Russian WTO membership at stake - US


Russian integration into international institutions such as the World Trade Organization is at stake because of Moscow's military operations in Georgia, a senior US official said today.

"Russia is going to have to ensure its integration into the WTO, OECD, the G8 and institutions like that," according to the official, referring to plans by the government of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to join important global clubs.

"Frankly, the entire Medvedev agenda is at stake here," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The United States would like to see that agenda succeed, but "that's what's at stake when Russia engages in behavior that looks like it's from another time." 

Earlier, French president Nicolas Sarkozy said Russia and Georgia had agreed to a ceasefire but had not agreed to a peace deal after a meeting in Moscow this afternoon with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev.

"We do not yet have peace deal, we have a provisional cessation of hostilities but this is significant progress," Mr Sarkozy said

Mr Medvedev criticized Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili, saying he had acted like a "lunatic" and had lied about a ceasefire during the conflict over South Ossetia.

"You know, lunatics' difference from other people is that when they smell blood it is very difficult to stop them. So you have to use surgery," Mr Medvedev told reporters after talks with Mr Sarkozy.

"As for claims by the Georgian president that the ceasefire has been observed for two days, that's a lie. Georgian forces continued to fire at peacekeepers, unfortunately people were killed yesterday. .. There was no ceasefire from the Georgian side."

Georgia's prime minister said this morning he wanted more evidence of a Russian halt to military operations because Russian fighter jets had continued to bomb Georgian villages.

Mr Medvedev said he had ordered an end to military operations in Georgia. But Georgian prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze said Russian jets were still targeting civilians. "Despite the Russian president's claims earlier this morning that military operations against Georgia have been suspended, at this moment, Russian fighter jets are bombarding two Georgian villages outside South Ossetia," Mr Gurgenidze said.

The White House said this afternoon it could not confirm that Russia had halted military operations in Georgia, despite Mr Medvedev's statement that hostilities were ending.

"We saw the reporting and the announcement from the Russian president, Medvedev," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. "We're trying to get an assessment of what exactly it means, what a halt means and whether it's taken place."

Mr Gurgenidze said the Kremlin's statement that it had ceased military operations was the result of intense international pressure on Mr Medvedev.

"We will need more evidence, everyone in this situation needs a signed binding agreement," Mr Gurgenidze added. "Until that happens we are mobilised, we are prepared for everything," he said. "I do appreciate it (Medvedev's gesture) ... but there has been more damage to infrastructure and civilian casualties today."

Mr Gurgenidze said the Interior Ministry had informed him of two bombings around 20 kilometres from the town of Gori that took place after Mr Medvedev's statement. Russia has denied attacking the town of Gori and has denied any incursions outside the disputed region of South Ossetia.

The Georgian government said Russian fighter aircraft were bombarding the villages of Ruisi in the Kareli region and Sakoringo in the Kaspi region, all in Georgia proper and outside the main conflict zone of South Ossetia.

Mr Medvedev said a full settlement of the military conflict with Georgia was subject to two conditions, including Georgia moving its troops to pre-conflict positions.

"We can discuss the question of a definitive settlement if two conditions are met," Mr Medvedev said before meeting Mr Sarkozy. France is holder of the European Union’s rotating presidency.

"First, Georgian troops should return to their initial position and be partly demilitarised. Second, we need to sign a binding agreement on non-use of force,” Mr Medvedev added.

Mr Sarkozy welcomed Russia's announcement of a ceasefire and called for a timetable to return all sides to positions occupied before hostilities.

"I think what you have confirmed here is good news. A ceasefire now has to take shape," Mr Sarkozy said. "We must draw up a rapid calendar so that each side can go back to the positions of before the crisis."

Mr Medvedev told the European Union he had ordered a halt to military operations in Georgia, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana confirmed. "Mr Solana welcomed this decision. He recalled the importance of peace and stability in the region and expressed the EU's readiness to contribute actively to a solution to the crisis," she said.

The EU has been calling for an immediate ceasefire and urged Russia to respect Georgia's territorial integrity but stopped short of blaming either side for the fighting that erupted last week in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia.

EU foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting tomorrow in Brussels to discuss the crisis.

The secretary of Georgia's Security Council, Kakha Lomaia, said this afternoon Georgia has filed a law suit against Russia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for ethnic cleansing in 1993 t0 2008.

Earlier today, explosions in the Georgian town of Gori killed at least five civilians, including a journalist, and injured several others. A Reuters photographer said he saw five bodies and four wounded people in the street after the blasts.

Broadcaster RTL later said Dutch cameraman Stan Storimans had been killed and a Dutch correspondent wounded during a Russian attack on Gori.

In Moscow, Colonel-General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy head of the General Staff, denied Russian forces had attacked the town.

A study of television footage from the scene showed that the explosions were probably caused by mortar fire and not by bombs dropped from aircraft, as witnesses initially thought. Georgian soldiers abandoned the town in some disarray yesterday.