ZUGDIDI, Georgia — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Sunday that troops would begin to withdraw from neighboring Georgia today but signaled that forces would continue to occupy the breakaway province at the center of the conflict.
Medvedev's pledge — made in a phone conversation with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, according to the Kremlin — was immediately greeted with skepticism by U.S. and Georgian officials, who have accused Russia of pushing deeper into Georgian territory despite signing a cease-fire pact.
"The fact is that Russia has broken all its promises … for the last several days," Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili told CNN.
Medvedev gave no time line for the withdrawal and few specifics, saying only that Russian forces would withdraw to a security zone demarcated by a 1999 agreement "and to the territory of South Ossetia itself."
A Russian lawmaker said the troops would leave "sooner or later."
"But how much time it will take, it depends, definitely, on how Georgians will continue to behave," said Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of a parliament foreign affairs committee.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States and its European allies were considering "a broad menu" of penalties for Russia, including blocking Moscow from membership in the World Trade Organization. Admitting Georgia into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — a move that Russia strongly opposes — also remained "on the table."
He also hinted that Washington would rethink its relationship with Moscow.
"I think that there is a real concern that Russia has turned the corner here and is headed back toward its past rather than toward its future, and my hope is that we will see actions in the weeks and months to come that provide us some reassurance," he said.
Sarkozy warned Medvedev Sunday of "serious consequences" in Moscow's relations with the European Union if Russia does not comply with the cease-fire.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is flying to Europe today to talk with NATO allies about what message the West should send to Russia, said Russia can't use "disproportionate force" against its neighbor and still be welcomed into the halls of international institutions. "Russia will pay a price," she said.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.