TSR: "America's demand for a Russian troop withdrawal is not only going unheeded, it's actually being defied."
Tom Foreman asks Michael for an update. The Russian troops are now only 29 miles east of Tbilisi. They are now controlling not only the two breakaway regions, but the land between. Michael believes that they will go to the bargaining table that way, and then 'negotiate' down to only keeping the two disputed regions. Pretty damned slick.
TOM FOREMAN: The anger and suffering in Georgia is growing by the day. The U.N. says almost 120,000 people have been uprooted, most of them Georgians, a week after Russia intervened in a dispute over breakaway provinces.
CNN's Michael Ware is on the ground in Georgia.
Michael, what have you seen today?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tom, what I can tell you is that America's demand for a Russian troop withdrawal is not only going unheeded, it's actually being defied. As I stand here speaking to you from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, Russian forces are closer than they've ever been, about 29 miles away from the city.
Now, also, that's on the eastern front of this war. Remember, the Russians attacked across two fronts. Today we went and visited the western front, which has received very little attention.
Now, at stake over there, on the Black Sea coast, is the all-important seaport of Poti. Now, whilst that was thought to be under Russian occupation, when we got there, we found that indeed, yes, the Russians were there, but only in a very small presence.
They had sunk a number of Georgian vessels, coast guard and navy vessels. They were conducting armored patrols of the city. But they were not controlling the city as such.
Now, we've since heard from Georgian officials that that small element has just pulled out of the seaport. However, there's a much greater concern, Tom.
What we discovered as we continued to explore the western front is that in fact a much larger Russian force is in presence in the west of the country. And in fact, they are digging in.
We saw Russian artillery dug into fields and covered by camouflage. We saw numerous tanks and armored vehicles and hundreds of troops that seem to have taken up barracks on a key intersection that cuts the country, commands the rail lines, and still holds the seaport's oil tankers at their mercy.
So the Russians are doing quite the opposite of what America wants, and they seem to be pressing their advantage -- Tom.
FOREMAN: Michael, I want to bring the map up here and talk about what you just said and ask you a very important question in all of this.
The location you're in right now, if you went north, you would wind up in the Ossetia region that we talked about, where the Russians first seemed to be hitting hard. The area you're talking about over here on the Black Sea near the oil ports is the other part, Abkhazia. And what you're describing is a situation where the Russians have a substantial presence in the entire upper western quadrant of this country right now.
With that in mind, can this cease-fire work?
WARE: Well, it can, but I suspect that it's going to work much more on Russia's terms than certainly the Georgian government or Washington would like. Very much, the cards remain in Russia's favor.
And as we see on the western front, when the flash point started in South Ossetia, here in the east, Russia used that as an invitation to also invade in the west, into another breakaway enclave, as you say, Abkhazia. But they didn't stop there. As they did here, near the capital, they pressed further south into Georgia proper. And as we say, we witnessed near the western town of Senaki, they dug in, in force. Now, that's going to have major implications to any cease-fire. And it's certainly going to be an extremely effective bargaining tool.
With the Russian presence on the eastern and western fronts, deeper inside Georgia, that allows the Russians room to maneuver at the negotiating table. They can hold out, they can keep their troops here, and use it as a so-called compromise to merely pull their troops back to the breakaway enclaves.
It's going to be a very effective negotiating technique -- Tom.
FOREMAN: And that close to Tbilisi, certainly something to watch.
Thanks so much, Michael.