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Russia widens Georgia attack

Georgian soldiers escape their burning armored vehicle on a road just outside the central city of Gori on Monday. Georgia’s president said his country had been sliced in half with the capture of a critical highway crossroads near Gori.

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Georgian soldiers escape their burning armored vehicle on a road just outside the central city of Gori on Monday. Georgia’s president said his country had been sliced in half with the capture of a critical highway crossroads near Gori.

ZUGDIDI, Georgia — Russian tanks roared deep into Georgia on Monday, launching a new western front in the conflict, and Russian planes staged air raids that sent people screaming and fleeing for cover in some towns.

The escalating warfare brought sharp words from President Bush, who pressed Moscow to accept an immediate cease-fire and pull its troops out to avert a "dramatic and brutal escalation" of violence in the former Soviet republic.

In a brief and unusually stern Rose Garden statement shortly after his return from the Beijing Olympics, Bush called Russia's actions "unacceptable in the 21st century." He urged Moscow to accept a European peace plan.

But beyond a reference to damage inflicted upon "Russia's standing in the world," Bush made no mention of any potential consequences if Russia fails to comply. As European leaders began shuttling between the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and Moscow and French President Nicolas Sarkozy prepared to travel there today, the administration was searching for options to deal with a crisis it described in the most dire terms.

U.S. officials made clear that neither the United States nor NATO was contemplating a military response to Russian actions. Instead, the strategy appeared to involve pressing for a cease-fire, a return by the militaries of both sides to their positions of last week, and international monitoring — all of which Moscow has rejected.

Russian forces for the first time moved well outside the two restive, pro-Russian provinces claimed by Georgia that lie at the heart of the dispute. An Associated Press reporter saw Russian troops in control of government buildings in Zugdidi, just miles from the frontier, and Russian troops were reported in nearby Senaki.

Georgia's president said his country had been sliced in half with the capture of a critical highway crossroads near the central city of Gori, and Russian warplanes launched new air raids across the country.

The Russian Defense Ministry, through news agencies, denied it had captured Gori and also denied any intentions to advance on the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.

The western assault expanded the days-old war beyond the central breakaway region of South Ossetia, where a crackdown by Georgia last week drew a military response from Russia.

While most Georgian forces were still busy fighting there, Russian troops opened the western attack by invading from a second separatist province, Abkhazia, that occupies Georgia's coastal northwest arm.

Russian forces moved into Senaki, 20 miles inland from the Black Sea, and seized police stations in Zugdidi, just outside the southern fringe of Abkhazia. Abkhazian allies took control of the nearby village of Kurga, according to witnesses and Georgian officials.

U.N. officials B. Lynn Pascoe and Edmond Mulet in New York, speaking at an emergency Security Council meeting asked for by Georgia, confirmed that Russian troops have driven well beyond South Ossetia and Abkhazia, U.N. diplomats told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because it was a closed session. They said Russian airborne troops were not meeting any resistance while taking control of Georgia's Senaki army base.

"A full military invasion of Georgia is going on," Georgian Ambassador Irakli Alasania told reporters later. "Now I think the Security Council has to act."

France also circulated a draft resolution calling for the "cessation of hostilities, and the complete withdrawal of Russian and Georgian forces" to prior positions. The council is expected to take up the draft proposal today.

The provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have run their affairs without global recognition since fighting to split from Georgia in the early 1990s, and both have close ties with Moscow.

The Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili, voiced concern Russia's true goal was to undermine his pro-Western government. "It's all about the independence and democracy of Georgia," he said.

Saakashvili earlier told a national security meeting Russia had also taken central Gori, which is on Georgia's only east-west highway, cutting off the eastern half of the nation from the western Black Sea coast.

Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.

Russia widens Georgia attack 08/11/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 10:20am]
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