By C. J. Chivers and Michael Schwirtz
Published: August 25, 2008
TBILISI, Georgia: President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia said Sunday that he planned to rebuild his country's shattered army, and that even after its decisive defeat in the war for control of one of Georgia's two separatist enclaves he would continue to pursue a policy of uniting both under the Georgian flag.
"It will stay the same," he said of his ambition to bring the enclaves, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, under Georgian control. "Now as ever."
The upper house of Russia's parliament, meanwhile, voted unanimously Monday to ask President Dmitri Medvedev to recognize the enclaves' independence. The lower house was expected to hold a similar vote later in the day.
France called an emergency summit meeting of the European Union for next Monday to discuss "the future of relations with Russia" and aid to Georgia, according to a statement Sunday from the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.
The meeting was framed as a response to Russia's failure to meet the terms of the cease-fire agreement that Sarkozy had negotiated between Moscow and Tbilisi. Sarkozy, in a statement, said he was responding to the demands of "several states" for the summit meeting, which will deal with "the crisis in Georgia" and take place in Brussels.
According to senior French officials who helped negotiate the cease-fire agreement, the Russians must pull all their troops back to positions before the crisis began on Aug. 7.
The Russian troops stationed in South Ossetia and Abkhazia before that date may stay, and may continue to send out patrols into a "security zone," a thin buffer roughly five miles beyond the enclaves' borders.
But the Russians are not allowed to set up fixed positions in the security zone — an agreement that Russia has not adhered to, Sarkozy said Friday in a telephone call with President George W. Bush.
In the Georgian Black Sea port of Batumi, the first American naval vessel arrived Sunday to distribute American humanitarian aid.
A train carrying oil cars exploded while traveling near Gori, the city in central Georgia that Russia had occupied for about 10 days. Georgian officials said the train had struck a mine left behind by Russian troops. No one was reported killed in the blast or the raging fire that followed, which sent thick plumes of black smoke across the countryside.
With the bulk of Russian troops now withdrawn to the enclaves or to Russian soil, Saakashvili described the war against South Ossetia and Russia — a military defeat that imperiled his government and threatens Georgia's fragile economy — as a seminal moment that offered the seeds of political and national success.
In an interview in his office that stretched until nearly 2 a.m., Saakashvili said that Georgia had gained allies in the world and would embark upon a campaign of rebuilding.
He predicted continued American support and said that he spoke by phone with the presumptive Republican nominee for president, Senator John McCain, as often as twice a day, and that he was in regular contact with Senator Joseph Biden Jr., who has been picked to run for vice president on the Democratic ticket.
He also said that the Bush administration had not communicated disappointment or signaled a decline in its support for him since he gave the order on Aug. 7 to attack Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital.
He said that while he might face pressures in the months ahead, as the effects of the war ripple through the economy, he said he expected to weather any troubles. "There has been tremendous solidarity," he said.
The Kremlin has characterized Saakashvili as delusional and dangerous.
Sitting in his office as he discussed the effects of the war — tens of thousands of refugees; the scattering of a national army that abandoned its dead and its hardware on the battlefield; the loss of territory to Russia and the hardening of separatist sentiment in the enclaves — he seemed prepared to resume the policies that had set Georgia and Russia at odds.
He also said that he had made a decision not to continue to fight Russia during the invasion, and not to have his army organize an insurgency against Russia, because he hoped to save the country.
"We had a choice here," he said. "We could turn this country into Chechnya — we had enough people and equipment to do that — or we had to do nothing and stay a modern European country."
He added: "Eventually we would have chased them away, but we would have had to go to the mountains and grow beards. That would have been a tremendous national philosophical and emotional burden."
Steven Erlanger contributed reporting from Paris.
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