Angry US envoy denounces Russian 'invasion' of enclave


THE US special envoy Matthew Bryza bristled with anger when he disembarked from the Georgian Airways flight at Tbilisi International Airport yesterday afternoon.

The US secretary of state's point man on the Caucasus abandoned diplomatic language. The Russians were lying, he said. He wanted to set the record straight.

Russian "railroad troops" entered the pro-Russian, break-away Georgian enclave of Abkhazia two months ago.

"Now we know why - to establish a supply line for a Russian invasion. We heard Russian claims that there was no blockade of the port at Poti, and today the Russians sank a Georgian ship.

"We heard amazing Russian statements that what was happening in (the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali) was genocide," Mr Bryza continued. "Unfortunately, tragically, the shooting was coming from both Georgia and Russia."

The US envoy accused Moscow of hiding the truth about its offensive in Georgia from its own people by censuring images "so shameful they cannot be shown on Russian television".

He accused South Ossetian "peacekeepers" of firing from behind Russian lines at Georgian villages.

Though it was "a tragedy" that Washington's Georgian allies had bombarded Tskhinvali, it was important to remember that Russian troops entered South Ossetia through the Rokke Tunnel, and that Georgian officials wanted a ceasefire but Russian forces kept attacking.

Even if the pretence of protecting Russian citizens in South Ossetia had been valid, Mr Bryza said, "how anyone could believe it's possible to do so with strategic bombers and artillery fire from within South Ossetia is difficult to understand".

It was "impossible for me to understand how Russia wants to be seen as a reliable supplier of natural gas to Europe, when it has made several attempts to blow up the BTC (Baku-Tibilisi-Ceyhan) pipeline", the US envoy continued.

"What has that to do with protecting Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia?" A quarter of Europe's natural gas comes from Russia.

In early 2006, Moscow temporarily blocked supplies to Ukraine, with the threat of cutting off Europe. A passerby in downtown Tibilisi told me Europe would "sell the Georgians for Russian gas".

The desire to maintain a monopoly on the transport of petrol westward from the Caspian Sea is believed to be a key Russian motive in the Georgian offensive.

"As we know from discussions in the Security Council, the Russian government advocates the overthrow of a democratically-elected government," Mr Bryza said. "Now they're using clever language, saying they're not calling for 'regime change', which they call 'an American invention'."

Bending the truth more than a little, the man from the State Department claimed that "what happened in Iraq was in conformity with 12 years of UN Security Council resolutions".

Unlike Georgia's staunchly pro-American president Mikheil Saakashvili, "Saddam Hussein was not a leader who transformed his country into the world's leading economic reformer, according to the World Bank", he noted.

Mr Bryza denied rumours that Washington encouraged Tibilisi to attack South Ossetia last Friday. The Pentagon admits to maintaining 125 military advisers in Georgia. Israeli advisers are also reported to be present. "Georgia doesn't need US permission to do anything," said the US diplomat.

"We wish this had not happened. It's time for Russia to stop attacking Georgia." Washington, he threatened, would exert "the full force of diplomatic activity of the Euro-Atlantic community." Vladimir Putin must be laughing.