Vladimir Putin apparently ordered the Russian Army to drive Georgians out of the city of Gori, as soldiers forced the evacuation of the strategic Georgian city. Russian soldiers told Gori residents that they had orders to kill anyone who remained — and demonstrated their seriousness by randomly shooting residents, according to the Times of London:
“The soldiers told us they had an order from Putin – leave or be killed.” Manana Dioshvili showed no emotion as she described how Russian troops forced her to flee her home. Her former neighbours nodded in agreement, huddled together in a kindergarten whose windows had been blown out by a Russian bomb.
“That’s how they explained themselves to us,” she recalled of the moment they fled the ethnic Georgian village of Kurta, near the capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali.
“They said, ‘Putin has given us an order that everyone must be either shot or forced to leave’. They told us we should ask the Americans for help now because they would kill us if we stayed.”
Vardo Babutidze, 79, was not lucky enough to be visited by Russian soldiers. Her husband Georgi, 85, was shot twice through the chest by an Ossetian paramilitary who came to their house to demand weapons.
Tony Halpin reports that refugees from Gori tell the same story, over and over again. The Russians committed a war crime in Gori, driving Georgians out of the city and even now not allowing the police to return. They murdered unarmed civilians for not complying with these orders, and one has to wonder whether the Russians fear the police will start producing evidence of their crimes.
Meanwhile, the Georgian government claims that the Russians have expanded their presence in Georgia since the latest cease-fire agreement was signed. Armored patrols have come closer to Tbilisi, and they have given no assurances that Russian tanks will not enter the Georgian capital. However, later the Russians claimed to be exiting Gori and Georgia altogether:
Russia said its troops began withdrawing from the conflict zone in Georgia on Monday, including the strategic central city of Gori, “according to the peace plan” that sought to end fighting has reignited Cold War tensions.
The statement by Col.-Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn came amid uncertainty about whether Russia was fulfilling its promise to begin the pullout Monday. He said troops were pulling back to South Ossetia — the breakaway region at the heart of the fighting — and to an unspecified security zone.
Earlier in the day, Russian forces around Gori appeared to be solidifying their positions.
When they do finally withdraw — if they finally withdraw — the international community needs to catalogue the crimes of the Russians in Georgia, in order to show the world the real face of Putin, Medvedev, and the Russian Army.