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Georgia-Russia Ceasefire Fragile With Future Uncertain


Russia and Georgia have signed a European-mediated ceasefire agreement, but each side continues to accuse the other of violating the terms. As VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London, efforts now are on diplomacy to end the fighting, but the conflict's broader implications are not far behind.

The ink was barely dry on the ceasefire agreement when the warring sides began accusing each other of violating it.

Russia said Georgia was not "actively" withdrawing all its troops from South Ossetia, the breakaway region that sparked this conflict. Georgia accused Russia of continuing hostilities and occupying Georgian territory.

Each side has also accused the other of committing atrocities, including summary executions, ethnic cleansing and even genocide.

International security analyst Michael Denison of London's Chatham House research center specializes in Russian and Eurasian affairs. He tells VOA there is hope the ceasefire will hold.

"I think it will hold from the Georgian point of view and I think the Russians have reached as far as they wish to anyway," Denison said. "So, I would hope and think that it is likely that with one or two perhaps smaller exceptions and micro-conflicts that might emerge, I think broadly the cease-fire is likely to hold."

Diplomatic efforts to implement the truce and move beyond that to peacekeeping are at a fever pitch, spearheaded largely by the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

But Michael Denison says the make up of a peacekeeping or monitoring force is likely to be a tough issue.

"The Georgians are very keen on having a genuine international peacekeeping force, perhaps administered by the OSCE, or the U.N. or maybe the EU. The Russians are adamant that that peacekeeping force should have a very significant Russian contingent and that is where the sticking point will come," Denison said.

While efforts are now focused on an immediate diplomatic solution, the question of who did what, when and why keeps being raised. As Finland's Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb reportedly said - the blame game and tough talk will come at a later stage.

The conflict was sparked when Georgian troops moved against Russian-backed separatist forces in South Ossetia last week. Russian peacekeepers were killed in the artillery barrages and Russia sent tanks and troops into the area. Within days the vastly outnumbered and outgunned Georgian forces were on the retreat and the government in Tbilisi was feverishly calling for international diplomatic intervention to stop the Russian onslaught.

Michael Denison says Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili gambled that South Ossetia's own ethnic mix and the population's discontent with the local government would make it easy to rout the separatists. But Denison says the president miscalculated.

"I would say he gambled - and it was not an unreasonable gamble - that this would be a fait accompli, that it would be over within hours, a day or two at the most and that Russia would be caught on its heels and effectively the matter could be dealt with, and South Ossetia could be re-integrated back into Georgia proper," Denison said. "He miscalculated the ferocity of the Russian response."

Denison says Russia reasoned that it had to protect its peacekeepers and the many South Ossetians who had been given Russian nationality or Moscow would look weak.

Looking weak is an anathema to former Russian president and now prime minister, Vladimir Putin, says British lawmaker Bruce George from the ruling Labor party. George says the Russians have been stoking separatist fires in South Ossetia and provoked the fight.

"I think the Russian motives were pretty clear - fabricate a fight with Georgia, give a humiliating beating to the Georgians, put their opposition to Russia into a box, try to get regime change, show the world that the big power is back as a big power," George said.

There is widespread agreement that Russia's actions in Georgia are sending a broader signal - that Russia after many years on the international sidelines, is once again a power to be reckoned with. That message is likely to be viewed with great concern in other former Soviet Union satellite states, including nearby Azerbaijan and Ukraine, and its impact is also being felt in Russia's relations with Europe and the United States.

In Washington, U.S. President George Bush said Russia must keep its word and act to end the crisis in Georgia or risk its place in the international community.