Ukraine inflamed mounting East-West tensions yesterday by offering up a Soviet-built satellite facility as part of the European missile defence system.
By Damien McElroy in Tbilisi
Last Updated: 11:24AM BST 17 Aug 2008
The proposal, made amid growing outrage among Russia's neighbours over its military campaign in Georgia, could see Ukraine added to Moscow's nuclear hitlist. A Russian general declared Poland a target for its arsenal after Warsaw signed a deal with Washington to host interceptor missiles for America's anti-nuclear shield.
The move came as the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, signed a cease-fire deal that sets the stage for a Russian troop withdrawal after more than a week of warfare with its neighbour Georgia.
The deal calls for both Russian and Georgian forces to pull back to positions they held before fighting erupted on August 8. As of last night, though, there was little apparent evidence of a Russian pull-out from the Georgian town of Gori, which Russian tanks and troops took last weekend. Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, insisted a broader withdrawal would be contingent on further security measures.
Just hours before Mr Medvedev put his signature to the ceasefire deal, Russian forces blew up a Georgian railway bridge on the main line west of the capital, Tbilisi, an act that critics interpreted as a malacious attempt to cripple the country's infrastructure. Moscow at first issued a denial, but television footage shot by the Reuters news agency clearly showed the bridge's twisted remains.
Ukraine said it was ready to give both Europe and America access to its missile warning systems after Russia earlier annulled a 1992 cooperation agreement involving two satellite tracking stations. Previously, the stations were part of Russia's early-warning system for missiles coming from Europe.
"The fact that Ukraine is no longer a party to the 1992 agreement allows it to launch active cooperation with European countries to integrate its information," a statement from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said.
It follows a declaration earlier this week from Ukraine's pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko, that the Russian naval lease of the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sebastopol would be scrapped if any vessels joined the conflict in Georgia.
The crisis over Russia's display of military might in Georgia has alarmed ex-Soviet satellites states in a broad arc from the Baltics to Central Asia. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, all of which harbour bitter memories of Soviet occupation, have expressed solidarity with the Georgian position.
Yesterday President George W. Bush hailed what he saw as progress in resolving the Georgia crisis, describing the ceasefire agreement as "a hopeful step."
He reiterated, though, that the disputed regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia remained part of Georgia, despite Moscow's insistence that they should now be allowed to become part of Russia. "There's no room for debate on this matter," said Mr Bush. "The international community is clear that South Ossetia and Abkhazia are part of Georgia and the US fully recognises this reality."
Meanwhile, disturbing reports of abuse of ethnic Georgians in captured parts of the disputed region emerged. A group of captive soldiers were paraded in the streets of the South Ossetian capital, Tskinvali, and the bodies of at least 40 dead troops rotted in the sun.
Teams of ethnic Georgians, some under armed guard, were forced to clean the streets. It was the first apparent evidence of humiliation or abuse of Georgians in the Russian-controlled breakaway republic.