Russian Forces Capture Military Base In Georgia

Russian Forces Capture Military Base In Georgia
August 12th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Russian Forces Capture Military Base In Georgia

Russian Forces Capture Military Base In Georgia
New York Times
August 12, 2008
Pg. 13

This article was reported by Michael Schwirtz, Andrew E. Kramer, and Anne Barnard, and written by Ms. Barnard.
SENAKI, Georgia — Russian armored columns entered the western Georgian city of Senaki and briefly seized a Georgian military base on Monday after issuing an ultimatum to Georgia to disarm its troops along the boundary with the separatist territory of Abkhazia.
The Russian Army had entered indisputable Georgian territory, focusing public anxiety on the central question of the war: would the Kremlin be content to disable Georgia militarily and annex the breakaway regions, or did it intend to overthrow Georgia’s government and occupy the country as a whole?
The two sides disagreed over the significance of the move. The Russian Defense Ministry said it captured the base at Senaki, which fell without evident resistance, to prevent Georgian military units from regrouping and threatening Abkhazia, which along with South Ossetia declared de facto independence from Georgia when the Soviet Union broke up. Georgian officials said the country was under wide-scale assault aimed at overthrowing the government.
President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia addressed the nation, saying Russian troops had reached the road connecting the eastern and western parts of Georgia. “The situation in Georgia is very difficult because Russia is doing everything possible to occupy the country,” he told the Georgian Security Council.
But Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin of Russia accused the Georgian leadership and the West of deliberately miscasting Russia’s actions, and he said the Georgians had committed war crimes. “The cold war has long ended but the mentality of the cold war has stayed firmly in the minds of several U.S. diplomats,” Mr. Putin said.
And President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia said his country’s forces had “completed a significant part of the operations to oblige Georgia, the Georgian authorities, to restore peace to South Ossetia,” according to a Kremlin transcript of his remarks.
In Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, rumors swept the city as residents worried about the possibility of a Russian bombardment, siege or assault.
There were conflicting reports along the road between the Russian columns and the capital about whether the Russians had captured Gori, a central Georgian town with a major military installation astride the country’s main east-west road about a 45-minute drive from the capital. The city, the birthplace of Stalin, was now a potential strategic prize.
Residents fled the city beside Georgian military units, which rode yellow municipal buses and armored personnel carriers. But Russia insisted that it had not entered Gori.
This appeared to be confirmed by American officials in Washington, who said that Russian units had stopped near the boundary with South Ossetia.
Georgia insisted that the city was being attacked, however. And as the Georgian military withdrew, fear fueled an exodus.
“We were the last to leave,” said an ambulance driver from Republican Hospital in Tbilisi, who said he had driven out with hospital employees as the Russians had moved in. “We left behind all the equipment in the hospital and 80 bodies in the morgue,” said the driver, who declined to give his name.
Mr. Saakashvili, who was forced to the ground by his guards during the day as Russian planes appeared overhead, urged citizens not to panic and said that Tbilisi was not in immediate danger. “If Tbilisi comes under threat, I will inform the residents 12 hours in advance,” he said.
As Mr. Saakashvili tried to assure the capital, two Russian tanks were parked inside the gate of a refurbished military base in Senaki that until two days ago had been a Georgian military outpost.
Russian soldiers, who identified themselves as “peacekeepers,” said they now controlled the downtown base. Senaki is well outside the United Nations-designated zone in which Russian peacekeepers had been allowed to operate tanks and heavy weapons since a cease-fire agreement in the 1990s.
That agreement was now moot. An armored personnel carrier patrolled the village. Bombs had pounded the area, and residents said soldiers had told them they would not hurt civilians but would “annihilate” anyone in a uniform.
The fast-moving developments spread confusion into the west and center of the country on the fourth day of heavy fighting.
Russia has peacekeepers stationed in both of the separatist enclaves, which won de facto independence from Georgia in fighting in the early 1990s. But over the weekend, Russia poured extra forces into Abkhazia, where it now has thousands of troops and hundreds of armored vehicles.
On Sunday morning, Maj. Gen. Sergei Chaban, commander of Russian peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia, ordered Georgian troops to disarm by sundown in the Zugdidi District, along the border between Abkhazia and Georgia.
Residents said Georgian troops withdrew to avoid confrontation after the city was bombed in the morning. The Russian troops told them, “We won’t touch the citizens but we will liquidate anyone in uniform,” said Dzhimsheri Chachibaya, a 30-year-old builder.
He was one of a small number of people still living in a building that had been bombed two days earlier. Residents said three men, ages 29, 54 and 72, were killed in the bombing. The building had been full of refugees from Abkhazia, who fled the fighting in the early 1990s.
On Monday, an Abkhaz official said that Abkhaz forces, backed by Russian paratroopers, would kill Georgian troops if they did not leave Kodori Gorge, the only part of the territory where Georgia has military forces. Abkhaz troops blocked the gorge and proposed the formation of a humanitarian corridor to allow Georgian troops and civilians to leave safely, the Abkhaz defense minister, Mirab Kishmariya, told the Russian news agency Interfax.
“If the Georgian troops don’t take advantage of this opportunity, then an operation to eliminate them will begin,” the minister said.
Later in the day, the deputy Abkhaz minister of defense, Garri Kupalba, said that 1,000 civilians had left the gorge though a humanitarian corridor but that 2,500 Georgian troops remained.
Gori, a city with a population of about 60,000 people before the conflict erupted, spreads over rolling hills on the southern rim of that valley.
On Sunday, Georgians had occupied the valley until about four miles from Tskhinvali, with the last Georgian soldiers about 400 yards from a Russian peacekeeping post. By Monday afternoon, Western photographers near the front line said the Georgians had fallen back about six miles, under the bombardment.
Russians were bombing and firing artillery in the area through the night, Georgian officials said; at least one round landed in the city, outside a mess hall on a small military base.
President Saakashvili said Russian tanks came to within three miles of the city overnight before withdrawing.
At about 12:30 p.m. on Monday, about a dozen large bombs exploded on the northern rim of the valley, near the front line, sending up plumes of white smoke and reverberating across the valley to Gori.
The faint sound of explosions echoed into the city through the afternoon.
Michael Schwirtz reported from Senaki, Georgia; Andrew E. Kramer from Gori, Georgia; and Anne Barnard from Moscow. Reporting was contributed by Steven Lee Myers and Thom Shanker from Washington; Nicholas Kulish from Tbilisi, Georgia; and C. J. Chivers.

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