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Feb 11, 2007
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US condemns 'dangerous' Russian response in South Ossetia

American official calls Moscow's military action against Georgia 'disproportionate' and warns of lasting damage to relations

Mark Tran and agencies guardian.co.uk,
Sunday August 10 2008 12:21 BST

The US today condemned Russia for its "dangerous and disproportionate" action against Georgia and warned of long-term damage to relations between Washington and Moscow.

"We're alarmed by this situation," James Jeffrey, the US deputy national security adviser, told reporters in Beijing where George Bush, the US president, was attending the Olympics.

He said the US had made it clear to the Russians their continued escalation in the conflict with Georgia over its breakaway province of South Ossetia could seriously harm US-Russia ties.

Jeffrey said the US would be "very, very concerned" if reports of Russian ground attacks in Georgia, a US ally, were accurate.

Georgia is the third-largest troop contributor after the US and Britain in the US-led war in Iraq. But the Georgian contingent – among Georgia's best troops - is preparing to leave to join the fighting against Russia in South Ossetia.

The US military will provide transport for the 2,000 troops, but the arrangements have not been finalised, said Colonel Bondo Maisuradze, the commander of the Georgia brigade.

"We are almost ready to redeploy," Maisuradze told the Associated Press. "Our government has requested the removal of all our forces, but we are still waiting for the flight schedule."

Georgian troops moved last year from the relatively safe Green Zone in Baghdad to an area southeast of the capital to help block supplies being smuggled to Shia extremists from Iran.

Amid fears that hostilities between Russia and Georgia could spread, Ukraine has warned Russia it could bar Russian navy ships from returning to their base in the Crimea because of their deployment to Georgia's coast.

Ukraine's foreign ministry said in a statement on its website the deployment could draw Ukraine into the conflict, and in such a situation Ukraine would have the right to bar the ships from returning to their base.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, expressed concern that the heavy fighting that broke out last week between Georgia and Russia could also spread to another restive Georgian province, Abkhazia.

Moon said he was "profoundly concerned over mounting tensions in the Abkhaz zone".

UN peacekeeping officials said there were indications the Abkhaz were preparing to launch a military offensive against Georgian special forces in the upper Kodori gorge in northern Abkhazia.

"At this point we are particularly concerned that the conflict appears to be spreading beyond South Ossetia into Abkhazia," the UN assistant secretary general for peacekeeping, Edmond Mulet, said.

Georgia said that Russia last night landed 4,000 troops by sea on the Black Sea coast of the province, the larger of Georgia's two breakaway regions.

Pope Benedict called for an immediate halt to the fighting between Russia and Georgia and urged world powers to help find a peaceful solution. He expressed his "profound anguish" that the violence that began on Thursday had "already caused many innocent victims and forced a great number of civilians to leave their homes".

Russia put the death toll at 2,000 while Georgia has said up to 300 of its people had died, mainly civilians.

"It is my dearest hope that military action will stop immediately and that they will abstain, in the name of their common Christian inheritance, from further clashes and violence," said the pontiff in his Sunday address.

Most of the population of Georgia belongs to the Eastern Orthodox church. "I invite the international community and the countries with most influence in the current situation to make every effort to support and promote initiatives aimed at finding a peaceful and lasting solution," the Pope said from northern Italy, where he is on holiday.
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