Russian troops are expected to start pulling out of Georgian territory today at noon according to what Russian President Dmitry Medvedev yesterday told his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy. The latter warned of “serious consequences” for Euro-Russian relations in case Moscow did not respect the cease-fire.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Tbilisi meeting Georgian President Mikhail Saaskashvili where she has expressed support for Georgia’s demand to join NATO, stressing that “Georgia will become a member of NATO if it wants to.”
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini is in contact with Moscow to work out the details of an international observer mission in the war zone.
Despite the Kremlin’s promises, Russian forces continue to man checkpoints around Gori and prevent people from moving without authorisation, something which has complicated the work of volunteers and rescue workers who are bringing the first assistance to a population tried by a conflict that has so far created 100,000 refugees.
In the Caucasus the situation is getting worse as The New York Times online reports that the Russian military deployed several SS-21 missile launchers to South Ossetia that can reach much of Georgia, including Tbilisi, the capital.
From a humanitarian perspective, the situation of displaced people is also getting worse.
“Caritas Internationalis has received requests from the local patriarchate and government to use all the means and resources at its disposal to confront the emergency,” Monsignor Pasotto said.
“A couple of food kitchens and 200 reception points have been opened in the capital to help the refugees. Some 70,000 have arrived in Tbilisi alone, but the first estimates put the number at more than 100,000. The situation is very precarious,” he added.
The apostolic administrator of the Caucasus of the Latins highlighted how Georgians are helping each other and showing “solidarity”. He also slammed the arrival of paramilitary forces, including Kazaks and Chechens, who are looting abandoned homes in Gori under the indifferent eyes of Russian soldiers.
“Gori is isolated whilst the country is split in two as a result of Russian military operations that destroyed bridges and railway lines, cutting links,” Monsignor Pasotto said.
He hopes that the right to move will be fully restored very soon so that help can be brought to a population that “is living in terror.” He is also demanding that refugees be allowed to “go back to their homes.”
Among the people displaced by the conflict many are Christians from Gori, some of whom are being sheltered by families in the capital who have opened their doors to refugees.
Finally Mgr Giuseppe Pasotto thanked Benedict XVI for his words yesterday during the Angelus at Castel Gandolfo.
“The Pope has shown much concern for the Georgian population and we are pleasantly surprised for the strength and decisiveness of his intervention. This is a sign that the Catholic community is concerned about the Georgian people. I hope it can improve relations with the Orthodox Church.”
The crisis in the Caucasus broke out on 7 August when Georgia sent its army into South Ossetia, a region nominally part of Georgia but de facto independent but not internationally recognised, and where most residents hold Russian passports.
Russia responded to Georgia’s move by sending its troops into South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another Georgian region seeking independence, and has bombed various Georgian cities.