WASHINGTON - President Bush on Monday demanded that Russia end a "dramatic and brutal escalation" of violence in Georgia, agree to an immediate cease-fire and accept international mediation to end the crisis in the former Soviet republic.
Almost immediately after his return from the Olympics in China, Bush warned Russia in his strongest comments since the fighting erupted over Georgia's separatist South Ossetia region last week to "reverse the course it appears to be on" and abandon any attempt it may have to topple Georgia's pro-western government.
"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," the president said in a televised statement from the White House, calling on Moscow to sign on to the outlines of a cease-fire as the Georgian government has done.
"The Russian government must reverse the course it appears to be on and accept this peace agreement as a first step toward solving this conflict," Bush said, adding that he is deeply concerned that Russia, which Georgian officials say has effectively split their country in two, might bomb the civilian airport in the capital of Tbilisi.
He said Russia's escalation of the conflict had "raised serious questions about its intentions in Georgia and the region" and had "substantially damaged Russia's standing in the world." "These actions jeopardize Russia's relations with the United States and Europe," Bush said. "It's time for Russia to be true to its word to act to end this crisis."
Despite the tough talk, the president's comments were not backed up by any specific threat of consequences Russia might face if it ignores the warning. U.S. officials said they were committed to the diplomatic track and were working with U.S. allies in Europe and elsewhere, as well as with the Russians, to defuse the crisis.