BEIJING (Reuters) - The White House warned Russia on Sunday that military escalation in the Georgia conflict could have a “significant, long-term impact” on relations between Washington and Moscow.
U.S. President George W. Bush’s deputy national security adviser, James Jeffrey, said it will be key to see the Russian reaction to the withdrawal of Georgian forces from the South Ossetia breakaway region.
“We’ve made it clear to the Russians that if the disproportionate and dangerous escalation on the Russian side continues, that this will have a significant, long-term impact on U.S.-Russian relations,” Jeffrey said.
Georgia’s interior ministry said earlier its forces had withdrawn from South Ossetia where they had been fighting Russian troops for control. The Russian military confirmed that Georgian forces were moving out of the capital of the region.
“We deplore the dangerous and disproportionate actions by Russian forces and we would be particularly troubled if these attacks are continuing now as the Georgians are pulling back,” he said.
The United States would also be “very, very concerned if in fact there is ground action inside of Georgia proper that is outside of these areas of Abkhazia and Ossetia,” he said.
The Georgian pull-out followed three days of fighting in a Georgian push to take control of the pro-Moscow enclave from separatists, which prompted Russia to pour troops into South Ossetia and launch air strikes inside Georgia.
Russia bombed a military airfield outside the Georgian capital early Sunday and Tbilisi said the Russians were also massing troops in Abkhazia on the Black Sea, another rebel region that broke with Tbilisi in the early 1990s after a war.
Bush has spoken to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin twice and President Dmitry Medvedev, the White House said. He also spoke with ally French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who holds the rotating European Union presidency.
“Both presidents have the same position and agree across the board but specifically on these three points, that there needs to be a ceasefire, there needs to be disengagement and there needs to be respect for Georgian territorial integrity,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
Russian warships arrived at Georgia’s Black Sea coast earlier Sunday, RIA news agency quoted a Russian navy source as saying. The source said the aim was to stop weapons arriving by sea.
Jeffrey renewed the U.S. call for a ceasefire and said the two sides should return to their positions of August 6 before the latest fighting broke out.
“We are urging both the South Ossetians and Georgians to sit down and meet and we’re urging the Russians to cease their attacks,” he said.
Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky and Matt Spetalnick; editing by Keith Weir