As both sides blamed the other for the outbreak of fighting in South Ossetia, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili urged an immediate ceasefire.
His call was welcomed by the French European Union presidency which said Moscow should accept. The US, accusing Russia of using “disproportionate force” also said it should immediately agree to a ceasefire with Tbilisi.
Saakashvili made this plea at a news conference: “We are in a state of self defence against foreign aggression. This aggression is coming from the land, air and maritime forces of the Russian Federation. We expect world leaders and the world community to act.”
The Russian response was to say that the only way to end the conflict was for Georgia to pull back from South Ossetia.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called Tbilisi’s offensive to regain control over the pro-Russian rebel region a crime and said it is unlikely it can now be reintegrated into Georgia.
“In Georgia and in Russia and the whole world, it is now clear that the Georgian leadership’s aspiration to join NATO…is driven by its attempt to drag other nations and peoples into its bloody adventures,” he said. “From a legal point of view, Russia’s actions in South Ossetia are totally legitimate and, what is more, absolutely necessary.”
Moscow also accused the pro-Western, former Soviet republic of Ukraine, of encouraging Georgia to carry out “ethnic cleansing” in South Ossetia.