TODAY: Georgian troops leave Gori; Russian troops move deeper into Georgia; Saakashvili caught in air raid; both sides accuse each other of cyberwarfare. Bush says Moscow wants to overthrow Georgian government; Putin criticizes US interference; Europe, NATO, UN push to end conflict. Russian troops have gone deeper into Georgia, seizing a military base in Senaki, and the Georgian army has fled Gori in “disarray”, with President Mikheil Saakashvili caught in an air raid on the town yesterday. “There is undoubtedly a strong punitive streak to Russian bombing and shelling 24 hours after Georgian forces tried to disengage, particularly in Gori.” Georgia has accused the Russian military of blocking a central highway linking east and west Georgia. Russia has sent a convoy of humanitarian aid into South Ossetia, where “something approaching anti-Western hysteria” is spreading. Dmitry Medvedev suggested that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – which Russia has supposedly been trying discredit – send a mission into South Ossetia. Both Georgia and Russia have accused the other of disabling Internet sites in a bid to disrupt electronic communications.
US President George Bush accused Russia of invading Georgia and said Moscow appeared to be mounting an effort to overthrow the pro-US government in Tbilisi. He called for Russia to “reverse” its actions. In turn, Vladimir Putin lashed out at the US for helping Tbilisi, sending Georgian troops home from Iraq. Russia’s campaign could interfere with US aims of preventing Iran from building a nuclear bomb. Senator John McCain has outlined a plan of action for the West to “isolate and punish Russia”.NATO will hold an emergency meeting of the NATO-Russia Council today. The US, Britain and France have asked the United Nations Security Council to call for an “immediate and unconditional cessation of all hostilities” in Georgia, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner made a “lightning visit” to Tbilisi and French President Nicholas Sarkozy is in Moscow today. Why did it take the British government four days to respond to the crisis? Read an interview with former Georgian parliamentary speaker Nino Burjanadze.A summary of some of today’s opinions: Garry Kasparov and the United Civil Front have released an official statement on the events, calling for Russia to “bear responsibility for its actions before its citizens”. Mikhail Gorbachev, writing in today’s Washington Post, puts blame for the current “loss of life and destruction” squarely on Georgia, while another columnist says “the Russian invasion of Georgia is a breath of dank air from the rancid past.” Both Georgia and Russia “have created mini-empires within illogically imposed borders” says the Moscow Times. “Tiny Georgia with its separatist regions provided a perfect way for Moscow to carry out a series of manipulations aimed at the United States and the West.” “America should seriously consider announcing a boycott of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.” “The Russian Bear is back, and the United States doesn’t seem to be able to do much about it.” Boris Gryzlov, the head of United Russia, compared Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia “to Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union.”“The real payback for Moscow’s decision to invade Georgia should be the sweet revenge of a strong, prosperous and fully independent Georgia. Building on the strides Georgia has already made, Brussels and Washington should give Tbilisi a clear road to NATO and EU membership.”PHOTO: Bodyguards shielded President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia on Monday as a Russian jet flew over the city of Gori (Joao Silva for The New York Times).