Return to Transcripts main page
Georgia Accusing Russia of Violating a Ceasefire Agreement; Michael Phelps Now the Winningest Olympian in History; Saakashvili Interview
Aired August 13, 2008 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN BEIJING CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "If you're not good looking, no matter how well you sing, you will not be on stage. Do you know you're twisting a whole generation?" read one comment.
"If foreigners found out, they'd think we can't even find a girl who is good at both," wrote another.
VAUSE: At a short time ago, we checked those blogs, and there's actually an online poll right now as to which girl is cuter -- whether it's Lin or Yang, happy to say right now it's about 50/50, John.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Do we actually know, John, whether or not this young girl can sing? I remember in the Milli Vanilli press conference they tried and it was pretty bad.
VAUSE: Yes, Lin can actually sing. But what had happened is that there was a (INAUDIBLE) member in the audience. He didn't think her voice was up to it so they decided that they would get Yang's voice because it was by far the standout, although Lin had the best looking face so that will work out.
ROBERTS: Maybe she does have a career ahead of her anyways. John Vause for us in Beijing this morning. John, thanks very much. Good to see you.
KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking this morning, Georgia accusing Russia of violating a ceasefire this morning by rolling tanks into the town of Gori. They're talking about looting. Ahead of Georgia's National Security Council says there's bombing and looting going on right now in Gori. Russian military officials claim there's been no active withdrawal of Georgian troops from the separatist region of South Ossetia.
A militant shooting just south of Kabul, Afghanistan where three female aide workers including one American are killed. Afghan officials say all three were part of a U.S. aide organization called International Rescue Committee based out of New York City. The women's Afghani driver also killed in that ambush.
And a bomb targeting a civilian bus in Northern Lebanon this morning. At least 11 people killed including civilians and Lebanese military. Dozens of others injured. That attack happened during the height of Tripoli's rush hour. Police say al Qaeda-inspired militants are believed to be behind that attack.
U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps now the winningest Olympian in history taking two more gold medals in Beijing. Numbers 10 and 11 for his career. Phelps and a team mate shattered the 800-meter relay record by more than four seconds. Phelps is five or five and he has three more events to go and can break Mark Spitz's record for the most golds in a single Olympics.
Right now, let's get you to the breaking news unfolding oversees in Georgia. Peace between that country and its neighbor Russia very short lived. Lasting not even a day. CNN confirming with Georgia's security chief that Russian troops had blocked off the entrance to the city of Gori. There are reports of violence and looting going on there right now.
CNN's Frederick Pleitgen is on the ground in Georgia live in the capital of Tbilisi with more.
FREDERICK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kiran, I want to give you the latest on the situation because we are hearing some eyewitness reports from that town of Gori that Russian tanks have, in fact, left that town and are on the road towards Tbilisi.
It's not clear what their intentions are. And again, these are eyewitness reports on the ground. We haven't officially confirmed that with the government yet. However, there are eyewitness reports from that area and our own journalists who are on the ground there have also seen these tanks on the ground there.
Now, from what we're hearing, this seems to be one main battle tank as well as 16 to 17 army vehicles with troops on them, flying the Russian flags. Those who we've heard from say that these Russian troops are not hostile. They say the Russian troops are waving and driving down that road. However, of course, if this is true, then this would be a violation of the ceasefire agreement between Georgia and Russia which calls for both sides to remain where they are and not leave their positions.
CHETRY: Frederick Pleitgen for us in Tbilisi, Georgia this morning. Thank you.
ROBERTS: Let's go now to CNN's Jill Dougherty. She's live in Moscow for us this morning.
And, Jill, we've got a declaration of a ceasefire hearing, yet there's accusations on both sides of either a violation or we don't know what you're talking about, we're sticking to it. What's really going on here in this relationship between Russia and Georgia?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, the relationship, obviously, is in trouble right now. And one of the problems you can see it emerging right now on the ground. The confusion over what Russia is actually doing. I can tell you that we had a briefing with the Russian military just a few hours ago in which they said, categorically, that Russian troops have ceased active military operations in South Ossetia as of 3:00 p.m., Tuesday, that they are claiming that the Georgians are not abiding by the ceasefire.
There is a lot of he said/she said in this. And I think it's very important to define what exactly any armed groups are doing. Are they fighting, are they moving, and what is their objective. The Russians also are denying one of the points that we've been making about the 50 tanks in the city allegedly of Gori. A very important city in the central part of Georgia. They are saying that, no, there are no Russian tanks in that city.
So, it's extremely fluid and extremely difficult to really figure out definitively what is happening. You're also hearing some very strong language, John, coming from the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov saying we're ready, you know, we're ready to pull back to Russia, our forces, if the Georgians go back to their barracks.
And then he also said, we should have the peacekeepers in there. However, we can't trust the Georgians because after all they fired on other peacekeepers. So it's very, very complex.
And one last point, John, another confusion is you have several groups. You also have South Ossetian militias, and they are in the mix, too. What they are doing is also unclear and there is some charges that they may be attacking villages. So caution is the by word here.
ROBERTS: We have heard from Georgian security officials that it may be, quote, "irregulars," which may speak to this idea of Ossetian militia members who are involved in this looting and shooting going on in Gori though the Georgians do insist, Jill, that they are doing it with a complicity of Russian forces who are using their tanks to block entrances to that city.
DOUGHERTY: Well, that may be. Again, we would have to have confirmation on the ground. But I think overall, the massage that you're hearing from Moscow right now is that basically mission accomplished. We have done what we wanted to do. We will pull out as soon as we feel that the other side, namely the Georgians, will do what they are supposed to do.
And that is why you have the president of France coming to both Moscow and into Tbilisi, Georgia, to try to work out these agreements. There is complete lack of trust on both sides.
ROBERTS: And we should also point out, Jill, that Georgian officials are urging those E.U. officials now to go to Gori to try to work out the situation on the ground there. Jill Dougherty for us in Moscow this morning. Jill, thanks so much.
CHETRY: Now, meanwhile, in just a few hours, the U.S. military will be landing a cargo plane in Georgia who will be carrying the first wave of humanitarian relief supplies. Our Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon right now with breaking details on this part of the story that's continuing to unfold this morning.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kiran. Well, as they get reports of this continuing violence across the country, we will see if the U.S. military later today flies right into the middle of all of it. The plan at the moment does call for a U.S. Air Force C-17 to land in Tbilisi later today, possibly within hours, carrying the first U.S. humanitarian relief supplies into the war zone.
Food, medicine, blankets, other things for the displaced people of that country. U.S. administration officials say this is the plan at the moment. We will see if it really happens. It is expected to be the first of many U.S. relief flights led by the U.S. military into Georgia. This is part of the unfolding military strategy here to create a U.S. presence in that country, to send the message to Moscow that the U.S. military will continue its relations with Georgia.
Part two expected to unfold. The U.S. Navy may now withdraw from an exercise, a naval exercise it had planned with the Russians as a measure, shall we say, of U.S. displeasure with what has happened. But we will be watching very closely. That U.S. military flight still expected to land in Tbilisi later today with relief supplies.
CHETRY: All right. For now, as you say, that could change as we continue to monitor these events unfolding on the ground there. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us. Thank you.
ROBERTS: No question that Georgia has been seriously out matched in the conflict. Here's a look at the two militaries in an "A.M. Extra." According to the Associated Press, Russia has a little more than a million troops. Georgia just 37,000. Russia has 6,000 tanks and some 1700 combat aircraft. Georgia just 230 tanks and 12 aircraft. Russia will spend some $40 billion on military matters this year. Georgia, comparatively speaking, way back at just about a billion dollars.
CHETRY: All right. Well, we're going to take a quick break. We're continuing to follow the breaking news out of Georgia. News that a ceasefire is perhaps broken. We're going to be back in just a moment with the latest from the region.
CHETRY: Breaking news. And the latest developments happening right now on the Georgian-Russian conflict. Our Matthew Chance is on the ground right now. He is between Tbilisi and Gori in Georgia. There have been many claims this morning from both sides that Russian troops are continuing to move into those areas.
Matthew, what are you seeing on the ground? VOICE OF MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the things are very dramatic developments here unfolding on the ground inside Georgia. I'm actually driving with a column of Russian-armored vehicles and military vehicles carrying troops towards the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi.
Russian forces have broken out from the main conflict zone of South Ossetia. They've moved well beyond that complex zone, beyond the town of Gori, which has come under regular attacks by Russian forces over the past several days. And they are now heading down the main road from west to east towards the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi.
So, it's a huge development in this story, clearly. The Russians up until now have said they have no intention except to secure the area around the main conflict zone in South Ossetia, also in the breakaway territory of Abkhazia as well.
But what we are seeing now is something completely different. We are seeing a wholesale incursion, an invasion by Russian forces into Georgian territory.
Now, I can't count the number of vehicles -- of military vehicles that we are with although they stretch back beyond my field of view. They're headed by an armored personnel carrier -- two armored personnel carriers and then there are very many trucks carrying troops in them. They're all green, camouflaged Russian army. And they are moving, as I say, at a concerted pace, at about 30 kilometers an hour towards the Georgian capital Tbilisi.
CHETRY: Matthew, first of all, you say you're traveling with Russian troops. Are you getting any answers from them? Are they talking to you about why they're doing this?
CHANCE: They're not at the moment, no. I tried to speak some to some of them. (INAUDIBLE) and refused to answer. It's not a -- you know, a very tense situation, which is quite frightening. There's also no resistance -- there's also no resistance to this Russian incursion by the Georgian forces. We haven't seen anything of the Georgian forces whatsoever. They're nowhere to be seen.
It was just a few days ago that they pulled out of this area out of the town of Gori (INAUDIBLE). But apparently relocated into pull back positions to stay at the last defense of their capital Tbilisi, as what we were told by Georgian officials.
At the moment, we haven't seen a shot fired in this Russian advance into Georgian territory. And as I say, the news of the Russian soldiers in (INAUDIBLE) is one of -- quite of relaxation. They're relaxed about this. They're not giving the impression that they feel they're up to any kind of military threat.
CHETRY: And just for our viewers, just bear with us. We are listening to Matthew Chance, who is actually on the road right now with Russian troops in Georgia, traveling between Gori, heading east to the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi. And he is talking to us right now about exactly what's going on. Russia, for its part, still claiming that they're abiding by a ceasefire.
Matthew, what are the implications of this movement into the capital city of Georgia by Russian troops? All right, so we're just listening to a little bit more of Matthew Chance reporting when he's able.
As again, Matthew, can you hear me?
CHANCE: I'm sorry. There's a new development. They were trying to make a decision about whether -- about whether we actually fall back, we hold back and let the (INAUDIBLE) troop convoy pass us and roll forward towards the base or whether we drive on ahead of them. And actually trying to meet up with whatever Georgian resistance may occur.
We're still trying to make that decision now. I may have to get off the phone. I'll call you straight back and give you the latest update. But that's what I'm going to have to do at the moment.
CHETRY: Absolutely. Our Matthew Chance right there literally. I mean in the middle of a war zone. And as he's telling us, he's trying to make a decision as whether or not to continue on ahead of these Russian troops making their way to Tbilisi or hold back in anticipation, possibly, of some resistance from Georgian forces.
ROBERTS: Yes, obviously a dicey situation here. Anytime you're traveling with a military convoy, if they're not absolutely friendly toward you and you run into an area of conflict, if you're out in front of them, you're caught right in the cross fire.
So, some prudent planning going on there by Matthew Chance and his crew as to exactly how they're going to follow this Russian convoy.
We're going to continue to follow our breaking news out of Georgia. We're going to speak with Georgian President Saakashvili live. We'll be right back. Stay right with us.
ROBERTS: 17 and-a-half minutes after the hour. We continue to follow breaking news out of Georgia this morning. And some dramatic new developments reported to us from Matthew Chance just a few moments ago.
Matthew Chance, who spent the last few days traveling between Gori and Tbilisi, the capital city of Georgia, is currently on the road between Gori headed toward Tbilisi, traveling with a convoy of Russian armored personnel carriers and troop carriers that are bristling with Russian troops. They are headed toward the capital city.
At this point, Kiran, intentions unknown.
CHETRY: Yes. Matthew was telling us about this and said these are very curious situations happening right now. He described the mood of the Russians as relaxed. He said that they met no resistance along the way, that they did not see any Georgian forces out. He said there was not a single shot fired. But again, he talked about how unusual it was that this was happening at the same time Russian officials and our reporters out of Russia are telling us that Russia is saying they're not violating any ceasefire and they are abiding by the terms and that it's Georgia that is not doing its part.
So we're getting certainly conflicting messages from both, especially when you look at Matthew Chance on the ground who is literally with Russian troops as they are heading west from Gori east to Tbilisi.
ROBERTS: Yes, you know, we talked with Jill Dougherty who's in our Moscow bureau. She said that Russian officials insist their troops have ceased active military operations as of 3:00 p.m., their time, Tuesday. But we had this information come from the National Security Coordinator of Georgia saying that there was looting, there was shooting going on, destroying buildings inside Gori.
The further clarification of that was that it may have been Russian troops, Russian tanks or armored personnel carriers that have blocked the roads into Gori and meantime inside, quote, "irregular or paramilitary forces" were the ones who are engaged in the looting and the destruction of the buildings. Those could be Ossetia militants. They could be some other groups that perhaps were brought in from Abkhazia. We don't know at this point. But these are the accusations that are being made by Georgian officials.
We are hoping to get Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to speak with us in just a couple of minutes here and, as well, get more from Matthew Chance. But the last time we spoke to him was at the front of this long convoy of Russian forces and was just making a strategic decision as to whether or not to continue at the lead of that convoy, potentially being the first vehicle in the cross hairs should they come on to resistance by Georgian forces who may be trying to defend Tbilisi or whether or not they should draw back and let the Russian convoy go in first.
So, we hope to get him back on the phone very soon as well. We also have our Frederick Pleitgen in the capital city. And if this convoy gets any closer to Tbilisi, Frederick Pleitgen may have some reporting to do on it as well.
CHETRY: And just an example of how fluid the situation is and how quick the information on the ground is changing. We're hearing from Georgian officials right now telling CNN that a Russian tank have indeed turned off and have turned away from the capital city of Tbilisi.
So, again, this information just coming to us seconds ago from our producers who are getting this news that Georgian officials are now saying Russian tanks have indeed turned around or turned off from heading from Gori to Tbilisi. So again, as we talk about the minute- by-minute changes in this developing story, we want to bring in our Ali Velshi as well with some new developments.
ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I want to tell you a little about, you know, yesterday we told you that BP which runs a consortium of western oil companies that run those pipelines, have decided to close off the remaining pipelines that go across Georgia.
Now, the issue here is that the fighting wasn't anywhere near those pipelines, but as you see that map, it's getting closer to the southern part of Georgia. Those pipelines that run across are the way you get oil from the Caspian over to the Mediterranean. So, that is a bit of a problem. They're underground. BP says they haven't been damage yet, but that's a concern.
ROBERTS: BP shut one of them down yesterday, didn't they?
VELSHI: Two of them. Two of them. One was already shut down the previous week. So, there are now three pipelines that are shut down. There's no oil going through Georgia right now to the Mediterranean. About a million barrels a day is what usually goes through, but that's been shut down.
ROBERTS: All right. So, we're just trying to clarify what's going on on the ground in Georgia right now, information that this convoy that Matthew Chance was following has turned away, and maybe it's a little bit of a game of cat and mouse here.
The Russians still trying to show the Georgians that they are on the ground and capable of doing whatever they might want to do. Perhaps it's a redeployment to protect the border region between South Ossetia and Georgia. Unclear at this point. We hope to get Matthew back on the phone.
So, let's check in with Zain Verjee who is at the State Department this morning. What's being said there at the State Department about all of this development, Zain?
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, as this is unfolding, I got off the phone a moment ago with a senior State Department official who is saying this, that they are seeing the reports. They're trying to decide what exactly to make of it. They're trying to get a handle on exactly what the situation is on the ground, and what the Russians are doing. They say that they still remain very concerned. But the Russians need to stop this military offensive and just get out.
ROBERTS: All right. Zain, so, you know, we saw these moves by the EU yesterday. President Sarkozy establishing this ceasefire. What is the White House prepared to do to back it up? This has all been EU so far, yet Georgia is a valuable and strong U.S. ally. President Bush is promoting NATO membership for Georgia. Yet, we have not seen a very strong reaction on the ground there at least from U.S. officials.
VERJEE: Well, right. The U.S. appears to have let the Europeans really take the lead here because they may have calculated -- look, the Europeans here just have a lot more influence over the Russians and they can sway the situation on the ground.
Georgia is a strong U.S. ally and that's part of the difficulty for the United States here. They have said that they are not going to go in, militarily, and fight the Russians and defend Georgia. One important thing, though, is that the U.S., many are saying, doesn't really have a lot of leverage against the Russians here.
The Russians are in a pretty, pretty position in some ways. They have a lot of oil wealth. They have the military strength and they are clearly using the overwhelming force here. The U.S. also needs Russia when it comes to major foreign policy priorities like the situation in Iran, and pressuring Iran on its nuclear program.
So, the U.S. may have calculated it. It's just better to let the Europeans take the lead but they are saying that what they want to do is work with their allies and isolate Russia diplomatically, punish Russia diplomatically. And maybe even consider kicking them out of the group of industrialized nations known as the G-8.
ROBERTS: And that is a notion that is beginning to gather. It would seem a little bit of momentum. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a bailed threat to Russia that that could be in the works as well. Zain Verjee for us this morning from Washington. Zain, thanks.
CHETRY: And again, breaking news, changing developments between Russia and Georgia right now as we get word of a broken ceasefire. We are going to be speaking with Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili here, live, in our program, in just a couple of minutes.
We're also going to check in with our correspondents on the ground -- Frederick Pleitgen, as well as Matthew Chance, who are witnessing the developments as they change moment by moment. You want to keep it here. The "Most News in the Morning" will be back in just a moment.
CHETRY: Continuing our breaking news now. The latest developments between the ongoing military operations between Russia and Georgia. We have Frederick Pleitgen with us. He is in Tbilisi, Georgia.
And Frederick, maybe you could clarify for us a little bit of conflicting information about whether or not indeed Russian troops are moving toward Tbilisi from Gori. We had a Georgian official tell us that they turned off and then since that information has changed. What is the latest that you're hearing and seeing?
PLEITGEN: Absolutely, Kiran. We're hearing from our own people on the ground that those Russian troops are still on the road towards Tbilisi, but they are still going straight ahead. That they have not made that right turn yet. From what we're hearing from our people, they believe that those Russian military vehicles are already passed the point where they would have had to make that right turn off the road.
Of course, earlier as you said, the Georgian government official telling us, that Georgian security chief telling us, he believed that those Russian-armored vehicles would at some point make a right turn, go toward an abandoned Georgian military base in order to destroy that. Again, what we're hearing right now is that those Russian military vehicles, including at least one main battle tank, are still going straight ahead on the road that leads to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
What we're hearing from eyewitness reports is that it's about 16 to 17, perhaps 18 vehicles, at least one main battle tank among those vehicles. Apparently, the vehicles have Russian flags on them and those vehicles are going straight towards the Georgian capital.
CHETRY: Just please explain for our viewers what the implications of that troop movement and that -- movement of that tank -- the Russian military -- what are the implications of that at the same time as Russian officials are insisting they are abiding by the ceasefire?
PLEITGEN: Well, technically, that would be a breach of the ceasefire. Of course, international community right now is trying to broker a ceasefire between the Russians and the Georgians. Both of those sides have agreed to the terms of that ceasefire preliminarily. However, that cease-fire technically is not yet in effect.
But, this would be a breach of that ceasefire because the ceasefire's terms calls for both sides to remain in their positions and to not move forward from those positions.
We do have to say from eyewitnesses on the ground we are hearing that those Russian troops have not been hostile to the local population. Apparently, they're just sitting on their vehicles, but technically, this would be a breach of the ceasefire agreement that the international community has just now trying to broker between these two countries.
CHETRY: You know, we had talked about the humanitarian effects, the fact that some people were displaced and that some communities were destroyed. What is being told to the civilians in Tbilisi right now as we see these Russian tanks, as we're getting word of these Russian tanks moving toward the city?
PLEITGEN: Well, the situation is so much in flow. It doesn't seem like many people here in Tbilisi have actually grasped that situation yet, or aware of the situation yet. I mean, when I'm looking sort of down the road here, you can still see -- the traffic seems to be normal, moving fairly quietly. I saw one military vehicle on the road but it was only a very small sort of SUV jeep with some troops on it on the road. So, right now, the citizens here do not seem to be aware of the situation.
KIRAN CHETRY, CNN, ANCHOR: Wow, that just shows you how fluid it is and how quickly things are changing on the ground there. Frederik Pleitgen for us in Tbilisi. We will check in with you as soon as we get more information. Thanks, Frederik. JOHN ROBERTS, CNN, ANCHOR: Just crossing the half hour now, we want to go live to Tbilisi, Georgia, again. And joining us right now is the president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili. Mr. President, thanks for being with us.
I don't know if you've heard the reports from our reporter on the ground, Matthew Chance, who is traveling along the main road between Gori and Tbilisi along with a convoy of Russian troop carriers as well. There may either be a tank or armored personnel carrier, said to be about 30 miles from Tbilisi. What do you know of this and what are the implications?
PRES. MIKHEIL SAAKASHVILI, GEORGIA: Well, the implications are that the Russians are encroaching upon the capital. They are making a circle. And they are brushing because they - their plan was always to take over the whole Georgia. Their plan was to establish their own government in Tbilisi. And their plan was to kill our democracy. And they are in the process of cold-blooded murder and the world seems to just be watching on it and to not doing anything about it.
So, you know, when a murderer gets away with first step, second step, third step, he will go to the end. That's exactly what they are doing now.
ROBERTS: So what happened, Mr. President, to this ceasefire that was agreed to yesterday?
SAAKASHVILI: The Russian never meant any ceasefire. I mean, this is the kind of ceasefire that, I don't know, they had with Afghanistan, I guess, in 1979 or Germany had with Poland in 1939. There is no ceasefire. They are not encouraging any ceasefire. They are moving. They are moving around. They are rampaging through cities and villages and towns. We have 180,000 internally displaced persons. They are going through villages killing people, rampaging people, you know, destroying, blowing up houses. They, you know, even take out furniture, even steal toilet seats, what I'm hearing. And you know, they have set camps for men sort of that were set up in (Sabernitza) they bombed a town of (Skinmali) and leveled it like a few years ago in Chechnya. They are certainly - I mean, if one can name all these big cases of brutality, of broken wars, of you know, of Afghanistan, in Budapest and some of the case of the second World War. You just name all of them, all of them fit the description of what's happening right now in my own country.
ROBERTS: Mr. President, the last information is that this convoy of Russian troop carriers and armored personnel carrier or a tank, unclear about that vehicle, continues to head toward Tbilisi. What are Georgian forces prepared to do should they get within proximity of the capital city?
SAAKASHVILI: Well, we will protect our capital with the last drop of our blood. We will never surrender to the Russians. Russians want to put us on our knees and Russians want to, you know, to give us back - kill the Georgian democracy, bring us to the fold of the dictatorial Russian regime like it was in the past, in the history. Well, I think I can tell you we are a democracy. We don't have even a small percentage of the tanks and weapons that Russia has. However, we have yesterday, here in Tbilisi, 200,000 people rallying in downtown capital despite the threats of bombs. We are a democracy. On television, even now, when the nation has consolidated, there are critics saying bad things about the government. Parliament is in session, opposition can speak out. You know, we are not like Russia where whole media is like one depicting us, innocent victims but like as we perpetrated the attack on Russia. Exactly the manner in worst cases of past century propaganda.
You know, in Georgia, the people are consolidated and of course, they are willing to protect their freedom and their liberty. But you know what, we will never surrender. But frankly, my people feel let down by the weapons, feel exactly like Czechs felt, like Czechoslovakia felt in 1938 after Munich, exactly the same after the Poland. Poland felt after military of the Soviets and the Germany invasion. It's the same think like the Czechs, again what the Hungarians felt against in 1966. You know, it's world war is watching on and these days at least there are televisions and the murder of the country, is reported live. Back in those days, news were coming late and now they come instantly. But because of that, in a hurry they want to finish business very fast.
ROBERTS: Mr. President, do you have Georgian forces in place along that main road between Gori and Tbilisi to meet Russian forces should they continue their march toward the city?
SAAKASHVILI: Well, I mean, we had the ceasefire several days ago. Georgia forces certainly are stationed in and around Tbilisi. But I think it wasn't there to enter the capital. This is a modern European city of 1.5 million people. All of them are determined to stand up for their freedom. All of them have - remember 70 years of communist slavery we were under the Russian occupation. So in downtown Tbilisi, we have a museum of Soviet occupation and children usually go there. And they remember what it's all about when you don't resist this kind of (inaudible). Of course we will stand up for our capital. We'll stand up for our country and we will free our country from this absolute unpardonable occupation.
ROBERTS: But do you have the forces to repel this convoy of Russian troops that is headed toward the capital city?
SAAKASHVILI: We have, as I said, we have forces, Georgia forces in general are stationed outside the capital but you know, this is not the only Georgian troops. This will be all-out resistance, territorial defense and all-out resistance of the operation. You know, that's - that will be, I mean, the world might watch on. OK. We count on ourselves and you know, no matter what. I mean, freedom is worth fighting for. And as I said to my people yesterday, as I said, told Georgian parliamentarians and they spoke about it itself, of all groups, including Georgian opposition, that usually is very outspoken and critical of us, we will not surrender. We shall not surrender because this is our freedom, not only for us, by the way, but the rest of Europe but even if some of them don't really care.
ROBERTS: President Saakashvili, you are a very close ally of the United States. You are a good friend of President Bush. Is this administration, is the White House doing enough to back you up in this crisis?
SAAKASHVILI: Well, I just spoke to President Bush. He has the National Security Council meeting about the situation. Well, frankly, some of the first statements from Washington were pursued by the Russians almost as a green light for doing this because they were too soft. You know, Russians don't understand that kind of soft language. And certainly America needs to act. Everybody America has achieved for the cold war is being undermined and destroyed now because everything - everything that, say, happened after '91 when freedom spread, when democracies prevailed, when dictatorship started to shrink, everybody was being hold back and going back. And you know, Georgia is the first test case. It was a chosen first because it was a very successful democracy. We had the highest economic growth rate here. We have freedom of press. We have a vibrant civil society. We've been developing very fast despite economic embargos, and pressures and provocations against us. We have built non-corrupt society which functions and system. So Georgia was targeted first.
ROBERTS: Mr. President -
SAAKASHVILI: After Georgia -
ROBERTS: Mr. President, forgive me for interrupting you. We have a bulletin from our reporter Matthew Chance on the ground. Apparently, this Russian convoy has turned off of the main road. It is no longer headed toward Tbilisi. But let me come back to a point you just made. You said the United States needs to do more. What more does this administration need to do?
SAAKASHVILI: Well, look, we should realize what is a stake here for Americans. America is losing the whole region. And this is the region of central Asia, eastern and central Europe. The whole region and this is much bigger than anything else, any other place where there is American influence. And these are closest and the most natural allies of America. And what we have to - what Americans should do now, first of all, clearly make known their intentions and we know that they're considering all kind of different options. Then clearly send peacekeepers on the ground, secure lifeline, at least for the capital at this stage, and push very hard to overcome the situation. Who else can stand up for liberty in the world? I mean, you know, when America isolated itself from Europe, Europe always fell. Europe is - Europe is at the edge now. You know, and, you know, the point here is, if American - I know America is overstretched. I know there are many other things. But realize where we are and what we are heading towards now. You know, Russians have been very brutal, very deliberate and they've been showing everybody we don't give a damn.
You know the bombs have inscriptions. You know the bombs that they dropped on us, some of them exploded, this is for President Bush, this is for the United States, this is for NATO. And that's what the Russians are fighting not war with us, they are by proxy trying to fight war with the west. And the west seems to be, you know, leaving about that but certainly I think I -- yesterday I heard Senator McCain say we are all Georgians now. Well, very nice, you know, very cheering for us to hear that, but, of course, it's time to pass from deeds - from words to deeds.
ROBERTS: And let me just back up on a point that you made about the U.S. peacekeepers in Georgia. The European Union is part of the ceasefire agreement has offered EU peacekeepers but you say you want to see American forces on the ground there in Georgia?
SAAKASHVILI: No, we need any part or support that can come here. EU has been talking about some kind of foreign forces and we welcome that. Any impartial force that will allow us to get out Russian occupiers and to kill Russian intervention is welcome here. You know, Georgia has always been peaceful country. We don't need violence, for god's sake. This is the last thing prospering Georgian economy needed. And now, you know, what Russians are trying to kill the idea of success because we were not just a democracy, a very successful and prosperous democracy until now.
Look at you know, despite -- they are bombing us and on the roads and with the Georgian policemen are patrolling roads, trying to regulate law and order, lights are on, you know cell phone communications still working. You know, all the major communication systems are there. You know, shops are open. That's how democracies respond. People are motivated and cheerful. Fine. But, you know, the point here is that, you know, certainly we need to protect all of this and Georgia on its own cannot solve it. If we can get any other peacekeepers on the ground, then we need to get out these Russians because where there is Russia at this time is where their blood, there is violence, there is killings, there are war crimes. And the world should wake up to this very harsh reality.
ROBERTS: And Prime Minister Saakashvili, I know your time is short. I want to ask you one final question here. There had been some criticisms that you may have been at least partially responsible for bringing this on because you sent Georgian troops into South Ossetia. What do you say to those criticisms?
SAAKASHVILI: I'm sickened, sickened of this cynical and absolutely unfounded allegation coming mostly from Russia. We - our troops were always there. We always control most of South Ossetia. They were fired at by Russians controlled, Russian armed and Russian-backed separatists.
Russian citizens and run by Russian officials and Russian officers. We didn't react for a long time, I announce a cease-fire and we only responded after 150 Russian tanks moved into Georgian territory and started open intervention. And you know what, Germany told the world they were attacked by Poland in 1939. Soviet Union was attacked by Finland in 1939. Soviet Union was attacked by Afghanistan in 1979. Every time somehow these big powers get attacked and then they conquer those attackers. Isn't the world learning? I'm really sickened that there are people in the west asking those questions because that's exactly what Russia want to know, under the disguise of this who started what. It's our territory, for god's sake. They are killing our people. We wanted to have peace in our territory and we have the constitutional right to defend our citizens and we have obligations to do that. Even if we are out matched, out gang, outmanned. What else do we have as a choice? And you know, this is the point. Really, this is very important, at least to get out to the world. How could we attack especially Russia, excuse me, I mean, that's - the most ludicrous thing one could say. As I said, propaganda there, they have lots of money, even own some media office. They can say whatever they just want to say.
ROBERTS: Mr. President, I know your time is very precious. I know you have a lot on your plate. I thank you for spending the time with us this morning. Appreciate it.
SAAKASHVILI: Thanks so much.
ROBERTS: All right. And again, the latest news there from Matthew Chance that that convoy apparently has turned off, no longer headed toward Tbilisi.
CHETRY: Yes, but exactly what that means is still unclear this morning as these developments continue to happen. There are some report that perhaps they are trying to form some sort of circle around the capital city there. And this is just 12 hours after Georgia's president signed or agreed to this French-brokered cease-fire and now we are Russian troops moving deeper into the country. Developments changing by the minute. We're going to continue to follow it here on AMERICAN MORNING. We'll be right back.
CHETRY: The latest development is now on the Russia-Georgia conflict. Our Matthew Chance is on the ground. In fact, he's the one that brought us first information about the Russian convoy heading closer into the capital city of Georgia. We since Matthew heard that perhaps they have turned off that road. But that they're perhaps trying to carve out maybe new lines of control on the map. What are you seeing and hearing on the ground?
VOICE OF MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That column, Kiran, of Russian forces have turned off the road to Tbilisi. They are not heading to the Georgian capital at this stage. They have turned off down a dirt track, in fact, leading into some open countryside in a village, just off that road to the north. Now, it's not clear what their intention is but they may be trying to delineate some kind of demilitarized process zone around the territory of South Ossetia but I'm just speculating at this point. What we do know is that Georgian officials have anticipated this and it seems to have been in coordination with the Georgian military and with the Georgian government.
One of the Russian soldiers, the Georgians knew they were here and the Georgian officers, I'm sorry, the Russian offices saying the Georgian people and so indicating that this was something that was, you know, kind of something the Georgian government, the Georgian authorities were aware of. There hasn't been any resistance by Georgian forces. So it does seem to tally this is some kind of agreed incursion by Russian forces. Again, perhaps to delineate some kind of demilitarized zone or some kind of buffer zone between Georgia proper and the break away territory of South Ossetia. Nevertheless, very dramatic developments that we've been witnessing here over the course of the past hour. Kiran.
CHETRY: I know that you've been busy with your reporting on the ground but we had a couple of minutes with Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili just a couple moments ago. He says there is, of course no, cease-fire that the Russians never intended to hold up their end of the truce. And that they are moving into Tbilisi because they want to control the government of Georgia. Has there been any response?
CHANCE: Well, first of all, at this stage I think it's important that we find out that Russian forces are not moving into the town of Tbilisi at this stage. They were heading along the road towards Tbilisi but they have turned off that road now and have headed out into some open countryside, where I think there are a few villages, hidden by some trees. We don't know what their final objective is. We tried to ask that from some of the Russian military officers who managed to speak to us but they said, look, no comment. We're not going to tell you what our objective is. But simply there, we've come here with the agreement of the Georgian people, Kiran.
CHETRY: All right. Very interesting. Matthew Chance, again, on the road right now, traveling with these Russian troops and one tank and, again, the latest news is that - well it appeared for some time that there was a drive to Tbilisi from Gori. The Russian military has since turned off that road as Matthew Chance has been able to tell us from his first-hand accounts there on the ground. Certainly not much consolation for Georgia's president though who still feels as though Russia is not abiding by that cease-fire agreement.
ROBERTS: Certainly, the Russian troops are not staying in place. They may not be engaged in hostile activities. Matthew Chance was suggesting that the mood among the Russian forces was very relaxed. They were waving flags, didn't seem to be any kind of hostile intent. But when you get a big convoy like that running around the country, you've got to wonder what they're really up to. Zain Verjee our State Department correspondent is with us from Washington.
Zain, I don't know if you got much of a chance to hear what President Saakashvili told us just a little while ago. But he seemed to be very upset that the initial statements out of this administration were not as strong as he would have liked them to be.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. That was one of the most striking aspects of what President Saakashvili was saying. I mean, he really slammed and criticized the U.S. for what he said were soft statements coming out of Washington that really encouraged the Russians to continue their invasion. He clearly thought the U.S., being Georgia's ally, would step in immediately and defend Georgia. And that didn't happen.
Now, state department officials have told us that they really did warn Mikheil Saakashvili, don't do it, don't go into South Ossetia, don't play into the Russian hands and give them a reason to come into the country and invade. And they're pretty upset with him because he went ahead and did just that. As one official put it, asked for forgiveness later. The U.S. also, John, had always ruled going in militarily to defend Georgia and he knew that. ROBERTS: Right. And you know, I asked him that question, some critics have said that he partially at least brought this on himself by sending Georgian forces into South Ossetia. He rejected that saying he was sickened by such talk. He also had some tough talk for president bush about what's at stake in the region. Let's listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAAKASHVILI: America is losing the whole region. And this is the region of central Asia, eastern and central Europe. This is much bigger than any other place where there is American influence. And this are the closest and most natural allies of America. And what we have to - what America should do now, first of all, clearly make known their intentions and we know that they are considering all kind of different options. Then clearly send peacekeepers on the grounds, secure a lifeline at least for the capital at this stage and push very hard to overcome the situation. Who else can stand up for liberty in the world?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: So there he is. Who else can stand up for liberty in the world but the United States. Send in peacekeepers. I asked him to differentiate between would it be EU peacekeepers or does he want to see American forces on the ground. He seemed to suggest that EU peacekeepers would be fine. But Zain, what else is this administration, what else does the State Department prepared to do here to back Georgia up?
VERJEE: Well, administration officials are saying that what they are going to do right now is really focus on diplomatically isolating Russia. The priority they say is to get Russia to stand down and just get out of Georgia. Administration officials have also said that they told Russia, you can't stay in Georgia and the Russians said, yes, we know. We don't have any intention. But really what President Saakashvili said there about it being a battle for influence in the region is really critical to understand as we look at some of these devastating pictures in Georgia. It's important to understand that it's not just about Georgia and Russia. This is about a battle between Russia and the United States and the west, for influence in the region. This is Russia's backyard. And they've been feeling that the United States is encroaching on its territory with its missile defense plan to be stationed in Poland and the Czech Republic, being strong allies with Mikheil Saakashvili and Georgia and really encouraging it and wanting to push it to be part of NATO. And that ahs really Russia. So what Russia is doing here is sending a signal not only to U.S. and Georgia but to its former Soviet as well. And yes, they are warning them look what can happen if you cozy up too much to the U.S. either politically or militarily. John.
ROBERTS: We certainly have a fantastic opportunity with our eyes of Matthew Chance right on the ground there to keep an eye on what's going on on real time bases. So, we'll keep reporting back on that. Zain Verjee for us from Washington. Zain, thanks very much. CHETRY: And the eyes of Matthew Chance are actually running directly counter to what Russia is insisting upon. We go now to CNN's Jill Dougherty. She's live in Moscow with more on what Russian officials are saying as the facts on the ground seem to contradict their insistence that they are abiding any type of cease-fire agreement. Hi, Jill.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kiran. Well, it may not totally be a contradiction, Kiran, because after all, we don't know what those troops are planning on doing. There was some reporting from Frederik Pleitgen who is one of the CNN correspondents on the ground who indicated that they might be going to a military base that had been abandoned, a Georgian military base, perhaps to take it out. But in any case, I have to tell you there was a very quick response by the Russian general staff just a few minutes ago to what has been reported on air about Russian troops moving toward Tbilisi. They are denying it. They are saying Russian troops are not moving on Tbilisi.
And that is very important right now because when you get those reports from the ground, it's very hard to confirm exactly what might be going on. But the Russians denying that. Now, the Russians have made it clear that they are going to abide by a cease-fire but they're really saying who goes first. They are saying the Georgians are not abiding by it. They should be going back to their barracks and then we will move forward on it. So there's a lot of he said, she said, you go first. But they are saying that they do want to pull the troops out ultimately and actually are in the process of planning that.
CHETRY: You know, there is another element in this mix, Jill, that perhaps could be complicating things as well, and that is the notion of these separatists or irregular fighters in some of these provinces like South Ossetia as well as the province of Abkhazia. Apparently, there is some reporting as well that these separatists forces are also moving in on the territories and causing conflict as well. So that's something different than the Russian forces but no doubt it's something that is still destabilizing parts of Georgia.
DOUGHERTY: Absolutely. And there are volunteers who have come in, people from over the border in the - in the south of Russia which is actually kind of the sister area to South Ossetia. There's a North Ossetia. North Ossetia, same people on the other side of the border. They live in Russia. So there are volunteers coming over too. It's a very complex, fluid, and confusing mix of people.
CHETRY: Jill Dougherty for us with the side of Russian officials this morning reporting from Moscow. Thanks so much.
ROBERTS: So there we had a dramatic development there where that convoy of Russian forces, a number of trucks carrying troops and either a tank or an armored personnel carrier, unclear, headed from Gori towards Tbilisi. Apparently, have turned off into a small town. Unclear what the intentions are. But certainly caused a lot of concern to Saakashvili, the president of Georgia, saying that they tried to move on the capital city. That Georgia will defend the capital city with every drop of its blood. So, the situation seems to perhaps be a little less urgent than it was a few minutes ago. But a lot of questions remain as to exactly what's going on there, who needs to stand down first, what the Russian forces' posture is, what the Georgian posture is.
CHETRY: And it was the European officials that help broker this cease-fire plan in the first place, they are being asked to come back and continue to see the situation for themselves on the ground. So we'll be following developments as to whether or not we're going to see any of those European leaders trying to work out some sort of mediation with what's been going on in Georgia today.
ROBERTS: Russian officials who saw those EU leaders in the capital of Tbilisi and then some of them go to Moscow now want them to go to Gori to figure out what's going on. We'll be right back with more right after this.