Sarkozy Closes in on a Deal Russia Agrees to Withdraw from South Ossetia

In talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has agreed to move his troops back to their pre-conflict positions. The deal has not been finalized yet, but it could involve peacekeepers from the European Union.


It was a long time coming, but on Tuesday Russian President Dmitry Medvedev finally ordered an end to Russian military activity in Georgia, according to news reports. Not only that, but French President Nicolas Sarkozy's trip to the capitals of both Georgia and Moscow on Tuesday seems to be bearing some fruit, though a peace deal had not yet been agreed upon by late Tuesday, Sarkozy said.

A Russian troop column in Abkhazia. The Russians opened up a new front in the war on Monday, but on Tuesday, President Medvedev ordered a cessation of hostilities.
AFP

A Russian troop column in Abkhazia. The Russians opened up a new front in the war on Monday, but on Tuesday, President Medvedev ordered a cessation of hostilities.

The diplomatic moves raised hopes that the six-day-old conflict -- between Russia and Georgia over the two renegade Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia -- would soon end. Georgia said that violence continued on Tuesday even after Medvedev made his announcement.

"The security of our peacekeepers and civilians has been restored," Medvedev said. "The aggressor has been punished and suffered very significant losses. Its military has been disorganized," the Russian president said, referring to Georgian troops.

Medvedev and Sarkozy have agreed that both Russian and Georgian troops should withdraw to the positions they held before hostilities began. Sarkozy also said on Tuesday that the European Union is prepared to send peacekeepers to the region.

Still, late on Tuesday, Sarkozy warned that there was still a lot of ground to cover. "We do not yet have a peace deal, we have a provisional cessation of hostilities, but this is significant progress," Sarkozy said according to Reuters.

A cessation of hostilities would certainly come as a relief to Georgia. On Monday, Saakashvili said that advancing Russian forces had taken the town of Gori, just south of South Ossetia, thus cutting off Georgia's main east-west highway artery and raising fears that Russia planned to advance on the Georgian capital Tbilisi. On Tuesday, Russian bombing runs in Gori killed five, including one Dutch television cameraman, according to the Associated Press. Georgia also complained of violence continuing despite Medvedev's announcement that he had ordered an end to hostilities.

On Tuesday morning, troops from the Georgian breakaway province of Abkhazia struck at Georgian troops in an attempt to dislodge them from their final toe-hold in the province. Sergei Shamba, who acts as foreign minister in the Abkhazian separatist government, said that his forces were targeting Georgian positions in the Kodori Gorge. No reports on casualties from this and other fighting in Georgia were immediately available on Tuesday.

Russia had come under increasing pressure this week to bring about an end to hostilities. In his harshest words yet, US President George W. Bush, speaking from the White House shortly after returning home from the Beijing Olympics, said "Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century." He accused Russia of a "dramatic and brutal escalation."

Both Kouchner and Stubb, who is also the foreign minister of Finland, were in Moscow on Tuesday in an attempt to get Russia's signature on the cease-fire agreement signed Monday in Tbilisi.

Map: Georgia and the Caucusus
SPIEGEL ONLINE

Map: Georgia and the Caucusus

Still, despite Medvedev's Tuesday announcement, it is unclear whether Russia and Georgia will be able to resolve their larger differences at the negotiating table. The current hostilities had been brewing for some time prior to last Thursday evening's invasion of South Ossetia by Georgia. Some analysts think that Russia was attempting to provoke Georgia into launching an offensive to provide an excuse for its own operations in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Both provinces have been de-facto autonomous since defeating Georgia on the battlefield in the early 1990s during the break-up of the Soviet Union, but under international law they are considered part of Georgian territory. Russia has long supported them and even took the step of providing citizens of both provinces with Russian passports.

Russia this week called Georgian operations in South Ossetia "genocide." Saakashvili fired back with accusations that Russia was pursuing a policy of "ethnic cleansing" and driving Georgians out of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Leaders in Moscow have likewise said they would not talk with Georgian President Saakashvili, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggesting on Tuesday that the best thing for him to do "would be to step down." Lavrov denied that Russia was interested in toppling Saakashvili, but went on to say that Russia would no longer accept the stationing of Georgian peacekeepers in South Ossetia.

A stop to the fighting, however, would provide the relief necessary for the international community to help broker a more stable peace in the region. So far, the West has had little leverage in the conflict, with Russia having long ignored mounting appeals to stop its advance into Georgian territory on Monday and Tuesday. Despite US proclamations of support for the pro-Western Saakashvili, Washington could do little except sharpen the tone of the rhetoric. Appeals to the United Nations have likewise proven ineffectual due to Russia's permanent veto on the Security Council.

NATO too has had little recourse. Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer criticized Russia on Monday for using "disproportionate force" and on Tuesday said that NATO is still committed to eventual Georgian membership in the alliance. But earlier this year, NATO opted not to grant Georgia a clear roadmap to membership -- a decision which Georgia has now sharply criticized.

"It is our clear position and this position is strengthened after the Russian violations, that it was a big mistake made by allies that Georgia and Ukraine did not get the Membership Action Plan in Bucharest," Georgia's NATO envoy Revaz Beshidze said on Tuesday, referring to the location of the NATO meeting earlier this year. "We think Russia got this message as a green light, and mostly, the recent steps we have in the territory of Georgia come from this mistake."

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