Michael Ware


AC: "The Russians are in the box seat, and it looks like they are consolidating their position."

Length: 6:50

LARGE (79.3 MB) ----- SMALL (8.4 MB)

6 a.m. in Tbilisi. Anderson Cooper speaks with Michael and with Jill Dougherty in Moscow. Michael updates the Russian troop movements; Jill explains the thinking of the Russian leadership.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with breaking news, Russian forces keeping their grip on parts of Georgia, America walking a very fine line, talking tough, but also sending a clear message today: We're not spilling American blood over the crisis.

Though details are still in dispute, Pentagon sources say hundreds of Russian troops either are or were in two Georgian cities, Gori and the port city of Poti. Georgia claims that Russian forces now control a third of the country. Russia says they are mainly limited to the breakaway territories in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Secretary of State Rice is in Paris, bound for Tbilisi. Defense Secretary Gates today sounding a clear warning. If Russia doesn't pull back, he said -- quote -- "The U.S.-Russian relationship could be adversely affected for years to come." He also ruled out any American use of force.


ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The United States spent 45 years working very hard to avoid a military confrontation with Russia. I see no reason to change that approach today.


ANDERSON COOPER: Well, that's the big picture.

For details, let's go now to 360's Michael Ware in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and Jill Dougherty in Moscow.

Michael, the president of Georgia estimated Russian soldiers control about a third of the country. Russia's ambassador said that is -- quote -- "disinformation of spectacular proportions."

Do we actually know what the situation is on the ground in terms of where the Russian troops are?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson, we do have a fairly good idea.

Now, what we do know is that the Russians attacked across two fronts. This is a two-pronged attack. First, they went into both the pro-Russian enclaves here in Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Now, once they secured those areas, what they did is, they actually went further. It wasn't enough. They pushed into undisputed Georgian territory. And they seized one, if not two, Georgian towns themselves. In fact, I saw one of these towns under Russian control myself. That's the town of Gori. Now, there, mingling with the Russian troops on the front line, the thing that struck me most was just how comfortable they were, so relaxed.

Why? Because they know that there's no real threat against them. The Georgian troops I have seen have rallied from the original onslaught from the Russians, but they pose no real threat, nor does an overstretched America. And the Russians know that.

Meanwhile, on the second front to the West, they most likely, it seems, almost certainly, seized the key port town of Poti. And, then, last night, we heard that a column of about 100 Russian armored vehicles were heading south through Georgian territory towards that harbor town, quite possibly to reinforce the troops already there.

The Russians are in the box seat, Anderson, and it looks like they're consolidating their position.

COOPER: Jill, Russian officials said today that Georgia would help the two breakaway provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia secede. What has been their reaction? I mean, how do they see it?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN INTERNATIONAL U.S. AFFAIRS EDITOR: Well, Anderson, actually, they're not quite going that far.

The Russians, it sounds as if that's what they are saying, but what they're saying is, those two breakaway regions, they're -- it will have to be defined what is going to happen to them. So, the Russians are saying, you do what you want. Whatever it is, whether it's seceding, joining Russia, whatever they want to do. We will support it, as long as it is in, let's say, compliance with international law.

But what they're making very clear is, they believe that, on the ground, de facto right now, there is no way, especially that South Ossetia is going to reunify with Georgia or anything of the kind. The people there don't want it. So, the Russians are saying, this is a situation on the ground. It will have to be defined legally. But, essentially, there's no way they're going back.

COOPER: You know, Michael, I was in Abkhazia with Georgian forces in the mid-'90s. They were trying to prevent Abkhazia from breaking away. They failed. They couldn't do it. Are Georgian forces any match for Russia's military now?

WARE: Well, no, absolutely not. And that's been made evidently clear now.

And, remember, this is a Georgian force that's heavily backed by the U.S. There's more than 100-odd trainers or advisers here in the country. There's been lots of military aid, in terms of materiel. And, in that area you're talking about, Anderson, over the last decade or so, the major administrative center has changed hands three times, the third time being just in the last few days, as the Russians retook that center from the Georgians.

And that's the whole point. As the Russian foreign minister said, Georgia is an American protege. And it's two things. One, look what happened to its forces. But, most importantly, look what's happened to an American military force already straining at the seams with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Where are they? Where are they to back up their guarantees, their alliances, their NATO friends, or their -- their countries in NATO alliances like Georgia?

And that's the whole point, to send a message to the rest of the region. Bottom line, the Georgians are incapable of doing anything. It's now up to the Russians -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jill, I want to play our viewers something that Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, said just a short time ago on Larry King's program.

Let's watch.


MIKHAIL GORBACHEV, FORMER PRESIDENT OF SOVIET UNION (through translator): I have been saying that we have not been able to establish a sound relationship between Russia and the United States after the end of the Cold War. I believe that the United States has made mistakes, for which the people have to pay.


COOPER: Clearly, this is a show of force. This is a flexing of muscles by Russia, sending a message to the United States and the world.

How is America seen in Russia these days? I mean, is it viewed as being weak?

DOUGHERTY: Well, you can say that some people who watch it closely do believe that the United States is overstretched and can't really do a lot.

But there's also the -- the feeling in Russia among the people, basically, would be a feeling, actually, of being surrounded. You know, the West has the idea of Russia is the aggressor. But the Russians really feel that they're surrounded, that, for instance, if you had Georgia as part of NATO, it's right there on the southern border. They feel absolutely surrounded.

And this decision now by Poland, with the United States, to agree on the missile shield in Poland is another slap for the Russians. They're really not going to like that either.

COOPER: Jill Dougherty, Michael Ware, thanks.