Russia calls a halt

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered an end to military operations against Georgia, according to the BBC. Russian securities rebounded on the financial markets at news of Medvedev's order.

"I've decided to finish the operation to force the Georgian authorities to peace. The safety of our peacekeeping forces and civilian population has been restored. The aggressor has been punished, having sustained considerable losses. Its armed forces have been disorganised," he added.

But the Russian foreign minister has called on Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili to step down, while simultaneously denying that Moscow seeks to overthrow Saakashvili. The markets liked the Russian move. Bloomberg reported that the ruble strengthened and the stockmarket climbedMedvedev ordered the halt. "Russian shares slumped to a 22-month low and the ruble fell the most in more than three years on Aug. 8 as the country sent tanks, troops and warplanes into Georgia in what it said was a response to an offensive on South Ossetia."

Although the immediate crisis appears to have passed Russian fires are still able to cover the key transportation links running east to west across the country. Emerging details suggest the announcement that the operation has been stopped is not quite equivalent to a cessation of hostilities. The Guardian reports that fighting is still going on around Gori, despite the Russian announcement of a halt. And on top of the demand that the Georgian President be deposed, there is now the additional demand that the Georgian Army be partially "demilitarized".

The Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, who had ordered an end to the fighting, said a full settlement of the conflict could only be reached if Georgian troops returned to their initial positions, were "partly demilitarised", and there was "a binding agreement on the non-use of force".

What exactly "returned to their initial positions" means in this context is unclear. And what happens if Georgia doesn't reach a "full settlement" is also unclear. The country remains the point of the gun. But if the fighting has truly stopped what will follow is a battle for perception. Russia will claim that it "won"; the Georgians may claim that they "prevailed"; and the United States may say that it's threat to confront Russia gave Moscow pause.

Nicolas Sarkozy will meet the Russian leadership in an attempt to get them to sign onto a peace proposal which has been pre-agreed to by Georgia. The Times Online does not expect a clean stoppage in hostilities. It writes, "Violence is unlikely to end immediately. There has been no order to Russian troops in Georgia to withdraw, and its soldiers have been told to remain on the alert to defend themselves and quell any signs of Georgian resistance. Russia is insisting that Georgia must pull its troops from the breakaway regions, withdraw its soldiers from a buffer zone around their borders, and pledge not to use force again to solve the conflict. It has indicated that it feels Mr Saakashvili, whom it accuses of war crimes, should resign, and that it is disinclined to negotiate directly with him. "

Saakashvili, however, has declined to play the loser. Speaking before flag-waving crowds the Georgian President announced that his country, in consultation with Parliament, had decided to leave the Commonwealth of Independent States and had urged the Ukraine to do the same. CNN quoted him as saying, "we are giving final adios to the Soviet Union."

AFP is now reporting the Russians ceasefire doesn't really mean that all operations of war would be suspended. Critically, reconnaissance is not going to stop. Whether this means that forces will still be probing forward remains to be seen.

A senior Russian military commander said the halt in the Russian advance into Georgia did not mean all operations would end."If we have received the order to ceasefire, this does not mean that we have stopped all actions, including reconnaissance," General Anatoly Nogovitsyn said. ... Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday ordered a halt to the military offensive against Georgia saying it had been punished but could be hit again. ...

At the United Nations, Russia's ambassador rejected a Western blueprint before the UN Security Council to end the fighting, based on the French plan. "I cannot see us accepting this French draft," said the ambassador, Vitaly Churkin. The plan -- already accepted by the Georgian leader -- calls for an immediate truce, respect for Georgia's territorial integrity and a return to the status quo that prevailed before fighting erupted in South Ossetia. Churkin objected because the draft resolution did not refer to "Georgian aggression and to the atrocities we have seen."

All cats are gray in the darkThe next few days will show whether the ceasefire will hold and whether the damage to international relations can be undone. If Moscow has truly ended the operation, it has done as well as it could, sending the signal that it is to be feared but stopping short of any irrevocable step; reaping benefits while avoiding the ultimate cost. The Georgians have stared into the abyss, and can feel as relieved as a man who has heard the dry click of a 9 mm pressed against the back of his head can feel. But many in the United States, and possibly Western Europe, may never see Putin's Russia the same way again. It will not be a wholly unsympathetic view, any more than those who remembered the Treaty of Versailles could be unsympathetic to 1920s Germany. But it will be one tinged with foreboding. The names of the Polish Corridor, the Anchluss and the Sudetenland have not yet been wholly lost to history.

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