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Russian Behavior in Georgia Isolates Moscow, Rice Says at NATO Meeting

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 19, 2008 – Russia’s actions in Georgia are isolating Moscow from the international community, Secretary of State of Condoleezza Rice said today in Brussels, Belgium.

Russia escalated a simmering conflict with neighboring Georgia 11 days ago when it invaded the former Soviet republic, followed by bombing civilian infrastructure and wreaking “havoc and destruction” in Georgian villages, Rice said.

“The behavior of Russia in this most recent crisis is isolating Russia from the principles of cooperation among nations of the communities of states,” she said at a news conference after an urgent meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.

“It is not an act of the United States or the European Union or anyone else to isolate Russia, it is what Russia is doing,” Rice said.

In a strongly worded statement, NATO leaders today called for an immediate withdrawal of Russian forces to pre-conflict levels. This posture is in accordance with a peace agreement signed late last week by Russia’s President Dmitriy Medvedev and Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili.

“We call on Russia to take immediate action to withdraw its troops from the areas it is supposed to leave under the six-principle agreement signed by President Saakashvili and President Medvedev,” read the statement, referring to the French-brokered deal.

Russian tanks and armored vehicles reportedly have begun to withdrawal from the Georgian town of Gori, but a Defense Department official today said there has been no substantial drawdown.

“I would say, with respect to the Russian disposition, that we don’t see much change in the forces that were there,” Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

Echoing the NATO statement, Rice said normalized relations between NATO partners and Russia will cease amid Moscow’s self-isolating actions.

“There can be no business as usual with Russia while this kind of activity goes on,” she said, adding that a NATO assessment team will be sent to survey Georgia's military situation.

Other elements of the NATO response include the creation of the NATO-Georgia Commission. The ad hoc group will oversee the alliance’s relationship with Georgia, including supervising its Partnership for Peace status -- an antecedent to NATO membership -- and responding to any special requests by the nation.

Rice said the statement issued by NATO captures what the U.S. sought: support for Georgia's democracy, a “very strong message” that the Russian president keep his word, and maintaining the openness of NATO membership to aspiring countries.

“This document is a very clear statement that this alliance, NATO, having come so far after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in achieving a Europe that is whole, free and at peace, is not going to permit a new line to be drawn in Europe between those who were fortunate enough to make it into the transatlantic structures and those who still aspire to those transatlantic structures,” she said.

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