Video: Few signs of pullout

updated 8/18/2008 4:02:52 PM ET 2008-08-18T20:02:52

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that NATO will not allow Russia to destabilize Georgia, intimidate other pro-Western governments in the former Soviet bloc or re-establish an Iron Curtain across Europe.

Speaking to reporters on her way to an emergency NATO meeting in Brussels, Rice warned Moscow it is playing a dangerous game with the United States and its allies, who will stand by Georgia and ensure its recovery from a weeklong Russian invasion.

Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, Rice also said the alliance would act to punish Russia for its actions and deny its strategic objectives by ensuring that Georgia’s insfrastructure and economy are rebuilt and that its government is fully supported by the West.

Amid worsening relations with Moscow, NATO foreign ministers were expected to review a range of military, ministerial and other upcoming activities planned with Russia — and decide case by case at the meeting Tuesday whether to cancel each activity.

Allied ministers also will discuss support for a planned international monitoring mission in the region and a package of support to help Georgia rebuild infrastructure damaged in its devastating defeat at the hands of the Russian armed forces.

How far NATO goes in curtailing relations with Moscow will depend on the situation on the ground as doubts remain about Russia’s implementation of a peace plan brokered by the European Union.

Russian troops patrol swath of Georgia
Russia said its military began to withdraw from the conflict zone in Georgia on Monday, but there was no clear evidence on the ground that its troops were doing so.

Rekindling Cold War tensions, Russian troops and tanks have controlled a wide swath of Georgia for days. They also began a campaign to disable the Georgian military, destroying or carting away large caches of military equipment.

Two senior U.S. officials said on condition of anonymity Monday that intelligence showed the Russian military had moved several SS-21 missile launchers into South Ossetia, in range of Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi.

The move Friday allows Russia to pull out of Georgia proper as promised, but punish Tbilisi at any moment with the push of a button. Experts said it is the same weapon system used in October 1999, when missiles slammed into the Chechen capital of Grozny and killed at least 140 people.

All of the missiles that were fired into Georgia during the conflict were fired from Russian territory, one of the administration officials said.

Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman declined to confirm the report of the missile launchers, but said such positioning would be prohibited by the cease-fire that Russia agreed to.

“Anything such as that, or any other military equipment that was moved in, would be in violation of the cease-fire and should be removed immediately,” Whitman said.

At the State Department Monday, spokesman Robert Wood said he could not respond to questions about the Russian missile launchers. “I’ve seen reports, but I can’t confirm that,” he told reporters.

Vague on penalties
U.S. officials have been vague about what punitive actions — both immediate and long-term — the U.S. or the international community might take for Russia’s intervention in Georgia.

Video: Waiting on Russia “There is no need to rush into everything,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday. “We don’t want to do it unilaterally.”

While U.S. officials say Russia can’t get away with invading its neighbor, the White House doesn’t want to damage existing relations with Russia or discourage its government from further integrating itself into global economic and political institutions.

Washington has denied claims by Russia’s ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin that it is out to wreck the NATO-Russia Council — a consultative panel set up in 2002 to improve relations between the former Cold War foes.

“We don’t want to destroy the NATO-Russia Council, but Russia’s actions have called into question the premise of the NATO-Russia relationship,” U.S. Ambassador Kurt Volker said ahead of the talks.

Rice is to meet with her European counterparts including French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and European Union High Representative Javier Solana. She is then flying to Warsaw, Poland, where she will sign a formal agreement for the establishment of a missile interceptor site there. Moscow has protested the U.S. plans for such a base so close to its borders.

Fighting broke out after Georgia launched a massive barrage Aug. 7 to try to take control of the separatist province of South Ossetia, which is heavily influenced by Russia. The Russian army quickly overwhelmed Georgia’s forces, then drove deep into the country, bombed Georgian ports and military installations and tied up an east-west highway through the nation.

Rice and Gates pressed the administration’s case during appearances on five Sunday talk shows — Rice on “Fox News Sunday,” CBS’ “Face the Nation” and NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and Gates on ABC’s “This Week” and CNN’s “Late Edition.”

U.S. plans more aid flights
In another development, the U.S. European Command said Monday it plans to start flying food into Georgia in the next 10 days, with eight flights by C-17s to the U.S.-backed ally with nearly 300,000 meals-ready-to-eat; 21 C-130 flights with food rations and another 9 C-130 flights carrying bedding.

The first planeload of supplies from the U.S. Navy was due later Monday, flying out of Italy aboard a C-9, carrying more than 2,250 personal hygiene kits.

Since relief efforts began last Wednesday, some 270,000 pounds of supplies have been flown to Georgia aboard a pair of C-17 flights and 12 flights by C-130 Hercules, including blankets, bedding and medical products.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has accused NATO leaders of encouraging the Russian invasion by postponing a decision in April, at a Bucharest summit, to put Georgia on a fast lane to membership in the alliance.

The western allies held off because Germany and France especially were wary of Russian opposition to the move. Russia is the EU’s largest energy supplier.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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