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."
A senior U.S. official said the United States and its allies suspected Russia had been planning an invasion for some time and deliberately instigated the conflict through attacks on Georgian villages by pro-Russian forces in South Ossetia despite outwardly appealing for calm and promising to rein in the separatists.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal Bush administration deliberations, said there were numerous "unpleasant precedents" for the current situation, including the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslavkia.
Despite the tough talk in Washington, there was no specific threat of any consequences Russia might face if it ignores the warnings. American officials said they were working with U.S. allies in Europe and elsewhere, as well as with the Russians, to defuse the crisis.
Earlier Monday, the United States and the world's six other largest economic powers issued a call similar to Bush's for Russia to accept a truce and agree to mediation as conditions deteriorated and Russian troops continued their advances into Georgian territory. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her colleagues from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations pledged their support for a negotiated solution to the conflict that has been raging since Friday, the State Department said.