Russia still in Georgia despite agreement to leave

The Russians aren’t leaving Georgia despite having signed an agreement with Georgia to fall back to military positions established on August 6th before fighting erupted in South Ossetia. President Bush warned of long-term consequences from Russian failure to honor their commitment and declared American support for Georgian sovereignty, including South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Meanwhile, NBC reports that the Russians have looted Poti and have tank battalions creeping towards Tbilisi:

Bush told reporters at his Texas ranch that Russia took “a hopeful step” earlier in the day with an agreement to cease hostilities and pull back its forces. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the deal at the Black Sea resort of Sochi after meeting with Russia’s Security Council, according to a Russian news agency.

But Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said later that “extra security measures” were necessary before any troops could be removed — a stance that U.S. and Georgian officials said was at odds with the French-negotiated agreement.

Russia tried offering a strange and weak rationale for their presence:

Nogovitsyn also said that Russian troops had left the Georgian cities of Gori and Poti but were operating nearby. “Our units are on the outskirts of Gori now, where large arsenals of Georgian weapons, including 15 tanks, have been discovered,” he said.

Yes, how strange it must be for Georgia to have tanks — in its own country! Gori is part of Georgia proper, not South Ossetia, although it is the largest city near the breakaway province.  Gori also houses a major military base, which given the events of the last fortnight, seems a smart bit of logistics.

Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev have tried stringing this out as long as possible, seizing on every possible pretext to remain in place.  Condoleezza Rice refuted their interpretation of the Sarkozy-negotiated cease-fire, claiming that notes taken during the meeting showed Russian agreement that it meant their withdrawal.  Rice accused them of reneging on their promises and negiotiating in bad faith, escalating the diplomatic rift between Washington and Moscow.

Rice will meet with NATO this week in a pointed demonstration of Atlantic unity on the issue of Georgia.  The West needs to follow Eastern Europe’s lead and present a strong, united front against Russian imperialism in the Caucasus.  One strong step would be to offer NATO membership to Ukraine as an answer to Putin’s adventurism.  The more likely action from the Brussels meeting will be a statement of enhanced interest in Ukraine’s membership, which would either signal the Russians to back off or to create another pretext for invasion there.