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Russia vows to crush attacks on citizens as pull-out dispute grows

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Russia vows to crush attacks on citizens as pull-out dispute grows

By Isabel Gorst in Moscow, Catherine Belton in,Vladikavkaz and Quentin Peel in London

Published: August 19 2008 03:00 | Last updated: August 19 2008 03:00

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, warned yesterday of a “crushing response” to any future attack on Russian citizens as the US and Georgia continued to cast doubt on Moscow’s claims that its troops were withdrawing.

“If it rolled in after August 6 it needs to roll out,” the White House said referring to Russia’s military hardware deployed in Georgia. Georgia and its western allies accused Russia of continuing to destroy military and civilian infrastructure and paralysing the country’s transport network.

The claims came as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said the country had been “practically cut in two” by destruction of a bridge on the main east-west railway and by roadblocks, delaying relief for an estimated 158,600 refugees fleeing the fighting between Russian, Georgian and secessionist forces.

Oil exports by rail from Azerbaijan have also been suspended, according to oil company BP, and forest fires have been reported in the Borjomi valley after Russian helicopter attacks.

Nato foreign ministers are due in Brussels today for emergency talks on Georgia amid calls for a united and robust response to Russia’s failure to respect Georgian territorial integrity.

Mr Medvedev, who was visiting soldiers near the conflict zone for the first time, told second world war veterans earlier in the north Russian port of Kursk: “If anyone thinks they can kill our citizens and escape unpunished, we will never allow this. If anyone tries this again, we will come out with a crushing response.”

A Russian official said the pullback had begun but could take three weeks, with Russia’s keeping “strategic points”.

He said Russia was to pull back to positions it held in a mandate granted by the UN in 1994 after the last war involving the breakaway South Ossetia and Georgia, and not to the positions it held before the conflict broke out.

But the Georgian government said Russian forces were still advancing, with six tanks heading from the central city of Kashuri towards Sachkere, and six towards the Borjomi valley. Georgian reports claimed Russian forces were continuing to destroy the Senaki military base near the Black Sea and were still occupying the town of Gori.

The UNHCR reported its officials had managed to enter Gori on Sunday after first being turned away by Russian troops.

Unity on Georgia, Page 4 Editorial Comment, Page 10 www.ft.com/southossetia

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