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Russia rules out talks with Georgian leader

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Russia's foreign minister said on Tuesday that the country rules out negotiations with Georgia's president, and insisted that Georgia must no longer have a peacekeeping presence in breakaway South Ossetia.
MOSCOW, August 12 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's foreign minister said on Tuesday that the country rules out negotiations with Georgia's president, and insisted that Georgia must no longer have a peacekeeping presence in breakaway South Ossetia.

Four days on from Georgia's ground and air offensive to seize control of South Ossetia, Russian forces have forced a Georgian retreat from the province in what Moscow has labeled a major peace enforcement operation to prevent further incursions.

Sergei Lavrov, speaking at a joint news conference with Finland's foreign minister in Moscow, highlighted the severity of the crimes committed by Georgian forces in their attack on South Ossetia, and said Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili can no longer be considered a partner.

"The best thing would be for him to resign," Lavrov said, while stressing that Russia has "no plans to force anyone from power - this is not in our political culture at all."

Russia says Georgian forces killed around 1,600 civilians in the onslaught, mainly Russian nationals, and forced over 34,000 residents to flee across the border into Russia, where they are now being housed in medical camps.

The top Finnish diplomat, Alexander Stubb, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, had presented to Russia European-backed proposals for a Georgian-Russian ceasefire deal.

Lavrov said: "Russia supports the OSCE and EU line that a ceasefire agreement is absolutely essential, but we have questions over several points," in particular a stipulation that the peacekeeping format 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."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy set off for Moscow earlier today, shortly before news broke that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had ordered an end to his country's military operation in Georgia. He will meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev before leaving for Tbilisi for talks with Saakashvili.

France's proposals for a peace plan, which also included a Georgian peacekeeping presence in South Ossetia, were rejected by Russia at the United Nations Security Council on Monday.

Sergei Lavrov reiterated Russia's calls for an international war crimes trial for the Georgian leadership, which he said still poses a threat to Georgia's other rebel region, Abkhazia.

Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from Georgia in wars in the early 1990s, and have received substantial Russian backing. Most residents of the provinces have Russian citizenship.

"The fact that with his barbaric acts in South Ossetia, he [Saakashvili] has undermined the viability of the Georgian state, shows the Ossetian and Abkhaz peoples that they will not be safe together with Georgia," Lavrov said.

"The crimes committed by the Tbilisi regime in South Ossetia merit investigation at an international tribunal," he said.

Saakashvili "has killed our [Russian] citizens, ordered the crushing of women and children by tanks, and the burning alive of a group of girls herded into a cattle shed. And not only did he do all this on the background of European flags, but he declared that he was safeguarding American values," Lavrov said.

He said the Georgian offensive has shown that the country's key ally, the United States, which has provided military backing to the regime, has been unable to meet its obligation to restrain Saakashvili.

United States President Georgia W. Bush has condemned Russia's large-scale retaliation against Georgia as "disproportionate," and warned that it was likely to harm Russia-U.S. relations.

However, Lavrov said that Moscow's approach to relations with Washington would remain unchanged.

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