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Russian forces stay entrenched in Georgia

GORI, Georgia — On the same day that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced he had signed a cease-fire with Georgia, his military reportedly blew up a key railroad bridge and continued to occupy fighting positions along the main road to the capital.

While President Bush said from Crawford, Texas, that Russia ”needs to honor the agreement“ — which calls for both sides to withdraw to the positions they held before war broke out on Aug. 8 — the Russian forces gave little indication that they were leaving.

”Russia needs to ... withdraw its forces, and of course end military operations,“ Bush said. The president added: ”Georgia's borders should command the same respect as every other nation's. There's no room for debate on this matter.“

After pushing Georgia's military out of South Ossetia, the first battleground, the Russians moved further south this week to occupy Gori, just 40 miles outside Tbilisi, the capital.

Georgia's Foreign Ministry also accused Russian army units and separatist fighters in another breakaway province, Abkhazia, of taking over 13 villages and the Inguri hydropower plant Saturday, shifting the border of the Black Sea province toward the Inguri River.

The Russians have made clear that despite the political demands of Washington, and treaties signed in Moscow, they are in control.

The Kremlin refers to its troops as ”peacekeepers,“ saying they are in place to ensure both that the Georgians do not move back into South Ossetia — which the Georgians tried to take before being bombarded by Russian jets — and that Ossetian militias do not exact revenge.

Georgian politicians say that's a cynical ploy by the Russians to ensure South Ossetia and Abkhazia stay under the sway of Moscow or achieve full independence. And perhaps, they worry, to control the entire nation's affairs in the same way the Soviet Union once did. ”There is no doubt that Russia right now, today, is an occupying power in Georgia,“ said Lasha Zhvania, the chair of the Georgian parliament's foreign relations committee.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday that Russia would take ”as much (time) as is needed“ to pull out its military units.

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