TBILISI, Georgia — The foreign minister of Russia said Thursday that Georgia could "forget about" getting back its two breakaway provinces, and the former Soviet republic remained on edge as Russia sent tank columns to search out and destroy Georgian military equipment.
Uncertainty about Russia's intentions and back-and-forth charges clouded the conflict two days after Russia and Georgia signaled acceptance of a French-brokered cease-fire, and a week after Georgia's crackdown on the two provinces drew a Russian military response.
Diplomats focused on finalizing a fragile cease-fire between the two nations and clearing the way for Russian withdrawal. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was heading today for Georgia to press the president to sign the deal.
The Russian president met in the Kremlin with the leaders of the provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a clear sign Moscow could absorb the regions even though the territory is internationally recognized as being within Georgia's borders. And Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov issued a blunt message to Georgia and the world that appeared to challenge President Bush's demand a day earlier that Russia must respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia.
"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."
The White House said Thursday that the U.S. position was unchanged and dismissed Lavrov's remark as bluster. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Russia was in danger of hurting relations with the United States "for years to come" but said he did not see "any prospect" for the use of American military force in Georgia.
As the military and diplomatic battles played out, relief planes swooped into Tbilisi with tons of supplies for the estimated 100,000 people uprooted by the fighting.
U.S. officials said their two planes carried cots, blankets, medicine and surgical supplies, but the Russians insinuated that the United States, a Georgia ally, might have sent in military aid as well. U.S. officials rejected the claim.