LDT: "A continuing act of defiance..."
A longer version of the piece from Poti, followed by a live discussion with Lou Dobbs about the political and military realities from the front lines.
LOU DOBBS: The Russian military tonight appears to be carrying out a strategy to divide Georgia. Russian troops control now key intersections on the main East/West highway. Russian military units are also in Poti, a key Georgian port on the Caspian Sea. Michael Ware who went to Western Georgia now has our report from the capital of Tbilisi.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even as cease-fire negotiations continued in Georgia's capital, Moscow's tanks were still prowling the western front. At first their target was this, the vital Georgian sea port of Poti outside the pro-Russian breakaway region of Abkhazia. Though thought to be under Russian occupation, Poti's docks have remained open and the Russian soldiers seem to have left the city largely untouched.
(on camera): However, they have sunk five Georgian Navy and Coast Guard vessels, and as we speak, just behind this wall, a small element of Russian troops and armored vehicles is in control of this part of this part of the harbor loading inflatable boats onto trucks.
(voice-over): Locals say the troops arrived early in the conflict. Their presence quickly followed by bombing, which led to a number of civilian and Georgian military deaths and casualties. Life appears to be returning to normal here in Poti. However, residents say the Russians are conducting occasional patrols in their armored vehicles. But as quickly as they began those patrols have ended. Georgian officials claiming the Russians have just pulled out of the city. But the Russians haven't gone far. The troops at the port were in fact just one small element of a much larger force, which is now digging in 30 kilometers from the Black Sea coast, outside of the town of Senaki deep within undisputed Georgian territory.
Vehicles line the area's roadways. And in this field what appears to be bushes is actually Russian artillery, masked by fresh-cut foliage. From those positions, these oil tanks in nearby Poti and the railways that carry the oil remain at the Russians' mercy and they will stay that way until Moscow brings these troops home.
WARE: So what you can see, Lou, is that the Russians are very much pressing their advantage. In fact, there's absolutely no reason or sanction to prevent them from doing so. This has been a stunning coup for the Russian military and they know that.
And they are simply ignoring, in fact, defying the U.S. calls for them to withdraw, and there's nothing to force them to do so. They are going to milk this for every, every inch of advantage that they can get -- Lou.
DOBBS: Concerning their interests, Michael, the Russians, is it in their apparent interest to dig in there? You said that they are digging in, so there's no indication whatsoever of any plan to withdraw these troops. Rather, they are consolidating positions?
WARE: Absolutely, and I mean on both fronts in this war. Remember, when Russia invaded Georgia just over a week ago, they did so on two axis, one to the east just north of the capital where I am now and the one to the west that you have seen in our story.
Now here in the east, as you pointed out, the Russians, rather than pulling back during Secretary Rice's visit and the signing by the Georgian president of a peace deal, they have advanced to within 29 kilometers of the capital, where we are right now. That's the furthest line of advance that they have had during the entire conflict.
And meantime, as you have seen the pictures, in the west, they are digging in, in significant numbers. Now, this does a number of things. It can be a grand negotiating tactic. It's very simple for them to maintain their positions, in fact pressing this advantage as part of a negotiating technique that will allow them to offer a so-called compromise as they withdraw, but only to the disputed territories within Georgia.
Because remember, where they are now is in undisputed Georgian territory. This is Georgia proper. So it could just be a negotiating maneuver. But it's also a continuing act of defiance. Let's not forget, this war at the end of the day is really about U.S. versus Russian interests.
This is Russia sending a message that's meant to reverberate throughout the region and the longer they delay, the longer they defy, the more stunning that message is. And as I said, there's no one that can force them to withdraw and there's no reason right now for them to do so -- Lou.
DOBBS: Well, aside from the fact that this, the threats against Poland by the Russian second general in command suggesting even nuclear response to Poland for signing that missile defense situation, this is now adventurism on an extreme scale, is it not?
WARE: Well, it is and it isn't. I mean that's pretty bold rhetoric, but in another sense, it's blatantly obvious. I mean it's stating the obvious, to be honest. I mean it's...
DOBBS: Michael, I know we've got a delay the deal with here...
DOBBS: But let's talk about what is obvious. What is obvious, that Russia has invaded the nation of Georgia. That the European nations, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, NATO, the European Union, G-8 have been absolutely unwilling to respond in any way to this Russian adventurism. And that puts the entire region, that is Eastern Europe and Central Asia, in great jeopardy.
WARE: Absolutely. But what we're talking about here is not right and wrong. We're not talking about legal issues here. We're talking realpolitik, Lou.
DOBBS: Yeah, I didn't mention...
DOBBS: By the way, Michael...
DOBBS: Michael, I didn't mention right or wrong.
DOBBS: I didn't mention right or wrong.
DOBBS: I mentioned very specifically a threat to two regions. Eastern Europe and Central Asia from Azerbaijan to the Balkans. Those countries right now are squarely in jeopardy as a result of Russia's apparent now new intentions.
WARE: And that's the entire point. Now, Russia itself, from its self-interests, feels that it's been under threat for several years. It's seen American's sphere of influence continually expand through former Soviet Union states or allied countries. One by one, they have been integrated into NATO or they formed alliances with NATO or the U.S. and Georgia is a prime case.
It is a key U.S. ally in this region. And that's the whole point of this invasion. It's Russia responding or counter-punching to what it sees as expanding U.S. influence. And the key thing is that Moscow's decided to do this at a moment when it thinks it can strike and get away with it. And I'm afraid to say that their judgment is proving correct. Look at the limp response, Lou.
DOBBS: Absolutely. Michael, thank you very much. Michael Ware there in Tbilisi. Thank you.