U.S. dispatches ship to port city

MOSCOW – Russia formally recognized the breakaway Georgian territories at the heart of its war with Georgia on Tuesday, heightening tensions with the West as the United States dispatched a military ship bearing aid to a port city still patrolled by Russian troops.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Georgia forced Russia’s hand by launching an attack targeting South Ossetia on Aug. 7 in an apparent bid to seize control of the breakaway region.In response, Russian tanks and troops drove deep into the U.S. ally’s territory in a five-day war that Moscow saw as a justified response to a military threat in its backyard and the West viewed as a repeat of Soviet-style intervention in its vassal states.

“This is not an easy choice but this is the only chance to save people’s lives,” Medvedev said Tuesday in a televised address a day after Russia’s Kremlin-controlled parliament voted unanimously to support the diplomatic recognition.Western criticism came almost immediately.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the decision to recognize the independence of two breakaway regions in Georgia is “extremely unfortunate.”

She said the U.S. regards Abkhazia and South Ossetia as “part of the internationally recognized borders of Georgia” and will use its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to block any Russian attempt change their status.

Britain, Germany and France also criticized the decision.Russian forces have staked out positions beyond the de-facto borders of the separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The two territories have effectively ruled themselves following wars in the 1990s.

While Western nations have called the Russian military presence in Poti a clear violation of an EU-brokered cease-fire, a top Russian general countered Tuesday that using warships to deliver aid was “devilish.”

“The heightened activity of NATO ships in the Black Sea perplexes us,” Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn said in Moscow. The United States says its ships are carrying humanitarian aid but suspicion persists in Russia that they are delivering military materiel clandestinely.

Many of the Russian forces have pulled back from their positions in Georgia, but hundreds at least are estimated to still be manning checkpoints that Russia calls “security zones.”Two of those checkpoints are near the edge of Poti, one of Georgia’s most important Black Sea ports – one by a bridge that provides the only access to Poti. The Russian military is also claiming the right to patrol in the city.

An AP cameraman was treated roughly by Russian troops Sunday when he tried to film Russian movements around Poti. Other AP journalists have reported on Russian looting in the city. Georgian officials have said much of the port’s infrastructure – radar, Coast Guard ships, other equipment – was destroyed by the Russians.

Angering Russia, the United States sent the missile destroyer USS McFaul to the southern Georgian port of Batumi, well away from the conflict zone, to deliver 34 tons of humanitarian aid on Sunday.

The McFaul left Batumi on Tuesday but would remain in the Black Sea area, said Commander Scott Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet in Naples, Italy.The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Dallas was headed for Georgia with a shipment of aid.

Embassy spokesman Stephen Guice did not give details on which ship would aim to enter Poti, but it appeared likely the smaller Coast Guard ship would aim to dock, with the McFaul possibly remaining on guard at sea.

“We can confirm that U.S. ship-borne humanitarian aid will be delivered to Poti tomorrow,” Guice said.

In Moscow, the deputy head of the Russian military’s general staff lashed out at the U.S. naval operation.

“We are worried” about aid being delivered on warships, Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn said. “This is devilish.”

“This aid could be bought at any flea market,” he added.While he did not link it with the U.S. ships, Nogovitsyn said a unit of Russian naval ships was off Sukhumi – the capital of another separatist Georgian region, Abkhazia, on the Black Sea north of Poti.

  • Steve Gutterman (AP)