Update as of 0900 Eastern Time / 1700 Tbilisi Time:
From Fox News:
GORI, Georgia — Explosions were heard near Gori on Thursday as a Russian troop withdrawal from the strategic city seemed to collapse. A fragile cease-fire appeared even more shaky as Russia's foreign minister declared that the world "can forget about any talk about Georgia's territorial integrity."
The declaration from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov came simultaneously with the announcement that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was meeting in the Kremlin with the leaders of Georgia's two separatist provinces.
"One can forget about any talk about Georgia's territorial integrity because, I believe, it is impossible to persuade South Ossetia and Abkhazia to agree with the logic that they can be forced back into the Georgian state," Lavrov told
At least five explosions were heard near Gori. It could not immediately be determined if the blasts were a renewal of fighting between Georgian and Russian forces, but they sounded similar to mortar shells and occurred after a tense confrontation between Russian and Georgian troops on the edge of the city.
The strategically located city is 15 miles south of South Ossetia, the separatist region where Russian and Georgian forces fought a brutal five-day battle. Russian troops entered Gori on Wednesday, after the two sides signed the cease-fire that called for their forces to pull back to the positions they held before the fighting started.
Georgia early Thursday said the Russians were leaving the city, but later alleged they were bringing in additional troops. Georgian government officials who had gone into the city for a possible handover left unexpectedly around midday, followed by a confrontation at a Russian checkpoint on Gori's outskirts that ended when Russian tanks sped toward the area and Georgian police forces retreated.
Some Georgian police said irregular fighters from South Ossetia had refused to leave Gori, where a BBC reporter saw them looting and burning Wednesday night.
The first of two planned U.S. aid flights arrived in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi late Wednesday, carrying cots, blankets and medicine for refugees displaced by the fighting. The shipment arrived on a C-17 military plane, an illustration of the close U.S.-Georgia military cooperation that has angered Russia.
Besides the hundreds killed since hostilities broke out, the United Nations estimates 100,000 Georgians have been uprooted; Russia says some 30,000 residents of South Ossetia fled into the neighboring Russian province of North Ossetia.
Gori was battered by sporadic Russian bombing before the cease-fire, with Russia saying it was targeting a military base near the city. The city, on Georgia's only significant east-west road, is only 60 miles west of Tbilisi.
The Russian troops' presence in Gori was viewed as a demonstration of the vulnerability of the capital.
Russian troops also appeared to be settling in elsewhere in Georgia.
An APTN camera crew saw Russian soldiers and military vehicles parked Thursday inside the Georgian government's elegant, heavily-gated residence in the western town of Zugdidi. Some of the soldiers wore blue peacekeeping helmets, others wore green camouflage helmets, all were heavily armed. The scene underlined how closely the soldiers Russia calls peacekeepers are allied with its military.
"The Russian troops are here. They are occupying," Ygor Gegenava, an elderly Zugdidi resident told the APTN crew. "We don't want them here. What we need is friendship and good relations with the Russian people."
Georgia, bordering the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia, was ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union.
From NY Times:
President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia on Thursday said that Russia would act as an international guarantor of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two pro-Russian enclaves at the center of the crisis that have long desired separation from Georgia.
As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice headed to the region for discussions on the crisis and to show support for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, the Russian position seemed to be a direct challenge to President Bush who said a day earlier that he “insists that the sovereign and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected.”
Meanwhile in Georgia, Russian forces briefly allowed the Georgian police to return to the city of Gori on Thursday morning as the Russian troops appeared to be preparing to pull out. But joint patrols were canceled three hours later and the city returned to Russian control. In Poti, a Black Sea port further west, Russian tanks patrolled the city, a sign that Russian forces remained in control of key parts of Georgian territory.
Mr. Medvedev said he would support the independence aspirations of South Ossetians and Abkhazians if they were in accordance with the United Nations Charter, international conventions of 1966 and the Helsinki Act on Security and Cooperation in European.
“You have been defending your land and the right is on your side,” Mr. Medvedev said, at a meeting with leaders of the two breakaway regions.
As she traveled to the region, Ms. Rice was due to arrive first in France to meet the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who brokered the cease-fire between Russia and Georgia, in the president’s summer residence in southern France, at 3 p.m., local time, Mr. Sarkozy’s office said. She would later travel to Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.
On Wednesday, the United States and Georgia called the Russian advances into Gori and another strategic Georgian city a violation of the cease-fire agreement struck only hours earlier.
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