Russia Says it has halted its military advance (updated)

From our "We'll believe it when we see it" files...

You may recall less than 48 hours ago, a Kremlin military spokesman denied Russian troops were on Georgian soil, declaring in solemn tones that the Bear had not left South Ossetia - despite the fact that the town of Gori was being used as target practice by Russian artillery and the Black Sea port of Poti had been almost razed to the ground by Russian planes.

Now the Russians are saying their troops have stopped their advance:
President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia announced Tuesday that he had ordered a halt to his country's military operation in Georgia, although he did not say that troops were pulling out and he insisted that Russian forces were still authorized to fire on enemies in South Ossetia. 

The president said Russia had achieved its military goals during five days of intense fighting, which has seen Russian troops advance into Georgian territory and which brought strong denunciations from President Bush and other Western leaders.

In a meeting with Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov shown on Russian television, Mr. Medvedev said: "The goal of the operation has been achieved. The security of our peacekeepers and civilians has been ensured." But he also told Mr. Serdyukov to "eliminate" any enemy remaining in South Ossetia.

Ah yes - but then there are "cease fires" and then there are, well, cease fires:

When asked about the cease-fire, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, a senior defense official, said military actions could continue.

"If you receive the order to cease fire, this would not mean that we would stop all operations, including reconnaissance operations," he said. A Russian withdrawal will occur only once a formal cease-fire had been reached, he added. The United States and its European allies postponed an emergency meeting that was to be convened with the Russian Ambassador to NATO, saying they needed more time to prepare for the meeting. However, an internal meeting of NATO ambassadors still went ahead in Brussels. Afterward, NATO secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, called on all parties to "go back to the status quo ante, that is as it existed on Aug. 6" before the escalation of fighting, Reuters reported.

The "status quo ante" is as dead as the old Warsaw Pact. Georgian soldiers will be kept as far away from South Ossetia as is possible. Hence, the chances are very good that in the name of the "security of South Ossetia," the Russians will occupy as much Georgian territory as the world allows them. There may be some token withdrawals but beyond that, the Russians would be crazy to give up gains they made on the battlefield - including those in Georgia proper.

Much criticism in this matter has been coming from neo-conservatives like Kagan and Kristol who wanted us to send immediate military aid to the Georgian government. They want tough economic and diplomatic sanctions against Russia for their aggression -- as does John McCain.

In a perfect world, this may have been possible. But Russia has a veto over any sanctions emanating from the UN and European countries, who get the great bulk of their energy from Russia, are not likely to poke a stick inside the Bear's cage for fear of being cut off. Putin has shown he can use oil as a weapon several times - most notably against his probable next target, the Ukraine - and it is likely that NATO will do nothing to upset Putin too much.

A lousy state of affairs.

And we're no better. The Bush Administration says it needs the Russians at the UN to continue their so far futile sanctions strategy against Iran. While this is true it is also a fact that the Russians have been Iran's #1 enablers in the nuclear field.

An even lousier state of affairs.

Chances of absolutely futile diplomatic gestures and some equally vacuous jawboning by Bush about Russian aggression?


Update: Patrick Casey writes:
Clarion call to everyone, including the Associated Press (who should know better): Medvedev isn't running the show in Georgia, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is. The Russian president is a puppet. When Putin announces a ceasefire, then we can believe it. And even then we must be careful.

In addition, the ceasefire is just a small part of what Russia needs to do. Since they've invaded the undisputed territory of Georgia, and repeatedly bombed its capitol Tbilisi, Russia needs to retreat from all of Georgia.

That includes retreating from the disputed provinces, as well. Russian "peacekeepers" must be replaced immediately with a true peacekeeping force from either NATO or Western allied countries -- none of this United Nations garbage.

Russia will never agree to that...and live news reports coming out of Georgia indicate that Russian troops and aircraft have ignored the Russian president's announcement (of course), and continue to conduct offensive operations in territory of Georgia.

So, concurrent with what is going on now, the West should take concrete steps to show Russia that there are real-world consequences to its actions, and to prove to our allies that we stand behind them. Those steps should include, at the very least, the immediate acceptance of Georgia and the Ukraine into NATO. Also, Russia should be immediately removed from the G-8.

The West must stand by its allies when they are attacked. If not, our collective word is meaningless -- and its every country for itself.
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