Georgia said on Sunday it would appeal to the international community this week to pressure Russia to end its ”occupation”, adding that Russian troops were now digging in across the country in violation of the ceasefire deal.
Russian soldiers established about 25 checkpoints over the weekend — including some outside the original conflict zone and in areas adjacent to the borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgian officials said.
Russia said its troops were no longer an occupying force but merely performing peacekeeping operations. It added that it could keep soldiers on Georgian territory under an agreement following civil wars in both breakaway republics in the early 1990s.
Georgia said that the troops’ presence on its territory was illegal. ”Russia has no right to establish checkpoints in Georgia. The ceasefire agreement is the only agreement that is still alive. All others are broken,” said Interior Ministry spokesperson Shota Utiashviavi.
He added: ”Georgia considers this as a continuation of occupation. They have just changed their helmets. Georgia will continue to observe the ceasefire and launch international diplomatic initiatives to force Russia to keep its word.”
Also on Sunday firefighters tried to extinguish a blaze on a railway line near Gori — caused when a train carrying crude oil from Kazakhstan rolled over a mine. About 12 tanker cars slithered off the line.
Georgian officials said the attack was the latest attempt by Russia to destroy its infrastructure and to stop the transit through Georgia of oil from Azerbaijan and other Caspian Sea nations. A large artillery shell had been wedged under the tracks and hidden by stones, Georgian investigators said.
Under the ceasefire deal brokered by France’s President, Nicholas Sarkozy, Russia is obliged to withdraw its forces to their pre-August 7 positions — before Georgia launched its brief, disastrous incursion into rebel-held South Ossetia.
On Saturday, however, the deputy chief of Russia’s army, Colonel General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said this wouldn’t happen. Instead, he unveiled a comprehensive network of new checkpoints leaving Russia in control of Georgia’s strategic road links and the Black Sea port of Poti.
Under Russia’s ”peacekeeping plan”, soldiers would establish checkpoints outside the conflict zone, he admitted. These included two outside Poti, several others next to the main east-west highway linking Tbilisi to the Black Sea, and one at Shavshebi, 40km west of the capital.
On Saturday, about 1 000 Georgians marched on the checkpoint about six kilometres from Poti. They waved Georgian flags and threw leaflets at the Russian soldiers with the slogan ”No to Russian chauvinism and Russian fascism”.
In neighbouring Batumi, the United States naval warship McFaul delivered humanitarian aid supplies on Sunday in the latest sign of Washington’s support for its beleaguered ally. Moscow has criticised the growing number of US and other Nato ships in the Black Sea, saying they do not ”contribute” to solving the conflict.
Russia’s state Duma, meanwhile, is today likely to announce its formal support for the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. – guardian.co.uk