Georgia: Russia Controls Third of Country

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Georgia's president said Thursday that Russian forces already control a third of Georgian territory, as they conitnued to move toward the country's second largest city.

Russia's foreign minister also declared Georgia could "forget about" regaining two separatist provinces.

Earlier Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Moscow that relations with the U.S. could be hurt "for years to come" if Russia doesn't pull back from fighting Georgia.

But Gates also said he does not see "any prospect" for using U.S. military force in the conflict.

"The United States spent 45 years working very hard to avoid a military confrontation with Russia," Gates said at a Pentagon press conference on the Ossetia conflict. "I see no reason to change that approach today."

Gates said Russia has work to do to restore its standing in the international community. As for punishing Georgia for taking steps to integrate with the West, Moscow's actions have given other European nations a greater incentive to stand firm in their own integration progress, he said.

"I think what happens in the days and months to come will determine the future course of U.S.-Russian relations," said Gates. "My personal view is that there need to be some consequences for ... the actions that Russia has taken against a sovereign state."

Confusion Amid More Explosions

Meanwhile, the sound of multiple explosions Thursday left residents in the town of Gori even more unsettled.

It was initially unclear whether the blasts signaled renewed fighting between Russian and Georgian troops or if the Russians were securing abandoned weapons in advance of their departure, as Moscow claims.

"Russian tanks have been on the move, Russian troops have been behaving extremely aggressively and they've been in the process of basically completing ethnic cleansing of all Georgian populated areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia," said Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Conflicting reports about Russia's plans to leave have Georgians on edge and the international community up in arms.

"We expect Russia to meet its commitment to cease all military activities in Georgia. And we expect all Russian forces that entered Georgia in recent days to withdraw from that country," President Bush said.

U.S. Support for Georgia

The President pledged the United States' unwavering support for Georgia, sending in the first shipment of humanitarian aid on a C-17 plane with the promise of more to come.

The Red Cross estimates the conflict - that began in the pro-Russian region of South Ossetia - has left as many as 30,000 people homeless and many more without food or water.

Before heading to Europe to help diffuse the situation, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Russia won't be allowed to repeat history.

"This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia where Russia can threaten a neighbor, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it," Rice said.

Despite the tough talk from the Bush administration and Western allies, Russia's foreign minister says the idea of Georgia's territorial integrity is a dead issue, further complicating the notion of a speedy resolution.

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CBN News
John Jessup

John Jessup

CBN News Washington Correspondent

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