Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgian president, said that his country has been cut in half by Russian forces, who control the key town of Gori, just 76km from Tbilisi, the country’s capital.(photo , from dailymail.co.uk)
On Monday, during a national security meeting, Georgian president said that Russia’s military had “cut off connections between western and eastern Georgia”.
In order to stop Georgia from attacking South Ossetia, another breakaway region, Russian forces also occupied the towns of Senaki, Zugdidi and Kurga, which are close to the de facto border with South Ossetia, even though earlier in the day, Russian general’s claim that their country had no plans to enter Georgian territory.
Russian forces had also entered the Black Sea port city of Poti, reported Georgia.
Foreign envoys were pressing for a ceasefire while the fighting continued.
Late last week, violence erupted in South Ossetia, when Georgia launched an overnight assault on the territory. As the province’s bid for separation is supported by Russia, the country bombed targets throughout Georgia, before moving troops into the region and into Abkhazia.
Monday was the first time Russia confirmed that it had advanced beyond the borders of Abkhazia, saying it had launched an operation in the town of Senaki.
“This is a total onslaught. Russian forces are occupying Gori”, Georgia’s National Security Council secretary Alexander Lomaia told the AFP news agency. He also said that Georgian troops were pulling back in order to defend Tbilisi.
But Russia later denied taking Gori, which is on Georgia’s only east-west main road. From there, Moscow could cut off eastern Georgia from its Black Sea coast. The city of Gori had been largely evacuated, confirmed Jonah Hull, Al JAzeera’s correspondent.
“The evacuation began suddenly … when word came that the Russians were 5km to 10km from the city’s limits”, he said.
“I have seen civilians and the army fleeing. Georgian troops clinging to the back of quad bikes. I have seen tanks leaving in no particular formation.”
“Basically, it’s panic.”
80 per cent of the 50 000 population of Gori had fled because of Russian attacks, said the United Nation’s refugee agency (UNHCR)
An AFP news agency photographer said that at least seven Georgian soldiers were injured in an attack on a military convoy leaving the town.
Russian troops moved into the western city of Senaki, close South Ossetia, to prevent Georgian troops regrouping there, said the Russian defence ministry.
An artillery bombardment of Tskhinvali, South Ossetia’s capital, has been resumed by Georgia, said the South Ossetian separatist government, and residents reported many deaths in the town.
18 soldiers and four planes have been lost in the conflict, said Russia’s military in the conflict, without giving details of its latest operations.
It added that 2 000 people have been killed in South Ossetia, a figure disputed by Georgia.
Later, the Georgian foreign ministry said that more than 50 Russian warplanes had flown over Georgian territory.
“Tbilisi was bombed. Bombs hit the village of Kojori and Makhata mountain”, the ministry said in a statement.
There would be “no surrender” to Russian aggression, said Mikhail Saakashvili, adding that “the world has a moral duty to stop the madness”.
‘Invasion, occupation and annihilation’
Georgian president added that the manner in which Russian troops mobilised in South Ossetia over recent days clearly indicated that it was a pre-meditated operation.
He said: “It is obvious… the Russian invasion had been planned for months and months and months. The timing of this intervention has been chosen deliberately [with regards] to the Olympics.”
“It is so clear what has happened. We are in the process of invasion, occupation and annihilation of a democratic, independent country.”
“Please wake up everybody and make your position and speak with a united voice … We are seeing the cold-blooded, pre-meditated, murder of a small country.”
Amid growing international calls for a halt to the fighting, diplomatic tensions between Russia and US prevented the UN Security Council from agreeing a statement calling for an end to hostilities.
Lado Gurgenidze, the Georgian prime minister announced in a televised address that Russian forces had entered the port city of Poti, saying : “We regret that we have witnessed such developments without our Western partners intervening more actively.”
On Monday, Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, said that the West had mistaken the real aggressors for the victims. During a speech to senior government officials he said that the Cold War mentality remained in some United States politicians.
‘It’s a shame’
“It is a shame that some of our partners are not helping us but, essentially, are hindering us”, Putin said.
“I mean … the transfer by the United States of a Georgian contingent in Iraq with military transport planes practically to the conflict zone.”
It has been confirmed by the US military that they begun flying 2 000 Geogian troops home from Iraq, after Georgia recalled them.
“The very scale of this cynicism is astonishing”, said Mr Putin.
“The attempt to turn white into black, black into white and to adeptly portray victims of aggression as aggressors and place the responsibility for the consequences of the aggression on the victims.”
George W. Bush, the US president, said he had told Vladimir Putin that Russia’s bombing campaign was “unacceptable”.
“I expressed my grave concern about the disproportionate response of Russia and that we strongly condemn bombing outside of South Ossetia”, the US president told NBC television.
A deal, calling for a ceasefire, medical help for victims, the withdrawal of troops on both sides and eventual talks, has been proposed by the EU.
After meeting with Georgian president, Bernard Kouchner (photo, from nouvelobs.com) and Alexander Stubb, the French and Finnish foreign ministers, were set to put a peace plan to Russian leaders.
On Tuesday, Nicolas Sarkozy, French President will also go to Georgia, said Mr Saakashvili.
Mr Sarkozy would also travel to Moscow, said Mr Kouchner.
In other developments:
• The UN security council is to be briefed by its peacekeeping department on apparent incursions in to Georgian territory.
• Georgia’s foreign minister is due to meet Nato officials on Tuesday. Russia has also requested an emergency meeting with Nato, saying the organisation should hear Moscow’s side before making any decisions.
• The US and several European nations have begun to evacuate hundreds of their citizens from Georgia.
• Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland issue a joint statement saying that as “once-captive nations of Eastern Europe” they share a “deep concern” about Russia’s actions towards Georgia.
• The G7 group of developed countries issues a strongly-worded statement calling on Russia to accept the EU-brokered ceasefire agreement.