WASHINGTON – The United States challenged Russia to keep its word to end a crushing invasion of U.S.-backed Georgia, siding decisively with the former Soviet republic and rejecting Russian justifications.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, headed for emergency meetings on the crisis in Europe and in the Georgian capital, said Russia's six-day-old military action in Georgia is a throwback to darker Cold War times.
"The message is that Russia has perhaps not accepted that it is time to move on from the Cold War and it is time to move to a new era in which relations between states are on the basis of equality, and sovereignty and economic integration," Rice said Wednesday.
The Bush administration is reeling from the near collapse of its closest friend among the former Soviet republics, a strategic Black Sea nation that is an emerging pathway for undeveloped energy reserves and that has worn its zeal for America and the West as a badge of honor.
As the United States mustered humanitarian aid for Georgia, President George W. Bush demanded that Russia end all military activity inside its neighbor and withdraw all troops sent in recent days onto Georgian territory.
Bush announced that U.S. military assets and personnel would be deploying into the conflict zone. Though they are only going on a humanitarian mission, he made a point of noting that "we will use U.S. aircraft, as well as naval forces" to distribute supplies. He warned Russia not to impede relief efforts in any way.
All this appeared designed to answer criticism that Bush has not done enough to stand by his 2005 pledge, made from the center of Tbilisi before tens of thousands of citizens, to "stand with" the people of Georgia.
Amid some fear that Russian troops may be setting up for some type of medium-term occupation of parts of Georgia or even have intentions to press on to its capital of Tbilisi, Bush promised Wednesday to "rally the free world in the defense of a free Georgia."
The president sent Rice to France for meetings Thursday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has led the European pressure campaign on Russia. Speaking in grave tones in the Rose Garden, Bush decried Moscow's apparent violation of a cease-fire agreement.
He demanded that Russia "keep its word and act to end this crisis."
"The United States stands with the democratically elected government of Georgia and insists that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected," he said.
The president postponed Thursday's planned start of a two-week Texas vacation for a couple of days to monitor developments.
A Russian military convoy defied a cease-fire agreement Wednesday and rolled through a strategically important city in Georgia, where officials claimed fresh looting and bombing by the Russians and their allies.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry said Thursday that more Russian troops had moved into the city of Gori after a withdrawal had appeared to be under way earlier in the day. Ministry spokeswoman Nato Chikovani said Russian troops also moved into the Black Sea oil port city of Poti, from where they had appeared to leave earlier.
Russia and its small neighbor had agreed Tuesday to a French-brokered cease-fire to end the dispute that began over two pro-Russian breakaway territories. The United States accuses Russia of pressing the war far beyond the initial conflict zone and threatening the democratically elected government in Georgia.
"I have to say that the reports are not encouraging about Russia's respect for this cease-fire," Rice said.
U.S. officials have had difficulty determining exactly what's happening on the ground in Georgia, despite considerable intelligence resources. U.S. spy satellites have been repositioned to refocus on the conflict area.
Rice said Moscow is harming its standing in the world and eligibility for global clubs whose eligibility depends on responsible behavior, but she made no explicit threats about U.S. retaliation.
"This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia where Russia can threaten its neighbors, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it," Rice said. "Things have changed."