Russian role in global affairs at risk: Bush


Washington : Russia’s invasion of Georgia has placed its role in diplomatic and global economic affairs at “risk”, President George W. Bush said Wednesday, as he announced that the military will lead the US humanitarian relief mission in the former Soviet republic.

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Bush accused Russia of continuing military operations inside of Georgia despite its stated agreement to a ceasefire Tuesday, including by keeping troop positions near key Georgian cities and threatening the capital Tbilisi.

“Unfortunately, we’re receiving reports of Russian actions that are inconsistent with these statements,” Bush said after meeting with his foreign policy team at the White House.

A US military C-17 cargo plane carrying humanitarian supplies had already arrived in Georgia and more flights were planned. Bush said the US Navy would soon join the humanitarian effort designed to show “solidarity” with the Georgian people.

“We expect Russia to honour its commitment to let in all forms of humanitarian assistance,” Bush said sternly.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking later to reporters, rejected a prediction by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili that US forces would move in to protect sea and air ports.

“It is not the intention of the US in some way to take control of facilities, port facilities or the like,” Rice said.

The US has supported greater Russian integration into the diplomatic, political, economic and security structures of the 21st century, but now that process is in danger, Bush said.

“Russia is putting its aspirations at risk by taking actions in Georgia that are inconsistent with the principles of those institutions,” Bush said.

The Bush administration has begun contemplating action to punish Russia, but Rice declined to say when asked by ABC News whether Washington will move to throw Russia out of the group of wealthy industrialized nations known as the G8.

“The time will come to deal with the consequences of what has happened, but for now, I hope that the Russians are going to be true to the word that they spoke … which is that they’re going to stop these military operations,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon confirmed Wednesday that the US Navy has dropped plans to join naval exercises hosted by Russia later this month because of Moscow’s military campaign in Georgia. The British and French also participate in the annual exercises conducted under a cooperation agreement between NATO and Russia.

“The Pentagon felt it inappropriate given the current situation,” Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Hubner, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said.

Rice will travel to the Georgian capital Tbilisi in support of Georgia after arriving in France Thursday to discuss the ceasefire brokered by President Nicolas Sarkozy, Bush said.

“On this trip, she will continue our efforts to rally the free world in the defence of a free Georgia,” Bush said.

The conflict began when Saakashvili ordered troops into the breakaway region of South Ossetia to quell attacks by separatists leaders backed by Moscow.

Russia responded with a massive military onslaught deep into Georgian territory and outside of the disputed South Ossetia. Fighting quickly spread to Abkhazia, a second secessionist region.

Bush demanded Moscow immediately adhere to the truce, begin removing troops from the Caucasus republic and honour statements it has no intention of removing Saakashvili’s pro-Western government, Bush said.

“The United States stands with the democratically elected government of Georgia and insists the sovereignty and territory of Georgia be respected,” Bush said.

Bush said Russian troops have been positioned outside the key city of Gori and the port city of Poti, giving them control of important transportation routes and the ability to “divide the country and threaten the capital Tbilisi.”

Bush, after returning from the Olympic Games Monday, warned that Russia was harming its relations with the United States and Europe, and Wednesday urged Russia to take steps to repair the damage.

“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 United States and Georgia have become close under the Bush administration and, at the urging of the White House, NATO earlier this year announced its intention to invite Georgia and Ukraine, another former Soviet Republic, into the alliance.

The move angered the Kremlin, which worries about NATO’s eastward expansion closer to its borders.

Russia has also been angry about US plans to station a missile- defence system in former Soviet satellite states Poland and the Czech Republic, and objected to Kosovo’s independence from traditional ally Serbia earlier this year. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned Kosovo’s independence could set a precedent for Abkhazia and South Ossetia to move in a similar direction.