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Feb 11, 2007
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US rules out military role in Georgia but warns Russia off

· Rice's bid to rally support for ally leaves Moscow suspicious
· Bush further angers Kremlin by agreeing Polish missile pact

Ian Traynor,
Europe editor The Guardian,
Friday August 15 2008

Washington last night ruled out using military force in Georgia after putting the Pentagon in charge of the delivery of aid to the invaded Black Sea state and US non-combat troops on the ground. Robert Gates, the defence secretary, said he saw no prospect of the US engaging militarily in the Caucasus conflict, but warned that Russia's invasion of Georgia could set back its relations with the west for years.

He added that Washington wanted to avoid a return to cold war-style confrontation with Moscow.

But the east-west climate, already chilly because of the Georgia conflict, plunged further last night when Washington and Warsaw put aside a year of dispute and agreed to station 10 interceptor rockets at missile silos in Poland as part of the US missile defence shield in the Baltic region.

As part of the deal, the Americans will reportedly supply Poland with Patriot missiles, build a permanent US military base in the country, and provide mutual security guarantees.

The deal will enrage Moscow, which is vehemently opposed to the US facilities in Poland and a radar station in the neighbouring Czech Republic.

While the Americans say the shield is aimed at Iran, the Russians insist it is directed at them. Moscow has pledged to retaliate and has warned of a new arms race.

The missile shield agreement came in the midst of the worst crisis in Moscow's relations with the west since the end of the cold war.

A week into the crisis in the Caucasus, Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, is expected in the Georgian capital Tbilisi today to rally "the free world's support for a free Georgia", after criticism that the Bush administration had been slow to respond to the Russian attack on the region's key US ally.

Despite a French-brokered ceasefire agreement three days ago that required Russian and Georgian forces to retire to pre-conflict positions, Moscow's forces remained deep in what was Georgian-controlled territory yesterday, well outside the two contested provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where the Russians were stationed as "peacekeepers".

The Russians remained in control of the town of Gori, straddling the main road north of Tbilisi, of Senaki to the west, and were in the Black Sea port of Poti, all home to major Georgian military facilities.

Moscow said it did not know when it would pull out. "We are planning it. It depends on many factors. I can't give you the date. We have stopped building up troops," Colonel General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, Russia's deputy chief of staff, told reporters in Moscow.

Gates said last night there were signs that Russia was withdrawing to the two pro-Russian breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The US landed a second large military transport plane with relief aid in Tbilisi after George Bush warned the Russians not to obstruct the aid effort.

Bush's tough statement encouraged speculation that the US military could come into dangerously close contact with the Russians, raising the risk of clashes. Such fears were heightened by President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, who claimed that the Pentagon was taking control of Georgian ports and airports.

The US dismissed such claims. "We are not there to defend the ports, we are there to provide humanitarian aid," a White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said.

The signs were that the Kremlin would effect a retreat, satisfied that it had achieved its war aims and the better to control and dominate the diplomatic mediation effort that is gathering steam.

In Tbilisi today, Rice will attempt to bolster the embattled Georgians in the diplomatic tussle launched by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France on Tuesday which resulted in a six-point ceasefire and peace plan.

Rice met Sarkozy in France yesterday to attempt to toughen the mediation process being conducted by the French on behalf of the EU. "The United States of America stands strongly, as the president of France just said, for the territorial integrity of Georgia," Rice said pointedly, alongside Sarkozy.

Presenting the ceasefire terms in Moscow on Tuesday night, Sarkozy had signally refused to support Georgia's territorial integrity. "Georgia is an independent and sovereign state and I think this formula, the principle of sovereignty, is broader than the formula of territorial integrity," he said.
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