Wednesday, August 13, 2008

American Navy and Air Force Heading to Ally Georgia with Humanitarian Aid

"It’s not about Georgia any more. You know, if Russia gets away with this, I can predict now that the Baltic countries will be next, Ukraine may be attacked. We’ve seen them – as ruthless, as lawless, as brutal, as arrogant as they can get. They go unchecked. The world community should speak with one voice. We need a big humanitarian relief operation, like the Berlinairlift, because the capital is blocked from all sides. It’s one and a half million people, it’s a modern European city, and it needs a lifeline. The main thing is that if the West fails, it will have tremendous consequences for the years to come."---Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili (8-13-08)

In a show of unity, the post-communist leaders from Georgia, Poland, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania addressed thousands of Georgians gathered in the capital of Tbilisi on August 12. [See a Youtube video of the assembly in Tbilisi and a video of recent events at RFE/RL (8-13-08)]

Despite this show of unity, Georgian President Saakashvilli's future is unclear. RFE/RL (8-13-08)

Today, President Mikheil Saakashvilli held a teleconference briefing:

I’d like to briefly describe the situation. Russian tanks have advanced since morning, and moved into the town Gori. They have destroyed buildings, blown up and rampaged through houses. There has been looting by Russian troops, shooting at some people, theft of furniture, computers, everything valuable.

They are now on the main road leading from West to East, blocking the capital’s bloodline, 50km from Tbilisi. They have cut Georgia in half, West and East. The capital is now in some sort of economic blockade.

Regarding the situation in Abkhazia, South Ossetia: two things. First, the Russians have rampaged through Georgian-populated areas of South Ossetia, representing roughly half of what was South Ossetia. They have ethnically cleansed the population. They have separated men from women and set up internment camps for men in the area of Kouta. There are reports of summary executions. There is also looting in several villages.

In Upper Abkhazia, they have expelled practically the entire ethnic Georgian population. The town of Tskhinvali, at the moment when we left, was heavily bombarded. It was totally levelled. They turned it into a sort of second Grozny. We demanded immediate access for the international community, so that they could verify who was responsible. All indications are that the Russians deliberately levelled the city - they destroyed the place. We also have economic sabotage, a humanitarian crisis, and predatory incursions.

One might ask why. I think they’re not just trying to kill a country, but the ideal of free democracy and successful prosperity. They want to show the west who is boss. They’ve tried to cut off energy lines, using their Iskander missiles against pipelines. CNN qualifies them as missiles of mass destruction. This is the latest technology Russia has at its disposal. They used two of them against the pipeline. They dropped dozens of bombs on the pipelines, they’ve bombed the seaports, they managed to bomb our oil terminal in the Black Sea. They also want to punish our democracy, and that’s where we find ourselves now. [Full text]

President Bush also held a news conference in the Rose Garden and said that the U.S. Navy and Air Force are heading toward Georgia with humanitarian aid. Condoleezza Rice will also be flying to France and onward to Georgia.

President Bush said:

The United States of America stands with the democratically elected government of Georgia. We insist that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected.

Russia has stated that changing the government of Georgia is not its goal. The United States and the world expect Russia to honor that commitment. Russia has also stated that it has halted military operations and agreed to a provisional cease-fire. Unfortunately, we're receiving reports of Russian actions that are inconsistent with these statements. We're concerned about reports that Russian units have taken up positions on the east side of the city of Gori, which allows them to block the East-West Highway, divide the country, and threaten the capital of Tbilisi.

We're concerned about reports that Russian forces have entered and taken positions in the port city of Poti, that Russian armored vehicles are blocking access to that port, and that Russia is blowing up Georgian vessels. We're concerned about reports that Georgian citizens of all ethnic origins are not being protected. All forces, including Russian forces, have an obligation to protect innocent civilians from attack.

With these concerns in mind, I have directed a series of steps to demonstrate our solidarity with the Georgian people and bring about a peaceful resolution to this conflict. I'm sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to France, where she will confer with President Sarkozy. She will then travel to Tbilisi, where she will personally convey America's unwavering support for Georgia's democratic government. On this trip she will continue our efforts to rally the free world in the defense of a free Georgia.

I've also directed directed Secretary of Defense Bob Gates to begin a humanitarian mission to the people of Georgia, headed by the United States military. This mission will be vigorous and ongoing. A U.S. C-17 aircraft with humanitarian supplies is on its way. And in the days ahead we will use U.S. aircraft, as well as naval forces, to deliver humanitarian and medical supplies.

We expect Russia to honor its commitment to let in all forms of humanitarian assistance. We expect Russia to ensure that all lines of communication and transport, including seaports, airports, roads, and airspace, remain open for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and for civilian transit. We expect Russia to meet its commitment to cease all military activities in Georgia. And we expect all Russian forces that entered Georgia in recent days to withdraw from that country. [Full text]

The Georgian flag over Tbilisi, Georgia

The Georgian Foreign Ministry appears have set up a blogger.com site here, so the Russians can't close down their communications. Here is the site of their Washington Embassy.

Today's press conference, suggests that our government anticipates that the Russians are attempting to blockade Georgia.

CQ Politics (8-13-08) reports:

U.S. military aircraft are headed to Georgia to deliver humanitarian supplies as the beginning of an ongoing effort to aid the former Soviet republic, where some 100,000 people have been displaced by war with Russia, President Bush said Wednesday.

Bush said U.S. naval vessels would also take part in the “vigorous and ongoing” delivery of aid, and warned Russia not to interfere with U.S. access to the country.

The president also repeated his call for Russian forces to withdraw from Georgia and for Moscow to honor its commitment to a ceasefire in the six-day war over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

“The United States insists that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected,” Bush said. “Russia must keep its word and act to end this crisis.”

See news from the Georgian Service of RFE/RL and the Jamestown Foundation.

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