers, on the other hand, said Georgian forces were continuing to periodically shoot at Russian positions in South Ossetia, despite a Georgian ceasefire offer late Sunday.
Meanwhile, in Abkhazia, Georgian forces pulled out of the upper Kodori gorge – the only Georgian-controlled pocket in the separatist province – following a military advance by separatists in the area late Tuesday, according to the Georgian Interior Ministry.
Shortly after Medvedev’s ceasefire announcement, a senior Georgian official disclosed that Tbilisi had filed a lawsuit against Russia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for ethnic cleansing.
Date created : 2008-08-12