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Top U.S. Envoy Says Russia Will Pay A 'Serious Cost'

  • RFE/RL

Matthew Bryza

Matthew Bryza

The Bush administration's top envoy to the Caucasus has just returned from Georgia, where he says he received dozens of reports of serious human rights abuses throughout the region.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza also said the United States warned Georgia not to provoke Russia into a military confrontation before it moved into South Ossetia.

Bryza told members of the foreign press in Washington on August 19 that when Georgian officials informed the United States that they were lifting the cease-fire and moving forces into South Ossetia, U.S. advice was to not engage the Russian military.

He said the message to Georgian officials was that a conflict with Russia was "unwinnable."

Georgia sent forces into the disputed enclave of South Ossetia on August 7 after weeks of repeated skirmishes with Russian-backed separatists. Moscow immediately responded with overwhelming land and air forces.

Bryza has just returned from the region, where he said he had heard "credible reports" of serious human rights abuses that are still occurring, including rape, killing, and destruction of property.

Citing figures from the United Nations, he said there are an estimated 100,000 internally displaced people now in Georgia and he called on Russia to ensure that humanitarian aid was allowed to flow freely through the country.

"We call on Russia to, again, implement the cease-fire, pull its troops out of Georgia -- all of them that came in after August 6 -- and make sure this humanitarian crisis is averted, and immediately take steps to stop the humanitarian and human rights violations that we're receiving credible reports on," Bryza said.

In the two weeks since the conflict began, Georgia's infrastructure and fragile economy have suffered heavy blows, and Bryza said the United States is committed to helping the country recover.

"We have to do all we can to save the Georgian democracy, save democracy in Georgia -- that means tackling the humanitarian crisis, it also means making sure the economy restores growth, and that the financial system remains stable," he said. "So there's a lot we need to do to make sure Georgian democracy stays on track.

Both President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have repeatedly said that Russia will "pay a price" for its actions. Under questioning, Bryza declined to offer specifics of what that meant, but repeated that "there must be a cost" for Russia and that deliberations are going on "at the highest level."

There has been some speculation that the United States and its allies may decide to expel Russia from the Group of Eight, or prevent its joining the World Trade Organization.

Bryza said the prospect of Russia moving away from its previously stated goals of integration into international structures wasn't something the Bush administration wanted.

"We're not trying to issue vague, empty threats or wag our finger," he said. "We're simply stating the fact that this military operation has imposed a serious cost on Russia in terms of its standing in the world and that's not a good thing, it's not something we relish, it's not something we want to see happen."

He said some administration officials had spent years trying to build a "mutually beneficial relationship between the U.S. and Russia, even discussing a strategic partnership, but that "we're a long way from that now."
Crisis In Georgia
For RFE/RL's full coverage of the conflict that began in Georgia's breakway region of South Ossetia, click here.