WASHINGTON - The United States demanded Wednesday that Russia end all military activities in neighboring Georgia as President Bush ordered U.S. aid for Georgians devastated by the invasion.
With rapidly changing circumstances on the ground and uncertain knowledge about Russia's commitment to a French-mediated cease-fire it says it has agreed to, Bush also said he was dispatching Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Tbilisi. And both he and Rice warned Moscow not to impede the relief mission that the Pentagon is leading for the pro-Western former Soviet republic.
'We expect Russia to meet its commitment to cease all military activities in Georgia and we expect all Russian forces that entered Georgia in recent days to withdraw from that country,' Bush said in a stern televised address from the White House.
'I have heard the Russian president say that his military operations are over. I am saying it is time for the Russian president to be true to his word,' Rice told a State Department news conference later.
Rice leaves Washington late Wednesday for France, where she will consult today with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who mediated the truce, and then on to Georgia. Bush said she was going there to show 'America's unwavering support for Georgia's democratic government.'
Their comments came amid fears in Washington and elsewhere that instead of withdrawing from Georgia, Russian troops are setting up for some type of medium-term occupation of parts of the country, the flashpoint separatist areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that were the immediate cause of the invasion.
A U.S. intelligence official said it is believed that Russians are consolidating their positions in the two areas and are garrisoning troops there in buildings and possibly setting up tents, to solidify their presence. The official said this could be a 'long-term' presence. Asked if that meant days or weeks, he said 'longer than days.'
Rice said such a move would not stand, asserting that the Cold War days when the Soviet Union could roll tanks into Eastern Europe without fear of consequences were over.
'This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia where Russia can threaten a neighbor, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it,' she said. 'Things have changed.'
Both Bush and Rice also said that Moscow's apparent violation of the cease-fire negotiated by Sarkozy puts its global aspirations at risk, hinting at what officials say privately are moves to possibly kick Russia out of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations and other international organizations in which wealthy and powerful states hold membership.
'Russia is putting its aspirations at risk by taking actions in Georgia that are inconsistent with the principles of those institutions,' Bush said. 'To begin to repair the damage to its relations with the United States, Europe and other nations and to begin restoring its place in the world, Russia must keep its word and act to end this crisis.'