WASHINGTON "The United States stands with the democratically elected
government of Georgia and insists that the sovereignty and
territorial integrity of Georgia be respected," Bush said during
brief but stern remarks in the White House Rose Garden. Moscow's
apparent violation of a cease-fire in neighboring Georgia puts its
global aspirations at risk, he said.
"To begin to repair the damage to its relations with the United
States, Europe and other nations and to begin restoring its place
in the world, Russia must keep its word and act to end this
crisis," Bush said.
The president announced that "to demonstrate our solidarity
with the Georgian people" he was sending Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice to Paris to assist the West's diplomatic efforts
on the crisis, and then on to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
He also announced a massive U.S. humanitarian effort that would
involve American aircraft as well as naval forces. A U.S. C-17
military cargo plane loaded with supplies landed in Georgia on
Wednesday, and Bush said that Russia must ensure that "all lines
of communication and transport, including seaports, roads and
airports," remain open to let deliveries and civilians through.
Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said later that a
second supply-laden C-17 would arrive Thursday and that an
assessment team was to arrive soon in Georgia to determine other
needs. The Pentagon also is preparing to send the hospital ship,
the USNS Comfort, if needed, though it would take weeks to get to
The administration also will review what military help is needed
for Georgia's now-shattered armed forces, Whitman said.
The president spoke amid a fast-moving chain of events, with
Rice moving a planned morning news conference to the afternoon and
the White House scrubbing altogether its regular morning briefing
Despite extensive intelligence resources and deep ties to the
Georgian military, which has been trained by the U.S., the
administration has struggled to determine what's happening on the
ground, for instance whether Russia is going farther into Georgia
or threatening Tbilisi.
"There are confused reports and varying reports that are coming
in," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said. "We're doing our
best to keep up with them and to best understand the situation. ...
It's not the easiest thing in the world given the geography and the
cutoff of information."
Still, Bush said developments on the ground appear to contradict
Russia's promise of a halt to military operations. Perino called
reports of the cease-fire violation "credible."
Neither the president nor any Cabinet member has answered
questions on the record about the 6-day-old crisis except for
remarks that Bush made in a television interview Sunday on the
sidelines of the Olympic Games in Beijing.
Bush spent the morning meeting with his national security team
in the White House Situation Room, the nerve center for monitoring
international developments. He talked by telephone with Georgia's
embattled president, Mikhail Saakashvili, and with French President
Nicolas Sarkozy, who traveled to both Tbilisi and Moscow and is
leading a European Union initiative to bring about peace there.
Rice was leaving for Paris Wednesday evening. And Bush delayed
the start of his vacation by "a day or two" to monitor
developments, said presidential spokeswoman Dana Perino. He had
been scheduled to leave Thursday for a two-week stay at his Texas
The Russian operation began after Georgia last week tried to
secure control over South Ossetia, a breakaway region loyal to
Moscow. Russia's fierce military response expanded to Abkhazia,
another separatist province on Georgia's coast, and ended up on
purely Georgian soil.
On Wednesday, Russian tanks rumbled into the Georgian city of
Gori -- after Saakashvili said he accepted a cease-fire plan
brokered by France that called for both sides to retreat to their
original positions, and after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
said Russia was halting military action.
Georgian officials said Gori was looted and bombed by the
Russians. An AP reporter later saw dozens of tanks and military
vehicles leaving the city, roaring south and deeper into Georgia.
Later in the day, Georgian officials said the Russians pulled out
of the western town of Zugdidi, near Abkhazia.
Bush cited specific concerns: that Russian units have taken up
positions on the east side of Gori, which could allow Russia to
block an east-to-west highway, divide the country and threaten the
capital of Tblisi; that Russian forces have entered and taken
positions in the port city of Poti; and that Russia is blowing up
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied that Russian
troops were anywhere near Poti.
The administration and its allies are debating ways to punish
Russia, including expelling Moscow from an exclusive club of
wealthy nations -- the G-7 -- and canceling an upcoming joint
NATO-Russia military exercise. Whitman said the U.S. will be
reviewing other military-to-military cooperative programs with
Russia as well.
But it has become increasingly clear that the West may have
little leverage to influence Moscow's decisions. Bush held out no
"Russia has sought to integrate into the diplomatic, political,
economic, and security structures of the 21st century. The United
States has supported those efforts," he said. "Now Russia is
putting its aspirations at risk by taking actions in Georgia that
are inconsistent with the principles of those institutions."
Lavrov lashed back from Moscow, calling Georgia's leadership "a
special project of the United States. And we understand that the
United States is worried about its project."
He was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that at some
point, the United States will have to choose "either support for a
virtual project, or real partnership on issues that really demand
collective action," referring to U.S. cooperation with Russia in
the U.N. Security Council on Iran and other global hot spots.
Saakashvili, meanwhile, called the Western response inadequate.
"I feel that they are partly to blame," he said. "Not only those
who commit atrocities are responsible ... but so are those who fail
Bush, during a 2005 visit to Tbilisi, personally assured the
people of Georgia that the United States would be its unflinching
ally. "The path of freedom you have chosen is not easy, but you
will not travel it alone," he said then.
The tiny, poverty stricken nation of Georgia has staked its
future on leaning West and joining NATO is one of its key goals.
Bush has supported this move, but the security alliance's leaders
put the requests from Georgia, as well as another ex-Soviet
republic, Ukraine, on hold in April for fear of upsetting relations
In Tbilisi, the U.S. embassy is passing out $1.2 million in
disaster packages containing medical supplies, tents, blankets,
bedding, clothing and other items, said State Department spokesman
Robert Wood said. The U.S. is also sending 104,000 doses of
antibiotics in response to a Georgian request.
The relief agency USAID is adding an initial $250,000 for
emergency relief supplies.
Quick headlines | 100 most recent national stories | RSS feeds
Slideshow archive | ABC13 wireless | Help solve crimes