MOSCOW (AFP) – French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev, who ordered the end of operations against Georgia, presented on Tuesday a plan to resolve the Russian-Georgian conflict. Tbilisi for its part demanded NATO “military assistance.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov immediately warned that Russia will be forced to take further “measures” against Georgia if it rejects the plan. According to Lavrov, “it would be better” if pro-Western Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili “stepped down.”
Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, whose country chairs the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), said he was “cautiously confident” that an agreement ending the conflict could be reached on the occasion of the visit of the French head of state.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the international community began to deliver the most urgent humanitarian aid to Georgia, where the conflict with Russia led to the displacement of at least 100,000 people, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Russia and Georgia must commit themselves not to “use force,” to “cease hostilities definitively,” and to ensure “free access to humanitarian assistance,” the Georgian forces must return “to their regular location of cantonment,” and the Russian army must withdraw “to the lines prior to the outbreak of hostilities,” said Sarkozy.
The sixth point of the Russo-French plan makes provision for “the opening of international discussions on the future status and terms of durable security of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” the two pro-Russian separatist territories in Georgia, said the French president during a joint press conference with Mr. Medvedev in Moscow.
Mr. Sarkozy, who said that the European Union — whose presidency France holds — is “available” to participate in a peacekeeping force in Georgia, also found that there is “a Russian commitment to safeguard sovereignty and respect the sovereignty of Georgia,” a point on which there is “no ambiguity.”
The Russian president felt that “the way was open for a phased normalization of the situation in South Ossetia,” whereas now “everything depends on Tbilisi,” which the French head of state visited Tuesday evening to continue his mediation.
But there was “no ceasefire on the Georgian side,” denounced Mr. Medvedev, according to whom the Georgian forces have continued firing, including with artillery, after having announced they would observe a ceasefire.
For its part, Georgia, which has announced its withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Independent States, which groups twelve of the fifteen former Soviet republics under Russian leadership, has demanded “military assistance” from NATO, including the replacement radar system destroyed by the Russian offensive.
The prospect of Georgia becoming a member of the Atlantic Alliance “is maintained,” noted the NATO secretary general.
The United States, which has characterized Moscow’s order to end its military operation as a “positive” event, is preparing a package of economic aid to Georgia.
The presidents of Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, and Estonia and the prime minister of Latvia departed on Tuesday on the same plane from Simferopol, in southern Ukraine, to Georgia.
International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo could open a preliminary inquiry into the conflict between Georgia and Russia, while the European Court of Human Rights has recommended to Russia that it refrain from any measure “likely to endanger the life or health of civilian populations” in Georgia.
On the ground, the situation remained confused in the afternoon, Tbilisi claiming that the Russians continued to bomb villages in Georgia, and Moscow accusing Georgian units of shooting “sporadically.”
The Russian army has, according to an official of the General Staff, taken control of the airport of Senaki in particular, near the separatist republic of Abkhazia in western Georgia.
Some Russian soldiers and artillery were directed on Tuesday toward the Mestia region in Georgia, near Abkhazia, according to the Georgian authorities.
Two journalists, one Georgian and the other Dutch, were killed in the bombing of the Georgian city of Gori, according to an AFP photographer and the RTL television channel for which the Dutch correspondent was working.
The National Security Council of Georgia has announced: “We have suffered very heavy losses — much of our military equipment and weapons have been destroyed,” Russian forces on Tuesday having blown up at least three warships in the Georgian port of Poti on the Black Sea.
For their part, Georgian forces have withdrawn from the Kodori Gorge, a disputed region of the separatist Abkhazia territory, the Georgian Interior Ministry announced on Tuesday.