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Bush Slams Russia's Invasion Of Georgia

Russian tanks roared deep into Georgia on Monday, launching a new western front in the conflict, and Russian planes staged air raids that sent people screaming and fleeing for cover in some towns.

The escalating warfare brought sharp words from President Bush, who pressed Moscow to accept an immediate cease-fire and pull its troops out to avert a "dramatic and brutal escalation" of violence in the former Soviet republic.

Touring battle damage on Monday, Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili said he heard a Russian jet and feared he might be its target, reports CBS News correspondent Richard Roth. Bodyguards bundled him away. His people don't have that protection.

"We are basically seeing the cold-blooded, preplanned, premeditated murder of a small country," said Saakashvili.

There's a moral duty for the world to respond to the invasion Georgia, he said. But, as Roth reports, diplomacy is the only weapon the West is using.

"We strongly condemn the bombing outside South Ossetia," President Bush said in a Rose Garden speech Monday afternoon.

What's troubling about this war, fought in a relatively unknown region, is that none of the suffering here is about the enclave of Ossetia, reports CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews. This war is all about Russia and the message Russia's sending to the world. This is Putin's announcement that Russia is back as a great power.

Vladimir Putin, Russia's former President and current Prime Minister, has been planning this attack on Georgia for years, reports Andrews.

"We have to understand, these Russian troops didn't materialize out of nowhere," said political analyst Robert Kagen. "This is the culmination of Putin's efforts to pull Georgia back within Russia's sphere and exert control over it."

Russian forces for the first time moved well outside the two restive, pro-Russian provinces claimed by Georgia that lie at the heart of the dispute. An Associated Press reporter saw Russian troops in control of government buildings in this town, just miles from the frontier and Russian troops were reported in nearby Senaki.

"The advance casts doubts on Russia's claim that this five-day war is just a peacekeeping operation," said CBS News reporter Beth Knobel.

Georgia's president said his country had been sliced in half with the capture of a critical highway crossroads near the central city of Gori, and Russian warplanes launched new air raids across the country.

The Russian Defense Ministry, through news agencies, denied it had captured Gori and also denied any intentions to advance on the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.

The western assault expanded the days-old war beyond the central breakaway region of South Ossetia, where a crackdown by Georgia last week drew the initial military response from Russia.

"There is no question that Georgia started this conflict with an offensive against the separatists of South Ossetia, because its entry to NATO required a resolution to the problem, but the disproportionate and continuing military attacks by Russia appear to have united the European Union and the U.S. in a call for the removal of Russian troops," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk.

"The fighting has now created a major refugee crisis that is spilling over to regional states, and a political crisis with fears that Russia is trying to overthrow the democratically elected, pro-Western government of Georgia," added Falk.

While most Georgian forces were still busy fighting around South Ossetia, in the country's east, Russian troops opened the western attack by invading from a second separatist province, Abkhazia, which occupies Georgia's coastal northwest arm.

Russian forces moved into Senaki, 20 miles inland from the Black Sea, and seized police stations in Zugdidi, just outside the southern fringe of Abkhazia. Abkhazian allies took control of the nearby village of Kurga, according to witnesses and Georgian officials.

By late Monday, Russian news agencies, citing the Defense Ministry, said troops had left Senaki, 20 miles inland from the Black Sea port of Poti, "after liquidating the danger," but did not give details.

The new assault came despite a claim earlier in the day by a top Russian general that Russia had no plans to enter undisputed Georgian territory.

In related developments:

  • Knobel reported a group of pro-Georgian European presidents were headed for Tbilisi Tuesday to lend their support in the standoff with Russia. The head of Georgia's security council told the Interfax news agency that Poland's Lech Kaczynski, Lithuania's Valdas Adamkus, Ukraine's Viktor Yushenko and Estonian President Toomas Hendrick Ilves would go to suppport Saakashvili.
  • In talking points on the conflict obtained by The Associated Press, the Bush administration claims it had no specific advance warning that Georgia would try to retake control of South Ossetia.
  • Vasil Sikharulidze, Georgia's ambassador to the United States, said his government has made no specific requests for U.S. military help beyond assistance bringing Georgian troops home from Iraq to help in the fighting.
  • Former Cuban President Fidel Castro weighed in Monday evening on the side of Russia in its conflict with Georgia. In an editorial posted on the official government Web site, Castro insisted that Georgia would never have dared to send troops into the breakaway republic without backing from the U.S. He described Georgian President Saakashvili as an "adventurer" and an "opportunistic, ambitious and Westernized Georgian." Castro accused him of deliberately "invading" South Ossetia while the world was focused on the opening of the Olympic Games.
    (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov)
    Saakashvili, seen at left, told a national security meeting that Russia had also taken central Gori, which is on Georgia's only east-west highway, cutting off the eastern half of the nation from the western Black Sea coast.

    But the news agency Interfax cited a Russian Defense Ministry official as denying Gori was captured. Attempts to reach Gori residents by telephone late Monday did not go through.

    Russia's massive and multi-pronged offensive has drawn wide criticism from the West, but Russia has rejected calls for a cease-fire and said it was acting to protect its citizens. Most residents of the separatist regions have Russian passports.

    Both provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, have run their own affairs without international recognition since fighting to split from Georgia in the early 1990s, and both have close ties with Moscow.

    The Georgian president said Russia had sent 20,000 troops and 500 tanks into Georgia. He said Russian warplanes were bombing roads and bridges, destroying radar systems and targeting Tbilisi's civilian airport. One Russian bombing raid struck the Tbilisi airport area only a half-hour before EU envoys arrived, he said.

    At least 9,000 Russian troops and 350 armored vehicles were in Abkhazia, according to a Russian military commander.

    Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said more than 2,000 people have been killed in South Ossetia since Friday, most of them Ossetians with Russian passports. The figures could not be independently confirmed, but refugees who fled Tskhinvali over the weekend said hundreds had been killed.

    Many found shelter in the Russian province of North Ossetia.

    "The Georgians burned all of our homes," said one elderly woman, as she sat on a bench under a tree with three other white-haired survivors. "The Georgians say it is their land. Where is our land, then?"