A top U.S. military officer says Russian forces appear to be preparing to withdraw from Georgia, but Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the moves must continue or Russia will face serious long-term consequences in its relations with the United States and the West. The secretary says some consequences are already in order. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
The number two U.S. military officer, General James Cartwright, says Russia has virtually stopped air activities over Georgia and is generally complying with promises to end hostilities.
"It's difficult at the tactical level to know each and every engagement in each town," he said. "But, generally the forces are starting to move out of the city, particularly Gori, starting to consolidate their positions and get themselves into a position where they can start to back away toward the border."
General Cartwright says a 12-member U.S. military assessment team is working to determine whether roads, airports and seaports are clear to enable the delivery of relief supplies, with two planeloads already on the ground in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.
But Secretary Gates said he sees "no prospect" of U.S. forces getting involved in the conflict, saying the United States worked hard for 45 years to avoid war with the Soviet Union and Russia, and he sees no reason to change that policy now.
Still, Gates said Russia's actions in Georgia during the last week call into question the entire U.S.-Russia strategic dialogue. He said that if Russia does not "step back" as promised, there will be serious consequences in its relations with the West, and that even if it does withdraw there will be some impact.
"There need to be some consequences for the actions that Russia has taken against a sovereign state," Secretary Gates said.
Secretary Gates says the United States has cancelled two sets of military exercises it had planned with Russia during the coming weeks, and will reevaluate the entire bilateral military relationship.
The secretary, who is a Russia expert and former CIA director, says Russia apparently planned in advance to take advantage of annual fighting in Georgia's South Ossetia region to "very aggressively" punish the country's leaders for their close relationship with the United States and their effort to join NATO. He says Russia was sending the same message to leaders throughout the region.
"I think that the Russians' further message was to all of the parts of the former Soviet Union, as a signal about trying to integrate with the West and move outside of the longtime Russian sphere of influence," he said.
Secretary Gates says if Russian leaders wanted the attack to discourage other former Soviet states from moving politically closer to the West, he expects it to have the opposite effect.
"Most of those countries, if not all of them, probably have a higher incentive to stand with us now than they did before," he said.
The secretary says Russia's Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told him shortly before the invasion that Russia had "no intention" of sending troops into Georgia.
He also had harsh words for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, saying he is trying to reassert Russian power in a negative way, and to redress what he sees as concessions forced on Russia in the early 1990s, in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union. Secretary Gates had this response when asked if he trusts Prime Minister Putin.
Gates chuckled when asked
whether he trusts Prime Minister Putin, and then offered this response:
"I have never believed that one should make national security policy on the basis of trust," said Gates. "I think you make national security policy based on interests and on realities."
Secretary Gates says countries throughout the world will also be taking a new look their relations with Russia, using "a different set of lenses." And he said Russia has a lot of work to do to re-establish itself as a member of the family of nations promoting democracy and economic prosperity.