Georgia accused Russia of breaking a shaky ceasefire in their six-day conflict yesterday, a charge strongly denied by Moscow.
In a highly charged atmosphere of claim and counter-claim, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said Russian tanks had stormed the Georgian town of Gori and were advancing on the capital, though a deputy minister later backtracked on this.
Moscow said the claims were not true. “No Russian troops or armour are moving towards Tbilisi,” colonel-general Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy head of the general staff, said.
Witnesses said Russian troops had set up at least two checkpoints several kilometres from Gori and the Russian side later said it had secured an abandoned Georgian ammunition depot outside the town, famous as the birthplace of Soviet leader Josef Stalin.
Russia’s far greater military might has humiliated Georgia.
Last week it launched an unsuccessful strike to try to retake the pro-Russian breakaway region of South Ossetia, provoking massive retaliation from Moscow.
In Brussels, the EU backed sending peacekeeping monitors to South Ossetia to supervise the French-brokered ceasefire. They also agreed to step up humanitarian aid.
“We are determined to act on the ground,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
Kouchner, as president of the 27- nation bloc, briefed an emergency meeting on his country’s mediation efforts.
A NATO spokeswoman said the US had requested a meeting of alliance foreign ministers on the Georgia crisis, as divided Western powers groped for a response to Russia’s overwhelming show of force against its tiny neighbour.