"I have made a decision to end the operation to force the Georgian authorities to peace," Medvedev said on Tuesday afternoon. The decision to conclude the military operation was taken after a meeting with the leader of breakaway South Ossetia, Edward Kokoity.
The announcement came after five days of fighting that began with an attack by Georgian forces on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali on August 8.(PHOTOS) Russia has said that around 1,600 people died in the Georgian assault. Some 34,000 people also fled fighting into Russia. Most residents of South Ossetia have Russian citizenship.
During the subsequent Russian military operation to force Georgian troops out of the de facto independent republic and to reinforce its peacekeepers in the region, Moscow sent some 10,000 servicemen and several hundred armored vehicles into South Ossetia. Russian jets also carried out strikes against Georgian military infrastructure. Western and Georgian media reported that Russia had bombed civilian targets in Georgia, including in the city of Gori, but Moscow denied the allegations. (PHOTOS)
"The operation has achieved its goal - security for the peacekeepers and civilians has been restored. The aggressor was punished, suffering huge losses," Medvedev said.
However, he said the Russian military has orders to destroy any "centers of resistance" or other "attempts at aggression" from Georgia.
Georgian Prime Minister Vladimir Gurgenidze said Tbilisi wanted proof that Moscow had concluded its military operation in South Ossetia.
RUSSIAN-FRENCH PEACE PLAN
Medvedev's statement coincided with peace mission trips to Moscow by the French and Finnish foreign ministers, as well as French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Sarkozy, who holds the European Union rotating presidency, welcomed Russia's decision to halt its military operation in Georgia, and called on both countries' troops to return to their pre-conflict positions.
Speaking to Medvedev in the Kremlin, Sarkozy said the decision was "good news," and urged for a timetable to be drawn up for each side to return to their positions before the conflict.
He also said, in contrast to earlier U.S. and U.K. statements unreservedly condemning Russia's actions in Georgia, that "it is understandable that Russia wants to protect its compatriots' and Russian speakers' interests abroad, and it is also understandable that the international community wants to protect Georgia's sovereignty, security and territorial integrity."
"Russia can use its might to ensure peace. This is the reason why I am in Moscow," the president added.
Medvedev and Sarkozy announced six principles of a joint peace plan.
"The first is not to resort to the use of force. The second is to halt all military action. The third is free access to humanitarian aid. The fourth is that Georgian Armed Forces should return to their bases. The fifth is that Russian Armed Forces should pull back to their positions prior to combat," Medvedev said.
"The sixth is the beginning of international discussions on the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and on ways to ensure their security," he added.
The French leader was due to take the Russian-French peace plan to Tbilisi later on Tuesday.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown welcomed the plan in a statement on Tuesday evening.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said however that if Tbilisi rejected the peace plan, Moscow would have to take measures to prevent further violence in South Ossetia.
A RIA Novosti correspondent reported hearing gunfire in Tskhinvali on Tuesday evening. The South Ossetian leader also said that the shooting was a "provocation" by Georgian forces seeking to "provoke a response by the Russian military in order to prove to their Western patrons that Russia is not keeping its promises."
The Russian Defense Ministry earlier dismissed Georgian claims that Russia was continuing to bomb villages near the South Ossetian border.
Meanwhile, Abkhazian separatist officials claimed that their forces had completed an operation to dislodge Georgian troops from the upper part of the Kodori Gorge, the only area in the two breakaway republics that had remained under Georgian control. They said that Russian troops were not involved in the operation.
NO TALKS WITH SAAKASHVILI
Moscow has ruled out future talks with Saakashvili.
"The best thing would be for him to resign," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday. However, he said Moscow has "no plans to force anyone from power."
Lavrov also questioned elements of European-backed proposals for a Georgian-Russian ceasefire deal. "Russia supports the OSCE and EU line that a ceasefire agreement is absolutely essential, but we have questions over several points," he said.
Russia's main objection to the proposals is a stipulation that the peacekeeping format in South Ossetia revert to the setup before August 7.
"We can hardly agree to this, as it implies that Georgian so-called peacekeepers should be in South Ossetia... Georgian peacekeepers cannot be there. They committed crimes, shooting their own [Russian] colleagues, with whom they were serving," said Lavrov.
South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway Georgian region, both broke away from Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Both republics fought vicious wars with Tbilisi that eventually ended in the retreat of Georgian troops and the regions gaining de facto independence.
When the Rose Revolution street protests swept the pro-Western Saakashvili to power in 2004, the new president immediately vowed to bring the regions back under central government control. Russia had earlier granted citizenship to residents of both republics.
Saakashvili also pledged to bring Georgia into NATO. For this to happen, the country's "frozen" conflicts would have to be resolved. Indeed, South Ossetia and Abkhazia were the reason why Georgia was not given a NATO Membership Action Plan in April, objections from Germany and France that doing so would unnecessarily antagonize Russia thwarting U.S. enthusiasm for welcoming Tbilisi into the military alliance.
Despite the conflict, NATO has refused to rule out the prospect of Georgia joining the military alliance in the future.
"I think that the Bucharest communique stands. The allies have said in Bucharest that one day Georgia will join NATO," Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a news conference following NATO talks with Georgia in Brussels on Tuesday.
PROSPECTS FOR THE FUTURE
The fighting in South Ossetia has seen relations between Russia and the West fall to yet another post-Cold War low.
Following Georgia's action early Friday, Russia launched a major counter operation, drawing immediate condemnation from the West. U.S. President George Bush called Russia's response to Georgia's attack on Tskhinvali "disproportionate," and also said Russia "has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people."
"Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st Century," he added.
U.S. military transport planes subsequently brought some 2,000 Georgian troops back home from Iraq, where they had made up the third largest contingent after the U.S. and the U.K.
On Monday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin criticized the U.S. stance on the conflict, saying, "The very scale of this cynicism is astonishing - the attempt to turn white into black, black into white and to adeptly portray victims of aggression as aggressors and place the responsibility for the consequences of the aggression on the victims."
"The Cold War has long ended but this mentality has remained firmly in the minds of several U.S. diplomats," Putin said.
Russia has also criticized Western media coverage of the armed conflict, calling it "biased."
Medvedev said at the news conference with Sarkozy that Georgia's August 8 attack on Tskhinvali should be taken into account when deciding the future status of both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway Georgian republic. He made reference to the "precedent" of Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence in February, and its subsequent recognition by the United States and the majority of EU countries.
The Russian president added that the residents of the two rebel regions should be consulted on whether they wanted to be part of Georgia.
"They will give an unequivocal answer, an answer that cannot be given by Russia or any other country," he said