Russia Orders Halt To Attacks In Georgia

An Ossetian soldier uses a mobile phone as he walks near a destroyed tank in Tskhinvali, capital of Georgian breakaway enclave of South Ossetia on Aug. 11, 2008.
AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel
Russia ordered a halt to military action in Georgia on Tuesday, after five days of air and land attacks that sent Georgia's army into headlong retreat and left towns, military bases and homes in the U.S. ally smoldering. Georgia insisted that Russian forces were still bombing and shelling.

Despite the pledge by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Russia launched an offensive Tuesday in the only part of Abkhazia still under Georgian control. An Associated Press reporter saw 135 Russian military vehicles driving through Georgia en route to Abkhazia's Kodori Gorge - and Georgian officials said their troops in the gorge were being attacked by Russians.

Abkhazian officials claimed their forces - not the Russians - were carrying out artillery attacks in the Kodori Gorge. Fleeing Georgians said the entire population of the gorge, some 3,000 people, had abandoned their homes - some so quickly they didn't even grab food or water.

"It feels like an annexed country," said Lasha Margiana, the local administrator in one of the villages in Kodori.

And just hours before Medvedev's order, Georgian officials said Russian jets targeted government offices and an outdoor market in the key Georgian city of Gori, killing six.

Russia has accused Georgia of killing more than 2,000 people, mostly civilians, in the separatist province of South Ossetia. The claim couldn't be independently confirmed, but witnesses who fled the area over the weekend said hundreds had died.

Many Georgians also have been killed in the fighting and on Tuesday, the Georgian security council said it filed a lawsuit in the International Court of Justice for alleged ethnic cleansing. The overall death toll was expected to rise because large areas of Georgia were still too dangerous for journalists to enter and see the true scope of the damage.

Tens of thousands of terrified residents have fled the fighting - South Ossetians north to Russia, and Georgians west toward the capital of Tbilisi and the country's Black Sea coast.

Georgia's Ambassador to the United Nations, Irakli Alasania, told CBS News Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith that Russia's calls for regime change were, "nothing new to us... all along, this was their aim, to change the democratically-elected government of Georgia."

Asked by Smith whether he thought the Russian's decision to halt military operations would last, Alasania said, "not really, because after that statement the bombing on Georgian territory was still continuing."

Gori's post office and university were burning Tuesday, but the city was all but deserted after most remaining residents and Georgian soldiers fled Monday ahead of a feared Russian onslaught.

Russian deputy chief of General Staff Anatoly Nogovitsyn insisted Tuesday that Russian forces did not bomb Gori and said Russian troops weren't in the city. Still, he confirmed that his forces had taken control of a Georgian airport in Senaki, 30 miles east of Abkhazia.

In Tskhinvali, South Ossetia's provincial capital, the body of a Georgian soldier lay in the street along with debris. A poster hanging nearby showed Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the slogan "Say yes to peace and stability" as South Ossetian separatist fighters launched rockets at a Georgian plane soaring overhead. Broken glass and other debris littered the ground.

In Moscow, Medvedev said on national television that Georgia had been punished enough for its attack on South Ossetia. Georgia launched an offensive late Thursday to regain control over the separatist province, which has close ties to Russia.

"The aggressor has been punished and suffered very significant losses. Its military has been disorganized," Medvedev said.

"If there are any emerging hotbeds of resistance or any aggressive actions, you should take steps to destroy them," he ordered his defense minister at a televised Kremlin meeting.

Russia's foreign minister called for Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to resign and Medvedev said Georgia must pull its troops from South Ossetia and Abkhazia - the two breakaway provinces at the heart of the dispute.

But thousands of Georgians poured out their support for their president at a rally in Tbilisi, crowding a main square and nearby streets as far as the eye could see and holding aloft fluttering red-and-white Georgian flags.

Georgia borders the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia and was ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. South Ossetia and Abkhazia have run their own affairs without international recognition since fighting to split from Georgia in the early 1990s.

Both separatist provinces are backed by Russia, which appears open to absorbing them.

Medvedev said Tuesday that Russian peacekeepers will stay in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and Saakashvili said his government will officially designate Russian peacekeepers in those breakaway provinces as occupying forces.

On Monday, Russian forces opened a second battlefront in western Georgia, moving deep into Georgian territory from Abkhazia. They seized a military base in Senaki and occupied police precincts in the western town of Zugdidi. Russian troops also advanced Monday into central Georgia from South Ossetia, taking positions near Gori on the main east-west highway as terrified civilians fled.

Saakashvili said the twin moves sliced his country in half.

Nogovitsyn dismissed Georgian reports that warplanes again bombed an oil pipeline and accused Georgia of spreading false reports to rally anti-Russian sentiments in the West.

Still, the British oil company BP shut down one of three Georgian pipelines as a precaution.

Georgia sits on a strategic oil pipeline carrying Caspian crude to Western markets bypassing Russia, has long been a source of contention between the West and a resurgent Russia, the dominant energy supplier to Europe.

Tamam Bayatli, a spokeswoman for pipeline operator BP-Azerbaijan, said in Baku that pumping of oil via Georgian territory was temporarily suspended as a "precaution" but the pipeline was intact.

The situation in Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, remained tense as sporadic fighting and artillery duels continued, but the city was in the control of Russian army and South Ossetian forces.

In villages around Tskhinvali once populated by ethnic Georgians, South Ossetian fighters reportedly were setting fire to Georgian houses and searching for hidden Georgian fighters.

An AP photographer in the village of Ruisi near South Ossetia saw fresh damage from a Russian air raid that locals said came just 30 minutes before Medvedev's televised statement.

Residents said three villagers were killed and another five wounded when a Russian warplane raided the village. One slain victim, 77-year old Amiran Vardzelashvili, was struck by a fragment in the heart while was working in a field.

The Georgian government said another nearby village, Sakorinto, also was bombed after Medvedev announcing a halt to fighting, and as was an ambulance near the village of Agara in the Black Sea province of Adzharia.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who arrived in Moscow carrying Western demands for a Russian pullback, welcomed the Russian decision to halt the fighting but said Georgia's sovereignty, integrity and security must be protected.

As he started talks with Sarkozy, Medvedev said Georgia must pull its troops from the breakaway regions and pledge not to use force.

The U.N. and NATO called meetings Tuesday to deal with the conflict, while Poland's president and the leaders of four former Soviet republics flew to Georgia for a meeting of solidarity with Saakashvili.

"Georgia's initial assault against South Ossetia may very well delay its NATO membership and diplomats may view Russian intentions in the region in a new light," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk, "and there is still some distance between the different peace proposals which will have to be sorted out before a ceasefire agreement is finalized."

"The Russian state has once again shown its face, its true face," said Poland's Lech Kaczynski, who was being joined by counterparts from Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine and Latvia.

But he said it was "good news" that Medvedev ordered a halt to military action.

If the cease-fire holds, reported CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips, it would be the first sign that the crisis can be contained, but the shape of the region, and of East-West relations following the conflict, remain very much in doubt.

At the White House on Monday, Mr. Bush had demanded that Russia end a "dramatic and brutal escalation" of violence in Georgia, agree to an immediate cease-fire and accept international mediation.

"Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century," Mr. Bush said in a televised statement.