Russia Conducts Ode to the Dead Amid Ruins

Concert held as troops dig deeper in Georgia

NBC Bay Area

Russia held a concert amid the smoldering ruins in South Ossetia -- an ode to the dead that read more like a victory anthem for Russia.

Valery Gergiev, a close friend of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and an Ossetian native, conducted the Maryinsky Orchestra from St. Petersburg in a candle-lit performance of  Shostakovitch's "Leningrad," an event organized by the Kremlin and broadcast live on Russian TV. 

"We want everyone to know the truth about the terrible events in Tskhinvali ... with the hope that such a thing will never again happen on our land," Gergiev said before the concert, which was held on a stage next to the dilapidated ruins of an administration building in Tskhinvali. .

The concert came as Russian troops dug in deeper today in strategic areas of Georgia. It's also the day that Russia's president said a pullback would be complete.

The requiem was part of an effort to win international sympathy for Russia's argument that its invasion was justified by Georgia's attempt to regain control of South Ossetia by force.

Red Cross vehicles, mine-clearing jeeps and trucks carrying peaches were seen heading into Gori early Friday. Russian military helicopters buzzed overhead as military trucks shuttled in and out of Gori past the checkpoint, where Russian flags were flapping in the wind.

Further west, near a base at the key Black Sea port of Poti, Russian troops were seen digging large trenches near a bridge that provides the only access to the city. Five trucks, several armored personnel carriers and a helicopter were parked nearby. Another Russian position was seen in a wooded area outside the city.

A top Russian general said earlier it could be 10 days before the bulk of the troops is gone, and the mixed signals from Moscow left Georgians guessing about Russia's intentions nearly a week after a cease-fire deal.

"The information I have is that if they're leaving it is at a snail's pace," said Gen. John Craddock, commander of U.S. European Command, as he ended a two-day assessment trip in Georgia. "It is far too little and far too slow."

Under the deal, Russian forces are to pull back to positions they held before intense fighting broke out Aug.7 in the Russian-backed Georgian separatist region of South Ossetia.

Russia says it will keep troops in South Ossetia — where Russia had a peacekeeping contingent for more than a decade — and in a buffer zone in Georgia proper around the region's border.

Strains in relations between Russia and the West showed no improvement. NATO, Moscow's Cold War foe, said Russia had halted military cooperation with the alliance, underscoring the growing division in a Europe that had seemed destined for unity after the Soviet Union collapsed.

While refugees from the fighting crammed Georgian schools and office buildings, a scattering of people left in a half-empty village said they were badly in need of basics.

"There is no bread, there is no food, no medicine. People are dying," said Nina Meladze, 45, in the village of Nadarbazevi, outside the key crossroads city of Gori. She said she stayed because she could not leave elderly relatives behind while other villagers fled to the capital, Tbilisi.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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