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President Bush Announces a Massive Humanitarian Effort in Georgia


U.S. President George Bush has announced a massive humanitarian effort in Georgia that would involve American aircraft and naval forces. In this report from Washington, Senior Correspondent André de Nesnera looks at this latest attempt to end the conflict in Georgia and ease the suffering there.

Analysts say the United States and the West have very little leverage to force Russia to withdraw its forces from Georgia.

Last week Tbilisi sent troops in an effort to take control of the capital of the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Russia, which had troops based in the area, responded by sending additional manpower, tanks and armored personnel carriers and going on the offensive.

Marshall Goldman is with Harvard University.

"We don't have much [leverage] because Russia now has recovered from its economic collapse," said Marshall Goldman. "It seems to have stabilized its position in Chechnya and it's not exposed elsewhere in the world. It has a trade surplus, it has oil and gas - and it is very hard, I think, to find leverage to use against them at this point."

In a brief address Wednesday, President Bush called on Russia to withdraw its troops from Georgia. He also said in the days ahead, the United States will use its aircraft and naval forces to deliver humanitarian and medical supplies to the Georgian people.

Analysts - such as Robert Legvold from Columbia University - say in order to reach Georgia, U.S. ships must pass through the strait of the Dardannelles and the Bosphorus strait before entering the Black Sea.

"The Russians have a naval force, the Black Sea force that is based in Sevastopol and that they've used as part of the blockade of the Abkhazian coastline - or the Georgian coastline," said Robert Legvold. "But of course it means that we're in the same body of water. And I assume there's no implied threat that we would try to interdict naval movements on the part of the Russian Black Sea fleet."

For his part, Ronald Suny from the University of Chicago, says sending humanitarian aid is an important first step.

"Hopefully this is being in some way coordinated with the Russians," said Ronald Suny. "It does show that we are on the brink of something serious. Small conflict - people didn't care about South Ossetia. And yet those small conflicts can bring two superpowers into conflict and create tremendous instability in the world."

In his address, President Bush also said Russia's military incursion into Georgia hinders Moscow's attempts to join international institutions. Moscow, for example, has been trying to become a member of the World Trade Organization. One idea being discussed is expelling Russia from the group of eight major industrial nations, known as the G 8.

Marshall Goldman says that is unlikely to happen.

"You have to have the approval of all the other countries and I think they've been neutralized effectively, in part because almost every one of them, at least in Europe, have become dependent on Russian oil and gas," he said. "And there is no doubt in my mind that [Prime Minister Vladmir] Putin is aware of this and [President Dmitri] Medvedev certainly is aware of this because he was the head of Gazprom which was the source of supply of so much of that natural gas."

Experts such as Robert Legvold say the international community has no choice but to act swiftly in an effort to end the current conflict.

"If all the key players, beginning with Moscow and then Europe and then the United States - Washington - do not keep their heads - if they react intemperately on any part and don't have a longer term vision, react only to immediate events and do so with inflammatory language and maybe even with impetuous steps, retaliatory steps - things could get much worse." he said.

Legvold does not foresee a return to the Cold War. But he does say if the situation is not resolved, it could create barriers to any kind of meaningful and constructive relationship between Russia and the West.