Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a halt to military operations in Georgia yesterday but Tbilisi cast doubt on the announcement, saying Moscow was still bombing towns and villages.
The announcement coincided with the visit of French president Nicolas Sarkozy to Moscow on an EU peace mission and seemed intended to help international efforts to negotiate a lasting truce.
Sarkozy said Russia and Georgia, who have been fighting since last Thursday, had not yet agreed a peace deal, adding: “We don’t yet have peace. But we have a provisional cessation of hostilities. And everyone should be aware that this is considerable progress. There is still much work to be done….What we want is to secure the best result.”
In a first US reaction, Washington’s envoy to the region, Matthew Bryza, termed the Russian move “extremely positive”.
The conflict over the tiny separatist province of South Ossetia has spooked markets and rattled the West. It began when Georgia tried to retake the pro Russian region last week, provoking a massive counteroffensive from Moscow.
Using language redolent of his mentor Vladimir Putin, Medvedev criticised Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili yesterday as a “lunatic”. Saakashvili had promised voters he would win back South Ossetia and a second separatist area, Abkhazia.
“You know, lunatics’ difference from other people is that when they smell blood it is very difficult to stop them. So you have to use surgery,” Medvedev said, while Georgians hailed their president a hero.