Russia punishing Georgia for friendship with West: U.S.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has accused Russia of trying to punish Georgia for daring to integrate with the West. Gates described Russia's behaviour as opportunistic and called into question any future dialogue with the U.S.

Gates promised the U.S. would re-examine its military relations with Russia and announced the cancellation of U.S.-Canadian-Russian military exercise set for August 20.

Earlier Gates had been ordered by President Bush to begin a humanitarian operation to help the population of Georgia. He insisted the US military would only be limited to that role.

“Right now the only people we will have on the ground are those that are required to deliver the humanitarian mission and a handful of trainers who have been in Georgia for some period of time,” Gates noted.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has reiterated her country’s firm backing of Georgia in the wake of the conflict in South Ossetia. The U.S. has been unwavering in its support for Georgia since the violence began and her latest comments underlined that position.

Speaking at a news conference in, she said:

“The United States has made very clear that it is standing by the democratically elected government of Georgia. This is a small neighbour of Russia. It is a country that has made considerable progress in terms of its economy. It is still trying to secure its democratic institutions and we work with Georgia on that,” Rice said at a news conference in Washington on Wednesday.

“But if anyone has any doubts about our support for Georgia you only may look at the fact that it is a millennium challenge country which is one of the most important designations the U.S. can make – that we believe in the future of that country.”
This statement came together with the news that an American cargo plane carrying humanitarian aid has left for Georgia, and that more will follow later by sea.

Israel’s position ‘based on U.S. opinion’

Members of the Russian-speaking Jewish community are concerned Israel is siding with Georgia in the conflict. In the past, Israel has always gone along with the U.S. line over disputes in the region.

Vladimir Sternfeld, First Vice President of the World Congress of Russian-Speaking Jewry, said he believes Israel's position on the conflict is wrong, because it is based on U.S. opinion.

“The fact that it’s genocide of the South Ossetian people is well-known. And who if not the Jews, who've gone through so much pain and sorrow because of the genocide should support the people of South Ossetia and speak against the actions of Georgia?” he added.

The former Israeli Ambassador to Tbilisi says his country sold weapons to Georgia and insists they were to be used for purely defensive purposes.

“I think that in the nearest future we have to stop this export to Georgia, because we are already involved in some delicate problems. One of them is of course, Iran,” Professor Baruch Ben-Neria said.

Meanwhile, Hundreds of protesters have demonstrated outside the Georgian Embassy in the Turkish capital Ankara. The protesters picketed the building and chanted slogans as they rallied against Georgia’s actions in South Ossetia.

Turkey's Prime Minister is in Tbilisi to discuss the ongoing troubles. Tayyip Erdogan has already held talks with Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev.

In Brussels, Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says he believes the situation in South Ossetia can not be stabilised without Russia's mediation.