The U.S. State Department's top expert on the Caucasus region says Moscow's intervention in Georgia has done serious harm to its international standing. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Matthew Bryza also told Washington reporters the United States consistently advised the Tbilisi government to avoid confrontation with Moscow. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The Bush administration has again rejected the notion that Georgia had any U.S. green light for its military action in South Ossetia, with a top State Department official saying American advice to Tbilisi was to avoid conflict with Moscow at all costs.

The comments by Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryza, a key U.S. envoy to the Caucasus area, were some of the most explicit on the subject since the outbreak of hostilities in South Ossetia earlier this month.

Georgia sent troops into the breakaway region in response to what it said was shelling and provocations from the disputed area, eventually drawing intervention by Moscow in support of its self-described peacekeeping presence there.

Bryza, speaking at Washington's Foreign Press Center, said U.S. advice to Georgia had always been to try to avoid confrontation with vastly-superior Russian forces. He said the message was the same when Moscow began to send additional troops into South Ossetia despite a nominal cease-fire: "At that point, the Georgian leadership told some of us, we have no choice but to defend our villages and our people and lift the cease-fire. Our message remained the same, that we understand the predicament you face," said Bryza. "But we strongly recommend that you not engage in a direct military conflict with Russia, because that is unwinnable."

Bryza declined, under questioning, to speculate on whether the international back-lash to Russian intervention might lead to Moscow's exclusion from the Group of Eight major powers, or jeopardize its bid for full World Trade Organization membership.

But he did say there is no doubt that Russia's use of force against its smaller neighbor has done tangible harm to its world standing: "We're not trying to issue vague, empty threats or wag our finger, [but] simply stating the fact that this military operation has imposed a serious cost on Russia in terms of its standing in the world," he said. "That's not as good thing. It's not something that we relish. It's not something that we want to see happen."

Bryza said key figures in the Bush administration had spent years trying to build a mutually beneficial relationship and strategic partnership with Moscow, but said that in the wake of the Georgia events, in his words, we're a long way from that now.

On related issues, Bryza said the United States is consulting with Turkey about bringing U.S. Navy hospital ships through the Dardanelles Straits, from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, to join in aid efforts for Georgia.