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US concedes Kremlin’s first military response in Georgia was “legitimate”

DEBKAfile Spe­cial Report

The US ambas­sador to Moscow, endors­ing Rus­si­a’s ini­tial moves in Geor­gia, described the Krem­lin’s first mil­i­tary response as legit­i­mate after Russ­ian troops came under attack.

This was the first pos­i­tive state­ment by an Amer­i­can offi­cial about Moscow’s first response to the Geor­gian inva­sion of South Osse­tia, after a string of con­dem­na­tions from the heads of the Bush admin­is­tra­tion. It came from US ambas­sador John Beyr­le, who arrived in Moscow last month, in an inter­view pub­lished by the Russ­ian dai­ly Kom­m­er­sant Fri­day, Aug. 22.

DEB­KA-Net-Week­ly dis­closed Fri­day in its lead arti­cle that Wash­ing­ton and Moscow are work­ing qui­et­ly and inten­sive­ly to set up a sum­mit between Pres­i­dent George W. Bush and Russ­ian prime min­is­ter Vladimir Putin to bring cri­sis-rid­den US-Russ­ian rela­tions back on an even keel. (Both Pow­ers Push for a Bush-Putin Sum­mit.)

Ambas­sador Beyrle’s words were the first pub­lic depar­ture by a US offi­cial from the crit­i­cal remarks of Moscow’s con­duct heard uni­form­ly from Bush, Con­doleez­za Rice and Robert Gates.

The ambas­sador said Wash­ing­ton had not sanc­tioned Georgia’s ini­tial actions when on Aug. 8, after a suc­ces­sion of tense skir­mish­es, Geor­gian forces attacked South Osse­tia, trig­ger­ing a mas­sive Russ­ian reac­tion when its peace­keep­ers came under fire.

“We did not want to see a recourse to vio­lence and force and we made that very, very clear,” said Beyr­le. “The fact that we were try­ing to con­vince the Geor­gian side not to take this step is clear evi­dence that we did not want all this to hap­pen,” he said.

DEBKAfile: This was the first US admis­sion that Geor­gia was the aggres­sor in South Osse­tia and showed cracks in their hith­er­to sol­id sup­port for pres­i­dent Mikhail Saakashvili.

Beyr­le said Wash­ing­ton still sup­ports Rus­si­a’s bid to join the World Trade Orga­ni­za­tion – an offi­cial depar­ture from implied Amer­i­can threats to pun­ish Moscow by inter­na­tion­al iso­la­tion.

The US ambassador’s inter­view was run in the same Russ­ian paper which quot­ed Syr­i­an pres­i­dent Bashar Assad on Wednes­day, as announc­ing he was will­ing to accept Russ­ian mis­sile bases in his coun­try. Beyrle’s words look like a bid to halt the dete­ri­o­ra­tion in Rus­so-Amer­i­can rela­tions before they veer out of con­trol in a sec­ond glob­al are­na.

In anoth­er telling remark, the US ambas­sador said: “We have seen the destruc­tion of civil­ian infra­struc­ture, as well as calls by some Russ­ian politi­cians to change the demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly-elect­ed gov­ern­ment of Geor­gia. That is why we believe that Rus­sia has gone too far.”

The sub­text here, say DEBKAfile’s sources, is that if Moscow con­tin­ues to pull troops out of Geor­gia and does not threat­en the country’s integri­ty and regime, Russ­ian and US lead­ers can do busi­ness.

DEBKAfile report­ed Wednes­day, Aug. 20: Back-door US-Russ­ian con­tacts to de-esca­late war of words — after Moscow threat­ens to nuke Poland

Both pow­ers have begun act­ing to cool the rhetoric and review rela­tions, after spokes­men in Wash­ing­ton — and espe­cial­ly Moscow — raised the threat lev­el of their ora­to­ry to its high­est pitch since the Cold War’s end.


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