Russian troops sent mixed signals August 14 on honoring a deal to ease the Georgian conflict. Conditions inside the Caucasus state remained volatile, while on the international front, the prospect of a breakdown in US-Russian relations grew.
Russian officials on August 12 agreed to a EU-brokered program that was supposed to pave the way for a durable peace between Russia and Georgia. Since then, however, Russian troops, rather than withdrawing, have appeared to expand their presence within Georgia proper.
Speaking at a late night news conference, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili charged that Russian troops have moved still further into Georgian territory, sending a column of over 100 tanks towards the country's second largest city, Kutaisi, in central Georgia. He described the advance as "diplomatic blackmail."
By all appearances, the Kremlin appears intent on drastically altering the geopolitical balance in the Caucasus, striving to greatly reduce, if not eliminate the US presence in the region. Moscow's next step could be the permanent dismemberment of Georgia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on August 14 announced that the world can "forget about Georgia's territorial integrity." Those words were interpreted locally to mean that Russia would soon either recognize South Ossetia's and Abkhazia's independence, or annex them.