WASHINGTON The United States demanded Wednesday that Russia end all military activities in neighboring Georgia as President Bush ordered U.S. aid for Georgians devastated by the invasion.
With rapidly changing circumstances on the ground and uncertain knowledge about Russia's commitment to a French-mediated cease-fire it says it has agreed to, Bush also said he was dispatching Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Tbilisi. And both he and Rice warned Moscow not to impede the relief mission that the Pentagon is leading for the pro-Western former Soviet republic.
"We expect Russia to meet its commitment to cease all military activities in Georgia and we expect all Russian forces that entered Georgia in recent days to withdraw from that country," Bush said in a stern televised address from the White House.
"I have heard the Russian president say that his military operations are over. I am saying it is time for the Russian president to be true to his word," Rice told a State Department news conference later.
Rice leaves Washington late Wednesday for France, where she will consult on Thursday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who mediated the truce, and then on to Georgia. Bush said she was going there to show "America's unwavering support for Georgia's democratic government."
Their comments came amid fears in Washington and elsewhere that instead of withdrawing from Georgia, Russian troops are setting up for some type of medium-term occupation of parts of the country, the flashpoint separatist areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that were the immediate cause of the invasion.
A U.S. intelligence official said it is believed that Russians are consolidating their positions in the two areas and are garrisoning troops there in buildings and possibly setting up tents, to solidify their presence. The official said this could be a "long-term" presence. Asked if that meant days or weeks, he said "longer than days."
Rice said such a move would not stand, asserting that the Cold War days when the Soviet Union could roll tanks into Eastern Europe without fear of consequences were over.
"This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia where Russia can threaten a neighbor, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it," she said. "Things have changed."
Both Bush and Rice also said that Moscow's apparent violation of the cease-fire negotiated by Sarkozy puts its global aspirations at risk, hinting at what officials say privately are moves to possibly kick Russia out of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations and other international organizations in which wealthy and powerful states hold membership.
"Russia is putting its aspirations at risk by taking actions in Georgia that are inconsistent with the principles of those institutions," Bush said. "To begin to repair the damage to its relations with the United States, Europe and other nations and to begin restoring its place in the world, Russia must keep its word and act to end this crisis."
The president couched his remarks by saying it was not entirely clear what was happening on the ground.
Two U.S. officials denied that the U.S. is having any special problems or greater-than-normal difficulties with its intelligence on this conflict, although they acknowledged that the situation is confusing.
One said that the difficulty of knowing what is going on owes to the fact that the U.S. is not there and involved in the conflict, initial reports are often incorrect in the fog of war and that it's hard for people there who might give them information to get around the country to validate developments.
Further confusing the picture is the fact that the Russians often say one thing and the Georgians say another. Two U.S. officials also mentioned that the Georgians have been exaggerating in some of their reports about what the Russians are doing, which complicates the picture.
Despite the tough words from Washington, the United States seems to be struggling to find a way to convince Russia to honor a cease-fire and halt military moves toward the Georgian capital after six days of war over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
With limited leverage, Bush announced a massive U.S. humanitarian effort that would involve American aircraft as well as naval forces. A U.S. C-17 military cargo plane loaded with supplies landed in Georgia on Wednesday, and Bush said that Russia must ensure that "all lines of communication and transport, including seaports, roads and airports," remain open to let deliveries and civilians through.
At the Pentagon, press secretary Geoff Morrell stressed: "We have no need, nor do we intend to take over any Georgian air or seaport to deliver humanitarian aid for those caught in this conflict. It is simply not required for us to fulfill our humanitarian mission. We have no designs on taking control of any Georgian facility."
Rice said Russia needs to respect the U.S. aid effort to help the people of Georgia. She also made a point of noting that she was consulting with the two presumptive presidential candidates who both have offered support for the Bush administration's approach.
"I've also been having conversations with Senators Obama and McCain," she said. "I know that they are at this moment of difficult diplomacy that they are doing what they can to support the efforts of the administration."
Associated Press reporter Pauline Jelinek contributed to this story from the Pentagon.